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

Sunday, March 02, 2014

February 2014 started cold and snowy up here, but soon turned unseasonably milder, and, although we had a few wet and windy days, I would definitely describe it as a better than average February, and by the end of the month, it was almost 'spring-like'! This favourable weather, allied with the lengthening days providing nearly 12 hours of daylight, gave me the opportunity to provide some very successful and enjoyable safaris for my clients, with some excellent sightings of many rare and sought-after species, often in spectacular winter Highland scenery.....
Bird day-lists crept up towards 40 species, buoyed by the waders returning to their breeding grounds, whilst mammal day-lists varied between 5 and 9 species.








Wildlife highlights included:





Local speciality bird species seen regularly this month included Dipper, Crested Tit, Red Grouse, Black Grouse and Snow Bunting, with several good views of Capercaillie, and just a few encounters with Crossbills and Golden Eagle.




An early in the month trip to the Moray coast  to 'twitch' the long-staying American Coot, also provided me with Slavonian Grebe, Great Northern Diver, Long-Tailed Duck, Eiders and many other more common coastal species....






Local speciality mammals seen regularly included Red Squirrel, (see pic above)  Reindeer, Red Deer, Mountain Hare (white) and Mountain Goat, with just a few glimpses of Stoat (white) and Bank Vole....






Bird sighting highlight of the month has to be (again!), a handful of very memorable close encounters with one or other of our 2 (yes 2!!) local 'rogue' Capercaillies. Though it is important to be aware that sightings of these incredibly rare, and (usually) very elusive creatures are certainly not guaranteed, with only around one in 4 of my numerous attempts proving successful....(see superb pic by Nigel Wedge)






Our 'lekking' Black Grouse ran the Capers close though, with our pre-dawn starts giving us some great views of these moorland 'show-offs', as on most mornings, between 4 and 7, and on one occasion, an amazing 14 of these spectacular and sadly increasingly rare birds posed and postured aggressively, and occasionally actually physically assaulted each other, in an attempt to secure 'their' little patch of territory....(see pic)






Our local Red Grouse too, put on quite a show throughout the month, and whilst they do not actually 'lek' in groups,  the heather moorlands echoed with their guttural 'go bak, go bak' calls, as they too look to secure a territory, whilst also guarding their chosen female from other interested parties... (see pic)






Crested Tit is an incredibly rare and very localised little bird, with Speyside being their UK stronghold. This puts it very high on most of my safari clients 'wish-lists', and I am pleased to say that I was able to help many of them get that 'tick' this month, with the local 'Cresties' showing regularly at my favourite Caledonian pine forest feeding stations, often at close range, giving us great photo opportunities....(see pic)






The near record amounts of snow on our local mountains, and more importantly, the fact that it lingered down to Ski Centre car park level throughout the month, gave us many good opportunities to connect with Snow Buntings, with my trusty bag of wild bird seed often luring them close enough for photographs... (see pic)






Our local Dippers continued to entertain on our local rivers, this being one of the best times of year to see them , as they sing and 'dip' in an attempt to establish territories..... (see pic)






Golden Eagle again proved a little elusive, a familiar story as the days lengthen, but we did manage a few decent sightings in suitable local upland glens, including the  memorable experience of one duelling in mid air with a very brave Peregrine falcon - spectacular stuff!






Raptors in general were actually quite well represented this month, with us seeing all of the following species at least once: Kestrel, Sparrowhawk , Peregrine, Buzzard, Red Kite, Merlin, Golden Eagle .....






Crossbills proved a bit tricky to get decent sightings of, though we managed plenty of fly-over glimpses, with the birds identified by their distinctive 'glip, glip' calls...






Goldeneye is now a well established breeding bird in this area, and our local drake birds were often seen performing their spectacular, if slightly comical courtship dance, which involves them throwing their head back violently whilst croaking loudly...






Most of our winter visitor bird species lingered, with plenty of Greylag Geese, Whooper Swans, Wigeon and Teal still to be seen....






Returning waders noted in our local upland areas for the first time since last autumn included Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Curlew and Golden Plover...






As I mentioned previously, my Moray coast day trip proved  to be very rewarding with some good 'year-ticks' gathered , in the form of Slavonian Grebe, Great Northern Diver, Long-Tailed Duck and Eider.....and a probably never to be repeated life - tick in the American Coot (see pics above and below)






Mammals are always popular with my safari clients, with local specialities such as Red Squirrel (see pic), Red Deer, Reindeer and Mountain Goat putting big smiles on many faces, but the 'mammal of the day' award always seems to go to the beautiful white Mountain Hare..... (see pic below)





So, what an excellent safari month it proved to be, with the decent weather, fantastic wildlife and spectacular scenery all combining to provide my safari clients and I with many memorable moments and images.........