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Saturday, September 30, 2017

September 2017 was, like the last few months, a bit changeable weather-wise in this area, with thankfully no extremes of bad weather, though it has become considerably cooler at dawn and dusk, and the days are shortening noticeably now ,with only around 12 hours of usable daylight , but by way of consolation, the heather is still a lovely purple, many trees are full of colourful berries, and the leaves and ferns are starting to change into their attractive autumnal hues.....
I was away on the Orkneys on a short holiday, and in southern England visiting relatives and friends for a good part of the month, so my report will be shorter than usual, and will contain some general observations and pictures from previous Septembers.....
With just about all the summer visiting bird species gone by mid-month, and the winter visiting bird species only just arriving,  full-day bird lists dropped down to their lowest levels of the year (in the 30's), though this could be upped considerably by a trip to the coast, whilst mammal day lists varied between 5 and 8 species, depending on the time of our start and the number of different habitats visited, with early starts usually proving to be more fruitful...

Late summer on a Highland river
To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future September 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 bird species seen regularly during the month included: Osprey (first week only), Dipper, Red Grouse, Crested Tit and Goldeneye, we also had a couple of good sightings of Golden Eagle, and a few fleeting glimpses of Crossbills.....Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting were both reported on local mountain tops, though I did not venture up myself this month, sadly, Black Grouse and Capercaillie were not seen at all this month, though this is not unusual away from late winter/springtime....

Mammal species seen regularly included: Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Reindeer, Roe Deer, Mountain Goat , Brown Hare and Rabbit......with just a few brief glimpses of  Mountain HareStoat and Bank Vole...
Osprey with Trout
A few of our local juvenile Ospreys lingered around their now redundant nest sites and local lochs and rivers for a few days early in the month, giving us our last chance to admire these attractive and impressive raptors and their fishing skills, until they return in the spring. It always amazes me to think that these birds will attempt to undertake a 5,000 odd mile migration unassisted by their parents at the age of around 3 months!!

Red Grouse
The Red Grouse on the upland moors, mostly still in family groups, continued to entertain my safari clients, but with it still being shooting season though, they - unsurprisingly - seem a little wary of humans...but by using my vehicle as a mobile hide, we were often able to get some decent views and photographic opportunities...

Crested Tit
Crested Tit is always high on my safari clients 'wish-lists', with it being a Speyside speciality, and although they are now mainly to be found in mixed flocks roaming around the Caledonian pine forests, we also managed to get some decent views of them at my feeding stations, especially soon after first light on cooler mornings...

Still in the forests, Crossbills sightings were (again!) usually of the rather frustrating 'fly-over' variety, with them only being identified by their characteristic 'jip' 'jip' calls as they flew overhead between different parts of the forests...so sadly, there were no photo opportunities this month...

Dipper
The Dippers on our local rivers began to be seen a little more regularly, and they even appeared to be getting a little territorial, with some singing being heard, and aggressive behaviour being witnessed near to prime nest sites, especially at first light...

Soaring Golden Eagle
Golden Eagles are more commonly seen on my safaris during the shorter days of  autumn and winter, when they have less hours of daylight in which to hunt, and all of the family are active,  but we actually had a pretty good 'strike-rate' this month, with a favourite upland glen providing decent sightings on a number of occasions.
In fact, raptors in general seemed to be pretty active , with us seeing Red Kite, Common Buzzard, PeregrineSparrowhawk and Kestrel regularly as well...and we also had one sighting of a young White-Tailed Eagle early in the month..

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 again got to see many large families of these very attractive little ducks this month...

Other good birds seen locally this month included: Spotted Flycatcher (early in the month), Scaup, Hen Harrier and Marsh Harrier.....

Birders prepared to travel away from Speyside a little this month, especially to coastal reserves on the Moray coast or Aberdeenshire would have noticed plenty of incoming waders and wildfowl and a good influx of 'grey' Geese throughout... as well as surprising numbers of Yellow-Browed Warblers....

Onto mammals now....

Red Squirrel
As I mentioned last month, with the summer visiting local speciality birds departing this area, mammals become more of a focus on my safaris, and we were fortunate to see a good variety again this month. The  'mammal of the day' award was invariably won by the cute and ever popular Red Squirrel - with many of my safari clients seeing these these very characterful and attractive 'Highland speciality' animals for the first time..
Red Deer hinds
The very end of September usually sees the start of the Red Deer rut, with the stags beginning to 'check-out' and assemble their 'harems' of hinds, sharpen up the tips of their antlers on rocks and trees, and partake in a little light 'sparring' with likely rivals, often accompanied by a tremendous 'roaring', which echoes round the glens... a marvelously atmospheric spectacle....

