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

Saturday, July 30, 2016

July 2016  started unseasonably 'grey', cold and wet in this area, with temperatures and conditions often more akin to spring or autumn, but it warmed up considerably from mid-month, with the second half of the month turning out to be warm and showery, and as long as you had appropriate clothing to hand to deal with the changeable conditions, it was a very enjoyable and successful month for wildlife sightings, and although the days are shortening slightly now, this far north there are still around 18 hours of usable daylight.
Full-day safari 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 things have definitely quietened down , as just about every bird species seems to have successfully raised and fledged youngsters now.
Mammal day lists varied between 3 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 shine, with the heather starting to turn a beautiful vivid purple, and the wild flowers and butterflies at their most abundant, Speyside really was a beautiful  and unspoilt place to be, and my safari clients, from many different countries, including Canada, USA, South Africa, Australia, Belgium and Holland all seemed to enjoy themselves.....

Midsummer at a beautiful local loch
To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future July visit, I hope the following more detailed information, illustrated with photos taken by myself or my safari clients will help........


Wildlife highlights included:

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

Mammals seen regularly locally during the month included: Red SquirrelRabbitBrown HareRoe DeerRed DeerReindeerMountain Goat, and Bank Vole, with just a couple of sightings of Mountain Hare, Stoat, and another local upland speciality , Black Water Vole.  
A coastal excursion to the Moray Firth mid-month on one of the warm and sunny days provided great views of  Seals ....
Newly-fledged young Osprey
Our local Ospreys stole the show again this month, often being voted as 'Bird of the day' by my safari clients, 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 by Malcolm Fincham
Red Grouse too are always popular with my safari parties, as being a bird of uninhabited upland moors, most of my clients do not have them close to home. We, however, are fortunate to have lots of suitable heather moorland in this area, and throughout the month we enjoyed good close up views of families of these very characterful and beautifully marked birds.

Slavonian Grebe with chicks taking a ride by Steve Nicklin
Slavonian (Horned) Grebe, one of our rarest and surely one of our most beautiful British breeding birds, with the UK being at the very western limits of it's breeding range , have often struggled to breed successfully in this area in recent years, so it was great to see two of our local nesting pairs with youngsters this month, and we even got to see the very rare sight of the cute 'humbug' striped chicks taking a ride on the parents backs...

Red-Throated Diver
Divers (Loons) 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. It should be noted however, that they are rarely seen close to the shore, and 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 closest 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....

Dipper
Dipper sightings were a bit hit and miss this month, with the birds seemingly quite mobile up and down the rivers, some days we saw none, and on other days we saw one on each river we visited! Which just goes to show that sometimes you need a bit of luck......

Crested Tits still took a bit of finding in our local Caledonian pine forests, with the ability to identify them by their distinctive calls and songs being vital if you are to have a chance. The ones we did see were mainly in  family groups, and constantly on the move....

It was a similar story with Crossbills too, with the majority of our sightings being of the rather frustrating 'fly-over' variety, with them only being identified by their characteristic 'jip' 'jip' calls as they travelled between different parts of the forests...

Golden Eagle is probably hardest to see in mid-summer (in this area at least), as the birds have so many hours of daylight in which to hunt, but we did manage a few decent though distant views of birds soaring on thermals...

Still on raptors, we also saw Peregrine, Red Kite, Common Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk regularly during the month...

Golden Plover
Other good birds of note seen this month included:
Bullfinches, usually at quiet forest feeding stations , Golden Plover on the moors, and families of Redstarts and Spotted Flycatchers catching insects in our local forests....

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

Onto mammals now...

Red Squirrel
The award for 'mammal of the day' , as voted for by my safari clients, invariably went 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.....

Roe Deer  were seen frequently, at least early in the day anyway, and often heard 'barking' as they 'rutted' in suitable lowland areas. 

Red Deer stags
Red Deer were regularly seen in upland glens in large same-sex herds, the stags happily feeding and seemingly relaxing, and the hinds with their fast-growing young always nearby ....with many of my safari guests from foreign lands putting these iconic beasts high up on their 'wish-lists'....

