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

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August 2016 weather-wise, really was, to use an old football cliche, a month of two halves up here! The first half saw us endure gales (of up to 115mph at Cairngorm Mountain), then heavy rain, followed by an unusually cold spell, with a few overnight ground frosts! Thankfully, the second half saw high pressure dominate, and the accompanying warmer, more settled weather was much appreciated by myself, my safari clients, visiting tourists, and I suspect, the wildlife too!
The days are noticeably shortening now as autumn approaches, 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 full-day bird day-lists would reduce down into the 30's, whilst mammal day lists varied between 4 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, though sadly,  in lower numbers than in previous years.
The Highland scenery is extremely picturesque now, with the heather at it's beautiful purple best, one or two ferns turning coppery gold, a few leaves beginning to 'turn', and the Rowan trees fully laden with brightly coloured berries.

Late summer on a local heather moorland

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future August 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 bird species seen regularly included:
Red Grouse, Crested TitDipperGoldeneye 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 a couple of distant glimpses 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 locally included:
Red Squirrel, Roe Deer, Red Deer, Reindeer, Mountain Goat and Rabbit with just a few sightings of Brown Hare, Mountain Hare, Stoat and Bank Vole..
Whilst a mid-month trip to the Aberdeenshire coast gave great views of Seals ...

Osprey
Osprey was again probably most frequently voted as 'bird of the day' by my safari clients in the first half of the month - hardly surprising I suppose when you consider that these are impressively large and attractively marked raptors, that can also provide additional "wow" factor when seen plunge-diving or carrying fish! Though sadly, by mid-month it appeared that most of the adult birds had already departed, so sightings definitely tailed-off later in the month...

Young Slavonian Grebe
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 some of our local pairs had bred successfully this year.... Though they had largely left the area by mid-month...to spend the winter around the coast of the UK...

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

Displaying Red-Throated Divers


Red Grouse on heather moorland
Our local Red Grouse showed well in large family groups on suitable heather moorland, often down to close range when using my vehicle as a mobile hide, though not surprisingly, those on 'managed' shooting moors became noticeably more wary of humans, and more difficult to spot after shooting commenced on the 'glorious' 12th......

Crested Tit by Bob Smith
Crested Tits have now joined the '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 one of these roving flocks , 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 task! , but, satisfyingly for myself 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 local forest feeding stations.... 

Still in the forests, Crossbills sightings were (again!) usually of the rather frustrating 'fly-over' variety, with them only being identified by their characteristic 'jip' 'jip' calls as they flew overhead between different parts of the forests...

Dipper
Dipper sightings seemed to be a little more frequent this month, with most safaris providing at least one sighting of these characterful little birds of clear, fast-flowing upland rivers..though they do still seem to be roving far and wide from their traditional nesting areas.....

Golden Eagle sightings were frustratingly hard to come by this month,  not helped I'm sure by reports of up to 8 young GPS tagged birds going 'missing' recently on or near local managed Grouse moors....hopefully my worst fears will prove to be unfounded, and sightings will, as in previous years,  pick up as the days shorten.....

Red Kite
Still on raptors, we also saw  Common Buzzard, Kestrel, PeregrineRed Kite, and Sparrowhawk regularly during the month...and one memorable hour up a local glen on the 19th gave us a memorable 5 raptor species in an hour......

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.....
Tree Sparrow
The mid-month trip to the Aberdeenshire coast (about 2 hours away) mentioned earlier, gave good   sightings of coastal bird species such as Eiders, Terns, Skuas and Sanderlings, whilst Loch Of Strathbeg RSPB reserve produced a good year tick with it's resident Tree Sparrows....

Sanderlings at Ythan Estuary by Bob Smith

Onto mammals now...

Red Squirrel
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 pine forest sites gave us lots of good sightings, often with decent photographic opportunities....

Red Deer stags
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 Goats by Bob Smith
The same could also be said of our feral Mountain Goats, which many of my safari clients have seen for the first time whilst out on my safaris...

Roe Deer fawn by Bob Smith
Roe Deer however, are relatively common across most of the UK, but are actually not always that easy to see, due to their slightly nervous disposition and crepuscular nature. Early morning walks round local forests gave us some decent sightings this month though, with a few cute youngsters being seen too....
Seals 'hauled-out' on the Ythan Estuary
The previously mentioned mid-month trip to the Ythan Estuary gave great views of large numbers of Seals, many hauled-out on the shore, and some swimming and fishing, often at very close range....


Small Tortoiseshell
Butterflies were well represented this month, with August generally being the best month to see the common species and our local speciality, the Scotch Argus....


Common Blue
Ringlet
Scotch Argus
So August 2016 appears to have been a pretty good month for wildlife-watching in and around the Cairngorms National Park, with lots of good sightings, many memorable experiences, and the picturesque late summer scenery putting smiles on the faces of my safari clients who were visiting Scotland from all around the world......

My recently upgraded safari vehicle - a 7-seat Land Rover Discovery 4 HSE