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Sightings Blog

Monday, July 31, 2017

July 2017 was fairly typical weather-wise for this area - generally warm, and a bit changeable, but as long as you had appropriate clothing to hand to deal with the variety of conditions, it was a very enjoyable and reasonably successful month for wildlife sightings, and although the days are shortening slightly now, this far north there are still around 18 hours of usable daylight.
Full-day safari bird species day lists dropped a little, down into the 40's, as some of our wader species moved away from their upland breeding territories to the coasts, and things have definitely quietened down , as just about every bird species seems to have successfully raised and fledged youngsters now.
Mammal day lists varied between 4 and 9, depending on the length of day, and variety of habitats visited...with early starts generally producing more and closer sightings, with again, many species seen with youngsters..
When the sun did shine, with the heather starting to turn a beautiful vivid purple, and the wild flowers and butterflies at their most abundant, the Cairngorms National Park really was a beautiful and unspoilt place to be, and my safari clients, from all around the world, including Canada, USA, Bahrain, Australia, Italy and Holland certainly seemed to enjoy themselves.....

The southern end of the Spey Valley
To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future July 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.



Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality and upland bird species seen regularly throughout the month included:  Osprey,  Red Grouse
Slavonian Grebe, Red-Throated DiverBlack-Throated Diver, Crested Tit, Ring OuzelGoldeneye and Dipper.
We also  enjoyed some regular good views of Red Kite, a few decent sightings of Golden Eagle, and  a couple of fleeting glimpses of Scottish Crossbill,  though sadly Capercaillie and Black Grouse (not unusually) were not seen at all this month....
A day-trip up to Handa Island early in the month also produced great views of Auk colonies, Skuas and Terns...

Mammals seen regularly locally during the month included: Red SquirrelRabbitBrown HareRoe DeerRed DeerReindeerMountain Goat, and Bank Vole, with just a couple of sightings of  Sika DeerMountain Hare and Stoat, and one brief glimpse of a Weasel....
A coastal excursion to Handa Island early in the month on one of the warm and sunny days provided great views of  Seals ....



Osprey with fish
Our local Ospreys stole the show again this month, often being voted as 'Bird of the day' by my safari clients, with the adult birds seen fishing, delivering fish, and encouraging the fast growing 'scaly' looking , orange-eyed youngsters to take their 'maiden flights', and by late-month they had indeed fledged and were seen perched and flying for the first time.. I can therefore highly recommend July as THE month for Osprey watching and photography in this area...

A skulking Red Grouse... maybe he knows the 'Glorious 12th' is looming...
Red Grouse too are always popular with my safari parties, as being a bird of uninhabited upland moors, most of my clients do not have them close to home. We, however, are fortunate to have lots of suitable heather moorland in this area, and throughout the month we enjoyed good close up views of families of up to 9 of these very characterful and beautifully marked birds, though with the 'glorious 12th' rapidly approaching... I suspect they may not be quite so obliging next month...

Slavonian Grebe by Byron Taylor
Slavonian (Horned) Grebe, one of our rarest and surely one of our most beautiful British breeding birds, with the UK being at the very western limits of it's breeding range , have often struggled to breed successfully in this area in recent years, and sadly, it was bad news for our one 'local' pair this year, with the nest seemingly being predated early in the month, and the adults deserting the site, making a trip slightly 'out of area' to RSPB Loch Ruthven necessary to have a chance of seeing them...


Black-Throated Diver
Divers (Loons) in their dapper summer plumage are always popular with my safari clients, and we were fortunate enough to get lots of good views of both Red-Throated and Black-Throated , though sadly, none with youngsters.... on their favoured local lochs throughout the month. It should be noted however, that they are rarely seen close to the shore, can be difficult to find in 'choppy' conditions, and are easily disturbed by non wildlife-friendly tourists dog-walking, swimming and boating etc, so the less windy days and early morning starts in search of them usually gave us our closest sightings....


Crested Tit by Colin Mount
Crested Tits were seen reasonably frequently on our walks through Caledonian pine forests, often in family parties, though I must stress again, that knowing their distinctive rippling trills is a huge advantage in helping you to see these very 'flitty' little local specialities....


