Highland Wildlife and Birdwatch Safaris, Guided wildlife excursions, Aviemore, Scotland
Highland Wildlife and Birdwatch Safaris, Guided wildlife excursions, Aviemore, Scotland

Thursday, October 31, 2019

October 2019 saw much of our weather for the month largely dominated by a succession of low pressure systems from the Atlantic, giving us mild but often breezy and showery conditions... with just a few cold, still and sunny days, and from the 21st, our first snow on the Cairngorms...
Though the days are certainly shortening now, we still had around 10 hours (7am-5pm approx) of usable daylight, and the Highland scenery is still ablaze with glorious autumn colours, with most of the leaves still clinging on, and many of our berry trees still fully laden.
The autumn rains have restored the local rivers to their normal levels, allowing the Atlantic salmon to finally reach their spawning grounds in the upper reaches.
October is a really great month to witness visible migration in action, with large flocks of Geese, Swans, and Thrush species often witnessed flying noisily overhead, and this influx of winter visitors from colder areas further north, helped full-day safari bird lists increase up into the 40's, (or more if you include a trip to the Moray Coast), whilst mammal day-lists varied between 3 and 7 depending on the start time and number of venues visited, with early starts, as usual, proving to be best.


Autumn at a local heather moorland and loch

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future October 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:
Crested Tit, Red Grouse, and Dipper,  we also had several good sightings of Golden Eagle,  a few fleeting glimpses of Crossbills, and some decent dawn views of displaying  Black Grouse.
Newly-arrived winter visiting birds were represented by Whooper Swans, several species of 'grey' Geese, and good numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares.
A good variety of waders and wildfowl were seen at the Moray Coast, and  a few Waxwings were seen locally at the end of the month...

Mammal species seen regularly included: Red Squirrel, Red Deer (rutting), Reindeer, Roe Deer, Mountain Goat , Brown Hare and Rabbit......with just a few sightings of Mountain Hare and one close encounter with  a Wood Mouse.....The last week of the month also saw us enjoy great views of Atlantic Salmon starting to spawn in the upper reaches of our local rivers....



October 2019 bird sightings in more detail:


Crested Tit by Wayne Biddlecombe
Crested Tits, having been generally 'uncooperative' and elusive through the summer months, started to become more regular visitors to forest feeding stations, especially soon after dawn, and we were fortunate enough to enjoy many excellent and often extremely close views of this true 'local speciality' on a number of occasions....
A bonus by-product of regular winter feeding is sometimes (on colder days) being able to feed the incredibly confiding Coal Tits and (sometimes) Great Tits by hand, an experience much enjoyed by my safari clients of all ages...

Still in the forests, Crossbills, sadly, but not unusually, were somewhat less obliging however, with our views once again being restricted to snatched glimpses of birds flying overhead...identified only by their distinctive 'jip- jip' calls....

Whilst Capercaillie sadly, were conspicuous by their absence again, despite a number of walks and drives through areas of Caledonian forest where we had been lucky in the past...

Red Grouse

On the heather moorlands, Red Grouse, still largely in their family groups were much more obliging, and we saw them well on many occasions, often at quite close range...


Black Grouse
Our dawn visits to local Black Grouse lek sites were a bit more 'hit and miss', with up to 6 cock birds seen feeding and occasionally displaying on a few occasions, whilst other mornings produced less birds or no sightings at all...


Dipper with small fish
Dipper is a bird absent from large areas of central, southern and eastern Britain, preferring clear, fast-flowing upland rivers over murky, slow-flowing lowland waterways. Fortunately, if you position yourself on a bridge,  they can be a fairly common sighting in this area, often seen swimming and diving to feed, or perching prominently on a rock, and always prove popular with my safari clients ...



Young Golden Eagle
Golden Eagle is truly an iconic bird of the Scottish Highlands, and one that always seems to be on the 'wish-list' of my safari clients, and our regular visits to my favourite upland glens paid off on several occasions this month, with a number of  decent sightings of these hugely impressive creatures, sometimes hunting ,  often in aerial combat with other raptors or Ravens, or sometimes just soaring around....

Red Kite



Kestrel


Pale morph Common Buzzard by Steve Nicklin

In fact, if you are a bird of prey fan, it is worth noting that early winter is usually our best time of year for raptor sightings, and this month we also recorded views of  Peregrine, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Red Kite, and numerous Common Buzzards...




Fieldfare


Redwing
Winter thrushes flooded into our area from their summer breeding areas further north, first the Redwings, followed soon after by the Fieldfares, and they soon set about demolishing our local berry supplies, much to the annoyance of our resident Blackbirds and Thrushes!


Waxwings
The last week of this month saw a small influx of more 'Viking invaders' in the beautiful, and very welcome form of Waxwings!! It was a real treat to see small flocks of them feasting on the few berries left by the thrush species, often at quite urban sites like car parks, school grounds and gardens, with their reasonably confiding nature often giving good opportunities for photography...


