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

Thursday, November 01, 2018

October 2018 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... except for the last week, which saw us get hit by an 'Arctic blast' from the north, which brought us some  cold, but sunny and still days, but also our first proper snow and frosts of this autumn.
Though the days are certainly shortening now, we still had around 10 hours of usable daylight, and the Highland scenery is still ablaze with glorious autumn colours, with most of the leaves still clinging on, and our berry trees fully laden.
The autumn rains 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 this year, especially 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.


Early morning in a Caledonian pine forest

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, Dipper and Goldeneye, we also had several good sightings of Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle,  a few fleeting glimpses of Crossbills, and we even had a couple of brief dawn views of Capercaillie. Newly-arrived winter visiting birds were represented by Whooper Swans, several species of 'grey' Geese, and huge numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares.
A good variety of waders and wildfowl were seen at the Moray Coast,  a few Waxwings were reported locally at the end of the month...and even a couple of  Snow Geese were seen nearby....

Mammal species seen regularly included: Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Reindeer, Roe Deer, Sika DeerMountain Goat , Brown Hare and Rabbit......with just a few sightings of Mountain Hare and one brief glimpse of a Stoat.....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....


Crested Tit
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 some 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...

Male Capercaillie by Steve Nicklin
Rather unusually, but certainly most welcome!.. were the couple of brief glimpses of the sadly now extremely scarce Capercaillie that we managed on our early morning forest visits this month, though I must stress that this is more of a 'chance happening' than something you can realistically 'expect'...but I guess you never know....

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....

Female Red Grouse
Our local Red Grouse appeared to be still in their (sadly now smaller) family groups, but with the shooting season thankfully almost over, they seem a little less wary and can be a bit easier to see, especially when using my safari vehicle as a slow-moving mobile hide on the quiet tracks through their heather moorland home.

We usually start to see a few male Black Grouse appearing at dawn at their traditional 'lek' sites in October, but neither of my' reconnaissance' visits this month proved successful.. so I will hopefully have better news to report next month...


Dipper
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,  it can be a fairly common sighting in this area, often perching prominently on a rock, and always proves popular with my safari clients ...


Amazing Juvenile Golden Eagle pic by Steve Nicklin
Golden Eagle is truly an iconic bird of the Scottish Highlands, and our regular visits to my favourite upland glens paid off on numerous occasions this month, with a number of very decent sightings of these hugely impressive creatures, sometimes hunting ,  often in aerial combat with other raptors, and on one memorable occasion we witnessed one trying to defend it's mountain hare prey from a 'mob' of 9 Ravens! Magic!!

Peregrine Falcon


Common Buzzard


White-Tailed Eagle

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

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...

I was scheduled to lead a couple of walks up to Cairngorm Mountain summit this month, to search for Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting.. but unfortunately, the Cairngorm Funicular railway has been closed for safety reasons after the annual inspection raised doubts about the integrity of the support beams....so we will have to hope that it is fixed and running again soon...as it is not really viable to spend hours walking up and down in the short days and often poor weather of early winter...

Redwing

Fieldfare
Winter thrushes flooded into our area from their summer breeding areas further north, in the largest numbers I have seen for many years, 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!


Whooper Swans


Long-Tailed Duck


Pink-Footed Geese


Curlew

Common Eiders

The Moray coast is only about an hours drive north west 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, Barnacle Geese, Pink-Footed Geese, Brent Geese, Snow Goose (1), Whooper Swan, Wigeon, Teal, ScaupPintail,  Bar-Tailed Godwit, Knot, Golden PloverGrey Plover , Purple Sandpiper, a few Long-Tailed Ducks,  and a bird rarely seen on Speyside, a Kingfisher...

Waxwing
Other good birds seen or reported locally this month included: Brambling, Redpoll, Great Grey Shrike, Waxwing, Yellow-Browed Warbler, a presumably storm-blown Gannet!, and Golden Pheasants (though their origin may be 'suspect') 



October 2018 mammal sightings:


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' as possible - surely one of British nature's 'must-see' experiences?



Still up in the glens, our local 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..things should hopefully change next 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....

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....


Red Squirrel
In the forests, our Red Squirrels never failed to entertain, with their cute looks, acrobatic 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 buck
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 this month..


Sika Deer
Sika Deer , also known as the spotted deer or the Japanese deer, is a species native to much of East Asia, but they were introduced to many country estates in the UK in the 1800's and we are fortunate to have a few in this area, and we saw them a couple of times this month..


Spawning Atlantic Salmon
Mid October-late November 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 - and this year, very low summer water levels,  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. This time we got lucky with everything eventually falling into place, and decent sightings were enjoyed from the 24th of the month onwards...

So, to summarise, helped by the reasonably 'safari-friendly' weather, the spectacle of the annual Red Deer rut, and the miracle of migration, I reckon October 2018 turned out to be yet another very enjoyable month for wildlife watching in the Cairngorms National Park, with plenty of excellent sightings, many memorable experiences for my happy safari clients - aged from 8 to 80!, and even the odd surprise, and all set against beautiful autumnal Highland backdrops. 
Autumn is in my opinion, one of the best seasons for wildlife-watching in this area, and I can highly recommend a visit during this time...

Early morning at a local 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....

Sunday, September 30, 2018

September 2018 saw summer turn to autumn (and occasionally winter!) in this area, but with thankfully no real extremes of bad weather, apart from a couple of windy days courtesy of Storm Ali. It has become considerably cooler at dawn and dusk though and we actually had a few frosts at the end of the month and our first light dusting of snow on the Cairngorms from the 20th.
The very welcome rainfall has helped the rivers to rise up to somewhere near their normal levels for autumn, which is good news for the Atlantic Salmon on their way up to the spawning grounds.
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 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 the Shetlands for 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 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 4 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, 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, Crested Tit , Goosander and Goldeneye, we also had a couple of good sightings of Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle  and a few fleeting glimpses of Crossbills.....Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting were both reported on local mountain tops, though suitable days 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 a few brief glimpses of  Mountain HareStoat and Bank Vole...and one very rare daytime sighting of an Otter on a local loch on the 21st...



