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

Thursday, November 01, 2018

October 2018 saw much of our weather for the month  largely dominated by a succession of low pressure systems from the Atlantic, giving us mild but often breezy and showery conditions... except for the last week, which saw us get hit by an 'Arctic blast' from the north, which brought us some  cold, but sunny and still days, but also our first proper snow and frosts of this autumn.
Though the days are certainly shortening now, we still had around 10 hours of usable daylight, and the Highland scenery is still ablaze with glorious autumn colours, with most of the leaves still clinging on, and our berry trees fully laden.
The autumn rains restored the local rivers to their normal levels, allowing the Atlantic salmon to finally reach their spawning grounds in the upper reaches.
October is a really great month to witness visible migration in action, with large flocks of Geese, Swans, and this year, especially Thrush species often witnessed flying noisily overhead, and this influx of winter visitors from colder areas further north, helped full-day safari bird lists increase up into the 40's, (or more if you include a trip to the Moray Coast), whilst mammal day-lists varied between 3 and 7 depending on the start time and number of venues visited, with early starts, as usual, proving to be best.


Early morning in a Caledonian pine forest

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future October 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 during the month included:
Crested Tit, , Red Grouse, Dipper and Goldeneye, we also had several good sightings of Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle,  a few fleeting glimpses of Crossbills, and we even had a couple of brief dawn views of Capercaillie. Newly-arrived winter visiting birds were represented by Whooper Swans, several species of 'grey' Geese, and huge numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares.
A good variety of waders and wildfowl were seen at the Moray Coast,  a few Waxwings were reported locally at the end of the month...and even a couple of  Snow Geese were seen nearby....

Mammal species seen regularly included: Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Reindeer, Roe Deer, Sika DeerMountain Goat , Brown Hare and Rabbit......with just a few sightings of Mountain Hare and one brief glimpse of a Stoat.....The last week of the month also saw us enjoy great views of Atlantic Salmon starting to spawn in the upper reaches of our local rivers....


Crested Tit
Crested Tits, having been generally 'uncooperative' and elusive through the summer months, started to become more regular visitors to forest feeding stations, especially soon after dawn, and we were fortunate enough to enjoy some excellent and often extremely close views of this true 'local speciality' on a number of occasions....
A bonus by-product of regular winter feeding is sometimes (on colder days) being able to feed the incredibly confiding Coal Tits and (sometimes) Great Tits by hand, an experience much enjoyed by my safari clients of all ages...

Male Capercaillie by Steve Nicklin
Rather unusually, but certainly most welcome!.. were the couple of brief glimpses of the sadly now extremely scarce Capercaillie that we managed on our early morning forest visits this month, though I must stress that this is more of a 'chance happening' than something you can realistically 'expect'...but I guess you never know....

Still in the forests, Crossbills, sadly, but not unusually, were somewhat less obliging however, with our views once again being restricted to snatched glimpses of birds flying overhead...identified only by their distinctive 'jip- jip' calls....

Female Red Grouse
Our local Red Grouse appeared to be still in their (sadly now smaller) family groups, but with the shooting season thankfully almost over, they seem a little less wary and can be a bit easier to see, especially when using my safari vehicle as a slow-moving mobile hide on the quiet tracks through their heather moorland home.

We usually start to see a few male Black Grouse appearing at dawn at their traditional 'lek' sites in October, but neither of my' reconnaissance' visits this month proved successful.. so I will hopefully have better news to report next month...


Dipper
Dipper is a bird absent from large areas of central, southern and eastern Britain, preferring clear, fast-flowing upland rivers over murky, slow-flowing lowland waterways. Fortunately, if you position yourself on a bridge,  it can be a fairly common sighting in this area, often perching prominently on a rock, and always proves popular with my safari clients ...


Amazing Juvenile Golden Eagle pic by Steve Nicklin
Golden Eagle is truly an iconic bird of the Scottish Highlands, and our regular visits to my favourite upland glens paid off on numerous occasions this month, with a number of very decent sightings of these hugely impressive creatures, sometimes hunting ,  often in aerial combat with other raptors, and on one memorable occasion we witnessed one trying to defend it's mountain hare prey from a 'mob' of 9 Ravens! Magic!!

Peregrine Falcon


Common Buzzard


White-Tailed Eagle

In fact, if you are a bird of prey fan, it is worth noting that early winter is always our best time of year for raptor sightings, and this month we also recorded views of  White-Tailed Eagle, Peregrine, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Red Kite, and numerous Common Buzzards...

