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Sightings Blog

Thursday, May 31, 2018

May 2018 was , with the exception of just a couple of drizzly days, almost perfect for wildlife watching in this area.  With high pressure largely dominant, we enjoyed plenty of dry, warm, sunny and still days, with just a few frosty starts early in the month, and very little rain.
With around 18 hours of usable daylight, and all of our summer visiting birds now arrived, our local full-day bird species day-lists climbed ever higher, with 50+ species  a realistic proposition, and the early starts (now 4am or earlier) for the Black Grouse 'leks', also helped us to see up to 10 different mammals in a day too!!

A few day-trips further afield to the Isle of Mull and Handa Island gave me my annual 'fix' of seabird colonies, including Puffins, and some great raptor and Otter sightings.


Welcome to my office!! A beautiful local loch.

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future May visit yourself, I hope the following more detailed information, illustrated with photos taken in and around the Cairngorms National Park  (and occasionally beyond) 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, Wood warbler, Goldeneye and Dipper. 
We also had a couple of decent local sightings of Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle....several brief dawn views of Barn Owl, and a solitary sighting of a Short-Eared Owl...
A mountain-top adventure on the 6th, produced super views of both Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting...though the Dotterel appeared to be very late to arrive this year, and a sighting has escaped us so far...
Capercaillie, despite several forest walks and a couple of visits to the RSPB Loch Garten Caper-watch, sadly, again proved to be very elusive, with our sightings restricted to a couple of glimpses of females on forest edges, 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 well until they fledged young late in the month....and Crossbill sightings, with the exception of a couple of occasions were sadly, once again largely restricted to brief fly-over glimpses...


Mammals seen regularly locally by my safari parties during the month included:
Rabbit, Brown Hare, Red Squirrel, Roe Deer, Red Deer, Sika DeerReindeer, Feral Mountain Goat, Mountain Hare (now a mottled blue-grey), with just a couple of short views of Stoats and black Water Vole, and one tantalisingly brief dawn glimpse of a probable Scottish Wildcat on a remote moorland..



Wildlife highlights included:


Lekking Black Grouse (pic taken 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 6 cock birds fighting it out, and 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, as well as a number of sightings of Woodcock and Cuckoo, and up to 5 different mammal species , all in the first hour of daylight!!


Male Osprey delivering nest material
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 being 'at home' or delivering a fish or more nest-building materials.....though we did also see birds fishing local lochs and rivers on  a few occasions... always a treat....

Cock Red Grouse by James Ball
On our local heather moorlands, the Red Grouse continued to show well, with some cock birds even still displaying and calling whilst defending their territory,  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 6 very cute fluffy youngsters...

Female Ring Ouzel by Matt Trevillion

Male 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 seemingly mostly on nests.....



Slavonian (Horned) Grebe by Chris Stamper (taken from a hide)

The extremely beautiful (and incredibly rare) Slavonian Grebes were again seen and enjoyed regularly on suitable undisturbed local lochs, with the male birds seen fishing and delivering food to the nests hidden in the bankside sedge beds.....though it is sad that a number of photographers were witnessed encroaching unacceptably close on several occasions....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.....



Red-Throated Diver by Chris Stamper
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 and it's islands. 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,without risk of disturbing them, and even managed a few rare photo opportunities....



Black-Throated Diver



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



Dipper by Chris Stamper
Dippers always prove to be 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, though we are yet to see any youngsters......



Female 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 couple 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! Photographic opportunities continued to be a rare occurrence though...


Juvenile White-Tailed Eagle


Distant shot of a Golden Eagle 'stalking' a new-born lamb on the Isle of Mull

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) , unless.... you get a rainy morning and can time your arrival with the weather improving, like we did on the 13th, when we got to see no fewer than 6 different species of raptor, including both Eagles all flying at once!! Generally though, raptor sightings in this area were pretty hard to come by, with very few photographic opportunities...and I would instead recommend visiting the Inner Hebrides at this time of year, where bird of prey densities are much higher...


Female Sparrowhawk

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



Male and female Ptarmigan



Snow Bunting
Late 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 couple of walks up and around Cairngorm summit on the 6th and 19th - 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, something not available to the general public,  gave us super close views of Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting ....though sadly Dotterel  eluded us.....




Puffin



Great Skua



Razorbill




Arctic Skua

Late May, June and July are also the best times in which to visit a coastal seabird colony, so taking advantage of a favourable weather forecast, the 17th saw us take a very scenic drive up to the north-west coast to the SWT's wonderfully remote and beautiful  Handa Island. Black-Throated Divers were seen on lochans en route, and Twite were seen feeding around Tarbet harbour car park, and even the short ferry crossing gave us super close-up views of Seals, and Black Guillemot , and once on the island, after our welcome talk by the SWT wardens, we went on to see Red-Throated Divers,  Snipe,  Wheatears, Skylarks, and Arctic and Great Skuas nesting on the moors.
Once at the impressively high cliffs and coastal stacks, we were treated to the unique sights, sounds (and smells!) of a seabird city, with good numbers of  Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Guillemots  and  a few of  everybody's favourite - Puffins!




Wood Warbler by Chris Stamper

Whinchat by Steve Nicklin





Male Pied Flycatcher


Female Pied Flycatcher by Steve Nicklin


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



May mammal sightings...



Red Squirrel by Dave Wetherell

Red Squirrel was probably voted 'mammal of the day' most frequently this month by my safari clients - not really surprising when you consider that they are undeniably cute and charismatic, and now very rare and localised in the UK, meaning that many were seeing them for the very first time...


Feral Mountain Goats

Feral Mountain Goats too are rare across much of the UK, being mainly confined to remote upland areas, but we managed to see large families of them on nearly every safari this month... 


Red Deer stag by Chris Stamper



Roe Deer by Steve Nicklin


Sika Deer



Reindeer

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....though Roe Deer and Sika Deer are still quite rare sightings for many people....


Brown Hare by Chris Stamper

Brown Hares were seen much more regularly than normal this month,  and were often seen 'boxing' and friskily chasing around , with early mornings usually proving to be most successful for sightings...

Whereas Mountain Hares were actually quite elusive, not too surprising I suppose, when you consider that their mottled grey and white coats mean that they are now almost perfectly disguised as a lichen-covered rock...

Other wildlife...

Butterflies were seen more frequently this month, with the more common species being joined by our first Orange Tips of the year....

Sunrise seen from a hide in Abernethy Forest

Wow!! What a month that was! A veritable 'whirlwind' of wildlife!
After all those early starts and long days, I think it is fair to say that I am feeling exhausted... but very happy!
As well as being easily my busiest ever month for safaris (a big thank you to all my clients!), in almost unbroken sunshine,  now I have finally had time to sit back and reflect, whilst putting together this report, I can conclude that it will definitely 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 , incredibly varied, and largely unspoilt scenery, sharing marvellous wildlife sightings with fellow wildlife enthusiasts and photographers from around the world.... as far as 'job- satisfaction' goes, this'll do very nicely 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, are available for any amount and are valid at any time within a year from date of purchase....