Crossbills
It was a similar story with Crossbills too, with the majority of our sightings being of the rather frustrating 'fly-over' variety, with them only being identified by their characteristic 'jip' 'jip' calls as they travelled between different parts of the forests...but we did get lucky on a couple of occasions, when  they perched briefly, allowing views through a scope and the odd photo opportunity...

Ring Ouzel by Sheila Ivison
Ring Ouzels continued to show well in upland habitats near their nesting and feeding areas, at least early in the month, but became noticeably more elusive as the month progressed as they and their recently-fledged young began to roam further afield, and it appeared that they may well have vacated this area and headed south for warmer climes by the end of the month....

Goldeneye family
Goldeneyes only breed in the UK in northern Scotland, and their numbers have increased greatly in recent years, mainly due to the RSPB providing nest boxes on trees around most local lochs, and we got to see many large families of these very attractive little ducks this month...

Dipper
Dipper sightings were a little bit hit and miss this month, with the birds seemingly quite mobile up and down the rivers, on some days we saw none, and on other days we saw one or more on each river we visited! Which just goes to show that sometimes you need a bit of luck......

Golden Eagle is probably hardest to see in mid-summer (in this area at least), as the birds have so many hours of daylight in which to hunt, but we did manage a few decent though usually distant views of birds hunting along ridges....

Still on raptors, we also saw Peregrine, Red Kite, Common Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk regularly during the month...

Snow Bunting

Young Dotterel
July is 'last chance saloon' for seeing all 3 of our mountain top species in one trip, as the Dotterel often depart in early August..and although days of suitable weather (dry, calm and clear) were at a premium...we did get a couple of opportunities to take to the hills to see them , using my Cairngorm Mountain Birdwatching Guide qualification to allow us to use the funicular railway and then exit the (usually) closed system for a walk up to the summit, Dotterel and Snow Bunting , rather unusually, proved to be less difficult, though still not easy,  to see than the Ptarmigan, which were a bit elusive.....

Arctic Skua

Great Skua or 'Bonxie'
Puffin
June and July are the best months in which to visit a coastal seabird colony, so taking advantage of a favourable weather forecast, the 5th saw us take a very scenic drive up to the north-west coast to the SWT's wonderfully remote and beautiful  Handa Island. 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 galore nesting on the moors. Once at the impressively high cliffs and coastal stacks, we were treated to the unique sights, sounds (and smells!) of good numbers of  Gannets, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Guillemots (including the 'bridled' variety), and yes, everybody's favourite - Puffins!

Spotted Flycatcher
Other good birds of note seen locally (in the early part of) this month included Cuckoo, Golden PloverRedstart,  Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler, all of which can now be tricky to see in large parts of the UK....

We also had a couple of sightings of  a couple of real 'rarities' in the form of 3 'fly-over' Common Cranes on the 14th and a skulking Blyth's Reed Warbler on the 3rd of the month, that I heard, but sadly, never saw.....

Onto mammals now....



The award for 'mammal of the day' as voted for by my safari clients, frquently went to that ever popular pine cone chomping, peanut-munching forest dweller, the cute and charismatic Red Squirrel, who can usually be relied upon to appear for an easy feast at my favourite forest feeding stations.....though we also had a few 'random' sightings whilst on forest walks....often being alerted to their presence by the sound of falling pine cones....

Red Deer stags
Red Deer were regularly seen in local upland glens, usually in large same-sex herds, the stags happily feeding and seemingly relaxing, and the hinds with their fast-growing young always nearby ....with many of my safari guests from far-away lands putting these iconic beasts high up on their 'wish-lists'....

Feral Mountain Goats
In the same upland glens, we also had regular good views of  large groups of another scarce and very localised mammal, the feral Mountain Goat..  interesting animals, that come in a wide variety of colours, from white, through grey and brown to black, or sometimes a mixture of all of these...

Mountain Hares are definitely at their 'most difficult to see' time of year now...their mottled brown and grey coats providing near-perfect camouflage among the rocks in their mountainside homes...and so it proved ... with our sightings being limited to only a couple of distant glimpses..

Brown Hare
Brown Hares however, proved to be much more obliging, especially early in the morning, with slow drives through quiet farmland, using my vehicle as a mobile hide giving us some decent views....

