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

Friday, October 31, 2014

October 2014 started cool, dry and calm in this area, but ended up wet, windy and unseasonably mild for the time of year, with no fresh snow on the Cairngorms on Halloween for the first time in many years. Though the days are noticeably shortening now, we still had around 10 hours of useable daylight, and the Highland scenery was ablaze with glorious autumn colours, providing many of my safari clients with some very picturesque landscape photos.
A mid-month influx of winter visitors from colder areas further north, helped bird day-lists increase 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 during the month included:
Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Dipper, Crested Tit, Golden Eagle, Whooper Swan and 'Grey Geese', with a few glimpses of Crossbill, and a mountain-top adventure also giving views of Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting.

Mammals seen regularly during the month included:
'Rutting' Red Deer, Roe Deer, Reindeer, Rabbit, Brown Hare, Mountain Goat and Bank Vole, with just a few sightings of Mountain Hare, Weasel and Stoat.


The cock Black Grouse on our traditional moorland 'lek' sites, having been largely missing since early June, began to assemble and occasionally even display at dawn, especially on the frosty mornings, with my safari clients seeing an impressive 10 birds on the 2nd.


Our local Red Grouse appeared to still be in their large family groups, and with the shooting season virtually over, they became a little less wary and easier to see, especially when using my safari vehicle as a mobile hide on the tracks through their heather moorland home (see pic above)



Dippers, being birds of fast-flowing, clear-running upland rivers, are largely absent from much of the UK, which means they are always popular with my safari clients. Luckily, they are relatively common on our local rivers, and we managed some good sightings at some of my favourite local sites.

Crested Tit is a true local speciality, with Speyside being their UK stronghold, but with them largely being part of roving mixed species flocks in winter, they can be surprisingly difficult to see.
However, a post-dawn visit to a forest feeding station increases your chances, and we were lucky enough to get some good views on a number of occasions. (see pic above)


Golden Eagle too is truly an iconic bird of the Scottish Highlands, and our regular visits to suitable upland glens paid off on several occasions, with some decent sightings of these majestic raptors being obtained. In fact, I have found that the shorter days of the winter months actually seem to give us more chance of seeing them, as they have less available hours of hunting time....(see pic above)


The same applies to the other birds of prey, with Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Red Kite and Common Buzzard (see pic above), all being seen on my safaris this month.


Crossbills again proved a little frustrating, with our views being limited to fleeting glimpses of fly-over birds, their 'jip jip' calls alerting us to their presence.



Although not exclusively winter birds of this area, northern Scotland is often the first landfall for the Whooper Swans (see pic above) and 'Grey' Geese arriving from their Arctic breeding grounds, and the second week of the month saw us get our first proper influx, as they fly south to enjoy our (in relative terms!) milder winter weather.


The same could also be said of the 'winter' Thrushes - first the Redwings (see pic above) arrived, shortly followed by the Fieldfares,  and they soon set about pillaging our local berry supplies, much to the annoyance of our resident Blackbirds and Thrushes!


As I mentioned in last month's blog, a Snowy Owl had been seen in the Cairngorm mountains up near the summit of  Ben Macdui. Well, further positive reports early this month, together with a favourable weather forecast, spurred me to take on the challenge on the 17th. The gruelling 5 mile,  4 hour ascent up into the clouds to over 4,000 feet was made bearable by the chance of a much sought-after 'life-tick'... but sadly it was not to be.....despite a thorough search, there was no sign of the target bird... and as far as I am aware it has not been reported since... so it would appear that I missed it by a whisker.... by way of consolation, however, I did get some decent views of  Mountain HareSnow Buntings and Ptarmigan (see pic above)


An unusual bird sighting (inland at least) in this area on the 10th, was a winter-plumage Slavonian Grebe on a local loch (see pic above) -  the vast majority of our birds depart for the coast in early September after breeding....


'Mammal of the month' for October has to be Red Deer, with their spectacular annual 'rut' providing my safari clients with some terrific entertainment - the fully antlered stags spending much of the month roaring, posturing , fighting off rivals and mating with as many of their 'harem' as possible - surely one of British nature's 'must-see' experiences? (see pic above)


...With second place going to the ever popular Red Squirrels, (see pic above) who can usually be relied upon to appear for a free feed at forest feeding stations.....

So, to summarise, October 2014 turned out to be another excellent month for wildlife watching in the Cairngorms National Park, with plenty of good sightings, many memorable experiences and the odd surprise, all against a beautiful autumnal Highland backdrop.......