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

Friday, May 03, 2013

April 2013 started off very cold in this area , with the first week seeing severe frosts and temperatures down to minus 15c, the middle part of the month saw more spring-like temperatures, though it was often very windy, but winter returned towards the end of the month, with more snow and frosts. So a very changeable month, with all 4 seasons being experienced, sometimes within the same day!
The days are lengthening nicely now, with around 16 hours of daylight, though it should be noted that to see the dawn species such as Capercaillie and Black Grouse, we needed to be in position soon after 5am....The wintry weather and lack of southerly winds meant that our winter visiting bird species lingered, whilst the expected influx of summer bird species occurred much later than average. The 'crossover' of winter, resident and summer species saw bird day-lists creep up over the 50 mark, while mammal day-lists varied between 6 and 9 species depending on our luck...

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality bird species seen regularly throughout  this month included: Dipper, Goldeneye, Capercaillie, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Crested Tit, Osprey, Golden Eagle, Snow Bunting, and from mid-month, Ring Ouzel, Slavonian Grebe,  Black-Throated Diver and Red-Throated Diver...though Crossbills continued to be elusive....

Several good sightings of Capercaillie displaying and lekking soon after dawn at the RSPB Caper Watch facility at their lovely Abernethy Forest reserve (Open 5:30am-8am April 1- May 19) - this initiative is highly recommended as it not only gives birders a decent chance of seeing Capercaillie, (and Osprey and Crested Tit) but it also stops people potentially disturbing other more sensitive sites....

Our  Black Grouse were seen lekking at dawn on local moors  throughout the month, with the cock birds performing their spectacular aggressive display dances whilst uttering their peculiar bubbling, whooshing calls in an attempt to become the 'alpha male', surely one of Britain's top wildlife spectacles?

Our local Red Grouse also performed well throughout the month, and although these birds do not actually lek , cock birds were certainly seen displaying and chasing off rivals, with their guttural cackling "go-bak go-bak" calls echoing across the moors. (see pic)

Most of our local Osprey nests now have a pair of birds in place, with much mating being noted, and some of the female birds seemingly sitting tight on eggs by the end of the month (see pic). We were also lucky to see 'plunge-diving' occur a couple of times, and a fish being brought to the nest on several occasions - great stuff!

Crested Tits could be seen coming to feeders throughout the month, giving us good photographic opportunities (see pic) whereas, in less wintry conditions they would usually be concentrating on nesting from mid-month, and would then be much more difficult to see.

The snow falling down to lower levels meant that we had the chance to see our local Snow Buntings at very close range in favoured areas, without the tricky hike up to the mountain tops that is usually required at this time of year - a very welcome by-product of the unseasonably wintry weather (see pic).

Golden Eagles were seen reasonably regularly during the month at suitable upland glens, with some of our best sightings being during sunny spells between the squalls and blizzards, though it should be noted that as the days get longer , our chances of Eagle sightings actually decrease, as the birds have more daylight hours during which to hunt...

A drive through a secluded upland moor gave us great views of a lovely ring-tailed Hen Harrier gliding low over the heather mid-month - sadly, a rare sight these days....

Ring Ouzels were seen in upland locations from mid-month, their fluty, high pitched single note call, repeated several times , often announcing their presence.

Our local lochs were frozen during the early part of the month, though within a few days of them thawing , we were pleased to note the arrival of three of the UK's rarest breeding water birds, namely Slavonian Grebe (see pic), Red-Throated Diver and Black-Throated Diver - all beautiful in their own right and much sought-after by keen UK birders.

Welcome additions to our day-lists from mid-month were migrant birds such as Common Sandpiper, Willow Warbler, Swallow, Sand Martin , House Martin and Wheatear....

So to summarise - April 2013 was, despite the changeable weather, a great month for wildlife watching in and around the Cairngorms National Park, and with winter, resident and summer species all possible, and many of them displaying, I would even go so far as to say that April is now probably my favourite month from a safari guide's point of view, and a visit here then is highly recommended!