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

Sunday, September 30, 2018

September 2018 saw summer turn to autumn (and occasionally winter!) in this area, but with thankfully no real extremes of bad weather, apart from a couple of windy days courtesy of Storm Ali. It has become considerably cooler at dawn and dusk though and we actually had a few frosts at the end of the month and our first light dusting of snow on the Cairngorms from the 20th.
The very welcome rainfall has helped the rivers to rise up to somewhere near their normal levels for autumn, which is good news for the Atlantic Salmon on their way up to the spawning grounds.
The days are shortening noticeably now, with only around 12 hours of usable daylight , but by way of consolation, the heather is still a lovely purple in places, many trees are full of colourful berries, and the leaves and ferns are now in their attractive autumnal hues.....
I was away on the Shetlands for a short holiday, and in southern England visiting relatives and friends for a good part of the month, so my report will be shorter than usual, and will contain some general observations and pictures from previous Septembers.....
With just about all the summer visiting bird species gone by mid-month, and the winter visiting bird species only just arriving, full-day local safari bird lists dropped down to their lowest levels of the year (in the 30's), though this could be upped considerably by a trip to the nearby Moray coast, whilst mammal day lists varied between 4 and 7 species, depending on the time of our start and the number of different habitats visited, with early starts usually proving to be more fruitful...

Early autumn in a beautiful local upland glen

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future September 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/upland bird species seen regularly during the month included: Osprey (first week only), Dipper, Red Grouse, Crested Tit , Goosander and Goldeneye, we also had a couple of good sightings of Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle  and a few fleeting glimpses of Crossbills.....Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting were both reported on local mountain tops, though suitable days were rare, and I did not venture up myself this month, sadly, Black Grouse and Capercaillie were not seen at all this month, though this is not unusual away from late winter/springtime....


Mammal species seen regularly included: Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Reindeer, Roe Deer, Mountain Goat , Brown Hare and Rabbit......with just a few brief glimpses of  Mountain HareStoat and Bank Vole...and one very rare daytime sighting of an Otter on a local loch on the 21st...



Osprey
A few of our local juvenile Ospreys lingered around their now redundant nest sites and local lochs and rivers for the first week of the month, giving us our last chance to admire these attractive and impressive raptors and their fishing skills, until they return in the spring. It always amazes me to think that these birds will attempt to undertake a 5,000 odd mile migration unassisted by their parents at the age of around 3 months!!


Red Grouse
Our Red Grouse on local upland moors, mostly still in family groups, continued to entertain my safari clients, but with it still being shooting season though, they - unsurprisingly - seem a little wary of humans...but by using my vehicle as a mobile hide, we were often able to get some decent views and even a few photographic opportunities...


Crested Tit (left bird)
Crested Tit is always high on my safari clients 'wish-lists', with it being a UK rarity and Speyside speciality, and although they are now mainly to be found in mixed flocks roaming around the Caledonian pine forests, we also managed to get some decent views of them at my favourite feeding stations, especially soon after first light on the colder mornings...

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...so sadly, there were no photo opportunities this month...

Dipper

The Dippers on our local rivers began to be seen a little more regularly, and they even appeared to be getting a little territorial, with some dawn singing being heard, and aggressive behaviour being witnessed near to prime nest sites, especially soon after first light...


Sparrowhawk (female)
Common Buzzard

Red Kite




Golden Eagles and White-Tailed Eagles are more commonly seen on my safaris during the shorter days of  autumn and winter, when they have less hours of daylight in which to hunt, and all of the family are active,  but we actually had a pretty good 'strike-rate' this month, with a favourite upland glen providing decent sightings on a number of occasions.
In fact, raptors in general seemed to be pretty active , with us seeing Red Kite, Common Buzzard, PeregrineSparrowhawk and Kestrel regularly as well...

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 many local lochs, and we again got to see many large families of these very attractive little ducks this month...



Barn Swallows grouping up before flying south 

Other good birds seen or reported locally this month included: Wheatear (early in the month), Cattle Egret, Ruff, Black-Tailed Godwits, Golden Pheasants (though their origin may be 'suspect') and a presumably storm blown Manx Shearwater....



Birders prepared to travel away from Speyside a little this month, especially to coastal reserves on the Moray coast or Aberdeenshire would have noticed plenty of incoming waders and wildfowl and a good influx of 'grey' Geese throughout... and the first Whooper Swans later in the month, and a little further north at Dornoch, a very obliging Hoopoe showed well for several days...



Autumn in the Abernethy Forest


September 2018 mammal sightings...