Osprey
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 birds will attempt to undertake a 5,000 odd mile migration unassisted by their parents at the age of around 3 months!!


Red Grouse
Our Red Grouse on local 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 even a few photographic opportunities...


Crested Tit (left bird)
Crested Tit is always high on my safari clients 'wish-lists', with it being a UK rarity and 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 favourite feeding stations, especially soon after first light on the colder 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 dawn singing being heard, and aggressive behaviour being witnessed near to prime nest sites, especially soon after first light...


Sparrowhawk (female)
Common Buzzard

Red Kite




Golden Eagles and White-Tailed 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...

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...



Barn Swallows grouping up before flying south 

Other good birds seen or reported locally this month included: Wheatear (early in the month), Cattle Egret, Ruff, Black-Tailed Godwits, Golden Pheasants (though their origin may be 'suspect') and a presumably storm blown Manx Shearwater....



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... and the first Whooper Swans later in the month, and a little further north at Dornoch, a very obliging Hoopoe showed well for several days...



Autumn in the Abernethy Forest


September 2018 mammal sightings...



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 the other side of the Atlantic, seeing  these very characterful and attractive 'Highland speciality' animals for the first time..


Red Deer hinds
Although all seems quiet so far this year, 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 outside of the winter months..


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


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 remote, quiet areas...

So, to sum up, 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 'rarity' turning up, less tourists around and no early starts needed, in arguably, one of the most colourfully scenic months of the year....


Fly Agaric




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....


Friday, August 31, 2018

August 2018 started as summer with plenty of sun and warm temperatures, but  most definitely ended as autumn with some much needed rain and a much cooler and breezier feel to things, with 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, though this could be increased considerably if you visited the Moray coast.
Mammal day lists varied between 4 and 8 species, with earlier starts generally proving more successful, especially for the shyer species. August is usually our best month for Butterflies and day-flying moths, and a good variety of species were seen on the warmer, sunnier days, though sadly, in lower numbers than I would usually 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 local upland heather moorland at it's beautiful best

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 this month and in previous August's, will help...clicking on the picture enlarges it to full-screen.

Local speciality/upland bird species seen regularly included:
Osprey, Red GrouseDipper, Golden EagleGoldeneye and Goosander, whilst Red-Throated Diver, and Black-Throated Diver were both seen regularly early in the month but sightings became noticeably less frequent after mid-month as they presumably departed for the coast, and we also had a few brief views of Crested Tit  and  Crossbills and just one view of Merlin, Goshawk and  White-Tailed Eagle...sadly, Black Grouse and Capercaillie were not seen at all this month, 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  Sika DeerBrown Hare and Mountain Hare, and a solitary view of a Stoat, and on the 30th.. rather unbelievably, a very rare daylight sighting of a Pine Marten!!



Adult Osprey trying to coax it's final youngster to fledge...
Osprey was most frequently voted as 'bird of the day' by my safari clients this 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!... and with nesting being a little later than usual this year, we were fortunate enough to see the parent birds still here with their now almost fully independent youngsters until the very end of the month...

Female Red Grouse
Red Grouse, still in large family groups, continued to show well on our local heather moorlands, and with their nesting being a little later than usual, and  brood sizes being smaller than normal, we had the bonus of the start of the shooting season being delayed on most estates...



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 first have to  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'... 

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...


Golden Eagle




Peregrine Falcon

We 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 twice, and even three together on one memorable occasion ,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 White-Tailed Eagle, Osprey, Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Red KiteGoshawk and Merlin all seen at least once....


Black-Throated Diver



Juvenile Red-Throated Diver - note the characteristic up-turned bill


As I reported previously, both Red-Throated Diver and Black-Throated Diver bred successfully locally this summer, and although sightings reduced a little as the juveniles became more mobile, we still saw both species reasonably regularly until late in the month...

Whereas our local Slavonian Grebes were sadly not seen at all this month, having presumably migrated to the coast once the juveniles were able to fly.....



Dipper

Dipper sightings were a  little more frequent this month, with the precipitation helping the rivers to rise a little nearer to normal levels they reappeared in the areas where I would usually hope to see them..

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  and Snow Bunting sadly appeared to have deserted the normally damp and insect-laden , but now bone-dry drought hit areas where we usually find them... 


Spotted Flycatcher



Other good birds reported locally this month included: Spotted FlycatcherRed-Necked Grebe, and Nuthatch (very rare up here)....



August 2018 mammal sightings.....

With bird sightings 'slowing down' a little, mammal sightings  always become more important at this time of year, and we are fortunate to have such a good selection to go for in this area....



Stag party?
A frequent winner of my safari clients 'mammal of the day' award is the iconic Red Deer, and although they can be seen in many places all round the UK these days, it is still great to see them in their 'proper' home environment of upland glens and mountainsides....and although they are still in their large same-sex groups at the moment, that will be sure to change in a few weeks time....



Red Squirrel by Jennifer Holt
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...


Feral Mountain Goats

Also very rare and localised are 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



Mountain Hare - apologies for poor picture quality - taken through windscreen
Being largely nocturnal, and with their summer coat perfectly matching their surroundings,  Mountain Hares can prove very difficult to see in the summer months, and we only managed a couple of brief views, but Brown Hares were a little more obliging, especially early in the morning....



Other wildlife...


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

Our recently upgraded Land Rover Discovery in a beautiful local upland glen