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Sightings Blog

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

April 2018 , in similar style to last month, started and finished with a wintry feel and some frosts and hill snow, but was, for the most part pretty warm and spring-like, with no extremes of weather, but... with temperatures ranging between -6c and +20c , the saying 'four seasons in one day' is not an exaggeration, and I would recommend anyone considering a future April visit to bring a good selection of varied clothing for all conditions!!
The days really are lengthening nicely now, with around 14 hours of usable daylight, but dawn (for the Black Grouse lek) is now a slightly less sociable 5am, and although many of the winter visiting birds had departed by mid-month, the (slightly late) influx of summer migrant birds north into this area from mid-month helped bird species day-lists creep ever higher, with 50+ species not uncommon on a full day local safari, or considerably more if you include a visit to the nearby Moray coast, whilst full day mammal species day-lists regularly crept up towards double figures, with early starts usually providing best results for the shyer ones.

Early morning at the foot of the Cairngorm Mountains

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future April visit yourself, I hope the following more detailed information, illustrated with photos taken in and around the Cairngorms National Park by myself, my friends or my safari clients will help - clicking on the picture enlarges it to full screen.

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality and upland bird species seen regularly throughout the month included: 
Black Grouse (pre-dawn start required), Red Grouse, Osprey, Ring Ouzel, Slavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Golden Plover and Goldeneyewith just a couple of brief glimpses of Crossbills.   
Capercaillie, despite several dawn walks in suitable forest habitat ,sadly, proved to be very elusive, and It should also be noted that, due to their very secretive nature at this time , Crested Tits also become extremely difficult to see during breeding season (April-May), and we struggled to see them after mid-month..Snow Buntings were seen at low level sites early in the month, but seemed to have retreated high up to the mountain tops, as the snow line receded...where Ptarmigan were also reported once the snowsports activity had 'calmed-down' .....
Winter visiting birds were represented by a few remaining family groups of Whooper Swans, flocks of Greylag Geese, wildfowl such as  Wigeon and Teal, and a few Redwings , FieldfaresRedpolls and Bramblings lingered....
Summer migrant birds flooded in from mid-month, with our first sightings this year of Common Sandpiper, Sand Martin, House Martin, Swallow, Willow Warbler, ChiffchaffWood Warbler, and Tree Pipit to name just a few...

Mammals seen regularly by my safari parties during the month included:
Rabbit, Red Squirrel, Roe Deer, Red Deer, Sika DeerReindeer, Feral Mountain Goat (with youngsters), Brown Hare and Mountain Hare (now a mottled bluey-grey), with just a couple of brief glimpses of Stoats and black Water Vole.


April bird sightings:
Ospreys by Andrew Palmer


Osprey by Steve Nicklin


One of my favourite wildlife moments every year, is the return of our local Ospreys to their nesting sites. These impressive birds of prey are always popular with my safari clients, with their dashing good looks, large size, aerial acrobatics and spectacular plunge diving to catch fish. My favourite local pair were reunited mid-month after a winter apart in West Africa, and were soon seen building up the nest, chasing off intruders and mating frequently,and by the very end of the month the hen bird appeared to be incubating eggs as the cock bird began to perform all of the fishing duties, whilst she stoically brooded the eggs despite the sometimes wintry weather.


Lekking Black Grouse ( pic taken from a hide)
April is definitely THE month to see Black Grouse, and dawn (now around 5am) visits to local Black Grouse leks continued to delight and amaze my safari clients with as many as 6 blue-black cock birds seen 'performing' in very aggressive fashion, their incredible  bubbling and whooshing sounds drifting across the moor, and on a couple of occasions we were very lucky to witness (up to 10) hen birds watching the action, presumably 'rating' the contestants, and some were even seen mating with their chosen partner - a truly fantastic wildlife spectacle and a great way to start the day! 