Red Squirrel
As I mentioned last month, with the summer visiting local speciality birds departing this area, mammals become more of a focus on my safaris, and we were fortunate to see a good variety again this month. The  'mammal of the day' award was invariably won by the cute and ever popular Red Squirrel - with many of my safari clients , especially those from the other side of the Atlantic, seeing  these very characterful and attractive 'Highland speciality' animals for the first time..


Red Deer hinds
Although all seems quiet so far this year, the very end of September usually sees the start of the Red Deer rut, with the stags beginning to 'check-out' and assemble their 'harems' of hinds, sharpen up the tips of their antlers on rocks and trees, and partake in a little light 'sparring' with likely rivals, often accompanied by a tremendous 'roaring', which echoes round the glens... a marvelously atmospheric spectacle....

Still up in the glens, our Mountain Hares, though still in their browny-grey summer coats are gradually turning whiter from their feet upwards as autumn progresses, in preparation for the snow to come, though actual sightings of them were not as frequent, or as good as I would have liked... but that is not unusual outside of the winter months..


Feral Mountain Goat
Our local Mountain Goats however, were a little more obliging...with plenty of decent views of large family groups being enjoyed..


Roe Deer
Although not as physically impressive as their larger Red cousins, Roe Deer are probably more often described as cute, but they always prove popular with my safari clients, and we were fortunate enough to see them on several occasions this month, especially soon after dawn, or in remote, quiet areas...

So, to sum up, similarly to August, although in all honesty it's probably not the best month for the hard-core birder or 'twitcher' to visit, September in the Cairngorms National Park would still appear to have plenty to offer the more casual or beginner nature-watcher or those looking for a less intense or 'taster' wildlife safari experience, with the chance of a 'rarity' turning up, less tourists around and no early starts needed, in arguably, one of the most colourfully scenic months of the year....


Fly Agaric




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, are available for any amount and are valid at any time within a year from date of purchase....


Friday, August 31, 2018

August 2018 started as summer with plenty of sun and warm temperatures, but  most definitely ended as autumn with some much needed rain and a much cooler and breezier feel to things, with 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, though this could be increased considerably if you visited the Moray coast.
Mammal day lists varied between 4 and 8 species, with earlier starts generally proving more successful, especially for the shyer species. August is usually our best month for Butterflies and day-flying moths, and a good variety of species were seen on the warmer, sunnier days, though sadly, in lower numbers than I would usually 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 local upland heather moorland at it's beautiful best

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 this month and in previous August's, will help...clicking on the picture enlarges it to full-screen.

Local speciality/upland bird species seen regularly included:
Osprey, Red GrouseDipper, Golden EagleGoldeneye and Goosander, whilst Red-Throated Diver, and Black-Throated Diver were both seen regularly early in the month but sightings became noticeably less frequent after mid-month as they presumably departed for the coast, and we also had a few brief views of Crested Tit  and  Crossbills and just one view of Merlin, Goshawk and  White-Tailed Eagle...sadly, Black Grouse and Capercaillie were not seen at all this month, 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  Sika DeerBrown Hare and Mountain Hare, and a solitary view of a Stoat, and on the 30th.. rather unbelievably, a very rare daylight sighting of a Pine Marten!!



Adult Osprey trying to coax it's final youngster to fledge...
Osprey was most frequently voted as 'bird of the day' by my safari clients this 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!... and with nesting being a little later than usual this year, we were fortunate enough to see the parent birds still here with their now almost fully independent youngsters until the very end of the month...

Female Red Grouse
Red Grouse, still in large family groups, continued to show well on our local heather moorlands, and with their nesting being a little later than usual, and  brood sizes being smaller than normal, we had the bonus of the start of the shooting season being delayed on most estates...



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 first have to  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'... 

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...


Golden Eagle




Peregrine Falcon

We 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 twice, and even three together on one memorable occasion ,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 White-Tailed Eagle, Osprey, Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Red KiteGoshawk and Merlin all seen at least once....


Black-Throated Diver



Juvenile Red-Throated Diver - note the characteristic up-turned bill


As I reported previously, both Red-Throated Diver and Black-Throated Diver bred successfully locally this summer, and although sightings reduced a little as the juveniles became more mobile, we still saw both species reasonably regularly until late in the month...

Whereas our local Slavonian Grebes were sadly not seen at all this month, having presumably migrated to the coast once the juveniles were able to fly.....



Dipper

Dipper sightings were a  little more frequent this month, with the precipitation helping the rivers to rise a little nearer to normal levels they reappeared in the areas where I would usually hope to see them..

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  and Snow Bunting sadly appeared to have deserted the normally damp and insect-laden , but now bone-dry drought hit areas where we usually find them... 


