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Sightings Blog

Thursday, August 31, 2017

August 2017 followed the trend set by the two previous months weather-wise, by being very changeable in this area, with a variety of conditions being experienced, temperatures often considerably lower than the southern half of the UK, and cagoules, hats, gloves, scarves, and sun cream all being needed - sometimes all in the same day!
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 local full-day bird 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 on the warmer, sunnier days, though sadly,  in lower numbers than I would expect.
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' into their autumn hues, lots of varieties of fungus appearing, and the Rowan trees now fully laden with bright red berries.

A Cairngorms 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 at sites in and around the Cairngorms National Park by myself, my friends or my safari clients, will help....clicking on the picture enlarges it to full-screen.

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality bird species seen regularly included:
Red Grouse, Crested TitDipper, Golden EagleGoldeneye 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 one glimpse of Merlin and  White-Tailed 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 couple of trips to the Moray coast gave great views of Dolphins and Seals ...


Ospreys
Osprey was most frequently voted as 'bird of the day' by my safari clients, at least in the first half of the month - hardly surprising I suppose when you consider that these impressively large and attractively marked raptors 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, leaving the juveniles to fend for themselves, so sightings definitely tailed-off from mid-month....


Red Grouse
Our local Red Grouse showed well in their 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 some estates from mid-month...


Crested Tit
Crested Tits have now joined the 'mixed winter flocks' of  many 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 in annoyingly flitty  style 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.... though I should add that this is not usually a common occurrence in the summer months...

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 areas of the forests...so sadly, there were no photo opportunities this month...


Common Buzzard
In contrast to previous Augusts, we actually did really well for Golden Eagle sightings this month, with visits to favourite upland glens producing surprisingly regular sightings of single birds , two in the air at once on a couple of occasions, and even one 'duelling' spectacularly with a White-Tailed Eagle on the 24th!!... despite my frequent 'prophet of doom' predictions that we would probably not be lucky!....in fact, raptor sightings in general were quite impressive this month, with Osprey, Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Red Kite and Merlin all seen at least once....


Dipper (juvenile)
Dipper sightings too 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.....

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, and with our local nests failing, Loch Ruthven RSPB reserve was our best bet this month,though they had largely left the area by mid-month...to spend the winter around the coast of the UK...
Red-Throated Diver
It was a similar story with our local Red-Throated Divers  and Black-Throated Divers, the first of which, I am pleased to say,  was seen to have bred successfully locally, but though we had some good sightings of both early in the month, these species too appeared to have largely vacated this area by the end of the month....


Black-Throated Diver
Goldeneyes only breed in the UK in northern Scotland, and their numbers have increased greatly in recent years, mainly due to the RSPB providing nest boxes on trees around most local lochs, and we again got to see many large families of these very attractive little ducks this month...

Although I did not venture up Cairngorm Mountain myself this month, I understand that Ptarmigan, Dotterel (up until mid-month) and Snow Bunting could all be found on or around the summit, though it should be noted that you really do need suitably 'friendly' weather (light winds, no low cloud or rain) to have a chance of seeing them......


Other good birds seen locally this month included: Spotted Flycatcher, juvenile Cuckoo, Hobby and Marsh Harrier.....



Onto Mammals now......


Red Squirrel
We are fortunate to have Red Squirrels in our local forests, a species sadly absent from most of the UK now, so they are always popular with my safari clients - often getting voted as 'mammal of the day', and visits to my favourite Caledonian pine forests produced lots of good sightings, often with decent photographic opportunities...
Red Deer stags
Red Deer too are not common in much of the UK, being generally animals of remote upland areas, but we are fortunate to have good numbers here in our local glens , and we had many decent views of them again this month....
Feral Mountain Goats
The same could also be said of our local feral Mountain Goats, interesting animals that come in a wide variety of colours from white, through grey and brown to black, or any combination of some or all of these colours, and many of my safari clients saw them in the wild for the first time whilst out on safari with me...


Roe Deer
Roe Deer, on the other hand, are fairly common throughout most of the UK, but due to their crepuscular nature, most of my safari clients rarely see them, and they are easily disturbed by human noise and activity...but early starts, and quiet walks round secluded areas gave us some decent views this month..


Brown Hare
Being largely nocturnal, and with their summer coat perfectly matching their surroundings,  Mountain Hares can prove very difficult to see in the summer months, but Brown Hares were a little more obliging, especially early in the morning....

Bottlenose Dolphins
Living on Speyside, I am very lucky to have Europe's best land-based Bottlenose Dolphin - watching spot just an hour away at the Moray Firth, and a couple of trips there this month produced super close-up views of 5 or 6 of these very entertaining and surprisingly large animals chasing and catching fish , and occasionally leaping clear of the water.. amazing stuff!

Seals
The Moray Coast also gave us great views of Seals, both swimming and 'hauled-out', and they can be incredibly confiding of humans, if you approach slowly and quietly....


Leaping Atlantic Salmon
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 local falls and 'leaps' gave us some great views - and for those with LOTS of patience, even the odd photo opportunity, as these amazing creatures attempted to fight the powerful flows and often steep ascents, to return upstream to their birthplace breeding grounds to reproduce...a highly recommended wildlife experience....


Scotch Argus
Butterflies showed reasonably well, on the few still, warm and sunny days at least!, with the more common species regularly being joined by our 'local speciality' the much sought-after Scotch Argus ......

So, although not a favourite month for the hard-core birder or 'twitcher' to visit, August in the Cairngorms National Park would still appear to have a lot to offer the more casual or beginner nature-watcher or those with a young family looking for a less intense or 'taster' wildlife safari experience, with no need for an early start, in arguably, one of the more scenic months 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....

A local loch and heather moorland


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