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

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February 2017  was, weather-wise in this area, quite similar to the previous month - milder and drier than normal, with just a couple of brief snowy cold snaps - which made for pretty good safari conditions, and with the days lengthening, snowdrops blooming, birds singing, and temperatures hitting double figures on a few occasions, it even felt a little spring-like at times...
Full-day local safari bird lists increased a little, with the first returning waders pushing the totals up in to the high 40's, though a trip to the nearby Moray Coast or Black Isle can increase this number considerably, whilst mammal day lists varied between 5 and 9 species depending on the time of our start and number of habitats visited, with early starts usually proving more successful for the shyer ones.
To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future February visit yourself, I hope the following more detailed information, illustrated with photos taken by myself, my friends or my safari clients will help - clicking on the picture enlarges it to full screen.

A favourite local upland glen

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality/upland bird species seen regularly during the month included:
Black Grouse, Red Grouse, DipperCrested Tit, Crossbill and Golden Eagle, and we also had a couple of decent sightings of Goshawk and one glimpse of a Merlin, whilst the snow at lower levels on Cairngorm Mountain produced good close-up views of Snow Buntings. 


Drake Goldeneye
Winter visiting birds were represented by a few remaining family groups of Whooper Swans, a few flocks of several species of 'grey' Geese, lots of wildfowl such as Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Wigeon and Teal, whilst a few (annoyingly mobile) Waxwings continued to feast on our fast disappearing berries throughout the month...a small flock of Hawfinches lingered, though they too were much more mobile.. a few Bramblings and Redpolls were also seen , though our Redwings and Fieldfares seem to have largely moved on....

Summer visiting birds , in the form of waders such as Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Curlew began to appear inland for the first time since the autumn...

Mammals seen regularly locally during the month included:
Red Deer,  Roe Deer, Reindeer, Red Squirrel,  Rabbit, Mountain GoatBrown Hare, and Mountain Hare (white), with just a few brief glimpses of Bank Vole...and at the very end of the month we were lucky to have a brief encounter with that iconic and now incredibly rare creature, a Scottish Wildcat!!!

Black Grouse lekking at dawn
Dawn on my safaris was usually spent at a local Black Grouse lek site, where we braved the usually freezing temperatures and often wintry weather to enjoy the spectacle of up to 10 of these attractive blue-black cock birds displaying, posturing aggressively and flutter-jumping in a bid to out-perform and intimidate their opponents and secure their little patch of the lek for the forthcoming breeding season, all accompanied by their strange bubbling and whooshing calls drifting across the moor... surely one of British wildlife's 'must-see' (and 'must hear') experiences?

Cock Red Grouse
Our local Red Grouse too, most definitely have breeding on their minds, as the cock birds are now very aggressive and vocal, their bulging red 'eyebrows' seemingly glowing, as they take to the highest parts of the moors , strutting around, often accompanied by a female,  and chase off their rivals! This makes them much easier to spot and hear on their vast heather moorland habitat, luckily for me.......

Dipper with nest material
Dippers featured frequently on my safaris this month, with visits to my favourite river sites often giving us good views of these upland river specialities,  sometimes carrying nest material close to likely nest sites, usually near a bridge, and occasionally singing and displaying to a prospective mate......

Crested Tit
My favourite forest feeding stations again proved to be very successful in luring Crested Tits for us to see and photograph at close range, with the colder days proving to be best and the milder days less so, but with the 'Cresties' and many of the other forest birds showing early signs of breeding season behaviour, I suspect that the days of 'easy' sightings may be coming to an end as their reliance on non-natural food decreases, and the urge to breed kicks in....

Crossbill
Crossbills for once, actually proved to be a little more obliging this month! As well as the 'usual' flyover birds, we actually got to see and hear a few birds calling and singing their scratchy high pitched trilling song from treetops in our local Caledonian forests...

Golden Eagle
Golden Eagle is a rare, iconic, localised and much sought-after bird in the UK, and as I have mentioned before, the shorter days of the winter months give us our best chance of seeing them. This month continued the trend, and we were lucky enough to enjoy a number of memorable sightings of these majestic birds hunting in upland glens, including the rare treat of one seen through my scope perched on a rock on the 10th.

Raptors in general were pretty well represented this month, with Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Peregrine, Merlin, Goshawk and Red Kite all being seen at least once...

Snow Bunting
Although I did not take a trip high up into the peaks in search of the mountain-top species this month, the couple of snowy cold spells tempted the Snow Buntings down to lower levels, giving us the chance of great close-up views and photo opportunities...

Another mountain adventure

Although I am not a massive fan myself... gull enthusiasts may be interested to know that we have had two 'white-winged'  specialities, namely Glaucous and Iceland Gulls showing well on lochs and rubbish tips locally this month....

Male Bullfinch
Other 'good' birds seen or reported locally this month included, Great Grey Shrike, American WigeonWoodcock, BullfinchBramblingRedpoll, and Scaup.

Turnstone and Redshanks
As I mentioned last month, the picturesque Moray Coast is only about an hour north of Aviemore by car, and I can highly recommend a visit in winter, as it can provide an excellent selection of geese, seabirds, waders and wildfowl, and help your 'year-list' along too..... I made a trip early in the month to a few favourite sites, and saw many species including 'Grey' GeeseEider, Long-Tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Gannet, Redshank, Dunlin, Knot, Turnstone, Godwits, Curlew, Teal and Wigeon to name just a few......though the Purple Sandpipers eluded me  - again!!!

Lossiemouth East Beach
Onto mammals now.....

Mammal of the month simply has to be the Scottish wildcat that we saw (sadly all too briefly) hunting on farmland between forests on the morning of the 26th, and although without DNA evidence it is impossible to prove it's lineage is 100% wild, it certainly looked the part with a large, muscular appearance, broad, black-striped tail and generally alert and stealthy demeanour....

Mountain Hare
Mountain Hares, still in their attractive white winter coats, were undoubtedly runner-up as mammal of the month, with a high proportion of my safari clients keen to see and photograph them, and with snow being in short supply for much of the month, they were not too difficult to find in suitable upland habitat....
Red Deer
Although Red Deer are actually fairly common in our upland glens, it can take a certain amount of fieldcraft to find them, as they will often tuck themselves away on the less windy sides of the hills...or even take shelter in the forests when conditions are really wintry....

Feral Mountain Goats
Still up in the glens, our feral Mountain Goats always prove popular with my safari clients, though as they have their very cute recently born young with them, they tended to keep their distance a bit....

Red Squirrel
In the Caledonian pine forests, we had plenty of good sightings of arguably our cutest local resident, the Red Squirrel, especially at feeding stations where they are not slow to take advantage of the free peanuts on offer.......

So to sum up, February appears to have continued our excellent start to the safari year, with plenty of local specialities, a few winter visitors, the first 'summer' visitors arriving early,  and even a few unexpected bonuses seen.....and with winter finally coming towards it's end and spring on the horizon...we are fast approaching my favourite time of the year.....


If you think you know someone who may enjoy a taste of what I do, why not treat them to a safari gift certificate. They make a thoughtful and imaginative present and are available for any amount in multiples of £10, and are valid at any time within a year from date of purchase....


Sunrise in a Caledonian pine forest