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

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!!
I would like to wish all my readers a healthy, happy and wildlife-filled 2020 ..
I would also like to say a big "thank you" to everyone who used , supported and recommended my safari guiding services during 2019......

December 2019 saw our weather largely dominated by a succession of Atlantic lows brought in by mild south-westerlies, and although this generally kept temperature up above the average, the accompanying rain and wind was not exactly ideal for wildlife watching....
However, despite the days being at their shortest now, with only around 7-8 hours of usable daylight, by 'cherry-picking' the best ones, we still enjoyed some memorable adventures, with plenty of exciting wildlife sightings, and often against dramatic and picturesque snowy Highland backdrops.
With all our winter-visiting birds now here, full-day local safari bird lists topped-out in the 40's, or more if you include a trip to the nearby Moray Coast - though I didn't manage a trip there myself this month, whilst mammal day lists varied between 3 and 7 depending on the time of our start and number of habitats visited, with earlier starts , as usual proving to be best....

I was away down in England visiting relatives and friends for the final week of the month, so my report is a little shorter than usual, and may include some photos from previous Decembers that are representative of 'typical' midwinter sightings.


A beautiful sunrise on a snowy local heather moorland

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are considering a future December 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.


Local speciality/upland bird species seen regularly during the month included:

Crested Tit, Red GrouseDipper and Goldeneye , whilst Black Grouse were occasionally seen at dawn at traditional lek sites, and we also had a few decent sightings of  Golden EagleWhite-Tailed Eagle and Snow Bunting and for a change, one decent view of Crossbills.

A good variety of seabirds, waders and wildfowl could be seen at the Moray Coast, and winter visiting birds were represented by family groups of Whooper Swans and several species of 'grey' Geese, and a few Waxwings and Redpolls were also seen...



Mammal species seen regularly included:

Red SquirrelRed DeerReindeerRoe DeerMountain Goat ,  Rabbit and (white) Mountain Hare.....with just a few (mainly dawn) views of  Brown Hare ,and a couple of brief glimpses of Bank Vole,.....

December 2019 bird sightings in more detail:


Crested Tit by Lizee Oliver



Crested Tit by Ron Mitchell

Our local Crested Tits continued to show well at my favourite forest feeding stations, especially soon after dawn, particularly on the colder days, when they are presumably at their most desperate for food. There are probably only around 1,200 of these attractive and charismatic little birds in the whole of the UK, and they are all to be found in the Caledonian forests of Highland Scotland, so you can imagine that many of my safari clients were delighted to see what is truly a 'local speciality'...




Female Crossbill

Still in the Caledonian forests, Crossbills , as usual, tended to prove elusive, with most of our sightings being 'fly-overs', us only identifying them by sound,  however, on the 3rd of the month we got lucky, finding a family party perched for long enough to enable us to see them well and even get a few photos....

Continuing the forest theme, despite a few walks and drives through suitable habitat, we failed to see a single Capercaillie again this month...


Displaying Black Grouse
Pre-dawn starts - a relatively user friendly 07:30 am at this time of year - gave us decent views of up to 6 displaying male Black Grouse on local moorland 'lek' sites, though rather frustratingly, they proved to be a little unpredictable, with seemingly no obvious pattern to whether they would show or not, so it should be noted that we did fail to see them on a few occasions...


Red Grouse by Lizee Oliver


Red Grouse by Ron Mitchell
By way of contrast, by using my vehicle as a stealthy and slow-moving  'mobile hide', our local Red Grouse were actually reasonably easy to see and photograph on their favoured upland heather moorlands this month, as some of the cock birds already seem to be getting a little aggressive and territorial, with a few individuals seen perching prominently on the few higher points and occasionally even being heard uttering their guttural 'go-back, go back' calls, with their red 'eyebrows' aglow....


Dipper by Lizee Oliver

On our local rivers, the Dippers appear to already be planning ahead for the spring breeding season, with much aggression, singing and displaying being witnessed , especially soon after dawn, and usually near to favoured nesting (and viewing) spots , particularly bridges....which is very useful , as it gives us much more chance to see and photograph them....


