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

Friday, December 15, 2006

December started as November had finished, with high winds and rain, rain and more rain causing some bad flooding in low-lying areas of the Spey Valley. A brief window in the bad weather on the 8th allowed me to do a full dawn to dusk 'practise' Safari - the highlights being; 7 Male Black Grouse at dawn on the moors, good views of a small flock of Snow Buntings on Cairngorm (see pic), a close encounter with a Red Grouse in the heather, good views through the scope of a totally white Mountain Hare, Mountain Goats, Red Deer, Reindeer and Roe Deer plus plenty of Buzzards and Kestrels and a very obliging Red Squirrel in the birdfeeder box at the very welcome brekkie stop.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Hi, my name is Steve Reddick.
I live in Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park, Highland Region, Scotland, U.K.

I am a very keen birdwatcher & run Highland Wildlife & Birdwatch Safaris - a small independent business dedicated to helping others to see & enjoy the wildlife treasures of this beautiful & unspoilt area.

My blog will be used to describe my experiences & sightings while out & about, & will hopefully convey to you some of the feelings & atmosphere of this marvellously uplifting place.
I can be contacted by E:mail at steve.reddick@btinternet.com

I am writing this first report in early April 2006, so I will take the opportunity to briefly look back at January, February & March before getting up to date.

January 2006, though very cold (-16c!) at times was almost snow-free. Birding highlights included Whooper Swans, Greylag Geese, Pink-Footed Geese & good numbers of wildfowl such as Teal, Wigeon, Goldeneye & Tufted Duck on our local lochs & wetlands, with the odd sighting of Smew, Pochard, Shoveler, Goosander & Red-Breasted Merganser. Dippers started displaying along the River Spey.
The Forests held some impressively large mixed flocks of Siskins, Redpolls, Goldcrests, Treecreepers & various Tit species & gave regular sightings of Crested tit , Crossbill, Red Squirrel & Roe Deer.

Moorland areas gave regular views of Red Grouse & Stonechat with just the odd sighting of a Hen Harrier, Merlin or Short-Eared Owl being noted.
Mountain habitat provided good views of Red Deer, Feral Goat & Mountain Hare (in their gorgeous white winter coat) plenty of Common Buzzards, & occasional Peregrine Falcon, Raven & Golden Eagle.

