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

Saturday, March 31, 2018

March 2018 in this area started and ended in wintry fashion with snow and icy temperatures, whilst the middle two weeks were mild enough to suggest that spring, if not quite here yet, was certainly not too far away, but anyone considering visiting this area in March should remember to bring the appropriate warm and snowproof clothing, just in case!
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 most 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 over the 40 mark, though a trip to the nearby Moray Coast can boost this total considerably,  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 usually proving most fruitful.

I was away down in southern England for my Dad's funeral, and to visit 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 that are representative of the month.

Late winter at a local loch
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 in this area will help - clicking on the picture enlarges it to full screen.

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality/upland bird species seen regularly included  Black Grouse (dawn only),Red Grouse, Crested Tit (early in the month only), Snow BuntingGoldeneye and Dipper, we had  a couple of distant views, and one quite close sighting of soaring 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 this month, I understand that they could sometimes be seen well on the few days mid-month 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 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 a few Redwings , FieldfaresRedpolls and Bramblings lingered....

Mammals seen regularly by my safari parties during the month included:
Rabbit, Red Squirrel, Roe Deer,  Red Deer, Sika DeerReindeerMountain Goat (with youngsters), Brown Hare and Mountain Hare (still mostly white), with just a solitary sighting of a Stoat with a rabbit in it's jaws, and the unusual but very welcome treat of an Otter seen fishing in daylight on a local loch...

Black Grouse lek
Black Grouse are not an easy species to see in most of the UK now, being mainly birds of remote upland moors, preferably with forests and fields nearby, a combination of habitats that is not so common nowadays. Fortunately, the Scottish highlands still has a decent number of active  'lek' sites, where the cock birds gather to 'strut their stuff', and dawn on my safaris in the first five months of the year is usually spent enjoying this memorable experience. 'Performances' were noticeably better on still, frosty mornings.... but please be aware that the birds can fail to show in wet and windy weather, or if disturbed by a predator...

Male Red Grouse
On the upland heather moorlands, our local Red Grouse have most definitely already paired-up, and the cock birds, with red 'eyebrows' aglow, seem to be concentrating more on defending their territory from rival birds, whilst the 'disappearance' of some of the hen birds suggests that many may already be on nests...

With no 'rogue' birds in this area to go for these days, and numbers seemingly declining to dangerously low levels,  Capercaillie sightings are now much more difficult to come by, and sadly, we did not see a single bird this month, despite several dawn walks in suitable habitat, where we had seen them before...

Crested Tit by Bob Smith
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 often failed to show during the latter part of the month, and when they did they didn't stay for long and rarely called, 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 family groups of recently-fledged youngsters with their parents....

Dipper by Steve Nicklin
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,

Snow Bunting
March is often our last chance to see Snow Buntings at lower levels in this area, as the snow line tends to recede higher with each month now, and the birds tend to follow it, but we enjoyed some nice close-up sightings early in the month....

Red Kite by Steve Nicklin

Golden Eagle (juvenile)

As I have mentioned before, the shorter days of the winter months give us our best chance of seeing Golden Eagles, and although as the days lengthen, the frequency of sightings definitely reduces and despite the adult females presumably nesting by now,  we were still fortunate enough to enjoy a few decent sightings , and one really good view of these majestic birds hunting in upland glens,
Raptors in general were pretty well represented this month, with Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Peregrine, Goshawk , Merlin , Red Kite and Barn Owl all being seen at least once...and the first returning Ospreys have been reported in the last few days...including our local 'celebrity' - EJ at Loch Garten RSPB reserve.

Whooper Swans
The Moray coast is only about 40 miles North East of Aviemore, and although I did not have time for a trip myself this month, it would appear that the areas reserves, salt marshes, lochs, bays and harbours gave good views of  EidersGreylag Geese, Pink-Footed Geese, Whooper Swan, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail,  Bar-Tailed Godwit, Knot, Golden Plover , Grey Plover , Ringed Plover , Guillemot, Black Guillemot, and Long-Tailed Duck .....this is an area worth considering visiting when the weather is rough on Speyside..

Black-Throated Divers


Male Bullfinch (and Siskin)
Goldcrest

Other good birds reported locally this month included: Great Grey Shrike, Black Redstart, Bullfinch,  Iceland Gull and Glaucous Gull....


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 delighted to see them, often for the first time, 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....

Having been a bit elusive recently, Brown Hares suddenly seemed to be more numerous and certainly more active, and we were fortunate to get a good number of sightings this month, though a decent photo eluded me....

Red Squirrel
Red Squirrels are pretty reliable visitors to the quieter forest feeding stations, especially during the colder weather, and we managed to see at least one on every safari this month, we also often had random sightings n more natural settings too...

Red Deer stags
Red Deer were seen regularly in their favourite upland glens this month, often in very large same-sex herds, though a few 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 , and distrust of humans, makes it much more likely that you will see them at dawn and dusk....

Sika Deer
Mid-way in size between the above two species, Sika Deer were again encountered regularly this month, with many of my safari clients seeing them for the first time...
Reindeer
Reindeer were once native to Scotland, but were hunted to extinction many hundreds of years ago, however, a reintroduction in the 1950's has proved successful, and it is always a treat to see them on the snowy slopes of our local mountains...

Feral Mountain Goats by Steve Nicklin
Our Feral Mountain Goats were much more obliging this month, and we finally got to see this year's cute youngsters....

Although not strictly 'wildlife', our local celebrity Polar Bear cub is causing quite a stir...for those of you unaware of the story, just click on this link, and prepare to go "aaaahhhh"!...
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-43473477

Looking back through my reports and pictures for this month, I reckon we actually did better than I at first thought, despite the often wild and wintry weather, we had plenty of lingering winter birds, a few newly-arrived summer birds and a good selection of indigenous local specialities to entertain us, and after a couple of weeks off, I now feel that I have 'fully charged batteries' ready for my favourite part of the wildlife calendar.... Spring... bring it on!


I know a lot of visitors to this area very wisely check out reviews of attractions at tripadvisor before taking the plunge and booking - you can check out my clients comments at the link below....just cut and paste it into your web browser...

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g186537-d3335134-Reviews-Highland_Wildlife_Birdwatch_Safaris-Aviemore_Aviemore_and_the_Cairngorms_Scottish.html



On safari in a beautiful upland glen




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....




John Reddick     10th November 1931 - 10th February 2018

I would like to dedicate this report to my late Dad, John Reddick - undoubtedly the man from whom I inherited my love of the great outdoors and an appreciation of the wonderful wildlife to be found there. 
I know he loved his visits to my adopted Highland homeland, and latterly, when he became too infirm to travel here, my videos of our safari and fishing adventures , and I was very proud to be able to show him his first Eagles , Otters and many other previously unseen species... even if I did once get us stuck in a mountain pass snowdrift which took an epic team effort of digging to get us out safely......happy memories that will last my lifetime.....