Dark Green Fritillary
Butterflies at last began to feature, on the few still, warm and sunny days at least!, with the more common species now being joined by our 'local speciality' the Scotch Argus towards the end of the month...though a decent photo has escaped me so far....

So my 'sum-up' for this month is quite similar to last month really, although the bird breeding season is almost over, July is a pretty decent month to see a good selection of birds, animals and butterflies in this area, with no need for a really early start, and it's also good for a mountain-top adventure, or a trip to a seabird colony with (usually) fairly good weather, and all still with plenty of daylight hours....Though I must confess that I always tend to feel just a little sad at the end of every July , as I know that many of our summer visiting birds are soon to vacate our area and fly south to warmer climes as summer turns to early autumn next month.....



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....


The upper reaches of the River Spey

Saturday, July 01, 2017

June 2017 in this area was cooler, wetter, windier and much more changeable than last month, however, there were still enough safari-friendly days of weather for it turn out to be yet another excellent month for wildlife sightings.With around 20 hours of usable daylight and all of our summer visiting bird species now on territory, bird day-lists are almost at their highest in the year now, with full-day (10-12 hour) multi-habitat safaris regularly producing over 50 species - many with youngsters - June is definitely 'fledgling month', whilst mammal day-lists ranged between 5 and 10 species depending on the variety of habitats visited, with early starts, as usual, proving to be most productive.
The combination of sun and rain helped to maintain the lush, green appearance of the spectacular highland scenery,  the wild flowers are approaching their colourful best now, a few patches of purple heather began to appear on south-facing banks, and a few more butterfly species and bees were noted on the sunnier days, though sadly, in smaller numbers than I would usually expect.

Early morning on a Cairngorm moorland

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future June 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 this month included:
Osprey, Slavonian Grebe
Ring OuzelRed GrouseRed-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Goldeneye, Dipper, Crested Tit and  Scottish Crossbill, with just a few views of Golden Eagle ...whilst an adventure high up into the Cairngorms,  produced the classic 'mountain-top' species - PtarmiganDottereand Snow Bunting.......and an 'out of area' coastal trip produced all the classic 'seabird city' species....it should be noted though, that we (not unusually) failed to see Black Grouse or Capercaillie at all this month....

Mammals seen regularly on my safaris during the month included:
Rabbit, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare, Red Squirrel, Roe Deer, Red Deer, Reindeer and Mountain Goat , we also managed just a couple of brief views of Stoat and Bank Vole, an unusual sighting of a Brown Rat swimming across the River Spey, one look at Sika Deer and a brief, tantalising glimpse of a probable Scottish Wildcat....Whilst a couple of 'out of area' coastal trips also produced Dolphins and Seals....

Osprey by Sheila Ivison
Osprey is probably the 'star bird' of the mid-summer months up here  - with my safari parties being fortunate enough to see them plunge-diving spectacularly to catch a fish,or deliver a fish to the nest on several occasions, and from the third week of the month we began to see the rapidly growing youngsters in the nests for the first time this year....


Slavonian Grebe by Brian Ivison
Slavonian Grebes, in their beautiful summer plumage, were seen and enjoyed regularly by my safari parties on their favoured quiet lochans,  though with the female birds still apparently on their nests,  we were as yet unable to confirm any much-needed breeding success for this increasingly scarce species..... but hopefully that will change soon...


Ring Ouzel by Colin Mount
Ring Ouzels often showed well in upland habitats near their nesting and feeding areas early in the month but became noticeably more elusive as the month progressed as they and their recently-fledged young began to roam further afield....


Female Red Grouse by Jan Shields
Red Grouse were not too difficult to find in suitable areas of heather moorland, despite their impressive camouflage,  and if you could spot the heads of the adults above the dense heather, and looked carefully, you then usually got to see their large families of very cute, fast-growing youngsters too...


Black-Throated Diver by Steve Nicklin


Red-Throated Diver by Brian Ivison

Both Red-Throated Divers and Black-Throated Divers in their striking summer plumage, were seen reasonably regularly on suitable secluded local lochs,  though we generally had our best views on calmer days, with little or no ripple on the water, and had our closest encounters early and late in the day, when human disturbance was it it's lowest....but sadly, we did not see any evidence of local breeding success.......