Hen Red Grouse by Andrew Palmer


Cock Red Grouse


Our local moorlands continued to echo with the characteristic cackling calls of the cock Red Grouse, many of whom were seen still actively displaying from raised positions, with red 'eyebrows' aglow, presumably 'guarding' their territory,  and from mid-month we saw very few hen birds, suggesting that many may already be incubating eggs.....

With no 'rogue' birds in this area to go for these days, and numbers now confirmed to be declining to dangerously low levels,  Capercaillie sightings are now much more difficult to come by, and sadly, we only managed one brief sighting of a female bird this month, despite several dawn walks in suitable habitat, where we had been successful before...

Crested Tit sightings too were few and far between this month, with one or two birds seen using forest feeding stations during the colder weather, but generally they were pretty elusive, seemingly quietly going about their business breeding.....
Female Crossbill by Steve Nicklin
Still in the forests, sadly, it was the same old story with our Crossbill sightings , most of which were of the rather annoying fly-over variety again this month, though those of us quick enough with our binoculars, and alerted to them by their distinctive 'jip' 'jip' calls, saw enough to suggest that we were seeing family groups of streakily marked youngsters with their parents....


Black-Throated Diver by Steve Nicklin



Slavonian (Horned) Grebe
Now the local lochs are no longer in danger of freezing over, some of our local speciality water birds are back on their summer breeding territories, and we managed to see some of the most attractive and rare examples regularly this month - namely Slavonian (Horned) Grebe, Red-Throated Diver and Black-Throated Diver, all in their splendid summer plumage.


Dippers by Steve Nicklin
On the rivers, it was noticeable that there were increased occurrences of male Dippers seemingly delivering food to the now well hidden female birds at their nest sites , usually under bridges or under high , overhanging banks...and also a few instances of rival males fighting over territory...


Male Ptarmigan by Steve Nicklin
Female Ptarmigan by Steve Nicklin
Snow Bunting by Andrew Palmer
Up in the mountains, as I mentioned earlier, although I did not make a trip up to the the tops myself this month, once the snow sports activity had died down sufficiently, those that did ,reported some decent sightings of Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting, both now morphing into their summer plumage...


Male Ring Ouzel by Andrew Palmer
At slightly lower levels,  Ring Ouzels  proved to be popular with my safari clients, presumably because not many will have seen them, as they tend to breed only in remote upland areas well away from human disturbance, and can be quite tricky to find. We are fortunate in having plenty of suitable habitat for them in this area though, and we were able to get decent views and photographs of both male and female birds on a number of occasions. 


Soaring Common Buzzard by Andrew Palmer



Male Sparrowhawk with prey
Bird of prey sightings usually become less frequent during the longer days of spring and early summer, with many of the female birds now nesting and  many more hours of daylight available for hunting, and so it proved this month. However, we still managed regular sightings of OspreyCommon Buzzard, Red Kite, PeregrineKestrel and Sparrowhawk, just a few views of Goshawk, Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle, and one brief glimpse each of Short-Eared Owl and Merlin...


Redshank


Golden Plover by Steve Nicklin


Sandwich Terns by Steve Nicklin
The Moray coast is only about 40 miles North East of Aviemore, and although I did not have time for a trip myself this month, it would appear that the areas reserves, salt marshes, lochs, bays and harbours gave good views of  DiversEidersGreylag Geese, Pink-Footed Geese, Whooper Swan, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail,  Bar-Tailed Godwit, Knot, Golden Plover , Grey Plover , Ringed Plover , Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Whimbrel and Long-Tailed Duck .....and as the month progressed 'summer' birds such as  Auks, Terns and Skuas ...suggesting that this is an area worth considering visiting when staying on Speyside..

Barnacle Geese

Woodcock
Other 'good' or unusual birds reported locally this month included Greenshank, BramblingWoodcockBarnacle GooseNuthatch , Hawfinch and Mandarin Duck .....

April mammal sightings:


Mountain Hares by Andrew Palmer

Mountain Hare was voted 'mammal of the day' most frequently this month. Despite them now being in their mottled white and blue-grey spring coats,  they were often a 'life tick' for many of my safari clients, not surprising I suppose, when you consider that they are only found in a very few areas of the UK...

