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

Sunday, July 01, 2018

June 2018 weather-wise, started and finished in similar style to May, with high pressure, light winds and very warm temperatures,  but.... a very 'changeable' middle fortnight saw Storm Hector bring high winds, rain , much cooler temperatures, and even some hill snow, as if to remind us that we are actually in the Scottish Highlands and not the Mediterranean! However, there were still plenty of 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 just below the highest in the year now, with full-day (10 hour multi-habitat safaris regularly producing over 50 species - many with youngsters - June is definitely 'fledgling month' - so if you enjoy seeing baby birds, this is definitely the month to visit!
Mammal day-lists ranged between 4 and 9 species depending on the variety of habitats visited, with early starts, as usual, proving to be most productive for the 'shyer' species.
The combination of sun and mid-month rain helped to refresh and restore the lush, green appearance of the spectacular highland scenery and gave the river levels a much-needed but sadly short-lived top-up, whilst the wild flowers are approaching their colourful best now, and a few patches of purple heather began to appear on south-facing banks.
A few more butterfly species were noted on the sunnier days, though sadly, in smaller numbers than I would usually expect.

The River Spey with the Cairngorm mountains in the background

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future June visit yourself, I hope the following more detailed information, illustrated with photos taken this month in and around the Cairngorms National Park  (and occasionally beyond) by myself,  my friends or my safari clients will help - clicking on the picture enlarges it to full screen.


Local speciality and upland bird species seen regularly this month included:
Osprey, Slavonian Grebe
Ring OuzelRed GrouseRed-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Goldeneye, Dipper, Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler, with a few sightings of Crested Tit and  Scottish Crossbill, ....it should be noted though, that, apart from brief glimpses, we (not unusually) failed to 'properly' see Golden Eagle, White-Tailed EagleBlack 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, Sika Deer and Mountain Goat , we also managed just a couple of brief views of Stoat and Bank Vole, ....Whilst a couple of 'out of area' coastal trips also produced plenty of Seals, and a pod of Dolphins....


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

Slavonian (Horned) Grebe with chicks
Male Slavonian Grebes, in their beautiful summer plumage, were seen and enjoyed regularly by my safari parties on their favoured quiet lochans,  regularly observed delivering food to the female birds on their nests hidden deep in the sedge beds for much of the month,  and from the third week of the month, we could finally confirm much-needed breeding success for this (UK-wise) rare and threatened species, when we finally got to see the incredibly cute humbug-striped youngsters - great news!


Male Ring Ouzel
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 with 3 chicks - can you spot them?

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...


Red-Throated Diver



Black-Throated Diver

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 usually had our closest encounters early  in the day, when human disturbance was it it's lowest....and very pleasingly, we got to see evidence of local breeding success , in the shape of several fluffy chicks of both species... more great news!

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 rippling trills....but please be aware that you need to be able to hear and recognise this to have a decent chance....don't worry, I will use the app on my ipad to train you up!!

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 couple of occasions this month, though a decent photo escaped me....


Young Dipper
Dippers featured reasonably 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 and White-Tailed Eagle are iconic 'Scottish' birds which always seems to be on visiting birders 'wish-lists', and we are fortunate to have a number of suitable upland glens nearby, however.... it should be noted that, with most females on eggs, or with very young chicks, and 18+ hours of daylight available for the males and sub-adults to use for hunting, the chances of us just happening to be in the right place at the right time to see one are are fairly low during  spring and summer  (when compared to the autumn/winter months) and generally raptor sightings in this area were pretty hard to come by, with very few photographic opportunities...

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


Ptarmigan (photo from June 2016)


Dotterel (photo from June 2016)


Snow Bunting (photo from June 2017)
June is probably the best month to have a chance of seeing all 3 of our mountain top bird species - Ptarmigan, Dotterel and Snow Bunting - and although the weather would often have been suitable, unfortunately, the Cairngorm Funicular railway was out of action due to repairs for much of the month which would have meant a long and gruelling walk up in the summer heat... so I am instead planning a couple of walks up when the railway is reopened in early July....but I thought I would include a few photos from previous June sightings, to give you an idea of what is possible...


Male Wheatear


Male Stonechat


Ringed Plover


Snipe
June is also probably the best month in which to visit a coastal or island seabird colony, and I can recommend a trip to any of the many seabird colonies around Scotland's coast , often with impressively high and wonderfully scenic cliffs and where you can enjoy the unique sights, sounds (and smells!) of good numbers of Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Guillemots ,Gannets and yes, everybody's favourite - Puffins! Not forgetting of course, the 'back-up' cast of species such as Wheatear, Stonechat,  Snipe and Ringed Plover...





Wood Warbler


Spotted Flycatcher
Female Pied Flycatcher

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


A picturesque local birch wood


June mammal sightings....

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 (photo from June 2015)

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, and we noticed that some of the stags were growing impressive sets of antlers...



Feral Mountain Goats  (photo from June 2017)
The same uplands also hold a few 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 (photo from June 2017)
Mountain Hares too are largely restricted to remote upland areas, and although we had a few decent views this month, being a blotchy grey and white now, 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....


Roe Deer, although relatively common across the UK, can be tricky to see due to their generally shy nature, and now we no longer have the really early starts, our sightings definitely reduced this month, though we still saw at least one nearly every time...


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 few decent sighting of these very attractive animals. 



Other wildlife...


Small Copper by Bob Smith
Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary

Butterflies were seen more frequently this month, with the more common species being joined by our first Small Coppers and Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillaries of the year....


Wood Ants nest
Wood Ants build huge nests in our local forests, and we came across several on our walks this month. From a distance they just look like a mound of earth, but when you get close you realise that there are many thousands of the busy little critters going about their business....



A local Caledonian pine forest

Well, I reckon June 2018 was as good, and maybe even better than most other June's for wildlife-watching in this area - With the 'Beast from the east' in April setting nesting back a good couple of weeks, much of the month felt more like May, with us seeing and hearing more species still displaying, nesting and singing than usual. Add in the (generally) great weather, the breeding success of most of our local speciality species,  especially the local Divers and Slavonian Grebes, and the fact that this was my 'busiest' June ever for safaris - thanks to all my clients! - I am writing this with a big smile on my face.......




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