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

Friday, November 29, 2013

November 2013 marked the true arrival of winter in the Cairngorms National Park, with snow on the hills from early in the month, and a bit of just about every other type of weather, such as gales, sleet, hail, rain, sun and frost all experienced at some stage. Fortunately though, no real extremes of weather were forthcoming, so it was actually a decent month for wildlife watching, though the days are shortening noticeably now, with only 8-9 hours of usable daylight. Winter visiting birds continued to arrive from colder climes, and these extra species helped keep our bird species day-lists up around the 30 - 40 mark, whilst our mammal day-lists were steady at between 5 & 8 species depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

Local/upland speciality bird species seen regularly included Dipper, Crested Tit, Red Grouse, Golden Eagle (see pic below) and White-Tailed Eagle, whilst we also managed less frequent or fleeting glimpses of Crossbill, Black Grouse, Capercaillie and Ptarmigan.

Mammal species seen this month included Red Deer, Roe DeerReindeer, Rabbit, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare, Mountain Goat, Stoat and Bank Vole.

November is, in my opinion, THE month for seeing raptors in this area. With the combination of shorter daylight hours giving less available feeding time, the weather being  still reasonably clement, no deep snow and plenty of food around, ranging from small rodents up to large mammals such as Goats and Deer (yes, they are on the Eagles menu!) and including staples such as Rabbit and Hares, and even Salmon,  we have our best chances of seeing sought - after large birds of prey such as Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle (see pic), if you know where and when to look.........
So, if it is Eagles you are after - book yourself a trip up here in November!

Still on raptors, as well as the two Eagle species, we also regularly encountered Red Kites (see pic),  Buzzards, Peregrine, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, with just a couple of fleeting glimpses of Merlin and Hen Harrier.

Crested Tit is always high on my safari clients 'wish-list', being a very localised and rare UK bird, so I was delighted when they proved to be regular visitors to my forest feeding stations, giving some excellent close-up views and photo opportunities (see pic)

Red Grouse too, is a very localised species, only being reliably found on upland moors, which is a fairly rare habitat around much of the UK, but we are fortunate to have some excellent and reliable sites in this area, which regularly produced good sightings (see pic)

Dipper too, is a bird absent from large areas of Britain, preferring clear, fast-flowing upland rivers over murky, slow-flowing lowland waterways. Fortunately, it is a fairly common sighting in this area, often perching prominently on a rock, and always proves popular with my safari clients (see pic)

Ptarmigan is not a species that features regularly on my safaris, but a regular client was very keen to try and see one, and fortunately, her visit coincided with a short window of opportunity where we had weather conditions conducive to taking a walk up high in the mountains, and thankfully, after a fair amount of physical effort and patience, we obtained some pretty decent views (see pic)

Black Grouse  were seen at dawn on a couple of occasions on traditional 'lek' sites on cold, frosty and still mornings, but were absent on several occasions when I visited in milder, wet or windy conditions.

Capercaillie proved very elusive this month, with just one brief glimpse of two female birds at dawn , seen taking grit from a quiet forest track.

Crossbills too proved difficult, with our forest habitat sightings being limited to a number of fly-over flocks only being identified by their distinctive 'glip glip' calls.

Redwings and Fieldfares were seen fairly regularly, but became more elusive as the month progressed, as the birds presumably made their way further south, having consumed most of the berries in this area!

Grey Geese flocks in this area seemed to be all of the Greylag species, though we may well get some other species as winter progresses..

Whooper Swans were seen regularly on local lochs, often announcing their arrival with their distinctive, loud bugling calls.

Winter wildfowl numbers increased, with Wigeon and Teal being the species most commonly seen, though sightings of a Long-Tailed Duck and a Scaup were also reported on local lochs.

Woodcock is a bird usually only seen at dusk 'roding' over woodland, but during the winter months we occasionally get a few sightings of these beautiful, but cryptically plumaged birds feeding in the leaf litter at the side of quiet forest edges.

Mountain Hare is probably the most sought after mammal in this area, and it is quite understandable , as they begin to get their beautiful white winter coats about now (see pic), and are a very localised and rare species, being found only in upland areas.

