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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

January 2013 started unseasonably mild, but soon reverted to the norm , with the remainder of the month much colder, and snow and ice a regular occurrence. However, the days are definitely lengthening now, and although winter is far from over this far north, an occasional, weak 'dawn chorus' and the 'drumming' of Great Spotted Woodpeckers helps us feel that spring is not too far away.....The poor weather conditions meant that there were very few decent safari opportunities, but we still managed a few good days out.
Bird day-lists were in the 30's whilst mammal day-lists ranged between 5 and 8 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality bird  species seen included: Dipper, Crested Tit, Crossbill, Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Snow Bunting, Ptarmigan, Golden eagle, Whooper Swan.

Mammals seen included: Otter, Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Roe Deer, Reindeer,  Mountain Hare, Mountain Goat, Brown Hare, Stoat (white), Rabbit, Bank Vole.

Great views of an Otter for nearly 20 minutes at dawn on a local loch, breaking the ice, diving to fish and eventually catching a good sized fish and eating it - a marvellous wildlife spectacle! (see pic)

Dippers singing and displaying on our local rivers and lochs soon after dawn. Many birders may have heard the sharp 'zit' call of these birds, delivered as the fly low along a river , but few will have enjoyed their scratchy, squeaky song performed as they bob and flap their wings in a courtship display. (see pic)

Also seen displaying on our local waters were Goldeneyes, the male birds throwing their heads violently backwards whilst uttering their croaking calls in an attempt to 'woo' the watching females.

Crested Tits continued to show well at my local forest feeding stations. These attractive and charismatic little birds really are a true 'local speciality' , being found in the UK only in Highland Scotland, with Speyside a major stronghold.

With the snow coming down to lower levels, Snow Buntings were seen regularly in and around the Cairngorms Ski Centre, and when natural food is in short supply, they are not slow to take advantage of any tit-bits supplied by humans.

Our 'winter-white' wildlife is always popular at this time of year. Ptarmigan and Mountain Hare (see pic) can usually be found (weather permitting!) in upland areas with a little persistence, whilst Stoat sightings tend to be chance happenings. These three creatures nearly always get an ''aaahhh'' response from my safari clients, but their 'cute' appearance disguises the fact that these are among the UK's hardiest wildlife, toughing out the worst that winter can throw at them.

Black Grouse males were seen at traditional 'lek' sites at dawn on several occasions, though it is not breeding season yet, they were seen displaying, especially on still , frosty mornings.

Red Grouse males too are very active this time of year, with much posturing and loud, guttural calling from the few higher spots in their moorland habitat.

Male Crossbills were seen calling and (unusually) singing from the tops of conifers, they too are early breeders, and the early part of the year can be one of the best times to see them.

Winter is arguably the best time of year for raptor-watching in this area with Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Merlin, Hen Harrier and Short-Eared Owl all being enjoyed, but the real stars of the show are our local Golden Eagles and occasional wandering White-tailed Eagle.

Unusual garden visitors: I was lucky enough to have two colourful Waxwings come into my garden one snowy morning , to pillage the few remaining berries on my Cotoneaster bush - a good garden 'tick'! I have also had a beautiful pale gold 'leucistic' Chaffinch visiting my feeders for several weeks. (see pic)





Thursday, January 03, 2013

Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all our readers! I hope that you all have a wildlife-filled 2013. December 2012 started with very wintry weather, plenty of snow and temperatures as low as minus 10. However, it gradually became slightly milder mid-month and actually ended unseasonably mild for mid-winter. Although the days are at their shortest now, with only around 8 hours of daylight, the absence of any really extreme weather allowed us to enjoy some good safari sightings.
Bird day-lists averaged 30-40 species, whilst mammal day-lists varied between 6 and 9.

Wildlife highlights included:

The superb spectacle of 3 Golden Eagles seen soaring together, enjoying the last few  'thermals' in a secluded upland glen, just before the sun dropped over the horizon - a great way to end a safari!

Other raptors were seen regularly too, with Buzzard, Peregrine, Kestrel, Red Kite, Hen Harrier, Sparrowhawk and Merlin all seen at some point.

Good sized flocks of Waxwings  (see pic) were seen intermittently, giving reasonable photo opportunities, though the berries are now dwindling rapidly.....

Crested Tits continued to come to my Caledonian forest feeding areas quite regularly, especially on the colder days, when presumably natural food is harder to come by...

Cock Black Grouse were seen regularly at favourite sites at dawn, with up to 5 birds interacting and occasionally displaying, as 'lekking' season approaches...

Cock red Grouse also became easier to see , with much calling from prominent points on our local moorlands, as they began to establish territorial rights...

Snow Buntings were seen at lower than normal levels when the snow came, with up to 20 being spotted at various mountain-side sites.

Crossbills were also spotted on a few occasions , though, frustratingly, usually only as fly-overs, identified by their sharp 'glip-glip' calls.

The very cold snap also brought some interesting visitors to garden feeding stations,  with Bramblings, Yellowhammers and Redpolls (see pic) all being reported.

Whooper Swans (see pic) were seen in good numbers on local lochs and rivers, along with other winter wildfowl such as Wigeon and Teal.

Mammals spotted regularly included Roe Deer, Red Deer, Reindeer, Rabbit, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare and Mountain Goat, with the occasional Stoat putting in an appearance.

A few Salmon were still lingering in our local rivers, many of them showing 'battle-scars' from the rigours of their upstream journey and spawning.

So, to sum up, 2012 was a great year for wildlife-watching in the Cairngorms National Park, and will be a hard act to follow - but I am sure I will enjoy trying!