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

Monday, August 31, 2015

August 2015 was, yet again, another very 'changeable' month  weather-wise in this area! With seemingly no two consecutive days the same, we did at least have a few proper 'summer' days, though we had lots of autumnal ones, and even an early taste of winter with a few dawn frosts! The days are noticeably shortening now, but we still have 14-15 hours of usable daylight this far north.
With many of our summer visiting bird species departing this area for their wintering areas throughout the month, it was inevitable that bird day-lists would reduce down into the 30's, whilst mammal day lists varied between 5 and 8 species, with earlier starts generally proving more successful. By way of consolation though, August is usually our best month for Butterflies and day-flying moths, and this month followed the trend, with a good variety being seen.
The Highland scenery is extremely picturesque now, with the heather at it's beautiful purple best, the ferns turning coppery gold, a few leaves beginning to 'turn', and the Rowan trees fully laden with brightly coloured berries.

Picturesque lochside view

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality bird species seen regularly included:
Dipper, Red Grouse, Crested Tit, Goldeneye and Goosander, whilst Osprey, Slavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver, and Black-Throated Diver were all seen regularly early in the month but sightings became noticeably less frequent after mid-month, and we also had a few brief views of Crossbills and just one of Golden Eagle...sadly, Black Grouse and Capercaillie were not seen at all, though that is not unusual at this time of year....

Mammal species seen regularly included:
Red Squirrel, Roe Deer, Red Deer, Reindeer and Rabbit with just a few sightings of Brown Hare, Mountain Hare, Mountain Goat, Stoat and Bank Vole..

Juvenile Osprey
Osprey was again probably  the 'star' bird of the month, at least in the first half anyway, with my safari clients enjoying seeing them roosting around their nest tree, and even plunge-fishing on several occasions, though the adult birds had largely departed on their southerly migration by late month, with mainly juvenile birds remaining in this area....

Adult and juvenile Slavonian Grebe (by Bob Smith)
Slavonian Grebe is, sadly, a very rare and declining species in the UK, with just a few pairs to be found on suitable secluded northern Highland lochs, so it was good to see that one of our local pairs had bred successfully this year.... Though they had largely left the area by the end of the month...

Black-Throated Diver
It was the same story with our local Red-Throated Divers  and Black-Throated Divers, both species of which, I am pleased to say,  were seen to have bred successfully locally, but they too appeared to have largely vacated this area by the end of the month....

Red Grouse
Our local Red Grouse showed well in large family groups on suitable heather moorland early in the month , though not surprisingly, those on 'managed' shooting moors became noticeably more wary of humans after the 'glorious' 12th......

Crested Tit (by Bob Smith)
Crested Tits, as I explained last month, are now in their 'mixed winter flocks' of  6 or more different bird species 'working' through our local Caledonian pine forests... so to see the 'Cresties' you have to first find a flock, then listen out for their distinctive chuckling trill , then try and pick them out as they move annoyingly flittily through the branches - not an easy feat! , but, satisfyingly for me as a guide, we managed it on a good number of occasions, with many of my safari clients obtaining a difficult and  much sought after 'life-tick'... on some of the cooler mornings though, our mission was made much easier when the odd bird visited a local forest feeding station.... 

Although Golden Eagle sightings were frustratingly brief and hard to come by this month, views of White-Tailed Eagles were actually up on previous years'.......and rumours of a successful breeding pair on Speyside have reached my ears.....I will reveal more in future reports...... 

Although I did not venture up myself this month, I understand that Ptarmigan, Dotterel (up until mid-month) and Snow Bunting could all be found on or around Cairngorm summit, though it should be noted that you really do need suitably friendly weather to have a chance of seeing them, and keeping safe.....

Pair of Bullfinches (by Bob Smith)
Other birds of note seen locally included a very nice pair of Bullfinches  at a forest feeding station, several Red Kites over farmland, and a Goshawk hunting over over a remote moorland.....

Onto mammals now....


