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

Friday, November 30, 2012

November 2012 was a generally cold month with regular frosts and light snowfall on the mountain tops and an occasional light dusting at lower levels, with, thankfully, no extreme weather meaning that all of my favourite remote safari sites remained accessible. The days are now shorter than the nights, but with more winter-visiting birds arriving throughout the month, and most of our 'local speciality' species still showing well, bird day lists were usually around the 40 mark, with mammal day-lists steady at 6-9 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

Spawning Salmon. It was amazing to see these beautifully marked and often very large fish battling their way up through incredibly fast, shallow water to breed at the very spot that they themselves were spawned several years previously. They were so pre-occupied with the urge to reproduce that they seemed totally unaware of our presence, allowing us to get some superb photos and video. (thanks for the pic Garry! )

A White - Tailed Eagle was seen on several occasions in an upland glen , often near the river where we were viewing the spawning Salmon - not a coincidence methinks! Sightings of these huge raptors with their 8 foot wingspan are quite rare inland and as well as impressing myself and my safari clients, this 'flying barn door' attracted some aggressive responses from the 'local' raptors, with us witnessing it being harassed by everything from Kestrel up to Golden Eagle - super stuff! (see pic courtesy of Nigel Wedge)

Raptors in general were seen very well and  regularly this month , with one of my safari parties viewing 7 different species (Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Buzzard, Red Kite, Golden Eagle, White-Tailed Eagle)  in 1 hour in one memorable visit to a favourite site - cracking entertainment!

The Red Deer rut continued on into early November, though the roaring & chasing around was noticeably less aggressive than in  October, and was pretty much all over by around the 10th of the month, with territorial and mating rights seemingly all sorted by then...

Crested Tits became much less difficult to see than normal, with my Caledonian forest  feeding areas producing some superb close-up views and photo opportunities of these very rare 'local specialities' - though we sometimes had to be patient as they were hugely outnumbered by the much more common (and incredibly tame!)  Coal Tits (see pic courtesy of Nigel Wedge)

Black Grouse  were seen regularly at suitable sites at dawn, with up to 4 cock birds showing well and even occasionally displaying.

Waxwings flooded into our area early in the month, with flocks of up to a hundred of these beautiful   'viking invaders' adding a splash of colour to the wintry backdrop as they pillaged the berries from our trees and bushes, their confiding nature often  allowing decent photo opportunities (see pic)

Dippers were seen at both river and loch sites engaging in territorial disputes, with much chasing and sometimes actual fighting being witnessed, with  their pre-occupied behaviour allowing closer than normal views and photo opportunities (see pic courtesy of Nigel Wedge)

Winter visiting birds increased in number, with us getting good views of Whooper Swans, Greylag Geese, Redwings and Fieldfares in good numbers.

Other 'local speciality' birds seen regularly included Red Grouse and Crossbills, and the occasional Snow Bunting was seen around the Cairngorms Ski Centre.

Mammals were well represented, with 'local specialities' such as Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Mountain Goat and Mountain Hare all being sighted regularly, with one brief glimpse of an Otter at dawn on a local loch.

To sum up - November is rapidly becoming one of my favourite safari months, and is also proving popular with my wildlife photographer clients, as many iconic species are easiest to see and photograph at this time , and the low sun and cold air produce the opportunity for sharper and more interesting pictures, whilst the weather is usually not too wild and wintry to cope with.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

October 2012 was a generally dry month, though it was noticeably colder than September, and with several frosts and regular snow showers turning the hilltops white, it is fair to say that winter has now hit the Highlands. Though the days are shortening , there is still plenty to see, with the hills and forests a blaze of beautiful autumnal colours, the  Red Deer rut in full swing and winter visiting birds flooding in from further north. Bird day-lists crept up into the high 30's or low 40's, and mammal day-lists ranged between 5 and 9 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

The Red Deer rut is surely the highlight of every October in upland areas - with the magnificent fully-antlered Stags battling for domination over their rivals for the right to mate with the hinds as they come into season, with much roaring , chasing and often actual clashing surely making it one of British wildlife's must-see spectacles! (see pic)

Incoming winter-visiting birds: First the Redwings signalling their arrival with their thin 'seep-seep' calls overhead, then the Whooper Swans appeared on local lochs with much loud 'trumpeting', then the Fieldfares , with their harsh 'chack chack chacks', and many 'grey' Geese of several species.

Towards the end of the month some rarer winter visiting birds in the form of a Great Grey Shrike and a few small flocks of Waxwings were also reported in our area.

Golden Eagles were seen regularly in upland glens, and with shorter days allowing less hunting time, we actually have more and better sightings of these huge, magnificent raptors in winter than in summer, with dry days after a rainy spell particularly reliable.

Crested Tits began to come more regularly to forest feeding stations, making decent sightings a lot easier than trying to pick them out in amongst  the fast-moving mixed species flocks in the forests!

Salmon were spotted making their way up our local rivers towards the spawning grounds in the shallower upper reaches, with the odd flash of a dorsal or tail fin and occasional splash betraying their presence.

Black Grouse were seen at dawn, with up to 4 cock birds being seen, and occasionally even displaying!

Other 'local speciality' bird  species seen  regularly included Red Grouse, Dipper, Goldeneye and the occasional Crossbill.

Many mammal species were seen throughout the month, including 'local specialities' such as Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Reindeer,  Mountain Goat and Mountain Hare along with Rabbit, Brown Hare, Stoat, and Bank Vole.