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

Sunday, May 31, 2015


May 2015 will, I suspect, go down as one of this area's coldest May's on record, with temperatures well below the average, regular overnight frosts, occasional snowfall on the mountains, and some very changeable weather.
However, despite the 'challenging' conditions, we managed to get out and enjoy lots of very successful safaris, and with over 18 hours of usable daylight now and all of our breeding species arrived, full-day bird lists crept up into the 50's or even low 60's, whilst mammal species day-lists varied between 6 and 10 depending on our luck and the variety of habitats visited, with early starts giving us noticeably more and better views. The combination of sun and precipitation has at least given the landscape a beautifully fresh green glow, with the wild flowers and first (brave!) butterflies adding a welcome splash of spring colour.
The unseasonably cold weather over the last few weeks seemed to have an impact on our local breeding birds though, with many delaying nesting, and our first fledgling sightings being noticeably later than last year.


Glenmore Forest and Cairngorm Mountains soon after dawn


Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality and upland bird species seen regularly throughout the month included: DipperOsprey,  Black Grouse, Red GrouseSlavonian Grebe, Red-Throated DiverBlack-Throated Diver, Short-Eared Owl, and Ring Ouzel. We also enjoyed another chance dawn encounter with a Capercaillie , just a few decent sightings of Crested Tits and Crossbills...a couple of brief views each of Goshawk and Hen Harrier.... and the late snow gave us another welcome chance to view Snow Buntings at lower levels....and although I have not yet been up the mountains in search of them, I understand our Dotterel are now back, and on the few calm days, the Ptarmigan have been showing well too....


Mammals seen regularly during the month included: Red SquirrelRabbitBrown HareMountain Hare (now a mottled blue-grey) Roe DeerRed DeerReindeerMountain Goat and Bank Vole,  a couple of sightings of Stoat, and one of Seals at the coast...........but 'mammal of the month' was undoubtedly the (incredibly rare and sought-after) Scottish Wildcat seen stalking Rabbits just before dawn on May 10th - an unforgettable experience!!!!

Lekking Black grouse

Black Grouse 'lekking' is surely one of British wildlife's top 10 sights (and sounds), and our local birds continued to 'lek' throughout the month, with up to 10 cock birds fighting it out, occasionally with a few females 'spectating',  though with dawn at around 4:30am, and the performance only lasting for around 90 minutes on average, it should be noted that a very early start is needed if you want to see them...and that we have to view from a respectful distance....(I took the above unusually close-up pic from a hide).....but this is still a highly recommended and memorable experience, especially as on several occasions, we had a supporting cast of Short-Eared Owls and Barn Owls hunting across the moors close to the lek site!!!

Osprey with fish

Our local Ospreys continued to entertain my safari clients, and although the female birds spent much of the month deep in their nests incubating eggs, we occasionally witnessed the male birds 'plunge-diving', delivering fish and more nest-building materials, and witnessed flights overhead on many occasions - impressive stuff!!

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzels were seen regularly in their upland habitat, though they are no longer singing, and sightings were mainly restricted to male birds collecting worms, as the females were presumably on nests.....


Slavonian (Horned) Grebe
The extremely beautiful (and incredibly rare) Slavonian Grebes were again seen and enjoyed regularly on suitably quiet local lochs, with the male birds seen fishing and delivering food to the nests hidden in the bankside sedge beds.....

Red-Throated Divers
Both Red-Throated and Black-Throated Divers too, are only really found breeding, and in their dapper summer plumage, on suitable lochs in northern Scotland. Due to their general shyness, most views we get are at a fair distance, but occasionally, usually early in the morning, we get lucky and obtain a slightly closer look.. 


Snow Bunting

Usually by May, you have to trek up near Cairngorm summit to see Snow Buntings, but the unseasonable snow at low levels this year meant that they continued to show in and around the ski centre car park early in the month - good news for my safari clients and I......

Red Grouse

On our local heather moorlands, the cock Red Grouse continued to show well, with some still calling and displaying, and late in the month we began to see the hen birds with their newly fledged families of up to 7 very cute fluffy youngsters...

Young Goldeneyes (pic by Bob Smith)

In fact, fledglings of many species were seen late in the month , including Goldeneye and Lapwing, whose youngsters must be among the cutest out there........



Young Lapwing




Golden Plover (pic by Jan Shields)



Other good birds of note seen this month included Cuckoo, Golden PloverRedstart, Spotted Flycatcher and Wood Warbler, all of which can be tricky to see in large parts of the UK....


King Eider (pic by Bob Smith)

I don't often go on a 'twitch' outside of the Cairngorms National Park in search of rare birds, but on May 22nd, when my Rare Bird Alert pager informed me that the Aberdeen area had both a Harlequin Duck and a King Eider showing, a trip to the east coast (about 90 miles away) was quickly planned. Sadly, the (very enjoyable) walk up and down the River Don in pursuit of the Harlequin Duck proved fruitless, and it has not been seen since! However,the search for the King Eider at Newburgh on the Ythan estuary was thankfully more successful....

Onto mammals now....

Red Squirrel

Our local Red Squirrels are always popular with my safari clients, and visits to favourite Caledonian forest sites gave us lots of good sightings, often with decent photographic opportunities....


Red Deer Stag

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.....

Stoat (pic by Bob Smith)

Stoat is an animal that you usually only get a very fleeting glimpse of, often in hot pursuit of a Rabbit, but fellow wildlife enthusiast Bob Smith took advantage of one very pre-occupied individual showing well mid-month, to get this super pic....


This month was actually so good for sightings and photos that my report could have easily been double this length!, so I have tried to just stick to subjects that are 'local specialities' or most representative of a typical safari at this time of year, with just a few of the more common or random 'wild-card' occurrences.....
I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed experiencing it......

A golden dawn over a Cairngorms moorland