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

Saturday, May 03, 2014

April 2014 saw the early arrival of spring continue in this area, and although we had a few dawn frosts and some occasional light snowfall on the mountain tops, much of the month saw us enjoy decent amounts of sunshine and temperatures regularly well into double figures - great safari weather! Add to this over 16 hours of daylight now, the scenery ablaze with colourful spring flowers, and many bird species displaying and singing, and you probably will not be surprised to read that I consider this to be the best, and my personal favourite time of year for wildlife watching.
The vast majority of our remaining winter visiting birds departed early in the month, whilst summer visiting birds poured in throughout,  helped by the frequent southerly winds.
Bird species day-lists regularly crept well up into the 40's, whilst mammal day-lists varied between 5 and 9 depending on our luck.


Wildlife highlights included:


Local speciality bird species seen regularly this month included Dipper, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Osprey, Slavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver, Black -Throated Diver, Goldeneye, with a few sightings of Crested Tit, Crossbill, Capercaillie, Ring Ouzel and Golden Eagle.


Mammals seen during the month included Rabbit, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare, Red Squirrel, Roe Deer, Red Deer, Reindeer, Bank Vole and Mountain Goat.


Our local Dippers would appear to have youngsters now, as on several occasions, we witnessed both adult birds collecting beak fulls of insects, before returning to their nest sites... (see pic above)


Dawn (5am) visits to local Black Grouse leks continued to enthral and amaze my safari clients, with as many as 12 males seen 'performing', and, on the 18th , we were very lucky to be present when 6 hen birds arrived to watch the lek, and some were even seen mating with their chosen, dominant cock birds - a fantastic wildlife spectacle, and a great way to start the day! (see pic above)



The moorlands continued to echo with the guttural calls of the cock Red Grouse (see pic above), who were still actively displaying from prominent positions, but we saw very few hen birds, suggesting that many may already be on eggs......


One of my favourite wildlife moments every year, is the return of our local Ospreys to their nesting sites (see pic above). These beautiful birds of prey provide great entertainment, with their dashing good looks, aerial acrobatics and plunge-diving to catch fish. My favourite local pair were reunited very early in the month after a winter apart in West Africa, and by the end of the month appeared to be incubating eggs, as the hen bird seemed to be spending the vast majority of the day in the nest, with the cock bird now performing all of the fishing duties .


Golden Eagles were seen on several occasions in upland glens, often in mid-air duels with other birds of prey, which gave my safari clients the chance to get some idea of their huge size, with even Buzzards looking quite 'small' in comparison - but the 'Eagle highlight of the month' happened on April 9th, when, in the company of 'Bird Watching' magazine columnist Mike Weedon, we witnessed one of these awesome birds attempt to harass a Red Deer hind into tumbling off of a steep ridge - amazing stuff!



Slavonian Grebes - not just one of Britain's rarest breeding birds, but also surely one of our most beautiful?, returned to their secluded breeding lochs throughout the month, with many of my safari clients being moved to utter a "wow!" when seeing their stunning gold ear tufts in good light.. (see pic above)


Also on our local lochs, we were able to get decent views of two other very rare and beautifully marked birds, in the form of Red-Throated Diver and Black-Throated Diver, though I have yet to get any decent photos as they usually seem to like to keep a fair distance from humans...


Still on the lochs, drake Goldeneyes (see pic above) continued to call and perform their elaborate courtship displays, though with many of the females now on eggs, their audience is becoming noticeably smaller...


As April saw the start of lekking season, we were restricted to trying for Capercaillie sightings at dawn from the RSPB Caper-watch hide in the Abernethy Forest at Loch Garten, and although success is not guaranteed, we did manage a few decent sightings, usually on the still, frosty, sunny mornings...


Crested Tits were generally very elusive, and with the birds now concentrating on nesting, and hardly ever calling or singing, we only managed a few brief sightings at dawn at forest feeding stations..


Crossbills too proved tricky to see well, though we did manage plenty of fly-over glimpses, the birds identity being given away by their distinctive 'jip jip' calls..


Ring Ouzels are usually not too difficult to find in suitable areas in spring, though for some reason this month, we seemed to hear quite a few, but have had great difficulty in getting decent views so far...


Summer migrant birds began to arrive, first the Ospreys, Sand Martins and Swallows (see pic below), then a few Wheatears (see pic above), followed by House Martins, Common Sandpipers, Willow Warblers and Redstarts ....



Waders too flooded back onto their inland breeding grounds, with the  numbers of Oystercatchers, lapwings, Curlews and Redshanks (see pic below)
increasing steadily throughout the month....



Mammals are always popular on my safaris, and we are usually lucky enough to see a decent selection,
with our local feral Mountain Goats often being voted the favourite (see pic below)


So, to summarise, I think it is fair to say that we have had another very enjoyable month of wildlife watching in and around the beautiful Cairngorms national Park.