Spotted Flycatcher



Other good birds reported locally this month included: Spotted FlycatcherRed-Necked Grebe, and Nuthatch (very rare up here)....



August 2018 mammal sightings.....

With bird sightings 'slowing down' a little, mammal sightings  always become more important at this time of year, and we are fortunate to have such a good selection to go for in this area....



Stag party?
A frequent winner of my safari clients 'mammal of the day' award is the iconic Red Deer, and although they can be seen in many places all round the UK these days, it is still great to see them in their 'proper' home environment of upland glens and mountainsides....and although they are still in their large same-sex groups at the moment, that will be sure to change in a few weeks time....



Red Squirrel by Jennifer Holt
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...


Feral Mountain Goats

Also very rare and localised are 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



Mountain Hare - apologies for poor picture quality - taken through windscreen
Being largely nocturnal, and with their summer coat perfectly matching their surroundings,  Mountain Hares can prove very difficult to see in the summer months, and we only managed a couple of brief views, but Brown Hares were a little more obliging, especially early in the morning....



Other wildlife...


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, are available for any amount and are valid at any time within a year from date of purchase....

Our recently upgraded Land Rover Discovery in a beautiful local upland glen



Wednesday, August 01, 2018

July 2018 saw the near-drought conditions of the previous two months continue, and the vast majority of the month was warm, sunny and dry, with just a few cooler showery days....Great for us humans out wildlife watching, but... in extreme conditions, as well as winners there will also be losers..... and although most bird and mammal species seem to be coping, the species reliant on damp ground and worms are definitely struggling, and in some cases abandoning their usual haunts and relocating to other areas in search of food...whilst our rivers are at record low levels, meaning that the Atlantic Salmon must be struggling to make their way upstream to the spawning grounds....
However, it was a very enjoyable and reasonably 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 4 and 9, depending on the length of day, and variety of habitats visited...with early starts generally producing more and closer sightings, with again, many species seen with youngsters..
With plenty of sunshine, the heather starting to turn a beautiful vivid purple, and the wild flowers and butterflies at their most abundant, the Cairngorms National Park really was a beautiful and unspoilt place to be, and my safari clients, from all around the world, including Canada, USA, Australia, Norway, Italy , Holland and all over the UK certainly seemed to enjoy themselves.....as did I......


Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future July visit yourself, I hope the following more detailed information, illustrated with photos taken this month (and in previous July's) in and around the Cairngorms National Park  (and occasionally beyond) by myself,  my friends or my safari clients will help - clicking on the picture enlarges it to full screen.

Local speciality and upland bird species seen regularly throughout the month included:  Osprey,  Red GrouseSlavonian Grebe, Red-Throated DiverBlack-Throated Diver, Goldeneye and Dipper.
We also  enjoyed some regular good views of Red Kite, a few reasonable sightings of Crested Tit, and  a couple of fleeting glimpses of Scottish Crossbill, and one of a Merlinthough sadly Golden Eagle, White-Tailed EagleCapercaillie and Black Grouse (not unusually) were not seen at all on my safaris this month....

Mammals seen regularly locally during the month included: Red SquirrelRabbitBrown HareRoe DeerRed DeerReindeer and Mountain Goat, with just a couple of sightings of  Sika Deer and Mountain Hare and one brief glimpse of a Stoat....


Adult Osprey delivering nest material

Adult female Osprey with her chicks



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 nesting material, and feeding and encouraging the fast growing 'scaly' looking , orange-eyed youngsters to take their 'maiden flights', and by late-month they had indeed fledged and were seen perched and flying for the first time.. I can therefore highly recommend July as THE month for Osprey watching and photography in this area...


Adult male Red Grouse
Young Red Grouse
Red Grouse too are always popular with my safari parties, as being a bird of largely 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 up to 6 of these very characterful and beautifully marked birds, though with the 'glorious 12th' rapidly approaching... I suspect they may not be quite so obliging next month...


Adult Slavonian (Horned) Grebe with two well-grown chicks
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,  but as I reported last month,  it was great news for our one 'local' pair this year, and it was great to see the two youngsters growing rapidly and learning to dive for fish this month.


Red-Throated Diver
Divers (Loons), being very rare in summer south of here, and looking resplendent 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 , often with their rapidly growing youngsters on their favoured local lochs throughout the month. It should be noted however, that they are rarely seen close to the shore, can be difficult to find in 'choppy' conditions, and are easily disturbed by non wildlife-friendly tourists dog-walking, swimming and boating etc, so the less windy days and early morning starts in search of them usually gave us our closest sightings....
Black-Throated Divers



Crested Tit
Crested Tits were seen reasonably frequently on our walks through Caledonian pine forests, often in family parties, though I must stress again, that they can be very elusive in the spring and summer months, and knowing their distinctive rippling trills is a huge advantage in helping you to see these very 'flitty' little local specialities....which are incredibly difficult to photograph by the way...


