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Sightings Blog

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May 2017 was , with the exception of just a couple of inclement days, almost perfect for wildlife watching in this area.  With high pressure dominating, we enjoyed plenty of dry, sunny and still days, with just a few frosty starts, and with around 18 hours of usable daylight, and all of our summer visiting birds now arrived, our full-day bird species day-lists climbed ever higher, with 60+ species  a realistic proposition, and early starts for the Black Grouse 'leks', also helping us to see up to 10 different mammals in a day too!!

The view west from Cairngorm Mountain Summit

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future May visit, I hope the following more detailed information, illustrated with photos taken at sites 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.

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, Goldeneye, Crossbill, and Dipper. 
We also had a few decent sightings of Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle....a couple of brief pre-dawn views of Barn Owl, and a solitary sighting of a Short-Eared Owl...
A mountain-top adventure on the 17th, produced super views of both Ptarmigan and Dotterel...
Capercaillie,
despite several visits to the RSPB Loch Garten Caper-watch, sadly, again proved to be very elusive, and It should also be noted that, due to their very secretive nature at nesting time , Crested Tits continued to be extremely difficult to see during their breeding season (April-May), and we struggled to see them until they fledged young late in the month....


Mammals seen regularly by my safari parties during the month included:
Rabbit, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare (now a mottled grey), Red Squirrel, Roe Deer, Red Deer, Reindeer, Mountain Goat, and  Bank Vole , whilst we also had a couple of brief glimpses of Stoat and Weasel...but.... 'mammal of the month' has to be the very mean looking Scottish Wildcat we saw skulking around near a field full of nesting waders, soon after dawn on the 24th... an amazing treat for my American safari clients, who, being experienced travelling wildlife-watchers, fully appreciated what a very fortunate, rare and privileged reward it was for their early start....


Wildlife highlights included:


Duelling Black Grouse (taken by Nigel Wedge from a hide)


Female Black Grouse (Taken by Steve Nicklin from a hide)
Black Grouse 'lekking' is surely one of British wildlife's top 10 sights (and sounds), and our local birds continued to 'perform' throughout the month, with up to 10 cock birds fighting it out, with a few females 'spectating' early in the month,  though with dawn at around 4 am, and the performance only lasting for around 70 minutes on average, it should be noted that a very early start is needed if you want to see them...and that we have to view from a respectful distance....(the picture above was taken from a hide).....but with a quality spotting scope, this is still a highly recommended and memorable experience, especially as on a few occasions, we had a supporting cast of Short-Eared Owl and Barn Owl hunting across the moors and fields close to the lek site!!!


Osprey by Steve Nicklin
Our local Ospreys continued to entertain my safari clients, often being voted 'Bird of the day',  though with the female birds spending much of the month deep in their nests incubating eggs with just their heads visible, and later in the month, brooding young, sightings could be a bit frustrating, as we needed a bit of luck to time our visit with the male birds arrival to deliver a fish or more nest-building materials.....though we did also see birds fishing local lochs and rivers on several occasions... always a treat....


Red Grouse
On our local heather moorlands, the Red Grouse continued to show well, with some cock birds even still displaying and calling, their guttural 'go bak go bak' calls echoing across the moor, and late in the month we began to see the hen birds with their newly fledged families of up to 8 very cute fluffy youngsters...


Ring Ouzel
Ring Ouzels were seen regularly in their upland habitat, especially early in the day,  though they now became a little harder to find as most were no longer singing or calling, and sightings were mainly restricted to male birds collecting beakfuls of worms, as the females were mostly on nests.....


Slavonian (Horned) Grebe
The extremely beautiful (and incredibly rare) Slavonian Grebes were again seen and enjoyed regularly on suitably undisturbed local lochs, with the male birds seen fishing and delivering food to the nests hidden in the bankside sedge beds.....lets keep our fingers crossed for a glimpse of some youngsters soon, for a bird that is only just clinging on as a breeding species in the UK.....


Black-Throated Diver
Still on the lochs, Red-Throated and Black-Throated Divers too, UK-wise, are only really found breeding, and in their dapper summer plumage, on suitable lochs in northern Scotland. Due to their general waryness of humans, most views we get are through a scope at a fair distance, and any decent ripple on the water makes finding them very difficult,  but on a number of occasions, and with a little persistence, we got lucky and obtained a slightly closer look, and even managed a few rare photo opportunities....


Drake Goldeneye
The same could be said of our Goldeneye, with this attractive tree-nesting duck being a north of Scotland breeding speciality too, and late in the month we got to see a few with their ridiculously cute youngsters too... nice!


Adult Dipper
Young Dipper
Dippers are always popular with my safari clients, being absent from large parts of the central, eastern and southern UK, and from mid-month we saw the parent birds flying back to their nests with beaks full of insects, and later on we got to see the very cute newly fledged youngsters out and about ( and instinctively 'dipping'!) on the rivers with their parents for the first time this year....


