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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

February 2015 was still very wintry in the Cairngorms National Park with regular frosts and snow at times, but thankfully, we had more safari-friendly days than we did in January! This allowed us to get out and enjoy some very successful and memorable wildlife-watching days in the beautiful Highland scenery. The days are definitely lengthening now, with over 10 hours of usable daylight, and dawn is still a relatively user-friendly 6:45 am. With a few wader species returning to their inland breeding sites, bird species day-lists crept up over the 40 mark, whilst mammal species day-lists varied between 6 and 9 depending on our luck and the habitats visited.

Cairngorms moorland at dawn


Wildlife highlights included:

Local/upland/winter bird species seen regularly during the month included: Dipper, Crested Tit, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Golden Eagle and Whooper Swan ... several memorable encounters with our local 'rogue' Capercaillie.....  a few brief sightings of Crossbills... and single sightings of WaxwingGoshawk and Merlin.......sadly, the weather was just too bad, or the mountains just too busy with snowsports enthusiasts 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 young), with a few glimpses of (white) Stoat....and a solitary Mole!, but the 'mammal of the month' award has to go to the Otter family (Mother and 2 cubs) that we watched frolicking and heard 'squeaking' at dawn on the 7th, on a snowy river bank, before they slid into the water and swam directly under the bridge we were standing on! A magical start to our day.....

Capercaillie

The 'bird of the month' award has to go to our local 'rogue' Capercaillie, who, after disappearing from his favourite patch of Caledonian pine forest for much of the year, reappeared in spectacular style early in the month, calling , displaying and occasionally even advancing towards us in aggressive fashion! A truly magnificent and iconic, but sadly now very rare bird of the Scottish Highlands, who once seen is surely never forgotten!

Crested Tit

Crested Tit too, could quite rightly be called an iconic bird of the Scottish Highlands, and we were fortunate enough to get good views of these delightful little birds at my forest feeding stations on many occasions throughout the month, and although they can be very 'flitty', never seeming to be still for long, we did manage a few good photo opportunities.

Black Grouse displaying

Dawn on my safaris is usually spent at a local Black Grouse lek site, where we enjoy the spectacle of up to a dozen splendid blue-black cock birds displaying, posturing aggressively and flutter-jumping in a bid to out-perform and intimidate their rivals and secure future mating rights with the hen birds, whilst their strange bubbling calls drift across the moor... surely one of British wildlife's 'must-see' (and 'must hear') experiences?

Red Grouse (female)

Our local Red Grouse too, seem to have breeding on their minds, as the cock birds are becoming noticeably more aggressive and vocal, making them much easier to spot and hear on their vast heather moorland habitat,  and some appeared to have 'paired-up' already.....

Dipper

The same could be said of our local Dippers too, with visits to my favourite river sites giving us good views of these upland river specialities seemingly prospecting nest sites, and occasionally singing and displaying to a prospective mate......

Goosander (female)

Those same river sites also provided lots of sightings of a bird that I probably take for granted as I see them regularly, but which, from talking to my safari clients is not a common sight on most rivers around the UK as it tends to favour upland areas - the Goosander, an attractively marked fish-eating species of sawbill...

Whooper Swans

With the slightly less cold weather, our local lochs thawed, and Whooper Swans were again seen regularly, with one of my favoured sites giving us some great close-up views and photo opportunities of these very attractive winter visitors....

Waxwing

Talking of attractive winter visitors...... they don't come much more attractive then a Waxwing, and although they have generally been very scarce in the UK this winter, we were lucky enough to have a solitary bird regularly visiting berry bushes in a local garden for a few days mid-month.....

Common Buzzard

Bird of prey sightings were excellent this month, both in quantity and quality, with Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Red Kite, Peregrine and Golden Eagle all seen regularly, and many of these species observed displaying or carrying nesting materials....We also had a solitary sighting of a Merlin dashing across a moor..... Star raptor this month though, had to be the very impressive Goshawk that we witnessed attempting (and only narrowly failing) to seize a Blackcock from a dawn lek on the 21st - not something you see every day!!!


Mountain Hare
Onto mammals now....

Mountain Hares in their winter white coats are nearly always on my safari clients wish-lists, with them being confined to largely uninhabited upland areas of the UK, and with the snow receding a little, they became much less difficult to find as their camouflage became less effective, and I managed to get us some good close -up views and photo opportunities......

Red Deer stags

The same upland glens also gave us good views of Red Deer and feral Mountain Goats, and it was good to see them able to feed more easily with much less snow around......

Feral Mountain Goat
So to sum up, February continued our good start to the safari year, with plenty of local specialities, a few winter visitors and even a few unexpected bonuses... and with winter finally coming towards it's end and spring on the horizon...we are fast approaching my favourite time of the year.....


Ruthven Barracks and Monadhliath Mountains