Feral Mountain Goat
Feral Mountain Goats too are only found in a few remote upland areas of the UK, and we were lucky enough to have many good views of these wild looking, multi-coloured creatures, with the youngsters now almost as big as the adults...

Red Squirrel
Red Squirrels too, are very localised in the UK, but we managed at least one, and often several sightings on every safari this month, including seeing some very entertaining high speed chases round tree trunks at forest feeding stations.

Red Deer stag
Red Deer too, always prove popular with my safari clients. Being an iconic animal of the Scottish Highlands, they are on most visitors 'wish-lists', and we managed to see them regularly in large same-sex herds in upland glens this month, though many of the stags are now losing their antlers....

Roe Deer however, are common and numerous over most of the UK, but due to their nervous nature and crepuscular habits, they are rarely seen well unless you are out and about early or late...

Sika Deer
Sika Deer were encountered frequently on my safaris this month, with many of my clients seeing them for the first time. For those not familiar with this species, they originate from Asia and were introduced into the UK in the late 19th century, and are mostly to be found on large country estates...

Brown Hare by Steve Nicklin
Brown Hares were witnessed 'boxing' and friskily chasing around this month in suitable habitat, with early mornings proving to be most successful for sightings...

We also saw our first few brave Butterflies this month, as well as numerous Frogs and Toads ......

So, to summarise....It is only when I finally find time to sit down and compile my monthly wildlife sightings blog and look back through the photos that I and my safari clients have taken during the month that I really become aware of what a great time I have had, appreciate how lucky I am to live and work in such a wild and beautiful place,  and  spend time out and about sharing it with other like-minded wildlife fans, .... and it would appear that April 2018, despite the sometimes wintry weather, turned out to be a really excellent and very enjoyable month for wildlife watching in and around the Cairngorms National Park (and beyond!), With the local speciality birds displaying and singing, the returning summer visiting birds flooding northwards to join our resident species, the days lengthening, flowers (finally!) blooming, the stunning scenery and the weather ( generally! ) improving, I can honestly say that I would not want to be anywhere else in the world than here in the majestic Scottish Highlands at this time of year....


If you think you know someone who may enjoy a taste of what I do, why not treat them to a safari gift certificate. They make a thoughtful and imaginative present, are available for any amount and are valid at any time within a year from date of purchase....


The Spey Valley hidden under low cloud - as seen from Cairngorm Mountain

Saturday, March 31, 2018

March 2018 in this area started and ended in wintry fashion with snow and icy temperatures, whilst the middle two weeks were mild enough to suggest that spring, if not quite here yet, was certainly not too far away, but anyone considering visiting this area in March should remember to bring the appropriate warm and snowproof clothing, just in case!
The days are lengthening nicely now though, with nearly 12 hours of usable daylight, and dawn (for the Black Grouse lek) is a still not too unsociable 6am.
With most of the winter visiting birds still here, and a few wader and water bird species returning to their inland breeding sites in the second half of the month, full-day safari bird species day-lists crept up over the 40 mark, though a trip to the nearby Moray Coast can boost this total considerably,  whilst mammal species day-lists varied between 4 and 9 depending on our luck, time of start, and the variety of habitats visited, with early starts usually proving most fruitful.

I was away down in southern England for my Dad's funeral, and to visit family and friends for the middle part of the month, so my local sightings report will be a little shorter than usual and may include a few photos from previous March safaris that are representative of the month.

Late winter at a local loch
To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future March visit yourself, I hope the following more detailed information, illustrated with photos taken by myself, my friends or my safari clients in this area will help - clicking on the picture enlarges it to full screen.

