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

Friday, March 31, 2017

March 2017  was again a bit of a mixture weather-wise in this area, starting off cold, dry and wintry, but turning milder and sunnier from mid-month, and finishing with a brief wet and windy spell, but in contrast to much of the UK, it was most definitely still winter this far north, and anyone considering visiting this area in March should remember to bring the appropriate warm and waterproof clothing!
The days are lengthening nicely now though, with nearly 12 hours of usable daylight, and dawn (for the Black Grouse lek) is a still not too unsociable 6am.
With many of the winter visiting birds still here, and a few wader and water bird species returning to their inland breeding sites in the second half of the month, full-day safari bird species day-lists crept up towards the 50 mark, whilst mammal species day-lists varied between 4 and 9 depending on our luck, time of start, and the variety of habitats visited, with early starts again proving most fruitful.

I was away down in southern England visiting family and friends for the middle part of the month, so my local sightings report will be a little shorter than usual and may include a few photos from previous March safaris.

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future March 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.

Sunrise over a Highland moorland

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality/upland bird species seen regularly included  Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Crested Tit and Dipper, we also had one all too brief glimpse of a flying male Capercaillie , a few sightings of Crossbills... a couple of decent views of Golden Eagle, and towards the very end of the month, our first local reports this year of OspreyRing OuzelSlavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver and Golden Plover - all coming into their splendid summer breeding plumage, and joining the ever-increasing numbers of other Summer visiting birds , such as Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Curlew .....
Although I personally did not go on any mountain top adventures for Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting this month, I understand that they could often be seen well on the few days when the weather was suitable....
Winter visiting birds were represented by a few remaining family groups of Whooper Swans, flocks of Greylag Geese, wildfowl such as Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Wigeon and Teal,  a few (again annoyingly mobile) Waxwings continued to feast on our now almost totally depleted berries throughout the month..and one or two Redpolls and Bramblings lingered....

Soaring Golden Eagle
Mammals seen regularly by my safari parties during the month included:
Rabbit, Red Squirrel, Roe Deer,  Red Deer, ReindeerMountain Goat (with youngsters), Brown Hare and Mountain Hare (still mostly white).

Lekking Black Grouse
Black Grouse were again the dawn (now around 6am) attraction on my safaris, with up to 9 birds seen performing their impressive 'Blackcock tango' for around an hour at first light, with a noticeable increase in the aggression levels as the month progressed and the April arrival of the hen birds for mating looms.......

Cock Red Grouse
Whereas our local Red Grouse have most definitely already paired-up, and the cock birds seem to be concentrating more on defending their territory from rival birds, whilst the 'disappearance' of the hen birds suggests that many may already be on eggs.....

With no 'rogue' birds in this area to go for these days, our  Capercaillie sightings are much more difficult to come by, so a view of a cock bird in flight early in the month, though brief, was very welcome....

Crested Tit
Crested Tits were seen at and around forest feeding stations early in the month, giving several of my ( often very excited) safari clients a much wanted 'life-tick', but after my return from down south, they failed to show during the latter part of the month, suggesting perhaps, that they are now concentrating on breeding rather than feeding.....

Still in the forests, sadly, most of our Crossbill sightings were of the rather annoying fly-over variety again this month, though those of us quick enough with our binoculars, saw enough to suggest that we were now seeing recently-fledged youngsters with their parents....

Dipper
Dippers were seen frequently this month, and they too seem to have procreation on their minds, as we are now (presumably) only seeing male birds, and they appear to be defending territory near their favourite nest sites of old bridges,

Peregrine Falcon
Though down a little on mid-winter, bird of prey sightings were again decent this month, with Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Red Kite, Peregrine and Golden Eagle all seen, with some of these species observed displaying or carrying nesting materials....and the first returning Ospreys have been reported in the last few days...including our local 'celebrity' - EJ at Loch Garten RSPB reserve, who has already had an interesting encounter with a Pine Marten (to see video- click on the link) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bT3JmWrTA3c&feature=youtu.be

Bullfinches
Other 'good' birds seen or reported locally this month included,  Woodcock, BullfinchBramblingRedpoll, and Water Rail.......

Lesser Redpoll

Onto mammals now.....

Mountain Hare
March is the last month to see our local Mountain Hares in their beautiful all-white winter coats, and they were undoubtedly 'mammal of the month', with many of my safari clients keen to see them, and with their upland habitats being relatively snow-free, they were not too difficult for me to find, and could actually be quite confiding, often allowing a reasonably close approach for photography....

Brown Hare
After being a bit scarce through the winter, our local Brown Hares seemed a bit more active this month, and we were fortunate enough to get a few decent sightings .....

Red Squirrel
Red Squirrels are pretty reliable visitors to the quieter forest feeding stations, and we managed to see at least one on every safari this month, and we even got to see a couple of  very cute youngsters at the very end of the month.....

Red Deer
Red Deer too were seen regularly in their favourite upland glens this month, though some of the stags appeared to have already shed their antlers, leaving them looking somewhat less impressive than usual......

Roe Deer are actually much more common and widespread than most people realise, but their generally secretive and largely crepuscular nature makes it much more likely that you will see them at dawn and dusk....

Feral Mountain Goats
Our local feral Mountain Goats always prove popular with my safari clientsand we were lucky enough to have many good views of these wild looking creatures, now with well grown youngsters.


So, to summarise, this month proved to be very decent for wildlife-watching in the Cairngorms National park, with pretty user-friendly weather,  plenty of lingering winter birds,  a few newly-arrived summer birds and a good selection of local specialities to entertain us, and after a couple of weeks off, I now have 'fully charged batteries' ready for my favourite part of the wildlife calendar.... Spring... bring it on!


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....

late winter at a beautiful local loch