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

Monday, June 30, 2014

June 2014 was a pretty decent month for wildlife-watching in the Cairngorms National Park weather-wise, with plenty of warm, sunny days interspersed with a few cool and drizzly ones, which all helped to maintain the lush, green appearance of the spectacular highland scenery. The wild flowers are approaching their colourful best now, and the heather is turning purple ,with lots of butterflies on the wing, and with nearly 20 hours of usable birding daylight for those with the stamina to attempt it, bird species day-lists were regularly in the 50's or even 60's.  Just about every bird species appears to have youngsters now, and with no extreme or prolonged bad weather encountered, hopes are high for a good survival rate.
Mammal species day-lists ranged between 6 and 10, with early starts usually providing the best sightings.
I am proud to say that all the pictures shown below were taken either by myself or my clients on my safaris during June.

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality bird species seen regularly this month included:  Osprey, Black Grouse (early in the month only), Red Grouse, Ring Ouzel (up to mid month), Crested Tit, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Slavonian Grebe, Dipper, Goldeneye and Goosander, with just a few sightings of Crossbill, Capercaillie and Golden Eagle.

Mammal species seen this month included: Rabbit, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare, Roe Deer, Red Deer, Fallow Deer, Reindeer, Mountain Goat, Stoat ,Bank Vole, the Moray Firth Dolphins and coastal Seals, and a couple of lucky early morning glimpses of Pine Marten.

Osprey is probably the 'star bird' of the summer months up here (see pic above) - with my safari parties being fortunate enough to see them plunge-dive spectacularly to catch a fish or delivering a fish to the nest on a number of occasions, and great views of the adult birds and their rapidly growing young in the nest...

Our local Black Grouse rather surprisingly, continued to lek well into June, with a pre-4am arrival giving us the opportunity to see the amazing 'Blackcock tango' for the last time this year.. (see pic above)

Red Grouse were not too difficult to find on suitable areas of heather moorland, and if you could spot the heads of the adults above the heather, you then usually got to see their large families of fast-growing youngsters too... (see pic above)

Ring Ouzels showed well in upland habitats near their nesting and feeding areas early in the month (see pic above), but became noticeably more elusive as the month progressed and they began to roam further afield....

Crested Tits actually became a little easier to see this month, as the family groups foraged together through our local Caledonian Pine Forests (see pic above by Malcy Fincham), though it should be noted that you really need to know their distinctive song and calls in order to be able to find them....

Crossbills  were generally a bit elusive, though one day of serious 'forest bashing' eventually provided us with some decent views... (see pic above)

Both Red-Throated Divers and Black-Throated Divers in their dapper summer plumage, were seen regularly on suitable secluded local lochs, though we generally had our best views on calmer days, with no ripple on the water, and early and late in the day, when human disturbance was it it's lowest....

Slavonian Grebes, also in their beautiful summer plumage, were seen and enjoyed regularly by my safari parties on their favoured quiet lochans, though we could not confirm any much-needed breeding success as it appeared that several of their nests had been abandoned due to predation, disturbance or flooding.....

Golden Eagle is not usually an easy bird to see in the summer months, as they have so many hours of daylight in which to hunt. It is just a case of putting yourself in a likely site , and hoping you get lucky... fortunately we did on several occasions, with the best encounter seeing us observe one bird stalking young feral Mountain Goats along a ridge!!

Capercaillie can be a very difficult bird to see outside of lekking season, and for most of the month this proved to be the case.... but the final week saw us get lucky with two all too brief sightings of females with youngsters....

June is probably THE best month to visit the high tops in search of the mountain species, as it is about the only month that they should all definitely be on territory and the weather is usually good enough to attempt it! So the 12th saw a small party of us visit a local summit, where, after a fair bit of searching, we were pleased to get good views of Ptarmigan (see pic above) and Dotterel (see Malcy Fincham's pic below). Though the Snow Buntings managed to elude us....


Other 'good' birds seen regularly this month, include a few species that seem to breed more commonly in northern and upland areas, like Golden Plover (see pic above), Wood Warbler, and Spotted Flycatcher (see pic below) , and although I am lucky to see them regularly, they are often a good 'year-tick' for my guests from further south.....

Another bird which is often a tricky 'year-tick' to get is the Woodcock - it's crepuscular nature, means that all most birders really ever get to see is a dusk silhouette view of one 'roding' above a wood, or a brief glimpse of one fleeing the roadside leaf litter on a forest track at dawn... so we were amazed and delighted when one walked across a remote woodland track and then posed briefly under the shadow of a tree for a few seconds in the middle of the day! (see pic above). To say I was pleased with the pic I got is possibly the understatement of the year!!

June is also probably the best month in which to visit a coastal seabird colony, so taking advantage of a favourable weather forecast, we took a day trip up to the north-west coast to the wonderfully remote and beautiful  Handa Island. Even the short ferry crossing from Tarbet gave us super close-up views of Seals, Black Guillemot and Red-Throated Diver, and once on the island, after our welcome talk by the SWT wardens, we went on to see  Snipe, Red Grouse, Wheatears, Skylarks, and Arctic and Great Skuas galore nesting on the moors. Once at the impressively high cliffs and coastal stacks, we were treated to the unique sights, sounds (and smells!) of good numbers of  Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Guillemots, and yes, everybody's favourite - Puffins! (see pic above)

Dolphins are always high on most people's mammal wish-list when visiting coastal areas, and we are lucky to have probably the best land-based site in the UK nearby at Chanonry Point on the Black Isle, north of Inverness. A visit at the right stage of the tide on the 15th gave us superb close-up views of these entertaining and charismatic animals... (see pic above)

So it looks like June 2014 can go down as yet another great month for wildlife-watching in and around the Cairngorms National Park, with the wide range of habitats visited producing a splendid variety of birds and animals, and all in wonderfully scenic surroundings.....













