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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March 2015 was a bit of a mixture weather-wise in this area, starting off cold and wintry, turning milder with some sunny days mid-month, and finishing with a wet and windy spell, but in contrast to much of the UK, it was most definitely still winter this far north, and anyone considering visiting this area in March should remember to bring the appropriate clothing!
The days are stretching out nicely now though, with nearly 12 hours of usable daylight, and dawn (for the Black Grouse lek) is a still not too unsociable 5:45am.
With most of the winter visiting birds still here, and a few wader and water bird species returning to their inland breeding sites in the second half of the month, bird species day-lists crept up towards the 50 mark, whilst mammal species day-lists varied between 5 and 9 depending on our luck and the habitats visited.

I was away down in southern England and Malta for much of the latter part of the month, so my local sightings report will be a little shorter than usual and may include a few photos from previous March safaris.

A favourite local upland glen


Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality and upland bird species seen regularly throughout the month included: Dipper, Crested Tit, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Golden Eagle and Whooper Swan ... a couple of memorable encounters with our local 'rogue' Capercaillie (early month only),  a few brief sightings of Crossbills... and towards the end of the month, our first local sightings this year of Slavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver and Golden Plover - all in splendid summer breeding plumage. 
Although I personally did not go on any mountain top adventures for Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting this month, I understand that they could be seen well on the few days where the weather was suitable....


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 few glimpses of (white) Stoat...and a solitary Weasel sighting.

Capercaillie

I make no excuses for featuring our local rogue Capercaillie as 'star' bird again this month, as he continued to impress, amaze (and even scare!) those fortunate enough to see him displaying and posturing aggressively on 'his' patch of forest - a truly magical and unforgettable experience! I only visit this bird from January up to mid March, as 'lekking' season visits (mid March - end of May) are not only illegal, but could disturb the 'lek' and prevent breeding of this already very rare species....

Black Grouse 'lek'

Dawn on my safaris was again spent at a local Black Grouse lek site, where we enjoyed the spectacle of good numbers of attractive blue-black cock birds displaying, posturing aggressively and flutter-jumping in a bid to out-perform and intimidate their opponents and secure mating rights with the hen birds, all accompanied by their strange bubbling and whooshing calls drifting across the moor... surely one of British wildlife's 'must-see' (and 'must hear') experiences?

Red Grouse


Our local Red Grouse too, most definitely have breeding on their minds, as the cock birds are now very aggressive and vocal, their bulging red 'eyebrows' seemingly glowing! This makes them much easier to spot and hear on their vast heather moorland habitat, and many appeared to have 'paired-up' already.....

Crested Tit

Crested Tit is a local speciality of the Cairngorms National Park, and we managed to get some excellent views of these characterful little birds at forest feeding stations on several occasions throughout the month, and although they can be very 'flitty', rarely 'settling' for long, we still managed a few good photo opportunities.

Dipper

Dippers always seem to be popular with my safari clients, and, as long as the rivers are not badly flooded, my favourite vantage points usually produce decent sightings...

Slavonian Grebe

The end of the month saw some of our most attractive water birds return to their inland breeding lochs, all now displaying their dapper summer plumage, and although I was unable to get any decent photos of  Red-Throated Diver or Black-Throated Diver, I did manage to get a few half-decent shots of Slavonian Grebe .....

Red Kite

Bird of prey sightings were again excellent this month, with Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Red Kite, Peregrine and Golden Eagle all seen regularly, with some of these species observed displaying or carrying nesting materials....We also had another solitary sighting of a Merlin..... and although I have yet to see one yet, the first returning Ospreys have been reported....


Oystercatchers


The list of waders returning to their summer breeding grounds continued to grow, with Curlew, Redshank and Golden Plover joining the Oystercatchers and Lapwings .....

Onto mammals now....

Mountain Hare

March is the last month to see Mountain Hares in their beautiful all-white winter coats, and they again proved popular with my safari clients, presumably because they are confined to upland areas of the UK, and are not easily accessible to most wildlife watchers..

Red Deer Stag

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

Common Toad

And on to Amphibians! The warmer weather saw the emergence firstly of our local Frogs and then Toads. I couldn't ever remember photographing either of these species, so I thought I would have a go, and got some quite pleasing results....

As I mentioned earlier, I spent the mid part of the month visiting relatives and friends down in the South - East of England, where I also managed to sneak in a bit of birding, adding southern specialities, but  northern scarcities, such as Woodlark, Dartford Warbler, Great Grey Shrike, SpoonbillNuthatch and Ring-Necked Parakeet to my growing 'year-list'...

Malta is maybe not high up on many UK birders 'wish-list' of places to visit, what with it's historic reputation for high levels of hunting and trapping of birds - but maybe it now should be? Thanks mainly to the efforts of Bird Life Malta (www.birdlifemalta.org), though it is still not a completely satisfactory situation, recent years have seen a big improvement in attitude, the education of  Maltese schoolchildren about conservation, the creation of a number of new bird reserves, and stricter new hunting regulations imposed, meaning that there has been a decent reduction in the activities of the bird hunters, with a national referendum due in April which will hopefully see all spring hunting banned! Add this to it's location on the 'migration flyway' between Africa and Europe and there is scope for some pretty decent birding, especially in spring and autumn - my last four short mid-March visits have given me sought-after species such as Bluethroat, Hoopoe, Alpine Swift, Sub-Alpine Warbler, Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, Trumpeter Finch, Black-Winged Stilt, Ashy - headed Yellow Wagtail, Black-necked Grebe, Marsh Sandpiper, Wryneck and many more..... add these to the Maltese endemics such as Blue Rock Thrush, Fan-tailed Warbler and Sardinian Warbler, and a nice bit of late winter sunshine, and you can see that maybe it is worth considering a visit yourself? I am proud to be a member of Bird Life Malta, and would urge as many UK birders as possible to join too, to help them with their valuable work in protecting what are in all probability some of OUR breeding birds, during their stay on Malta......

So, to summarise, March saw the end of the extreme winter weather in the Cairngorms National Park, meaning no problems with accessing the more remote sites, this helped us to enjoy another excellent month of very enjoyable wildlife watching. With spring approaching, we are now entering my favourite part of the bird-watching calendar, and I look forward to updating you again in another month, hopefully with stories of more great sightings, and some decent photos too...

Insh Marshes