Black water Vole by Bob Smith
Water Voles of the 'brown' variety, although generally in decline,  are not uncommon in many 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 we finally managed a few half-decent pics of them this month... You can read more about Scottish Water Voles at http://www.snh.org.uk/publications/on-line/wildlife/voles/biology.asp
Mountain Goat by safari client Norman Green
Mountain Goats , usually in large groups, were seen in a favourite upland glen on a number of occasions, though they were often a bit distant, we did get lucky with closer views on a couple of occasions....

The same could be said of our Mountain Hares too... though it should be noted that they are extremely difficult to find when in their mottled grey/brown summer plumage, as it seems to match the background rather well.....

Scotch Argus
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 towards the end of the month...

Wood Ants nest
Wood Ants are at their most active in the summer months, and walks in local forests revealed several huge nests, with thousands of worker ants frenziedly collecting and delivering caterpillars, insects and even beetles many times their own size!

So it looks like July 2016, despite the somewhat changeable 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....happy days!! 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.....

Sunset over the Moray Firth

Friday, July 01, 2016

June 2016 started off unseasonably cool in this area, with north winds dominating, but it gradually warmed up, with the more usual mix of milder, sunny and showery days later on in the month. Thankfully however, there were enough decent days for it turn out to be yet another excellent month for wildlife sightings, and with around 20 hours of usable daylight and all of our summer visiting bird species on territory, bird day-lists are at their highest in the year now, with full-day (10-12 hour) multi-habitat safaris regularly producing over 60 species, whilst mammal day-lists ranged between 5 and 9 species depending on the variety of habitats visited, with early starts proving to be most productive.
Just about every bird species seems to have youngsters now, though I fear the cold weather early in the month may well have adversely affected brood survival rates for some vulnerable species such as Capercaillie and Dotterel.
The combination of sun and rain helped to maintain the lush, green appearance of the spectacular highland scenery, with the wild flowers approaching their colourful best now, and a few more butterfly species were noted on the sunnier days, though I have to say, in smaller numbers than I would usually expect.

The view from Cairngorm Mountain summit

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future June visit, I hope the following more detailed information, illustrated with photos taken by myself or my safari clients will help........

Local speciality and upland bird species seen regularly this month included:
Osprey, Crested Tit, Red Grouse, Ring Ouzel, Slavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Goldeneye, Dipper, and  Scottish Crossbill, with just a few views of Golden Eagle and Merlin,...whilst a couple of trips high up into the Cairngorms,  produced the classic 'mountain-top' species, PtarmiganDottereand Snow Bunting.......it should be noted though, that we (not unusually) failed to see Black Grouse and Capercaillie at all this month....

Mammals seen regularly locally during the month included: Red SquirrelRabbitBrown HareMountain Hare,  Roe DeerRed DeerReindeerMountain Goat, Bank Vole, the local upland speciality Black Water Vole,  and a couple of  brief sightings of Stoat.....


Osprey
Osprey is probably the 'star bird' of the mid-summer months up here  - with my safari parties being fortunate enough to see them plunge-diving spectacularly to catch a fish, or delivering a fish to the nest on several occasions, and from the third week of the month we got to see the rapidly growing youngsters in the nests for the first time...


Crested Tit by safari client Jan Shields
Crested Tit (finally!!!) became a little easier to see, as the newly-fledged youngsters learned to forage for food with their parents, often alerting us to their presence in the Caledonian pine forests with their chuckling trills....

Male Scottish Crossbill by safari client Wayne Biddlecombe
The same could be said of Crossbills, usually one of the more tricky species to see well, were actually enjoyed by myself and my safari clients on a good number of occasions, with us even getting to see the adults feeding the streaky youngsters with pine seeds....

Cute Red Grouse chick by safari client Jan Shields
Red Grouse were not too difficult to find on suitable areas of heather moorland, and if you could spot the heads of the adults above the heather, and looked carefully, you then usually got to see their large families of very cute, fast-growing youngsters too...


Male Ring Ouzel by safari client Jan Shields
Ring Ouzels often showed 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....

Slavonian Grebe by Bob Smith
Slavonian Grebes, in their beautiful summer plumage, were seen and enjoyed regularly by my safari parties on their favoured quiet lochans, and happily, late in the month, we were able to confirm much-needed breeding success for this increasingly scarce species, when we saw a female with two cute 'humbug' striped chicks taking a ride on her back...