Male Scottish Crossbill
Scottish Crossbills are all too often the cause of much frustration on my safaris, with me regularly hearing their distinctive 'jip' jip' jip' calls overhead, and my safari clients getting just a brief glimpse of the birds flying away, usually never to be seen again! But on a number of occasions this month, they were actually very obliging, with us getting some super views, sometimes even through the scope, of family parties feeding together on pine cone seeds, giving us the chance to admire the brick-red males, greeny-yellow females and streaky youngsters - marvellous stuff!

Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle are iconic 'Scottish' birds which always seems to be on visiting birders 'wish-lists', and we are fortunate to have a number of suitable upland glens nearby, however.... it should be noted that, with most females on eggs, and 18+ hours of daylight available for the males and sub-adults to use for hunting, the chances of us just happening to be in the right place at the right time to see one are are fairly low during  spring and summer(when compared to the autumn/winter months) , we did however manage to get a few decent if generally distant views, though photo opportunities were very limited....

Other birds of prey seen at least once on my safaris this month included Common Buzzard, Kestrel, PeregrineSparrowhawk, Red Kite, Barn Owl and Short-Eared Owl.....


Ptarmigan
Dotterel
May, along with June and July are the best months to have a chance of seeing all 3 of our mountain top bird species in one visit,  and a walk up and around Cairngorm summit on the 17th - using my Cairngorm Mountain Birdwatching Guide qualification to allow us to use the funicular railway (saving a strenuous uphill walk of 1-2 hours) and then exit the (usually) closed system,  gave us decent views of Ptarmigan and super close-ups of Dotterel ....though Snow Bunting eluded us.....


Pied Flycatcher
Other good birds of note seen locally this month included Cuckoo, WoodcockGolden PloverRedstart, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, Grasshopper Warbler and Wood Warbler, some of which can be tricky to see in large parts of the UK....

Wood Warbler

Onto mammals now....


Mountain Hare
Our local Mountain Hares, though they are now in their mainly grey Spring outfits, with just their legs and bellies still retaining a hint of white, were again popular with my safari clients, probably because being animals of remote upland habitat, they are not easily accessible to most UK wildlife-watchers... and they were often voted 'mammal of the day'....


Can you spot the well-camouflaged feral Mountain Goats?
The same could also be said of our Feral Mountain Goats and we were lucky enough to have many good views of these wild looking, multi-coloured creatures, with their youngsters now almost as big as the adults...

Red Squirrel
Red Squirrels though, usually bring an "aaaahhh" from my safari clients, and it is unusual for us not to see at least one, and often more of these now very localised but always charismatic little animals whilst on our travels....

Red Deer
It's always good to see Deer too, and early starts and a variety of different habitats on the itinerary can give us the chance of seeing up to four different species, though it is usually the local speciality Red Deer and (re-introduced) Reindeer that prove to be the most popular....

A beautiful local loch

Well! What a month that was! As well as being my busiest ever May for safaris (a big thank you to all my clients!), now I have finally had time to sit back and reflect, whilst putting together this report, I think it must rate as one of my most memorable too... for the sheer enjoyment of being in such a beautiful part of the world, at (in my opinion) the best time of year,  in majestic and incredibly varied, largely unspoilt scenery, sharing marvellous wildlife sightings with fellow wildlife enthusiasts from around the world.... as far as 'job- satisfaction' goes, this'll do for me, thank you!



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 and are available for any amount in multiples of £10, and are valid at any time within a year from date of purchase....


Early morning in a beautiful Caledonian pine forest

Monday, May 01, 2017

April 2017 was a very strange month weather-wise in this area! With Aviemore being both  the hottest (20c), and coldest (-6c) place in Britain at some point in the month, and with all 4 seasons being experienced seemingly almost daily, I would recommend anyone considering a future April visit to bring a good selection of varied clothing for all conditions!!
The days are lengthening nicely now, with around 14 hours of usable daylight, and although most of the winter visiting birds had departed by mid-month, the influx of migrant birds north into this area throughout the month helped bird species day-lists creep ever higher, with 50+ species not uncommon on a full day local safari, whilst full day mammal species day-lists regularly crept up towards double figures, with early starts providing best results.
Dawn at a Cairngorms moorland
To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future April visit, 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.



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, Goldeneye, and Golden Eagle, with just a couple of brief glimpses of Crossbills. Capercaillie, despite several visits to the RSPB Loch Garten Caper-watch, sadly, proved to be very elusive, and It should also be noted that, due to their very secretive nature at this time , Crested Tit becomes extremely difficult to see during breeding season (April-May), and we struggled to see them throughout the month...


Mammals seen regularly by my safari parties during the month included:
Rabbit, Red Squirrel, Roe Deer, Red DeerMountain GoatMountain Hare (now a mottled white/ blue-grey)  Brown Hare, Bank Vole  and Wood Mouse....whilst a couple of excursions 'out of area' also gave us Dolphins and an Otter.....


Wildlife highlights included:


Ospreys at their nest by Nigel Wedge
One of my favourite wildlife moments every year, is the return of our local Ospreys to their nesting sites. These impressive birds of prey always provide great entertainment, with their dashing good looks, aerial acrobatics and plunge diving to catch fish. My favourite local pair were reunited early in the 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 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 often wintry weather.