Fish do not appear very often on my reports, but November is probably the best month of the year to see our  Atlantic Salmon (see pic). 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 and maturing out in the mid Atlantic, before undertaking a perilous journey many miles upriver, often involving negotiating high falls and rapids on the way - an amazing migration story!

So, although many people seem to get the 'winter -blues' as the days shorten and the temperatures drop , as a wildlife watcher, it is far from the case for me up here, with November now one of my favourite and most productive safari months, with lots of great wildlife to be enjoyed, and often in spectacular snowy scenery.....












Monday, November 04, 2013

October 2013 was a generally windy month in this area, with temperatures starting at the mild end of the scale, but dropping throughout the month, and ending up with a wintry feel to things, with the first frosts and proper snow on the mountain tops. Inward migration from further north was in full swing , with the incoming Geese, Thrushes, Swans and wildfowl pushing our bird species day-lists up into the high 30's and low 40's, whilst our mammal day-lists varied between 5-9 species depending on our luck. The beautiful autumn colours are at their best now, but the days are getting noticeably shorter, with only around 11 hours of daylight, and autumn is definitely turning into winter.

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality bird species seen this month included Crested Tit, Crossbill, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Dipper, Golden Eagle, 'Grey' Geese, Whooper Swan...

Mammals seen this month included Red Deer, Roe Deer, Reindeer, Red Squirrel, Mountain Goat, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare, RabbitBank Vole, Stoat,  Atlantic Salmon...

Red Deer stags 'rutting'. October is THE month for witnessing this annual 'must see' event on the British wildlife calendar, with the magnificent fully-antlered stags rounding up their 'harems' of hinds, protecting them from other rival stags with much roaring, aggressive posturing and occasional actual combat, whilst attempting to mate with as many of them as possible...(see pic)

Winter Thrushes poured in from the north throughout the month, first, the 'seep seep' calls overhead alerted us to the Redwings arriving, shortly followed by the 'chack chack' of the Fieldfares. Both species then proceeded to pillage our local berry bushes, much to the annoyance of our resident Blackbirds and Thrushes! (see pic)

Grey Geese flooded into our area too, mainly Greylags (see pic) but Pink-footed were noted too, with large flocks feeding hard in local stubble fields.

Whooper Swans began to appear on our local lochs from early in the month, their amazing 'trumpeting' calls announcing their presence, as they circled before landing. They will stay now until spring, taking advantage of our 'relatively' mild winter conditions.

Crested Tits were seen regularly at and around feeding stations in our local Caledonian pine forests, though they are greatly outnumbered by the more common tit species and are usually frustratingly flitty, rarely remaining still for long, making photography very difficult, though I was fortunate to manage a few half decent shots (see pic)

Golden Eagle is a species which actually becomes more likely to be seen as the days shorten, and their available hunting time decreases, and , true to form, we were lucky enough to have several decent sightings of these magnificent birds hunting along the ridges of a local upland glen - magic!

Red Grouse showed well on a number of occasions on our local moorlands, mainly still in family groups, though a few cock birds appeared to be getting a little territorial, calling and displaying from higher parts of the moor.

Black Grouse were seen at dawn on a few occasions, though only on cold, still mornings, which were very few and far between...

Crossbills were again a bit frustrating, with us getting fly-over flocks on many occasions, their 'glip glip' calls identifying them, though good sightings were again very seldom achieved..

Dippers were seen frequently, and are always a popular bird with most of my safari clients, probably because they are absent from much of the country's urban  and lowland waterways, favouring the faster flowing clear waters of upland rivers..

Salmon began to make there way up our local rivers towards their spawning grounds, though the lack of water hampered their progress, until some heavy rains at the end of the month raised the levels enough to allow them access to the upper reaches (see pic)


When birders talk of 'winter flocks', most would think of groups of Tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers in woodlands, but we also see huge mixed flocks of Finches and Bramblings on our local farmland, and Siskins and Redpolls in our riverside trees...

So, to summarise, Thanks mainly to the miracle of migration, October is an excellent month for bird watching in this area, and add in the Red Deer rut, the magnificent autumn colours and some half decent weather, I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit......