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

Saturday, November 29, 2014

November 2014 started unseasonably mild, wet and windy, but ended with a spell of cooler, calmer and frequently foggy weather with just the odd frost and an occasional light dusting of snow on the higher tops, but no real extremes being experienced. The days are shortening very noticeably now, with only around 8-9 hours of usable daylight, but with most of our winter visiting birds now arrived, bird species day-lists frequently hit the 40's, whilst mammal day-lists fluctuated between 5 and 9 species.


Wildlife highlights included:


Local/upland speciality bird species seen regularly during the month included: Dipper, Crested Tit, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Whooper Swan, Golden Eagle, and  White -Tailed Eagle, with both of my 'mountain-top adventures' producing Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting, and one early morning forest trip providing a very rare close encounter with a Capercaillie.......though Crossbills again proved elusive, with our few sightings being limited to the 'fly-over' variety.....


Mammals seen regularly during the month included: Rabbit, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare (now white), Roe Deer, Red Deer, Reindeer, Bank Vole and Mountain Goat, with just a couple of brief   glimpses of Stoat....


Our local Dippers are undoubtedly becoming more aggressive now, with much displaying, singing and chasing each other around being witnessed as they presumably seek to establish winter and breeding territories.....(see pic above)


Crested Tits were seen regularly, especially on the colder days, at my local forest feeding stations, though it should be noted that , being very 'flitty' and quick and never staying very long, getting good photos of them can be quite tricky! (see nice pic above though.. by Deborah & Charles Hutchinson)..Unlike the Coal Tits, Great Tits, Robins and Chaffinches, which frequently feed from the hand!


Black Grouse are always popular with my safari clients, probably because of their relative rarity over much of the UK, and our dawn visits to their traditional local moorland 'lek' sites were very successful, with an average of 8 cock birds seen showing and displaying well (see pic above), but one particularly good (very frosty) morning on the 23rd produced no less than 14 birds!


Similarly, our local Red Grouse seem to be showing more regularly now, with the heather moorlands echoing with their cackling , guttural calls, and some good close-up sightings being achieved as we drive slowly through, using my safari vehicle a s a mobile hide...(see pic above)



Whooper Swans can be quite tricky to photograph, as they usually seem to 'spook' quite easily, but I managed to find a more confiding group on a small local loch that, as long as you showed some fieldcraft  and used your vehicle as a hide, would allow some much closer than average photo opportunities....(see pic above)



As I have mentioned in previous years, November is in my opinion, THE month for raptor sightings in this area, and so it proved again this year, with my favourite local upland glens providing my safari clients and I with regular sightings, and even the odd (very rare)  photo opportunity, of the much sought-after Golden Eagle (see pic above) and White -Tailed Eagle, (see upper pic above) with these awesome and majestic 'Kings of the skies' providing great entertainment , numerous 'life-ticks'  and putting big smiles on many faces....
The regular 'back-up cast' of Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Buzzard and Red Kite should not be forgotten though....


Treks up to see the 'mountain-top' species at this time of year are obviously subject to a combination of the weather being suitable, the winds being light, the paths being safe and the cloud level remaining sufficiently high (not a common occurrence!).... so on the rare occasions when everything does fall into place, and we go for it, it is always a treat when our efforts are rewarded and we get to see our target species of Ptarmigan (see pic above) and Snow Bunting, as success is far from guaranteed! So to see no less than 38 Ptarmigan in one group on the 22nd, was very special indeed! Especially as none of  my small safari party had ever seen these very beautiful and incredibly tough species of Grouse before.....the 8 Snow Buntings were a bonus too!


Capercaillie is not a species that I would normally expect to see in autumn/winter, so to stumble across a beautifully marked female taking grit from a remote forest track early one morning was a very nice surprise! (see pic above) Even more so, when our stealthy approach, again using my safari vehicle as a mobile hide, paid off, as she continued to take grit and feed on trackside heather for a good 10 mins , allowing us plenty of time to admire her stunningly coloured plumage and get a few photos,  before finally flying off deep into the forest... a very rare, special and memorable experience.........

The same secluded forest tracks also gave us a few decent early morning views of another normally elusive bird, the Woodcock . With most birders' views of them usually being restricted to brief silhouetted glimpses of them 'roding' over the treetops at dusk, the chance to see a static bird, and enjoy their intricate, cryptic plumage is always a welcome experience....



With the Red Deer 'rut' over for another year and peace restored in the glens (see upper pic above), the 'mammal of the month' was probably either that cute, peanut-loving forest dweller the Red Squirrel (see pic below), or the Mountain Hare (see pic above) - with them now in their dapper white winter coats, they became much easier to pick out against the (still snow-free) upland slopes they inhabit, and of course, being very much an upland species and absent from much of the UK, most of my safari clients were seeing them for the first time...





Fish do not appear very often on my reports, but November is probably the best month of the year to see our  Atlantic Salmon spawning (see pic above by Deborah and Charles Hutchinson). 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 avoiding poachers and predators and negotiating high falls and rapids on the way - an amazing migration story!

So that was my November 2014! I think it would be fair to say that it was indeed an excellent month for wildlife-watching in the Cairngorms National Park, with a splendid variety of birds and animals (and fish!) seen in many different types of often very localised habitat, often in stunning late autumn scenery. I hope you have enjoyed reading my report as much as I enjoyed experiencing and sharing it with my safari clients.........