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

Thursday, October 31, 2019

October 2019 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... with just a few cold, still and sunny days, and from the 21st, our first snow on the Cairngorms...
Though the days are certainly shortening now, we still had around 10 hours (7am-5pm approx) of usable daylight, and the Highland scenery is still ablaze with glorious autumn colours, with most of the leaves still clinging on, and many of our berry trees still fully laden.
The autumn rains have 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 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.


Autumn at a local heather moorland and loch

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, and Dipper,  we also had several good sightings of Golden Eagle,  a few fleeting glimpses of Crossbills, and some decent dawn views of displaying  Black Grouse.
Newly-arrived winter visiting birds were represented by Whooper Swans, several species of 'grey' Geese, and good numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares.
A good variety of waders and wildfowl were seen at the Moray Coast, and  a few Waxwings were seen locally at the end of the month...

Mammal species seen regularly included: Red Squirrel, Red Deer (rutting), Reindeer, Roe Deer, Mountain Goat , Brown Hare and Rabbit......with just a few sightings of Mountain Hare and one close encounter with  a Wood Mouse.....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....



October 2019 bird sightings in more detail:


Crested Tit by Wayne Biddlecombe
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 many 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...

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....

Whilst Capercaillie sadly, were conspicuous by their absence again, despite a number of walks and drives through areas of Caledonian forest where we had been lucky in the past...

Red Grouse

On the heather moorlands, Red Grouse, still largely in their family groups were much more obliging, and we saw them well on many occasions, often at quite close range...


Black Grouse
Our dawn visits to local Black Grouse lek sites were a bit more 'hit and miss', with up to 6 cock birds seen feeding and occasionally displaying on a few occasions, whilst other mornings produced less birds or no sightings at all...


Dipper with small fish
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,  they can be a fairly common sighting in this area, often seen swimming and diving to feed, or perching prominently on a rock, and always prove popular with my safari clients ...



Young Golden Eagle
Golden Eagle is truly an iconic bird of the Scottish Highlands, and one that always seems to be on the 'wish-list' of my safari clients, and our regular visits to my favourite upland glens paid off on several occasions this month, with a number of  decent sightings of these hugely impressive creatures, sometimes hunting ,  often in aerial combat with other raptors or Ravens, or sometimes just soaring around....

Red Kite



Kestrel


Pale morph Common Buzzard by Steve Nicklin

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




Fieldfare


Redwing
Winter thrushes flooded into our area from their summer breeding areas further north, 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!


Waxwings
The last week of this month saw a small influx of more 'Viking invaders' in the beautiful, and very welcome form of Waxwings!! It was a real treat to see small flocks of them feasting on the few berries left by the thrush species, often at quite urban sites like car parks, school grounds and gardens, with their reasonably confiding nature often giving good opportunities for photography...


The view from Cairngorm Mountain summit
With the Cairngorm Funicular Railway still out of action, and walking up not really being safe or practical in the shorter days of the winter months, we hired the Cairngorm Mountain ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) to access the summit area on one of the days of better weather, and our walk in the fresh snow was rewarded with spectacular scenic vistas,  and brief views of Snow Buntings, though sadly, the Ptarmigan eluded us...

Other good birds seen or reported locally this month included: 


Golden Pheasant by Steve Nicklin

A few late Swallows early in the month, Golden Pheasant, Lady Amherst's Pheasant, and a Great Grey Shrike and an American Wigeon late in the month...



Scaup by Steve Nicklin



Pink-Footed Geese


Whooper Swans
The Moray coast is only about a one hour drive north  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,  Pink-Footed Geese, Brent Geese,  Whooper Swan, Wigeon, Teal, , Pintail,  Bar-Tailed Godwit, Knot, Golden PloverGrey Plover , ScaupCommon Scoter, Velvet Scoter, and a few Long-Tailed Ducks........


Autumn in the Abernethy Forest

October  2019 mammal sightings in more detail:


Red Deer stag

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' of hinds as possible - surely one of British nature's 'must-see' experiences?


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....

Still up in the glens, our local Mountain Hares - Britain's only native lagomorphthough still mainly 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 'milder' months..things should hopefully improve next month....


Red Squirrel by Steve Nicklin
In the forests, our Red Squirrels never failed to charm and entertain, with their cute looks, acrobatic leaping from tree to tree , reliable 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
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 on farmland and the edges of woods this 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....



Wood Mouse
The area underneath bird feeders can often be good for sightings of some of the smaller mammals, and this month we got to see Bank Voles and a Wood Mouse enjoying an easy feed on seeds and nuts spilt by the birds..





Spawning Atlantic Salmon

Mid October-early December 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 ,  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....fortunately, from the 28th onwards it all fell into place and we enjoyed some good views...

Summary:

Well, despite the often 'changeable' weather, and aided by the beautiful autumn colours, the influx of birds from further north and the Red Deer rut, I reckon October 2019 turned out to be a very good month for wildlife-watching in this area, with a good selection of local specialitiy birds and animals (and fish!) seen, lots of fun had, lots of hot chocolate and shortbread enjoyed, and lots of safari clients from all round the world going home with happy memories of their visit to the Cairngorms National park...

A misty morning at a local loch

I know a lot of visitors to this area very wisely check out reviews of attractions at tripadvisor before 'taking the plunge' and booking - if you wish, you can check out my clients comments at the link below....

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

Highland_Wildlife_Birdwatch_Safaris-Aviemore_Aviemore_and_the_Cairngorms_Scottish.html




A 13th century castle on a local moorland 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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