The view from Cairngorm Mountain summit
With the Cairngorm Funicular Railway still out of action, and walking up not really being safe or practical in the shorter days of the winter months, we hired the Cairngorm Mountain ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) to access the summit area on one of the days of better weather, and our walk in the fresh snow was rewarded with spectacular scenic vistas,  and brief views of Snow Buntings, though sadly, the Ptarmigan eluded us...

Other good birds seen or reported locally this month included: 


Golden Pheasant by Steve Nicklin

A few late Swallows early in the month, Golden Pheasant, Lady Amherst's Pheasant, and a Great Grey Shrike and an American Wigeon late in the month...



Scaup by Steve Nicklin



Pink-Footed Geese


Whooper Swans
The Moray coast is only about a one hour drive north  of Aviemore, and a couple of trips to favourite reserves, lochs, bays and harbours gave good views of incoming winter migrants such as Greylag Geese,  Pink-Footed Geese, Brent Geese,  Whooper Swan, Wigeon, Teal, , Pintail,  Bar-Tailed Godwit, Knot, Golden PloverGrey Plover , ScaupCommon Scoter, Velvet Scoter, and a few Long-Tailed Ducks........


Autumn in the Abernethy Forest

October  2019 mammal sightings in more detail:


Red Deer stag

Red Deer stag with his harem of hinds
'Mammal of the month' for October just has to be the Red Deer,  with their spectacular annual 'rut' providing my safari clients with some superb entertainment - the fully antlered stags 'bolving' roars echoing through the glens, as they spend much of the month  posturing , fighting off rivals and attempting to mate with as many of their 'harem' of hinds as possible - surely one of British nature's 'must-see' experiences?


Feral Mountain Goats

Feral Mountain Goats are mainly restricted to a few remote upland areas of the UK, and we are fortunate to have them locally in a few quiet glens, so many of my safari clients get to see them for the first time while out with me....

Still up in the glens, our local Mountain Hares - Britain's only native lagomorphthough still mainly 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 'milder' months..things should hopefully improve next month....


Red Squirrel by Steve Nicklin
In the forests, our Red Squirrels never failed to charm and entertain, with their cute looks, acrobatic leaping from tree to tree , reliable use of  peanut feeders, and chasing off of rivals, and of course, with them being largely absent from most of the UK now, many of my safari clients were seeing them for the first time....



Roe Deer
Roe Deer, although relatively common in most of the UK, can actually be quite tricky to see due to their naturally 'nervous' nature, and the fact that they can be very 'crepuscular'  - being more active at dawn and dusk...but we managed plenty of good early morning sightings on farmland and the edges of woods this month..


Brown Hare
Brown Hares, similarly to the Roe Deer, can be very nervous and  'crepuscular' in nature, and most of our best sightings happen in the first hour of daylight, and that proved to be the case again this month....



Wood Mouse
The area underneath bird feeders can often be good for sightings of some of the smaller mammals, and this month we got to see Bank Voles and a Wood Mouse enjoying an easy feed on seeds and nuts spilt by the birds..





Spawning Atlantic Salmon

Mid October-early December is usually the time of year to see our Atlantic Salmon spawning. These remarkable and often very large fish spawn in the shallow waters in the upper reaches of our rivers, at the very spot where they themselves were hatched several years before, having originally spent 2-3 years in the river, then another 2-3 years feeding, growing and maturing out in the mid Atlantic, before undertaking a perilous journey many miles upriver, often involving avoiding poachers and predators and negotiating high falls and rapids on the way ,  an amazing migration story! However, sightings are very reliant on the rivers water levels - too little water and the Salmon cannot access the upper reaches - too much water, and they can get there... but we can't see them....fortunately, from the 28th onwards it all fell into place and we enjoyed some good views...

Summary:

Well, despite the often 'changeable' weather, and aided by the beautiful autumn colours, the influx of birds from further north and the Red Deer rut, I reckon October 2019 turned out to be a very good month for wildlife-watching in this area, with a good selection of local specialitiy birds and animals (and fish!) seen, lots of fun had, lots of hot chocolate and shortbread enjoyed, and lots of safari clients from all round the world going home with happy memories of their visit to the Cairngorms National park...

A misty morning at a local loch

I know a lot of visitors to this area very wisely check out reviews of attractions at tripadvisor before 'taking the plunge' and booking - if you wish, you can check out my clients comments at the link below....

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

Highland_Wildlife_Birdwatch_Safaris-Aviemore_Aviemore_and_the_Cairngorms_Scottish.html




A 13th century castle on a local moorland loch




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....