Sunday, June 01, 2014

May 2014, though very changeable weather wise in this area, was considerably warmer than the unusually cold May of 2013, with very few frosts and no fresh snow. This meant that most of our summer visiting migrant birds were on territory and breeding a good 2-3 weeks earlier than last year, with many having fledged young by mid-month. With over 18 hours of usable daylight now and all of our breeding species arrived, bird day-lists crept up into the 50's or even low 60's, whilst mammal species day-lists varied between 6 and 10 depending on our luck, with early starts giving us noticeably more and better views. The combination of sun and rain has given the landscape a beautifully fresh green glow, with the wild flowers and first butterflies adding a welcome splash of summer colour.


Wildlife highlights included:


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


Mammals seen regularly included: Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Roe Deer, Reindeer, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare, Mountain Goat and Rabbit, with a few sightings of Stoat and Bank Vole, and just one dawn encounter with an Otter....

Osprey sightings were mainly confined to the male birds this month, as most of the females spent the month incubating eggs or brooding their young, but we were lucky enough to see a few fish deliveries to the nests....


Our local Black Grouse continued to 'lek' throughout the month, though with dawn at around 4:30am, it should be noted that a very early start is needed if you want to see them....though we did have one rather lucky encounter with an unusually confiding bird at around 7am on May 10 on the roadside barrier fairly near to a known lek site... (see pic above)


On our local heather moorlands, the cock Red Grouse continued to show well, and from mid-month we began to see the hen birds with their newly fledged families of up to 9 very cute fluffy youngsters...


Ring Ouzel features on the 'wish-list' of many of my safari clients, probably because they tend to breed in remote, upland areas away from human disturbance and can be quite tricky to find. We are lucky in having plenty of suitable habitat for them in this area, and we managed to get decent views on many occasions... (see pic above)


Crested Tit can be quite a tricky bird to see during the breeding season (April/May), as they pretty much cease calling, instead concentrating on quietly keeping up a regular food supply to, initially the female on the eggs, and then later on, the youngsters...however, I was lucky enough to find an area where we could get some great sightings without disturbing the birds... (see pic above)


Slavonian (or Horned) Grebe is not only one of the UK's rarest breeding birds, but, in summer plumage, surely one of the most beautiful - with its chestnut, black and copper toned body, scarlet eyes and amazing golden crest tufts it is sure to put a smile on most birders faces...and we are fortunate enough to have a few pairs on one or two suitable local lochs....(see pic above)


Both Red-Throated and Black-Throated Divers too, are only really found breeding, and in their dapper summer plumage, on suitable lochs in northern Scotland. Due to their general shyness, most views we get are at a fair distance, but occasionally we get lucky and obtain a closer look.. (see BTD pic above)


Goldeneye too, only breeds in highland Scotland UK wise, and mid-month saw us get our first views of their very cute youngsters out on the lochs...


Goosander too is a breeding bird of northern and upland waters, and although we get to see them regularly up here, many of my safari clients from further south are pleased to get to see them... (see pic above)


Dippers are always popular with my safari clients, and from early in the month we saw the parent birds flying back to their nest with beaks full of insects (see pic above) and from mid-month we got to see the newly fledged youngsters out on the rivers with their parents for the first time this year....


Capercaillie proved very difficult to see this month, and with lekking over by mid April this year, we only managed a couple of brief and quite distant glimpses at the RSPB early morning Caper-watch...


Crossbills too were a bit 'hit and miss', with plenty of brief fly - over glimpses, but very few 'through the scope' opportunities....though fellow local birder Bob Smith did manage to get one particularly good sighting (see his pic above)


Golden Eagle is another iconic Scottish bird which always seems to be on visiting birders 'wish-lists', and we are fortunate to have a number of suitable upland glens nearby, however, with 18+ hours of daylight in which to hunt, the chances of just happening to be in the right place at the right time to see one are fairly low during the summer months, we did however manage to get a few decent views, particularly earlier in the month...


Merlin is another raptor which you need a bit of luck (or lots of time!) to get to see hunting over it's moorland home, on the 2nd however, we got to see one chasing a Meadow Pipit and then perching on a tree stump (see pic above)


Cuckoo , though not strictly a local speciality, is a bird , that from talking to my safari clients, I get the feeling is becoming much scarcer in much of the southern half of the UK. So if you are struggling to see one, get yourself up here in May, as we still seem to have good numbers....


The mountain top breeding species such as Dotterel, Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting are all probably best looked for in late May, June and July, when the weather is calmer and the paths less icy and snowy, and although I have not been up for them myself yet, a number of my safari clients reported seeing them on local peaks....


Mammals, especially local speciality species always prove popular with my safari clients, so I make no apologies for including a few pics below of some we saw this month....





So to summarise, May was another excellent month for wildlife watching in this area, and is probably THE month to visit if you are wanting to see a good cross-section and maximum number of both Highland and more common bird and mammal species in a large variety of very different habitats, in (usually) good weather conditions. I certainly enjoyed looking through my reports and photos whilst compiling this update, and I hope you enjoyed reading it too....