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 flew between different parts of the forests...but we did get lucky on one occasion when a family group perched briefly, allowing the rare treat of views through a scope ...though a photo escaped me.. aaargh!


Male Ring Ouzel
Ring Ouzels were seen in upland habitats near their nesting and feeding areas, at least early in the month, especially near the few damp areas, but became noticeably more elusive as the month progressed as they and their recently-fledged young began to roam even further afield, and it appeared that they may well have vacated this area and headed south for warmer climes by the end of the month....

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 got to see many large families of these very attractive little ducks this month...



Dipper
Dipper sightings were much less frequent than normal this month, with the birds seemingly quite mobile up and down the very low level rivers, on some days we saw none, and on other days we saw one on each river we visited! Which just goes to show that although local knowledge and experience are important, sometimes you need a bit of luck too......

Eagles are probably hardest to see in mid-summer (in this area at least), as the birds are still concentrating on fledging young, and have so many hours of daylight in which to hunt, and sadly we didn't manage a single decent confirmed sighting this month, only a couple of very distant "could have been" views...


Still on raptors, we did however manage to see  Red Kite, Common Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk regularly during the month... we also enjoyed the very rare treat of being in the right place at the right time to witness young Peregrines being taught to hunt by their parents, and we also had one brief glimpse of a Merlin hunting low over a moorland...

Snow Bunting
Ptarmigan

Dotterel
July is 'last chance saloon' for seeing all 3 of our mountain top species in one trip, as the Dotterel often depart in early August..and although days of suitable weather (dry, calm and clear) were reasonably frequent, on the couple of occasions we took to the hills to look for them , using my Cairngorm Mountain Birdwatching Guide qualification to allow us to use the funicular railway and then exit the (usually) closed system for a walk up to the summit, only a few Snow Buntings were seen, with the Ptarmigan and Dotterel seemingly having deserted the very dry mountain tops, presumably for more productive feeding areas elsewhere....but I thought I would include a few photos from previous July sightings, to give you an idea of what is possible in  more 'normal' conditions...

Other 'good' birds seen or reported locally in Badenoch and Strathspey this month included Honey Buzzard, Nuthatch (very rare this far north), and Spotted Flycatcher.

July mammal sightings...


Red Squirrel
The award for 'mammal of the day' as voted for by my safari clients, frequently went to that ever popular pine cone chomping, peanut-munching forest dwelling local speciality, the cute and charismatic Red Squirrel, who can usually be relied upon to appear for an easy feast at my favourite forest feeding stations.....though we also had a few 'random' sightings whilst on forest walks....often being alerted to their presence by the sound of falling pine cones....

Red Deer hinds with their young
Red Deer were regularly seen in local upland glens, usually 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 far-away lands putting these iconic beasts high up on their 'wish-lists'....

Mountain Goat by Norman Green
In the same upland glens, we also had regular good views of  large groups of another scarce and very localised mammal, the feral Mountain Goat..  interesting animals, that come in a wide variety of colours, from white, through grey and brown to black, or sometimes a mixture of all of these...

Sika Deer
Sika Deer , also known as the spotted deer or the Japanese deer, is a species native to much of East Asia, but they were introduced to many country estates in the UK in the 1800's and we are fortunate to have a few in this area, and we saw small families of them a couple of times this month..

Mountain Hares are definitely at their 'most difficult to see' time of year now...their mottled brown and grey coats providing near-perfect camouflage among the rocks in their mountainside homes...and so it proved ... with our sightings being limited to only a couple of distant glimpses..

Brown Hare
Brown Hares however, proved to be much more obliging, especially early in the morning, with slow drives through quiet farmland, using my vehicle as a mobile hide giving us some decent views....


Other wildlife...



Butterflies of several different types were seen regularly, with the more common species now being joined by our 'local speciality' the Scotch Argus towards the end of the month...


Meadow Brown



Common Blue



Scotch Argus

So my 'sum-up' for this month is ... although the bird breeding season is almost over, July is a pretty decent month to see a good selection of birds, animals and butterflies in this area, with no need for a really early start, and it's also good for a mountain-top adventure, or a trip to a seabird colony with (usually) fairly good weather, and all still with plenty of daylight hours....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.....






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, are available for any amount and are valid at any time within a year from date of purchase....




Glenmore Forest