Monday, September 30, 2019

September 2019 saw summer turn to autumn in this area, but with no snow yet and a mixture of sun and rain , and thankfully no real extremes of bad weather apart from a couple of very windy days courtesy of Storm Dorian, it was a decent month in the Cairngorms National park.
Temperatures are considerably cooler at dawn and dusk now though and the first frosts are surely not too far away...
The regular rainfall has helped the rivers to maintain their normal levels for autumn, which is good news for the Atlantic Salmon on their way to the spawning grounds in the upper reaches.
The days are shortening noticeably now, with only around 12 hours (7am-7pm) of usable daylight , but by way of consolation, the heather is still a lovely purple in places, many trees are full of colourful berries, and the leaves and ferns are now in their attractive autumnal hues.....
I was away on holiday 'recharging my batteries', 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 typical 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 local safari 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 nearby Moray coast, whilst mammal day lists varied between 3 and 7 species, depending on the time of our start and the number of different habitats visited, with early starts usually proving to be more fruitful...

Early autumn in a beautiful local upland glen
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 this month and in previous September's will help...clicking on the picture enlarges it to full-screen.


Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality/upland bird species seen regularly during the month included: Osprey (first week only), Dipper, Red Grouse, Goosander and Goldeneye, we also had a couple of good sightings of Golden Eagle and a few fleeting glimpses of Crested Tit and Crossbill.....
Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting were both reported on local mountain tops, though suitable days and opportunities were rare, and 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 one brief glimpse each  of  Weasel and Bank Vole...



September 2019 bird sightings in more detail:

Osprey with fish
A few of our local juvenile Ospreys lingered around their now redundant nest sites and local lochs and rivers for the first week of 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 young birds will attempt to undertake a 5,000 odd mile migration unassisted by their parents at the age of around 3 months!!

Female Red Grouse
The Red Grouse on our local upland moors,  still in large family groups, continued to entertain my safari clients, and with seemingly little or no shooting going on in this area this autumn, they were actually easier than usual to see... long may it continue.....



Dipper
Dipper sightings were still a little 'random' early on this month, as the birds seemed to range wide and far, but later in the month we witnessed some more 'territorial' behaviour (loud singing and aggressive posturing) near to some of their favourite nesting bridges....



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 many local lochs, and we again got to see many large families of these very attractive little ducks this month...though it should be noticed that the males are still in their brown-grey 'eclipse' plumage which is very similar to that of the females and youngsters...



Crested Tit
Crested Tit is always high on my safari clients 'wish-lists', with it being a UK rarity and Speyside speciality, but it can be a difficult bird to see in spring and summer,  and although they are now mainly to be found in mixed flocks roaming around the Caledonian pine forests, we also managed to get  a few decent views of them at my favourite feeding stations, especially soon after first light on the colder mornings later in the month...and they should get a little easier to see in the coming weeks...

Still in the forests, despite my best efforts, Crossbills sightings were ( yet 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...


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' on the few safaris I did provide this month, with a favourite upland glen giving us decent sightings on a number of occasions.

Red Kite

Common Buzzard

Kestrel
In fact, raptors in general seemed to be pretty active , with us seeing Red Kite, Common Buzzard, PeregrineSparrowhawk and Kestrel regularly ...with one bonus sighting of a Goshawk too...




Wheatear


Golden Plover


Golden Pheasant

Lady Amherst's Pheasant

Other good birds seen or reported locally this month included: Wheatear (early in the month), Golden Plover,  Golden Pheasant, Lady Amherst's Pheasant , Marsh Harrier, a very late Ring Ouzel,  some very early Pink-Footed Geese , Barnacle Geese, Redwings and Fieldfares....


Birders prepared to travel away from Speyside a little this month, especially to reserves on the Moray or Aberdeenshire coasts would have noticed plenty of incoming waders and wildfowl and a good influx of 'grey' Geese from mid-month... and the first Whooper Swans later in the month...and a little further north  there were a number of reports of Yellow-Browed Warblers....



A local Caledonian pine forest


September 2019 mammal sightings in more detail:



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 , especially those from outside of Europe seeing these very characterful and attractive 'Highland speciality' animals for the first time..


Red Deer
The 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 outside of the winter months..


Feral Mountain Goats
Our local Feral Mountain Goats however, were a little more obliging...with plenty of decent views of large family groups being enjoyed..with many of my safari clients seeing them for the first time...

Young Roe Deer
Although not as physically impressive as their larger Red cousins, Roe Deer are probably more often described as cute - like Bambi even, 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 remote, quiet areas...


The River Spey

Summary:

Similarly to August, although in all honesty 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 the chance of a migrating 'rarity' turning up, less tourists around and no early starts needed, in arguably, one of the most colourfully scenic months of the year....


I know a lot of visitors to this area very wisely check out reviews of attractions at tripadvisor before 'taking the plunge' and booking - if you wish, you can check out my clients comments at the link below....

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



A moody looking local upland moor


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....