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality/upland bird species seen regularly included  Black Grouse (dawn only),Red Grouse, Crested Tit (early in the month only), Snow BuntingGoldeneye and Dipper, we had  a couple of distant views, and one quite close sighting of soaring Golden Eagle, and towards the very end of the month, our first local reports this year of OspreyRing OuzelSlavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver and Golden Plover - all coming into their splendid summer breeding plumage, and joining the ever-increasing numbers of other Summer visiting birds , such as Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Curlew.
Although I personally did not go on any mountain top adventures for Ptarmigan this month, I understand that they could sometimes be seen well on the few days mid-month when the weather was suitable....
Winter visiting birds were represented by a few remaining family groups of Whooper Swans, flocks of Greylag Geese, wildfowl such as Tufted Duck, Wigeon and Teal,  a few (again annoyingly mobile) Waxwings continued to feast on our now almost totally depleted berries throughout the month..and a few Redwings , FieldfaresRedpolls and Bramblings lingered....

Mammals seen regularly by my safari parties during the month included:
Rabbit, Red Squirrel, Roe Deer,  Red Deer, Sika DeerReindeerMountain Goat (with youngsters), Brown Hare and Mountain Hare (still mostly white), with just a solitary sighting of a Stoat with a rabbit in it's jaws, and the unusual but very welcome treat of an Otter seen fishing in daylight on a local loch...

Black Grouse lek
Black Grouse are not an easy species to see in most of the UK now, being mainly birds of remote upland moors, preferably with forests and fields nearby, a combination of habitats that is not so common nowadays. Fortunately, the Scottish highlands still has a decent number of active  'lek' sites, where the cock birds gather to 'strut their stuff', and dawn on my safaris in the first five months of the year is usually spent enjoying this memorable experience. 'Performances' were noticeably better on still, frosty mornings.... but please be aware that the birds can fail to show in wet and windy weather, or if disturbed by a predator...

Male Red Grouse
On the upland heather moorlands, our local Red Grouse have most definitely already paired-up, and the cock birds, with red 'eyebrows' aglow, seem to be concentrating more on defending their territory from rival birds, whilst the 'disappearance' of some of the hen birds suggests that many may already be on nests...

With no 'rogue' birds in this area to go for these days, and numbers seemingly declining to dangerously low levels,  Capercaillie sightings are now much more difficult to come by, and sadly, we did not see a single bird this month, despite several dawn walks in suitable habitat, where we had seen them before...

Crested Tit by Bob Smith
Crested Tits were seen at and around forest feeding stations early in the month, giving several of my (often very excited) safari clients a much wanted 'life-tick', but after my return from down south, they often failed to show during the latter part of the month, and when they did they didn't stay for long and rarely called, suggesting perhaps, that they are now concentrating on breeding rather than feeding.....

Still in the forests, sadly, most of our Crossbill sightings were of the rather annoying fly-over variety again this month, though those of us quick enough with our binoculars, saw enough to suggest that we were now seeing family groups of recently-fledged youngsters with their parents....

Dipper by Steve Nicklin
Dippers were seen frequently this month, and they too seem to have procreation on their minds, as we are now (presumably) only seeing male birds, and they appear to be defending territory near their favourite nest sites of old bridges,

Snow Bunting
March is often our last chance to see Snow Buntings at lower levels in this area, as the snow line tends to recede higher with each month now, and the birds tend to follow it, but we enjoyed some nice close-up sightings early in the month....

Red Kite by Steve Nicklin

Golden Eagle (juvenile)

As I have mentioned before, the shorter days of the winter months give us our best chance of seeing Golden Eagles, and although as the days lengthen, the frequency of sightings definitely reduces and despite the adult females presumably nesting by now,  we were still fortunate enough to enjoy a few decent sightings , and one really good view of these majestic birds hunting in upland glens,
Raptors in general were pretty well represented this month, with Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Peregrine, Goshawk , Merlin , Red Kite and Barn Owl all being seen at least once...and the first returning Ospreys have been reported in the last few days...including our local 'celebrity' - EJ at Loch Garten RSPB reserve.

