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

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!


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