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

Thursday, April 30, 2015

April 2015 was a bit 'back to front' weather-wise in this area! The month started off warm and sunny, fooling us all into thinking Spring had arrived, but then got progressively cooler, finishing up with a wintry blast of snow and sub-zero temperatures more akin to February!
However, with 16 hours of daylight now, the scenery ablaze with colourful spring flowers and blossom, and many bird species displaying and singing,  you probably will not be surprised to read that I consider this to be one of the best, and my personal favourite time of year for wildlife watching.
The vast majority of our remaining winter visiting birds departed by mid - month, whilst summer visiting birds poured in throughout, helped by the frequent southerly winds.
Bird species day-lists regularly crept well up towards 50 on full-day multi-habitat safaris, whilst mammal day-lists varied between 5 and 9 depending on our luck.

Cairngorm Mountains and moorland at dawn

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality and upland bird species seen regularly throughout the month included: Dipper, Osprey, Crested Tit, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Slavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver and Ring Ouzel, we also enjoyed a couple of chance dawn encounters with Capercaillie our first decent sightings this year of Crossbills... and the late snow gave us another chance to view  Snow Buntings at lower levels....

Mammals seen regularly during the month included: Red SquirrelRabbit, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare ( now mottled white and blue-grey) Roe Deer, Red Deer, Reindeer, Bank Vole and Mountain Goat, a couple of sightings of Stoat, and a solitary view of a small group of Sika Deer....

Ospreys at their nest

One of my favourite wildlife moments every year, is the return of our local Ospreys to their nesting sites.These beautiful and impressive birds of prey provide great entertainment, with their dashing good looks, aerial acrobatics and plunge-diving to catch fish. My favourite local pair were reunited early in the month after a winter apart in West Africa, and were soon seen building up the nest, mating frequently, and by the end of the month appeared to be incubating eggs, as the hen bird seemed to be spending the vast majority of the day in the nest, with the cock bird now seemingly performing all of the fishing duties.

'lekking' Black Grouse

Dawn (now around 5am) visits to local Black Grouse leks continued to enthral and amaze my safari clients, with as many as 12 males seen 'performing', and, on the 10th , we were very lucky to be present when 4 hen birds arrived to watch the action, and some were even seen mating with their chosen, dominant cock birds - a fantastic wildlife spectacle, and a great way to start the day! 

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel features on the 'wish-list' of many of my safari clients, probably because they tend to breed in remote, upland areas far from human disturbance and can be quite tricky to find. We are fortunate in having plenty of suitable habitat for them in this area, and we managed to get decent views on several occasions... 



Crested Tits generally become more difficult to see as spring progresses, as they become much more secretive, calling less and concentrating more on quietly breeding than visiting forest feeding stations. However, with a little persistence, we did manage to see them on a number of occasions, though it should be noted that recognizing their distinctive calls and song is a must if you are to have any chance.....

Slavonian (Horned) Grebe

Slavonian (or Horned) Grebe is not only one of the UK's rarest breeding birds, nesting only in the very north of Scotland, but, in summer plumage, surely one of our most beautiful - with its chestnut, black and copper toned body, scarlet eyes and amazing golden crest tufts it is sure to put a smile on most birders faces...and we are fortunate enough to have a few pairs on one or two suitable local lochs....lucky us!

Black-Throated Diver

Also on our local lochs, we were able to get decent views of two other very rare and beautifully marked birds, in the form of Red-Throated Diver and Black-Throated Diver, though I have yet to get any decent photos (the rather poor effort above being my best effort so far this year) as they usually seem to like to keep a fair distance from humans...

Drake Goldeneye

Still on the lochs, dapper drake Goldeneyes  continued to call and perform their elaborate courtship displays, though with many of the females now on eggs, their audience is becoming noticeably smaller...

Cock Red Grouse

Our local moorlands continued to echo with the guttural calls of the cock Red Grouse , who were still actively displaying from prominent positions, but from mid month we saw very few hen birds, suggesting that many may already be incubating eggs......

Dipper with nesting material

Our local rivers support good numbers of Dippers, and we should see youngsters soon as we witnessed nest building early month, and later in the month the adult birds collecting beak fulls of insects, before returning to their nest sites...


Pair of Crossbills - Don't worry, it's not your eyes - just a rubbish photo!

As I have mentioned in previous reports, Crossbills are probably one of the most difficult of our local speciality birds to get a good view of. However, this month we did actually manage a few decent sightings, sometimes of whole families of these very attractive birds, usually feeding from cones near the tops of conifer trees, though the only (very poor) photo I managed (in my defence- through the windscreen with my mobile phone camera) was of a pair drinking from a trackside puddle...

The very same piece of track also gave us a couple of brief post-dawn sightings of female Capercaillie taking grit.... though on both occasions, sadly, they flew off before we had a chance to get any photos.....

Snow Bunting

Although we did not go on any mountain top adventures for Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting this month, we got lucky with a sighting of a small group of the latter frequenting the Cairngorm Ski Centre car park when the snow returned to lower levels at the end of the month...


Short-Eared Owl

Other good birds of note seen this month included a beautiful Short Eared Owl seen hunting low over a local heather moorland, which rather fortuitously for me, then perched on a large rock for a short while, giving me the chance to grab a couple of photos...


Common Sandpiper

As well as the aforementioned Ospreys and Ring Ouzels, other returning migrant birds seen this month for the first time this year included Sand Martin, Swallow, House Martin, Willow Warbler, Wheatear, Common Sandpiper and Redstart.....



Willow Warbler

Onto mammals now........

Mountain Hare


Our local Mountain Hares, though they are rapidly morphing their beautiful all-white winter coats into their blue-grey spring outfits,  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 Squirrel

Similarly, Red Squirrels are always a treat to see, and forest feeding stations again proved to be our best bet for a sighting.....

Roe Deer


It's always nice to see Deer too, and early starts and a variety of habitats on the itinerary can give us the chance of seeing up to 4 different species.....

Red Deer stag
Moray Firth Dolphin

Dolphins are always high on most people's mammal wish-list when visiting coastal areas, and we are very lucky to have probably the best land-based site in the UK nearby (about a 60 minute drive from Aviemore) at Chanonry Point on the Black Isle, north of Inverness. A visit at the right stage of the tide on the 9th gave  us superb close-up views of these entertaining and charismatic animals... (see pic above)
My trusty Land Rover Discovery out on safari

So to sum-up, April 2015 was a really excellent and very enjoyable month for wildlife watching in the Cairngorms National Park. With the returning summer-visiting birds flooding northwards to join our resident species, the days lengthening, flowers blooming, the stunning scenery and the weather (generally) improving, I can honestly say I would not want to be anywhere else in the world than here at this time of year.....

Sunrise at Loch Morlich