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

Saturday, October 31, 2015

October 2015 was a very good month for wildlife-watching in this area weather-wise.With high pressure dominating for most of the month, we enjoyed lots of calm and sunny, if occasionally a bit cold weather, with very little wind or rain until the end of the month.
Though the days are certainly shortening now, we still had around 10 hours of usable daylight, and the Highland scenery is still ablaze with glorious autumn colours, and the first dusting of snow on the Cairngorms provided many of my safari clients and myself with some very picturesque landscape photo opportunities.
An influx of winter visitors from colder areas further north, helped full-day safari bird lists increase up into the 40's, whilst mammal day-lists varied between 4 and 9 depending on the start time and number of venues visited.

Autumn colours in a beautiful upland glen

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality bird species seen regularly during the month included:
Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Dipper, Crested Tit, Golden Eagle, Whooper Swan and 'Grey Geese', with a few glimpses of Crossbill.....

Mammals seen regularly during the month included:
Red Deer (rutting), Roe Deer, Reindeer, Rabbit, Brown Hare, and Mountain Goat, with just a few sightings of Mountain Hare, and one glimpse of a Stoat.

Black Grouse at dawn on a Highland moor

The cock Black Grouse on our traditional moorland 'lek' sites, having been missing since mid June, began to assemble and occasionally even display at dawn, especially on the colder mornings, with my safari clients enjoying seeing an impressive 12 birds on the 23rd, though 2-6 birds is more usual at this time of year..
Red Grouse

Our local Red Grouse appeared to still be in their family groups, and with the shooting season virtually over, they now seem a little less wary and can be less difficult to see, especially when using my safari vehicle as a mobile hide on the tracks through their heather moorland home.

Dipper
Dippers, being birds of fast-flowing, clear-running upland rivers, are largely absent from much of the UK, which means they are always popular with my safari clients, most of whom do not have them on their local patch. Luckily, they are relatively common on our local rivers up here, and we managed some good sightings at some of my favourite local sites, with one or two birds even singing and seemingly displaying some 'territorial' behaviour.

Crested Tit

Crested Tit is a true local speciality, with Speyside being their UK stronghold, but with them generally being part of roving mixed species flocks in winter, they can be surprisingly difficult to see.
However, a post-dawn visit to a forest feeding station increases your chances, and we were lucky enough to get some good views on a number of occasions, especially on colder days. A bonus by-product of regular winter feeding is sometimes being able to feed the incredibly confiding Coal Tits by hand, an experience much enjoyed by my safari clients...

Golden Eagle
Golden Eagle too is truly an iconic bird of the Scottish Highlands, and our regular visits to suitable upland glens paid off on several occasions, with a number of decent sightings, and a couple of amazing views of these majestic (and huge!) raptors being obtained, including the very rare opportunity to view a perched bird through the telescope! In fact, experience suggests that the shorter days of the winter months actually seem to give us more chance of seeing them, as they have less available hours of hunting time....

The same applies to the other birds of prey, with Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Red KiteCommon Buzzard and even Goshawk and Hen harrier all being seen on my safaris this month.
Whooper Swans

Although not exclusively winter birds of this particular area, northern Scotland is often the first UK landfall for the Whooper Swans and 'Grey' Geese arriving from their Arctic breeding grounds, and the middle of the month saw us get our first proper influx, as they fly south to enjoy our (in relative terms!) milder winter weather.

The same could also be said of the 'winter' Thrushes - first the Redwings arrived, their 'seep seep' calls being heard overhead, shortly followed by the 'chak chak chak' of the  Fieldfares,  and they soon set about pillaging our local berry supplies, much to the annoyance of our resident Blackbirds and Thrushes!

Male Crossbill

Crossbills again proved a little frustrating, with our views generally being limited to fleeting glimpses of fly-over birds, their 'jip jip' calls alerting us to their presence. However, on the 30th, we got lucky, when a male bird perched and called from the top of a conifer, giving us great views and a rare photo opportunity.


Onto mammals now....

Red Deer stag

'Mammal of the month' for October has to be the Red Deer,  with their spectacular annual 'rut' providing my safari clients with some terrific entertainment - the fully antlered stags 'roars' echoing through the glens, as they spend much of the month  posturing , fighting off rivals and mating with as many of their 'harem' as possible - surely one of British nature's 'must-see' experiences?

Red Squirrel

...With second place going to that ever popular peanut-munching forest dweller, the cute and charismatic Red Squirrel, who can usually be relied upon to appear for an easy feast at my favourite forest feeding stations.....

Mountain Hare and Mountain Goat were both seen in a favourite upland glen on a number of occasions, though I failed to get any decent photos this month...

Spawning Atlantic Salmon
Salmon continued to make there way up our local rivers towards their spawning grounds, though the lack of water hampered their progress, until some heavy rains at the end of the month raised the levels enough to allow them access to the upper reaches, where we were then lucky enough to be able to see them 'leaping' up falls, and also actually watch them spawning in the shallows..


So, to summarise, helped by the decent weather, and the miracle of migration, October 2015 turned out to be yet another marvellous month for wildlife watching in the Cairngorms National Park, with plenty of good sightings, many memorable experiences and the odd surprise, all set against a beautiful autumnal Highland backdrop.......

Autumn at Strathconon