Whooper Swans
The Moray coast is only about 40 miles North East of Aviemore, and although I did not have time for a trip myself this month, it would appear that the areas reserves, salt marshes, lochs, bays and harbours gave good views of  EidersGreylag Geese, Pink-Footed Geese, Whooper Swan, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail,  Bar-Tailed Godwit, Knot, Golden Plover , Grey Plover , Ringed Plover , Guillemot, Black Guillemot, and Long-Tailed Duck .....this is an area worth considering visiting when the weather is rough on Speyside..

Black-Throated Divers


Male Bullfinch (and Siskin)
Goldcrest

Other good birds reported locally this month included: Great Grey Shrike, Black Redstart, Bullfinch,  Iceland Gull and Glaucous Gull....


Onto mammals now...


Mountain Hare
March is the last month to see our local Mountain Hares in their beautiful all-white winter coats, and they were undoubtedly 'mammal of the month', with many of my safari clients delighted to see them, often for the first time, and with their upland habitats being relatively snow-free, they were not too difficult for me to find, and could actually be quite confiding, often allowing a reasonably close approach for photography....

Having been a bit elusive recently, Brown Hares suddenly seemed to be more numerous and certainly more active, and we were fortunate to get a good number of sightings this month, though a decent photo eluded me....

Red Squirrel
Red Squirrels are pretty reliable visitors to the quieter forest feeding stations, especially during the colder weather, and we managed to see at least one on every safari this month, we also often had random sightings n more natural settings too...

Red Deer stags
Red Deer were seen regularly in their favourite upland glens this month, often in very large same-sex herds, though a few of the stags appeared to have already shed their antlers, leaving them looking somewhat less impressive than usual......

Roe Deer are actually much more common and widespread than most people realise, but their generally secretive and largely crepuscular nature , and distrust of humans, makes it much more likely that you will see them at dawn and dusk....

Sika Deer
Mid-way in size between the above two species, Sika Deer were again encountered regularly this month, with many of my safari clients seeing them for the first time...
Reindeer
Reindeer were once native to Scotland, but were hunted to extinction many hundreds of years ago, however, a reintroduction in the 1950's has proved successful, and it is always a treat to see them on the snowy slopes of our local mountains...

Feral Mountain Goats by Steve Nicklin
Our Feral Mountain Goats were much more obliging this month, and we finally got to see this year's cute youngsters....

Although not strictly 'wildlife', our local celebrity Polar Bear cub is causing quite a stir...for those of you unaware of the story, just click on this link, and prepare to go "aaaahhhh"!...
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-43473477

Looking back through my reports and pictures for this month, I reckon we actually did better than I at first thought, despite the often wild and wintry weather, we had plenty of lingering winter birds, a few newly-arrived summer birds and a good selection of indigenous local specialities to entertain us, and after a couple of weeks off, I now feel that I have 'fully charged batteries' ready for my favourite part of the wildlife calendar.... Spring... bring it on!


I know a lot of visitors to this area very wisely check out reviews of attractions at tripadvisor before taking the plunge and booking - you can check out my clients comments at the link below....just cut and paste it into your web browser...

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g186537-d3335134-Reviews-Highland_Wildlife_Birdwatch_Safaris-Aviemore_Aviemore_and_the_Cairngorms_Scottish.html



On safari in a beautiful upland glen




If you think you know someone who may enjoy a taste of what I do, why not treat them to a safari gift certificate. They make a thoughtful and imaginative present, are available for any amount and are valid at any time within a year from date of purchase....




John Reddick     10th November 1931 - 10th February 2018

I would like to dedicate this report to my late Dad, John Reddick - undoubtedly the man from whom I inherited my love of the great outdoors and an appreciation of the wonderful wildlife to be found there. 
I know he loved his visits to my adopted Highland homeland, and latterly, when he became too infirm to travel here, my videos of our safari and fishing adventures , and I was very proud to be able to show him his first Eagles , Otters and many other previously unseen species... even if I did once get us stuck in a mountain pass snowdrift which took an epic team effort of digging to get us out safely......happy memories that will last my lifetime.....