Red Squirrel (by Bob Smith)
With many of the summer visiting local speciality birds departing this area, mammals became more of a focus on my safaris, and we were fortunate to see a good variety throughout the month. The winner of my guests 'mammal of the day' award was invariably the Red Squirrel - with many of my safari clients getting their first ever sighting of these very endearing and attractive 'Highland speciality' animals.

Roe Deer were seen regularly, especially early in the morning, and often heard 'barking' as they 'rutted' in suitable lowland areas.

Young Red Deer stags
Red Deer showed well in upland glens in large same-sex herds, the stags still all getting on well, with little hint of what is to happen in a few weeks......

Brown Hare (by Bob Smith)
Though Mountain Hares proved pretty elusive, Brown Hares were a little easier to see in suitable habitat...

Onto micro-critters now.....

Dark Green Fritillary (by Bob Smith)
Butterflies Moths and Dragonflies of many different species showed well on the warmer, less windy days....

Brown-Line Bright-Eye (by Bob Smith)
Black Darter (by Bob Smith)

So August 2015 turned out to be a pretty good month for wildlife-watching in the Cairngorms National Park, with lots of good sightings, many memorable experiences, and the great scenery putting smiles on the faces of my safari clients who were visiting Scotland from all around the world......

Highland heather moorland and loch

Saturday, August 01, 2015

July 2015 was, weather-wise, very much in keeping with the rest of 'summer' in this area this year, in that it was generally unseasonably 'grey', cold and wet, with temperatures and conditions often more akin to late October, with, unbelievably, a few frosts and a light dusting of snow on the highest peaks mid-month!! Fortunately, there were enough decent days for us to 'cherry-pick' for safaris, and it actually turned out to be another very good month for wildlife sightings, and although the days are shortening slightly now, this far north there are still around 18 hours of usable daylight.
Bird species day lists dropped a little, down  into the 40's, as some of our wader species moved away from their upland breeding territories to the coasts, and although just about every bird species seems to have youngsters now, my fears that the cold weather in the last three months may well have adversely affected brood survival rates for some of the more vulnerable species, seems to have been proved right, with the annual RSPB Abernethy Forest Capercaillie nest survey sadly turning up a shocking figure of zero youngsters... disastrous news for an iconic and nationally threatened species...
Mammal day lists varied between 4 and 9, depending on the length of day, and variety of habitats visited...with early starts generally producing more and better sightings, with again, many species seen with youngsters..
When the sun did occasionally shine, with the heather starting to turn purple, and the wild flowers and butterflies at their most abundant, Speyside really was a beautiful  and unspoilt place to be.

Beautiful Highland glen

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality and upland bird species seen regularly throughout the month included:  Osprey, Crested Tit,  Red GrouseSlavonian Grebe, Red-Throated DiverBlack-Throated Diver, Ring OuzelGoldeneye and Dipper.
We also enjoyed some regular good views of Red Kite, a few decent sightings of Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle, a couple of fleeting glimpses of Scottish Crossbill, and a brief look at a female Capercaillie with a youngster, though sadly Black Grouse (not unusually) did not feature at all this month....

Mammals seen regularly locally during the month included: Red SquirrelRabbitBrown HareMountain Hare,  Roe DeerRed DeerReindeerMountain Goat, Bank Vole, and our local upland speciality , Black Water Vole.  
While a coastal excursion to the Moray Firth mid-month on one of the few warm and sunny days provided great close-up views of  Seals , and distant Dolphins...

Juvenile Ospreys contemplating their 'maiden flights'!!!

Our local Ospreys stole the show again this month, with the adult birds seen fishing, delivering fish, and encouraging the fast growing 'scaly' looking youngsters to take their 'maiden flights', and by late-month they had indeed fledged and were seen perched, flying and fishing for the first time.. I can therefore highly recommend July as THE month for Osprey watching and photography in this area...

Red Grouse family - Can you spot the well camouflaged youngsters?

Red Grouse are always popular with my safari parties, as being a bird of  upland moors, most of my clients do not have them near to their home areas. We, however, are fortunate to have lots of suitable moorland in this area, and throughout the month we enjoyed good close up views of families of these beautifully marked birds.