Lekking Black Grouse by Steve Nicklin (taken from a hide)
Dawn ( now around 5am ) visits to local Black Grouse leks continued to delight and amaze my safari clients with as many as 10 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 3 hen birds watching the action, and some were even seen mating with their chosen partner - a truly fantastic wildlife spectacle and a great way to start the day! 


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


Ring Ouzel by Nigel Wedge
Ring Ouzels  always prove 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. 


Slavonian Grebe by Nigel Wedge
Slavonian ( or horned ) Grebe is not only one of the UK's rarest breeding birds, nesting only in the very North of Scotland, but in summer plumage surely one of our most beautiful, with its chestnut, black and copper toned body, scarlet eyes and amazing golden ear tufts it usually puts a smile on even the most hardcore birders face! .... and we are very fortunate to have a few pairs on local lochs...lucky us! 


Black-Throated Divers
Also on our local lochs we were able to obtain a number of decent views of two other very rare and beautifully marked birds in the rather dapper forms of Red Throated Diver and Black Throated Diver. Decent photos of these two species are generally quite difficult to achieve without a hide though, as they usually seem to like to keep a fair distance from humans, but we got lucky on a couple of occasions.....


Crested Tit
In the forests, with the exception of one presumably 'unattached' bird calling and singing early in the month, Crested Tit sightings became very infrequent indeed as they concentrated on nesting, whilst Crossbill views were sadly, again mainly restricted to the usual snatched glimpses of fly-over birds.......


Dipper by Steve Nicklin
Dippers were seen reasonably frequently on local rivers this month, with most sightings being (presumably) male birds, as they appear to be watching over and defending territory near to their favourite nest sites of old bridges.


Soaring White-Tailed Eagle
Though down on mid-winter levels, local bird of prey sightings were again reasonably frequent this month, with Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Red Kite, Peregrine, GoshawkGolden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle all seen, with some of these species observed again displaying or carrying nesting materials....and most of our local Ospreys now on their nests.....whilst a day-trip to the Isle of Mull also added male and female Hen Harrier to our list....

Snow Bunting
Although I did not venture up onto the mountain-tops this month, a few decent sightings of Ptarmigan were reported , and the snow down to lower levels lured Snow Buntings to the Cairngorm Ski Centre car parks for a few days, giving us some very welcome photo opportunities.
 
Wheatear

Other 'good' birds seen or reported locally this month included BullfinchBramblingRedpoll and Greenshank, our first sightings this year of all 3 HirundinesWillow WarblerRedshank, Redstart, Wheatear and  Common Sandpiper, and the first Cuckoo was heard calling on the 28th...


Brambling


Onto mammals now....


Mountain Hare by Steve Nicklin
Our local Mountain Hares, though they are now in their mainly blue-grey Spring outfits, with just their legs and bellies still pure white, again proved popular with my safari clients, and were often seen to be chasing each other around in a frisky fashion....Being animals of remote upland habitat, they are not easily seen by most UK wildlife-watchers... and were often voted 'mammal of the day'....


Red Squirrel
Though the voting was often a close call, as Red Squirrels, being largely confined to Highland Scotland are always a treat for visitors to see and although forest feeding stations again proved to be our best bet for sightings, we did also manage a few random views of them in more natural surroundings on our forest walks....


Red Deer stag
It's always nice to see Deer too, and early starts and a variety of habitats on the itinerary can give us the best chance of seeing up to four different species, with that iconic upland 'Monarch of the glen' the Red Deer being the most sought-after...
Feral Mountain Goats
The same uplands in this area also have a few Feral Mountain Goats and we were lucky enough to have regular good views of these wild looking creatures, now with well grown youngsters.


Brown Hare
Brown Hares were witnessed 'boxing' and friskily chasing around this month in suitable habitat, though a decent 'action' photo has escaped me so far, I did manage a few static shots...

Dolphins are always high on most peoples mammal wish list when visiting coastal areas, and we are very lucky to have probably the best land based sight in the UK nearby ( about an hour drive from Aviemore ) at Chanonry Point on the Black Isle just north of Inverness. A visit to the Moray Firth at the right stage of the tide on the 19th  gave us excellent close up views of these entertaining,  charismatic and surprisingly large animals fishing for Salmon, though rather annoyingly, a decent photo eluded me....


Otter on the Isle of Mull
Even more sought-after is a good view of Otter,especially as they are largely nocturnal, and rarely seen on my local inland waters, and my aforementioned trip to the wild and wonderful Isle of Mull on the 22nd came up trumps with a super close-up sighting of one eating a fish on the edge of a loch... 


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 to spend time out and about sharing it with other like-minded wildlife fans, .... and it would appear that April 2017, despite the strangely changeable 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 returning summer visiting birds flooding northwards to join our resident species, the days lengthening, flowers (finally!) blooming, 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 and are available for any amount in multiples of £10, and are valid at any time within a year from date of purchase....




Dawn at Corran Ferry , en route to the Isle of Mull