Black-Throated Diver
Both Red-Throated Divers and Black-Throated Divers in their dapper summer plumage, were seen regularly on suitable secluded local lochs,  though we generally had our best views on calmer days, with little or no ripple on the water, and early and late in the day, when human disturbance was it it's lowest....

Dipper by safari client Wayne Biddlecombe
Dippers are probably at their least territorial during mid-summer, seemingly covering a much longer stretch of river than usual,  which can make them more difficult to see than you might imagine.....but my favourite tactic of 'staking-out' a likely stretch of river from a bridge vantage point paid off on a number of occasions, with us even seeing family groups a couple of times....

Golden Eagle
Golden Eagle is usually a tricky bird to see in the summer months, as they have so many hours of daylight in which to hunt, but regular visits to suitable upland habitat provided us with some pretty decent (If often distant) views this month, with us even getting to see one adult bird perch briefly on a large rock on the 5th...

Male Ptarmigan by safari client Margaret Holland
June is probably the best month to have a chance of seeing all 3 of our mountain top bird species, and although suitable days weather-wise were few and far between, a couple of walks up and around Cairngorm summit on the 18th and 19th - using my Cairngorm Mountain Birdwatching Guide qualification to allow us to use the funicular railway and then exit the (usually) closed system,  gave us decent views of Ptarmigan (with a cute chick), Dotterel and Snow Bunting (also with young) ....

Female Dotterel
Puffin on Handa Island
June is also probably the best month in which to visit a coastal seabird colony, so taking advantage of a favourable weather forecast, the 9th saw us take a very scenic drive up to the north-west coast to the wonderfully remote and beautiful  Handa Island. Even the short ferry crossing from Tarbet gave us super close-up views of Seals, and Black Guillemot , and once on the island, after our welcome talk by the SWT wardens, we went on to see Red-Throated Divers,  Snipe, Red Grouse, Wheatears, Skylarks, and Arctic and Great Skuas galore nesting on the moors. Once at the impressively high cliffs and coastal stacks, we were treated to the unique sights, sounds (and smells!) of good numbers of  Gannets, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Guillemots (including the 'bridled' variety), and yes, everybody's favourite - Puffins!

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

Onto mammals now.....
Red Squirrel by safari client Wayne Biddlecombe
Our local Red Squirrels, a species sadly absent from much of the UK now, are always popular with my safari clients, and visits to my favourite Caledonian forest sites gave us lots of good sightings, often with decent photographic opportunities....
Red Deer hind by safari client Wayne Biddlecombe
Red Deer too are not common in much of the UK, but we are fortunate to have good numbers here in Highland Scotland, and we had many good sightings again this month....


Feral mountain Goat by safari client Jan Shields
The same could also be said of our feral Mountain Goats, which many of my safari clients saw for the first time whilst out on safari with me...

Mountain Hare too are largely restricted to remote upland areas, and although we had a few decent views this month, they were generally a bit tricky to see....

It was the same story with our local speciality Black water Voles too, with a couple of brief glimpses being all we could manage....
Brown Hare by safari client Jan Shields
Brown Hares however, were seen a little more frequently, and occasionally at surprisingly close range, for this normally quite wary species....

And now onto Fish!!!
Amazing leaping Atlantic Salmon photo by safari client Margaret Holland
The recent rainfall and corresponding rise in water levels finally allowed the Atlantic Salmon to make their way further up our local rivers, and visits to popular falls and 'leaps' gave us some good views of these amazing creatures attempting to fight the powerful flows and often steep ascents, and return upstream to their birthplace breeding grounds to reproduce...a highly recommended wildlife experience....


A scenic Sutherland view - en route to Handa Island

So, it would appear that June 2016 was yet another great month for wildlife-watching in the Cairngorms National park. If you can accept that you are unlikely to see Capercaillie or Black Grouse, then June is an excellent time to visit if you are happy to see a wide selection of birds and mammals, and also fancy a mountain-top adventure, or a trip to a seabird colony with (usually) fairly good weather,  and all in virtually 24 hour daylight.....