Still up in the glens, our Mountain Hares, though still in their browny-grey summer coats are gradually turning whiter from their feet upwards as autumn progresses, in preparation for the snow to come, though actual sightings of them were not as frequent, or as good as I would have liked... but that is not unusual during the 'warmer' months..

Feral Mountain Goats
Our local Mountain Goats however, were a little more obliging...with plenty of decent views of large family groups being achieved....

Roe Deer
Although not as physically impressive as their larger Red cousins, Roe Deer are probably more often described as cute, but they always prove popular with my safari clients, and we were fortunate enough to see them on several occasions this month, especially soon after dawn, or in very remote areas....

So, similarly to August, although it's probably not the best month for the hard-core birder or 'twitcher' to visit, September in the Cairngorms National Park would still appear to have plenty to offer the more casual or beginner nature-watcher or those looking for a less intense or 'taster' wildlife safari experience, with less tourists around and no early starts needed in arguably, one of the most colourfully scenic months of the 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....


Sunrise in a Caledonian pine forest

Thursday, August 31, 2017

August 2017 followed the trend set by the two previous months weather-wise, by being very changeable in this area, with a variety of conditions being experienced, temperatures often considerably lower than the southern half of the UK, and cagoules, hats, gloves, scarves, and sun cream all being needed - sometimes all in the same day!
The days are noticeably shortening now as autumn approaches, but we still have 14-15 hours of usable daylight this far north.
With many of our summer visiting bird species departing this area for their wintering areas throughout the month, it was inevitable that local full-day bird lists would reduce down into the 30's, whilst mammal day lists varied between 4 and 8 species, with earlier starts generally proving more successful. By way of consolation though, August is usually our best month for Butterflies and day-flying moths, and this month followed the trend, with a good variety being seen on the warmer, sunnier days, though sadly,  in lower numbers than I would expect.
The Highland scenery is extremely picturesque now, with the heather at it's beautiful purple best, one or two ferns turning coppery gold, a few leaves beginning to 'turn' into their autumn hues, lots of varieties of fungus appearing, and the Rowan trees now fully laden with bright red berries.

A Cairngorms moorland
To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future August 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 bird species seen regularly included:
Red Grouse, Crested TitDipper, Golden EagleGoldeneye and Goosander, whilst Osprey, Slavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver, and Black-Throated Diver were all seen regularly early in the month but sightings became noticeably less frequent after mid-month, and we also had a few brief views of Crossbills and just one glimpse of Merlin and  White-Tailed Eagle...sadly, Black Grouse and Capercaillie were not seen at all, though that is not unusual at this time of year....

Mammal species seen regularly locally included:
Red Squirrel, Roe Deer, Red Deer, Reindeer, Mountain Goat and Rabbit with just a few sightings of Brown Hare, Mountain Hare, Stoat and Bank Vole..
Whilst a couple of trips to the Moray coast gave great views of Dolphins and Seals ...


Ospreys
Osprey was most frequently voted as 'bird of the day' by my safari clients, at least in the first half of the month - hardly surprising I suppose when you consider that these impressively large and attractively marked raptors can also provide additional "wow" factor when seen plunge-diving or carrying fish! Though sadly, by mid-month it appeared that most of the adult birds had already departed, leaving the juveniles to fend for themselves, so sightings definitely tailed-off from mid-month....


Red Grouse
Our local Red Grouse showed well in their family groups on suitable heather moorland, often down to close range when using my vehicle as a mobile hide, though not surprisingly, those on 'managed' shooting moors became noticeably more wary of humans, and more difficult to spot after shooting commenced on some estates from mid-month...


Crested Tit
Crested Tits have now joined the 'mixed winter flocks' of  many different bird species 'working' through our local Caledonian pine forests... so... to see the 'Cresties' you have to first find one of these roving flocks , then listen out for their distinctive chuckling trill , then try and pick them out as they move in annoyingly flitty  style through the branches - not an easy task! , but, satisfyingly for myself as a guide, we managed it on a good number of occasions, with many of my safari clients obtaining a difficult and much sought after 'life-tick'... on some of the cooler mornings though, our mission was made much easier when the odd bird visited local forest feeding stations.... though I should add that this is not usually a common occurrence in the summer months...

