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

Monday, November 30, 2015

November 2015 started unusually mildly in this area, but the middle of the month saw gales and rain, and then winter truly arrived with our first proper snowfall and frosts. Despite the sometimes challenging conditions, by 'cherry-picking' the best days, and designing itineraries round the weather, we still managed some very enjoyable days out, with some excellent wildlife sightings, often amid dramatic winter landscapes.
The days are shortening noticeably now, with only around 8-9 hours of usable daylight, but despite this, we still frequently managed full-day bird day-lists into the low 40's and mammal day-lists of up to 8 species....

Loch Morlich and the Cairngorms

Wildlife highlights included:

Local/upland speciality bird species seen regularly during the month included: Dipper, Crested Tit, Black Grouse, Red Grouse and Golden Eagle,..though Crossbills again proved frustratingly elusive, with our few sightings being limited to the 'fly-over' variety.....

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


Dipper

Our local Dippers are definitely becoming more aggressive now, with much displaying, dawn singing and chasing each other around being witnessed as they presumably seek to establish winter and breeding territories.....

Crested Tit by safari client Russell Harvey

Crested Tits, being a true 'local speciality', were seen pleasingly regularly, especially on the colder days, at my local forest feeding stations, though it should be noted that , being so 'flitty' and quick and never staying very long, getting good photos of them can be quite tricky! Unlike the Great Tits, Robins, Chaffinches and Coal Tits, the latter of which frequently feed from the hand!

Black Grouse are always popular with my safari clients, probably because of their relative rarity and sadly, declining numbers over much of the UK, and our dawn visits to their traditional local moorland 'lek' sites were very successful, with an average of 6 cock birds seen showing and displaying well, with cold, still, frosty mornings generally proving more successful than wet and windy ones, though a decent photo eluded us this month....

Red Grouse by safari client Ron Mitchell
Similarly, our local Red Grouse, now with their white winter leg feathers, seem to be showing more regularly, with our local heather moorlands echoing with the cock birds cackling , guttural "go back go back"  calls as they start to become a little territorial, and some super close-up sightings and photos being achieved as we drive slowly through, using my safari vehicle as a mobile hide...

Golden Eagle
As I have mentioned in previous years, and at the risk of repeating myself... November is in my opinion, THE month for raptor sightings in this area, and so it proved again this year, with my favourite local upland glens providing my safari clients and I with regular sightings, and even the odd (very rare)  photo opportunity, of the much coveted Golden Eagle and White -Tailed Eagle, with these awesome and majestic 'Kings of the skies' providing great entertainment,  numerous 'life-ticks'  and putting big smiles on many faces....
The regular 'raptor back-up cast' of Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, BuzzardRed Kite, and even the occasional Hen Harrier and Goshawk, should not be forgotten though....

Whooper Swan family
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 this month saw a further influx of large flocks of birds travelling south to enjoy our (in relative terms!) milder winter weather.

Fieldfare
The same could also be said of the 'winter' Thrushes - with lots more Redwings arriving throughout the month, their 'seep seep' calls often being heard overhead, along with the 'chak chak chak' of the Fieldfares,  and they continued to pillage our rapidly dwindling local berry supplies, much to the continued annoyance of our resident Blackbirds and Thrushes!

Other less common birds seen this month included several good sightings of Bullfinches and Yellowhammers, and a few decent early morning views of another normally elusive bird, the Woodcock - With most birders' views of this rare 'wader' (that doesn't wade!) usually being restricted to brief silhouetted glimpses of them 'roding' over the treetops at dusk, the chance to see a fairly static bird, and enjoy their intricate, cryptic plumage is always a welcome experience....

Onto mammals now....


Red Deer stags
Although the autumn 'rut' is now over and seemingly forgotten by the participants!, it was still a treat to see the magnificent fully antlered Red Deer stags now back in their same-sex herds in their favoured upland glens, with my safari clients often surprised at their impressive size and powerful build....


Roe Deer
Although not as physically impressive as their Red cousins, Roe Deer are probably more often described as cute, but always prove popular with my safari clients, and we were fortunate enough to see them on numerous occasions this month, especially soon after dawn....


Red Squirrel

But, when it comes to cuteness..... our local Red Squirrels take a bit of beating, as they again put a smile on many of my safari clients faces, especially those seeing these attractive and characterful creatures for the first time...

Atlantic Salmon 
November is usually the best month of the year to see our Atlantic Salmon spawning. These remarkable and often very large fish spawn in the shallow waters in the upper reaches of our rivers, at the very spot where they themselves were hatched several years before, having originally spent 2-3 years in the river, then another 2-3 years feeding and maturing out in the mid Atlantic, before undertaking a perilous journey many miles upriver, often involving avoiding poachers and predators and negotiating high falls and rapids on the way - an amazing migration story! However, sightings are very reliant on the rivers water levels - too little water and the Salmon cannot access the upper reaches - too much water, and they can get there... but we can't see them, and after a few sightings early in the month, sadly that was the case for the remainder of the month....

So, although many people I know seem to get the 'winter -blues' as the days shorten and the temperatures drop , as a keen wildlife watcher, it is far from the case for me up here, with November now one of my favourite and, weather permitting, most productive safari months, with lots of great wildlife to be enjoyed, and often in spectacular snowy scenery.....

A snowy adventure in the spectacular scenery of the Cairngorm Mountains