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

Friday, January 30, 2015

January 2015 could certainly be fairly described as wintry in this area! With the average temperature well below zero, and some nights seeing minus 13c, and regular heavy snowfall and occasional gales, good wildlife watching days were few and far between! However, by being flexible, and cherry-picking the best days weather-wise, we did still manage some pretty enjoyable adventures out 'in the field', with the excellent off-road and winter weather abilities of my Land Rover Discovery proving to be a necessity! The days are noticeably lengthening now, with over 9 hours of usable daylight, and dawn is still a relatively sociable 7:30am. Bird day-lists averaged 35-40 species, whilst mammal species day-lists varied between 5 and 9 depending on our luck.


Wildlife highlights included:

Local/upland bird species seen regularly during the month included: Dipper, Crested Tit, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle.....with just a few brief sightings of Crossbills... whilst sadly, Capercaillie proved elusive, and the weather was just too bad to attempt mountain treks in search of Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting......


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


Our local Dippers continued to entertain, with their rarely-heard rippling warble of a song being projected proudly from a prominent riverside rock at dawn as they proclaim their ownership of the territory....(see pic above)


Forest feeding stations perform two important roles when the weather turns really wintry - feeding the hungry and desperate forest birds, and giving us the chance to see them really close, and even hand-feed them! As well as the more common species, we are also lucky enough to regularly see Crested Tits too - these Caledonian forest specialities giving many of my safari clients a 'life-tick' , and putting a smile on many a face....(see super pic above by Zena Saunders)


Blackcock continued to provide our dawn entertainment, with as many as 8 birds seen displaying at their traditional 'lek' sites on snow on remote moorlands - a great way to start the day! (see pic above)


Our local Red Grouse (see pic above) seemed to react to the bitter cold weather, their lack of camouflage on the snow, and the increased threat from predators on the heather moorlands by grouping up into 'mega-flocks' of up to 120 birds - so although we could go a while without seeing any as we crept slowly along, when we did find them , we often found lots!!



Golden Eagle is an iconic and much sought-after bird in the UK, and the short days of the winter months give us our best chance of seeing them. January continued this trend, and we were even lucky enough to enjoy the spectacle of 2 birds displaying to each other in a remote upland glen on the 24th (see pic above)

White-Tailed Eagles were also seen locally, including a report of a pair of birds seen devouring an unfortunate Greylag Goose on the ice of a frozen local loch mid-month - which I unfortunately missed seeing!!!!


Bullfinches, though not strictly a local speciality, featured unusually regularly on my safaris this month, which makes me suspect that we may have had an influx of birds from colder climes? (see pic above)


The same could be said of Treecreepers, which although not a particularly rare bird, seemed more common this month, and it is always a pleasure to see one close-up... (see pic above)


Our local Mammals must surely struggle to find food when the severe winter weather comes, and we saw several species, including Red Deer (see pic above), Roe Deer and Mountain Goat attempting to dig through the deep snow to get to the vegetation underneath.
Not so our local Red Squirrels though, who are always happy to take advantage of my forest feeding stations and rarely seem to have to go hungry... (see pic below)
I would love to have got some pics of white Mountain Hares on the snow..but unfortunately, their camouflage proved to be just too good this month!


So, despite the extreme winter weather and limited safari opportunities so far, we seem to have got 2015 off to a decent start, with some enjoyable and exhilarating days out and plenty of good wildlife sightings, and all in some amazing 'winter wonderland' scenery.......


Saturday, January 03, 2015

Merry Christmas and a happy and wildlife-filled new year to all my readers!
And a big "thank
you" to everyone who used my safari guiding services during 2014......

December 2014 however, will not go down on record as a particularly good safari month weather -wise! With an icy start and finish and a very windy and snowy middle, and with just a handful of decent wildlife-watching days, good sightings were at a premium.
So I have therefore decided to file a 'typical' December report, using sightings and photographs from both this, and previous, more 'normal' Decembers....
The days are very short at this time of year, with only around 8 hours of daylight, but you can still reasonably hope to see 35+ bird species and 6+ mammal species on a full day, given decent weather.



Local/upland speciality bird species usually seen regularly during December include: Black Grouse, Red GrouseDipper,  Crested Tit Whooper Swan, Golden Eagle, and  White -Tailed Eagle, with  'mountain-top adventures' usually producing Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting - weather permitting! Early morning forest trips can sometimes produce an encounter with a Capercaillie and a glimpse of a Woodcock.........
Crossbills can prove to be elusive, though with them being very early breeders, we occasionally get to see and hear males singing from the tops of pines early in the year.....


Mammals seen regularly during December normally include:Red SquirrelRabbit, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare (now white), Roe Deer, Red Deer, Reindeer, Bank Vole and Mountain Goat with often a couple of brief  glimpses of (white) Stoat....


Wildlife highlights usually include:


Black Grouse gathering at or near their moorland 'lek' sites at dawn, with the birds occasionally actually 'bubbling' and displaying on bright frosty mornings (see pic above).. a great way to start the day!

Red Grouse  are usually fairly easy to see on our local heather moorlands in December, with the cock birds seemingly becoming territorial and they are often heard calling and seen displaying from raised areas (see pic above)


Dippers too seem to become very territorial at this time of year, with the cock birds even heard singing their high-pitched rippling warble ( a rare occurrence) at dawn whilst displaying...(see pic above)

Crested Tits are regular visitors to my favourite forest feeding stations during the winter months, with the lure of an easy feed seemingly hard to resist (see pic above), though it should be noted that they are can be very 'flitty',  often only staying for a few seconds, and are usually heavily outnumbered by the more common species..


Whooper Swans (see pic above) are seen regularly on our local lochs and rivers in December, the Highland winter being (usually) more clement than their Arctic breeding grounds, where temperatures of -40c are not unusual!


Golden Eagles, White-Tailed Eagles , and in fact, birds of prey in general, are usually seen more frequently in the winter months, with Kestrel, Buzzard, Red Kite (see pic above), Peregrine and Sparrowhawk all appearing regularly, the shorter hours of daylight giving the birds less available hunting time.... with a decent weather day following a wet and windy one often producing well.....



Ptarmigan, looking resplendent in their winter-white plumage are a realistic target given some calm, sunny weather, though you will need to venture up to the snow-line in the mountains to have a chance of seeing them (see pic above)...which is where my Cairngorm Mountain Birdwatching Guide licence comes in handy, as I can take parties up on the funicular railway (saving a very long , uphill walk), then out on a short walk around the summit... something that is not possible for unqualified persons....


Snow Buntings  are best looked for in the winter months, and are a little more 'user-friendly', in that they can often be found at lower levels than the Ptarmigan , and can be very confiding, sometimes even visiting our ski centre car parks in search of food...(see pic above)


Cold weather also drives other scarcer species such as Brambling, Yellowhammer, Bullfinch and Redpolls to visit feeding stations, and it is not uncommon for me to record all these species visiting my Aviemore garden in midwinter (See Redpoll pic above).



Of the mammals listed above for an average December, the favourites, as voted for by my safari clients are usually our upland/local specialities, the white Mountain Hare (see pic above) or  Red Squirrel (see pic below).



The odd Salmon can still be seen in our local rivers, trying to make their way back out to sea, many looking a bit battle-scarred after the rigours of migration and spawning.


So, looking back at 2014, I  think it was possibly my most enjoyable and best year yet for wildlife sightings, even better than 2013, and after retaining my 5 star wildlife experience grading from Visit Scotland, following a summer visit from one or their 'mystery shopper' grading staff, it will be a hard act to follow, but I am sure it will be fun trying!