Still in the forests, Crossbills sightings were (again!) usually of the rather frustrating 'fly-over' variety, with them only being identified by their characteristic 'jip' 'jip' calls as they flew overhead between different areas of the forests...so sadly, there were no photo opportunities this month...


Common Buzzard
In contrast to previous Augusts, we actually did really well for Golden Eagle sightings this month, with visits to favourite upland glens producing surprisingly regular sightings of single birds , two in the air at once on a couple of occasions, and even one 'duelling' spectacularly with a White-Tailed Eagle on the 24th!!... despite my frequent 'prophet of doom' predictions that we would probably not be lucky!....in fact, raptor sightings in general were quite impressive this month, with Osprey, Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Red Kite and Merlin all seen at least once....


Dipper (juvenile)
Dipper sightings too seemed to be a little more frequent this month, with most safaris providing at least one sighting of these characterful little birds of clear, fast-flowing upland rivers..though they do still seem to be roving far and wide from their traditional nesting areas.....

Slavonian Grebe is, sadly, a very rare and declining species in the UK, with just a few pairs to be found on suitable secluded northern Highland lochs, and with our local nests failing, Loch Ruthven RSPB reserve was our best bet this month,though they had largely left the area by mid-month...to spend the winter around the coast of the UK...
Red-Throated Diver
It was a similar story with our local Red-Throated Divers  and Black-Throated Divers, the first of which, I am pleased to say,  was seen to have bred successfully locally, but though we had some good sightings of both early in the month, these species too appeared to have largely vacated this area by the end of the month....


Black-Throated Diver
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 again got to see many large families of these very attractive little ducks this month...

Although I did not venture up Cairngorm Mountain myself this month, I understand that Ptarmigan, Dotterel (up until mid-month) and Snow Bunting could all be found on or around the summit, though it should be noted that you really do need suitably 'friendly' weather (light winds, no low cloud or rain) to have a chance of seeing them......


Other good birds seen locally this month included: Spotted Flycatcher, juvenile Cuckoo, Hobby and Marsh Harrier.....



Onto Mammals now......


Red Squirrel
We are fortunate to have Red Squirrels in our local forests, a species sadly absent from most of the UK now, so they 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 stags
Red Deer too are not common in much of the UK, being generally animals of remote upland areas, 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 Goats
The same could also be said of our local feral Mountain Goats, interesting animals that come in a wide variety of colours from white, through grey and brown to black, or any combination of some or all of these colours, and many of my safari clients saw them in the wild for the first time whilst out on safari with me...


Roe Deer
Roe Deer, on the other hand, are fairly common throughout most of the UK, but due to their crepuscular nature, most of my safari clients rarely see them, and they are easily disturbed by human noise and activity...but early starts, and quiet walks round secluded areas gave us some decent views this month..


Brown Hare
Being largely nocturnal, and with their summer coat perfectly matching their surroundings,  Mountain Hares can prove very difficult to see in the summer months, but Brown Hares were a little more obliging, especially early in the morning....

Bottlenose Dolphins
Living on Speyside, I am very lucky to have Europe's best land-based Bottlenose Dolphin - watching spot just an hour away at the Moray Firth, and a couple of trips there this month produced super close-up views of 5 or 6 of these very entertaining and surprisingly large animals chasing and catching fish , and occasionally leaping clear of the water.. amazing stuff!

Seals
The Moray Coast also gave us great views of Seals, both swimming and 'hauled-out', and they can be incredibly confiding of humans, if you approach slowly and quietly....


Leaping Atlantic Salmon
The recent rainfall and corresponding rise in water levels finally allowed the Atlantic Salmon to make their way further up our local rivers, and visits to popular local falls and 'leaps' gave us some great views - and for those with LOTS of patience, even the odd photo opportunity, as these amazing creatures attempted to fight the powerful flows and often steep ascents, to return upstream to their birthplace breeding grounds to reproduce...a highly recommended wildlife experience....


Scotch Argus
Butterflies showed reasonably well, on the few still, warm and sunny days at least!, with the more common species regularly being joined by our 'local speciality' the much sought-after Scotch Argus ......

So, although not a favourite month for the hard-core birder or 'twitcher' to visit, August in the Cairngorms National Park would still appear to have a lot to offer the more casual or beginner nature-watcher or those with a young family looking for a less intense or 'taster' wildlife safari experience, with no need for an early start, in arguably, one of the more scenic months of the 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....

A local loch and heather moorland


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