Juvenile Golden Eagle

As I mentioned last month...the short daylight hours, and no breeding season distractions,  mean that early to mid-winter is definitely the best time of year for raptor sightings in this area, and this month again proved very fruitful, with my favourite local upland glens providing my safari clients and I with regular sightings, and even the occasional (and rare)  photo opportunity, of the much sought after Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle, with views of these magnificent and iconic birds providing great entertainment,  numerous 'year ticks' and even some 'life-ticks'  for my very happy guests...



Common Buzzard




Red Kite



Female Sparrowhawk with prey

The regular 'raptor back-up cast' of Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, BuzzardRed Kite, and even the occasional Merlin,  Hen Harrier and Goshawk should not be forgotten though, as all were seen at least once.....

Onto the mountain birds now, and with the Cairngorm Funicular Railway still out of action for major repairs, the weather being generally a bit uncooperative , and the days so short now,  I didn't venture up into the mountain-tops myself this month, preferring to stick to the lower slopes instead,  but for future reference, a few Ptarmigan , now  totally white, can sometimes be seen, up around the 'snow-line', usually sheltering on the leeward sides of ridges, out of the cold wind. 




Snow Bunting


Snow Buntings

However, Snow Buntings were often easier to see this month, driven down to lower altitude sites by the winter snow and colder weather, with  flocks of over 20 of these very attractive birds proving to be very obliging in coming to wild bird seed and giving us some decent photo opportunities, though when there is lots of snow and the subsequent snowsports going on, the increased human activity does mean that they can get disturbed quite frequently.....

Similarly to last month, with most of our local berries now gone, like the Redwings and Fieldfares the Waxwing flocks seem to have largely moved on to pastures new... with just the odd local sighting of small groups, mostly at urban sites...


Other good birds seen or reported locally this month included: 

A Great Grey Shrike, a Snow Goose and a Richardson's Cackling Goose..... none of which I managed to see!!!




Nice early morning light in a local Caledonian forest

December 2019 mammal sightings in more detail:



Mountain Hare
The Mountain Hares of our local uplands, now they are at their most attractive in their winter-white outfits, were most frequently voted as 'mammal of the day' by my safari clients - many of whom were seeing them for the first time - please note though, that some rough uphill walking may be required in order to get close enough for photos...






Red Deer Stag
Also up in the glens, Red Deer, now mostly back in their same-sex herds, the rut seemingly ancient history, were seen frequently, though we struggled on some days as some estates were culling the old, injured or unhealthy animals, and the disturbance made them  a little more easily spooked than normal...



Feral Mountain Goats
Feral Mountain Goats also frequent our local upland glens, and we managed to see good sized groups of these attractive but very localised animals, and with some of the females looking to be heavily pregnant, we should get to see some cute youngsters soon....



Red Squirrel
Red Squirrels, being sadly absent from most of the UK now,  always prove popular with my safari clients, especially with those seeing one for the first time, and it is unusual for us not to see at least one whilst out on safari.....




Roe Deer attempting to hide..

Roe Deer are probably much more common and widespread than most people realise, but their nervous disposition and crepuscular nature means that unless you visit fairly quiet sites or are about early or late in the day, you can easily miss seeing them...



On safari in the snowy Cairngorm Mountains


News update:

For your convenience, we now have a 'universal' in-car mobile phone charger to add to the other accessories on board such as a quality Leica spotting scope, spare binoculars, an ipad with wildlife apps, DVD screens showing safari photos, wildlife reference books, a daily sightings list, a photo album, picnic blankets, fold-up chairs,  tissues, hand wipes etc.... not forgetting the ever-popular hot drinks (tea/coffee/hot chocolate), cereal bars and yummy Walkers shortbread....






My 2020 Highland Wildlife calendar is still available - it features my photos of various local speciality birds, animals and butterflies printed on top quality card with a gloss finish and can now be purchased for the reduced price of £12 (including postage and packing  - in the UK).

Please email me at steve.reddick@btinternet.com  if you would like one.
Summary:


Well,  another year has flashed by.... but fortunately for me it was one filled with beautiful highland scenery, lots of amazing and memorable wildlife sightings, and happy times spent with lots of friendly and interesting people from all over the world.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my safari updates as much as I have whilst experiencing and writing about them.....And I am already looking forward to even more wildlife-filled adventures in 2020...



Reviews:


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






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....