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...

I was scheduled to lead a couple of walks up to Cairngorm Mountain summit this month, to search for Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting.. but unfortunately, the Cairngorm Funicular railway has been closed for safety reasons after the annual inspection raised doubts about the integrity of the support beams....so we will have to hope that it is fixed and running again soon...as it is not really viable to spend hours walking up and down in the short days and often poor weather of early winter...

Redwing

Fieldfare
Winter thrushes flooded into our area from their summer breeding areas further north, in the largest numbers I have seen for many years, first the Redwings, followed soon after by the Fieldfares, and they soon set about demolishing our local berry supplies, much to the annoyance of our resident Blackbirds and Thrushes!


Whooper Swans


Long-Tailed Duck


Pink-Footed Geese


Curlew

Common Eiders

The Moray coast is only about an hours drive north west of Aviemore, and a couple of trips to favourite reserves, lochs, bays and harbours gave good views of incoming winter migrants such as Greylag Geese, Barnacle Geese, Pink-Footed Geese, Brent Geese, Snow Goose (1), Whooper Swan, Wigeon, Teal, ScaupPintail,  Bar-Tailed Godwit, Knot, Golden PloverGrey Plover , Purple Sandpiper, a few Long-Tailed Ducks,  and a bird rarely seen on Speyside, a Kingfisher...

Waxwing
Other good birds seen or reported locally this month included: Brambling, Redpoll, Great Grey Shrike, Waxwing, Yellow-Browed Warbler, a presumably storm-blown Gannet!, and Golden Pheasants (though their origin may be 'suspect') 



October 2018 mammal sightings:


Red Deer stag with his 'harem' of hinds
'Mammal of the month' for October just has to be the Red Deer,  with their spectacular annual 'rut' providing my safari clients with some superb entertainment - the fully antlered stags 'bolving' roars echoing through the glens, as they spend much of the month  posturing , fighting off rivals and attempting to mate with as many of their 'harem' as possible - surely one of British nature's 'must-see' experiences?



Still up in the glens, our local 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 during the 'warmer' months..things should hopefully change next month....


Brown Hare
Brown Hares, similarly to the Roe Deer, can be very nervous and  'crepuscular' in nature, and most of our best sightings happen in the first hour of daylight, and that proved to be the case again this month....

Feral Mountain Goats

Feral Mountain Goats are mainly restricted to a few remote upland areas of the UK, and we are fortunate to have them locally in a few quiet glens, so many of my safari clients get to see them for the first time while out with me....


Red Squirrel
In the forests, our Red Squirrels never failed to entertain, with their cute looks, acrobatic use of  peanut feeders, and chasing off of rivals, and of course, with them being largely absent from most of the UK now, many of my safari clients were seeing them for the first time....



Roe Deer buck
Roe Deer, although relatively common in most of the UK, can actually be quite tricky to see due to their naturally 'nervous' nature, and the fact that they can be very 'crepuscular'  - being more active at dawn and dusk...but we managed plenty of good early morning sightings this month..


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 them a couple of times this month..


Spawning Atlantic Salmon
Mid October-late November is usually the time of year to see our Atlantic Salmon spawning. These remarkable and often very large fish spawn in the shallow waters in the upper reaches of our rivers, at the very spot where they themselves were hatched several years before, having originally spent 2-3 years in the river, then another 2-3 years feeding, growing and maturing out in the mid Atlantic, before undertaking a perilous journey many miles upriver, often involving avoiding poachers and predators and negotiating high falls and rapids on the way - and this year, very low summer water levels,  an amazing migration story! However, sightings are very reliant on the rivers water levels - too little water and the Salmon cannot access the upper reaches - too much water, and they can get there... but we can't see them. This time we got lucky with everything eventually falling into place, and decent sightings were enjoyed from the 24th of the month onwards...

So, to summarise, helped by the reasonably 'safari-friendly' weather, the spectacle of the annual Red Deer rut, and the miracle of migration, I reckon October 2018 turned out to be yet another very enjoyable month for wildlife watching in the Cairngorms National Park, with plenty of excellent sightings, many memorable experiences for my happy safari clients - aged from 8 to 80!, and even the odd surprise, and all set against beautiful autumnal Highland backdrops. 
Autumn is in my opinion, one of the best seasons for wildlife-watching in this area, and I can highly recommend a visit during this time...

Early morning at a local loch




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....

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