Crested Tit by Byron Taylor

Crested Tit (finally!!!) became a little less difficult to see, as the recently-fledged youngsters learned to forage for food with their parents in family groups, often alerting us to their presence in the Caledonian pine forests with their distinctive chuckling trills....so you need to be able to recognise this to have a decent chance....


Male Scottish Crossbill by Steve Nicklin
The same could be said of Scottish Crossbills, usually one of the more tricky species to see well, but by listening out for their trademark 'jip jip' calls and for falling pine cones....we actually managed decent sightings on a good number of occasions.....


Recently fledged Dipper
Dippers featured frequently on my safaris this month, with our local rivers producing great close-up views of families of these characterful and endearing little birds, that always prove to be popular with my clients, many of whom do not have them on or near their local patch.....

Golden Eagle is usually a tricky bird to see in the summer months, as they have so many hours of daylight in which to hunt, and the females are busy raising still-dependent youngsters...but regular visits to suitable upland habitat , and constant scanning, provided us with some pretty decent (If usually distant) views this month, though none were close enough for photos....
Other birds of prey seen at least once on my safaris this month included Common Buzzard, Kestrel, PeregrineSparrowhawk and Red Kite .....


Ptarmigan


Snow Bunting


Dotterel
June is probably the best month to have a chance of seeing all 3 of our mountain top bird species, and although suitable days weather-wise were a bit limited this month, a walk up and around Cairngorm summit on the 28th - using my Cairngorm Mountain Birdwatching Guide qualification to allow us to use the funicular railway and then exit the (usually) closed system for a walk up to the summit,  gave us decent views of Ptarmigan Dotterel and Snow Bunting ...though the poor weather meant my pictures were not of great quality....


Guillemots

Razorbills


Puffin

June is also probably the best month in which to visit a coastal seabird colony, so taking advantage of a favourable weather forecast, the 24th saw us take a very scenic drive east across to the Aberdeenshire coast to the sea cliffs at RSPB Fowlsheugh. After a short walk past fields full of singing Yellowhammers, Skylarks and Linnets,  we reached the impressively high and wonderfully scenic cliffs and were treated to the unique sights, sounds (and smells!) of good numbers of Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Guillemots (including the 'bridled' variety), Gannets and yes, everybody's favourite - Puffins!


Woodchat Shrike
Spotted Flycatcher by Colin Mount
Pied Flycatcher
Wood Warbler

Other good birds of note seen locally this month included Cuckoo, Golden PloverRedstart, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler all of which can now be tricky to see in large parts of the UK.... and we also had a short visit from a very rare Woodchat Shrike.....


Onto mammals now...


Red Squirrel
Our local Red Squirrels, a species sadly absent from most of the UK now, are always popular with my safari clients - often getting voted as 'mammal of the day', and visits to my favourite Caledonian pine forests produced lots of good sightings, often with decent photographic opportunities...


Red Deer
Red Deer too are not common in much of the UK, but we are fortunate to have good numbers here in our local glens , and we had many decent views of them again this month....


Feral Mountain Goat
The same could also be said of our feral Mountain Goats, which many of my safari clients saw in the wild for the first time whilst out on safari with me...

Mountain Hare in summer coat

Mountain Hares too are largely restricted to remote upland areas, and although we had a few decent views this month, they were generally a bit tricky to see....



Brown Hare
Brown Hares however, were seen much more frequently, especially early in the day, and occasionally at surprisingly close range, for this normally quite wary species....


Sika Deer
Sika Deer, an introduced species from it's native range in Asia in the late 19th century now have established feral populations in a number of locations, and we had a decent sighting of two of these very attractive animals  early in the month...

So, despite the unseasonal weather, it would appear that June 2017 was yet another great month for wildlife-watching in the Cairngorms National park. If you can accept that you are unlikely to see Capercaillie or Black Grouse, then June is an excellent time to visit if you are happy to see a wide selection of birds and mammals, with no need for a really early start,  and also fancy a mountain-top adventure, or a trip to a seabird colony with (usually) fairly good weather,  and all in virtually constant daylight.....






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....

Sunrise over the River Spey