Slavonian Grebe with youngster 
Slavonian Grebe, one of our rarest and surely one of our most beautiful British breeding birds, have struggled to breed successfully in this area in recent years, so it was great to see one of our local nesting pairs with a youngster this month, though a really good quality photo eluded me.....

Adult Black-Throated Diver with youngster
Divers in their dapper summer plumage are always popular with my safari clients, and we were fortunate enough to get lots of good views of both Red-Throated and Black-Throated , both with well-grown youngsters, on their favoured local lochs throughout the month, though it should be noted that they are easily disturbed by non wildlife-friendly tourists dog-walking, swimming and boating etc, so early morning starts in search of them usually gave us our best sightings....

Male Ring Ouzel
Ring Ouzels continued to show well in upland habitats near their nesting and feeding areas early in the month but became noticeably more elusive as the month progressed as they and their recently-fledged young began to roam further afield, and they appeared to have vacated this area for warmer climes by the end of the month....

Crested Tit by Bob Smith
Crested Tits now seem to have joined up with numbers of birds of several different species in 'mixed flocks' from mid-month. This means you first have to find one of these flocks 'working through' the forest, then you have to try and pick out the very 'flitty' little 'Cresties' - you really need to know their distinctive songs and calls to have a decent chance of success though....

Young Golden Eagle
Golden Eagles are probably more commonly seen on my safaris during the short days of winter, when they have less hours of daylight in which to hunt, and most of the sightings we do get are fairly distant, but a look around a local upland glen on the 3rd, a rare sunny day following a very rainy day, saw us enjoy unusually close overhead views of a sub-adult bird... followed soon after by a brief glimpse of not one but two White-Tailed Eagles!!!! Memorable stuff!!!

July is 'last chance saloon' for seeing all 3 of our mountain top species in one hit, and although I did not get the opportunity to take to the hills to see them, Ptarmigan, Dotterel and Snow Bunting were regularly reported by those that did...


Curlew
As I mentioned earlier, most of our waders have now moved away to their autumn and winter habitats, but I did manage to get a nice close-up pic of a Curlew early in the month...

Onto mammals now....

Red Deer hinds with young
Mammals generally featured well this month, with early mornings providing most of our best sightings. Roe Deer  were seen frequently, and heard 'barking' as they 'rutted' in suitable lowland areas. Red Deer were seen in upland glens in large same-sex herds, the hinds with their fast-growing young always nearby ....

Hungry Red Squirrel
But invariably, the winner of my safari guests 'mammal of the day' award was the Red Squirrel, with these beautiful and charismatic little animals often allowing good opportunities for close-up photography at local forest feeding stations.....


Black Water Vole
Water Voles of the 'brown' variety, although generally in decline,  are not uncommon in most of the UK's suitable waterways, but up here in Scotland, especially the further north you go, we seem to have the much rarer 'black' variety, and I finally managed a few half-decent pics of one this month... You can read more about Scottish Water Voles at http://www.snh.org.uk/publications/on-line/wildlife/voles/biology.asp

Common Seals
As I mentioned earlier, a short trip to the Moray coast gave us great close-up views of a Seal colony hauled out on a favourite flat, rocky area. It's always amazing to see how these characterful animals can be so clumsy and slow out of water, but so comfortable and impressive in the water.....


Scotch Argus by Bob Smith
Butterflies at last began to feature, on the few warmer sunny days at least!, with the more common species now being joined by our 'local speciality' the Scotch Argus at the end of the month...


So it looks like July 2015, despite the weather, actually turned out to be another very good wildlife watching month in the Cairngorms National Park, with many memorable moments and lots of local specialities seen and enjoyed....good news!, though I must confess that I always tend to feel just a little sad at the end of every July , as I know that many of our summer visiting birds are soon to vacate our area and fly south to warmer climes as summer turns to early autumn next month.....

Heather moorland at it's colourful best