February 2006 was very similar to january in respect of weather & wildlife seen, though it was noticeable that many more raptors such as Common Buzzard & Sparrowhawk were displaying over the woodlands & had become more vocal. Garden species too, such as Thrushes, Tits, Finches & Robins were also starting to sing more. The first Oystercatchers & Lapwings were seen returning to their breeding grounds along the River Spey.
March 2006 saw snow fall virtually throughout the month, providing excellent skiing on the Cairngorm Mountains & giving those birders keen (or crazy!) enough to brave the elements( windchill of -25c!) the chance of seeing species such as Ptarmigan & Snow Bunting (see pic) at reasonably low levels.
The inclement conditions also saw rarer species attracted to gardens in the area. My garden visitors included Brambling & Yellowhammer as well as much increased numbers of the usual species, while others were lucky to get rarer Crested Tits & Waxwings(see pic below).The end of the Month saw the first of the migratory species returning - I saw my first Osprey on the 26th & my first Wheatears on the 27th. The final week also saw Red-Throated Divers, Black-Throated Divers & Slavonian Grebes return to our local lochs.
The numbers of Lapwings & Oystercatchers increased dramatically along the Spey, and on the moorlands the male Black Grouse began to 'lek' in earnest - their amazing "whooshing & bubbling" calls resounding across the otherwise near - silent moors.
The first returning Sand Martins were seen close to their traditional nesting sites & I was lucky to see a fantastic close-up view of a Kingfisher (a rare bird in these parts!) & decent prolonged views of an Otter catching fish, at the same time on a local loch!
The harsh conditions also attracted a Wildcat to come scavenging for scraps in the bins of a local hotel - a neighbour alerted me to it's presence & I was lucky enough to not only see it , but grab a bit of video too! Another local eaterie informed me that their bird-feeding area was being visited after dark by Pine Martens.
April 2006 started in the same wintry fashion as march, but a Safari on the 7th still managed to produce 49 bird species, the highlights being lekking Black Grouse, good numbers of Red Grouse displaying noisily , a Peregrine Falcon duelling with Common Buzzards, a superb male Merlin hunting down a Meadow Pipit - it seemingly 'locked-on' to it's prey's every desperate twist & turn , a pair of Ospreys at their nest, the female calling noisily to the male for food!, and a Hen Harrier (female) hunting low over the moors, being mobbed by angry Black-Headed Gulls.
The wintry theme was supported by continued sightings of Whooper Swans & Snow Buntings, whilst a hint of Spring was provided by views of Redshanks, House Martins & a Swallow(see pic). The only real disappointment of the day was the non-appearance of any Capercaillie at the RSPB's early - morning "Caper-Watch" on it's Abernethy Forest reserve, though it did provide good views of a female Crossbill as compensation.
Mammals were represented by Roe Deer, & Red Deer, a Red Squirrel, which ran across the road in front of my vehicle!, and 2 Brown Hares who entertained us by running around at high speed and occasionally reared up on their hind legs to "box" each other. A Stoat was seen hunting baby Rabbits on the banks of the River Spey.
Safaris in the middle of the month saw day -list numbers increase as more migrant birds returned, Willow Warblers & Tree Pipits were seen singing from treetops. Capercaillie were seen regularly, as many as 6 birds at a time being seen at the RSPB "Caper-Watch", the magnificent black cock birds fanning their huge tails & strutting agressively in an attempt to impress the watching hen birds - surely a "must-see" of British Wildlife spectacles?
The 15th-18th saw a Great Grey Shrike give good views to lucky birders when it showed well in an area of birch-scrub just outside Aviemore(see pic below).
A walk in the Abernethy Forest, near the River Spey on the 23rd added some more "year-list ticks" in the form of Common Whitethroat, Common Sandpiper, Housemartin and Chiffchaff, and also produced good numbers of Scottish Crossbill - their harsh "glip-glip" calls alerting us to their presence in the treetops. Crested Tit proved harder to see, with just one bird showing briefly. This was the warmest day of Spring so far, with temperatures reaching 16c(60f) in glorious sunshine.
April 28th saw an attempt at a big day-list with a 12 hour Safari covering many different types of inland habitat - in fact just about every type except mountain tops!
A dawn start in the Abernethy Forest produced most common birds plus highlights such as Capercaillie (a brief view of a female at RSPB Caper-Watch), Crested Tit, Scottish Crossbill, Cuckoo, Redstart, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Roe Deer (see pic) & Red Squirrel.
Local rivers gave us, among others, Dipper, Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, Goldeneye & Goosander.
Local marshlands were kind to us too, with Curlew, Grey Heron, Little Grebe, another Osprey and a first Redstart (a stunning black & silver -headed male) of the year as highlights.
Farmland helped top up the list with those expert songsters Yellowhammer and Skylark being observed singing heartily, and good views of a hunting Sparrowhawk being of most interest. Brown Hare was added to the mammal-list.
Moorland gave us a first Whinchat of the year, Stonechat, Wheatear, numerous Red Grouse (their raucous "go-back, go-back" calls resonating across the moors), a good view of a splendid male Golden Plover (which I tempted out of cover by imitating its call!) but best of all, a super close encounter with 3 Black Grouse (see pic) which were found taking grit from the road through the moors, affording us much closer views than normal of these usually very easily-spooked birds.
Local cliffs came up trumps - a female Peregrine Falcon providing great entertainment when it left it's perch to impress us with its powerful flight and dramatic stoops, and a smart male Ring Ouzel (again, tempted to show itself by imitating it's call!) it's clean white 'crescent moon' chest marking showing well.
Upland lochs gave us perhaps three of the most attractively marked birds, in summer - plumaged Slavonian Grebe (it's golden ear-tufts shining in the sun), Red -Throated Diver and Black -Throated Diver, the good light conditions showing their striking markings beautifully.
To finish off the day, a trip to my favourite "raptor -valley" provided numerous Red Deer on the steep hill-sides , Kestrel, Raven, and, just as we were about to leave, what I was really hoping to see, a Golden Eagle, seen duelling with 3 (clearly smaller!) Common Buzzards, a first-winter, it's white wing patches and tail-base and huge size making identification easy. Taking into account their rarity, and (normally), the difficulty in getting a good view, maybe this magnificent specimen should get the vote for "Bird of the day"!
The final totals for the 12 hour day were Birds - 69 species and Mammals - 5 species, but more importantly the wow -factor and feel-good factor generated by all these marvellous wildlife encounters in such beautiful scenery is surely un-quantifiable?!
Mountain top was the chosen habitat for April 30th, to try and 'complete the set' of local specialities. A gruelling two & a half hour walk up above the snow-line to over 3,400ft on another beautiful sunny Spring day rewarded our efforts with stunning close-up views of Ptarmigan (see pic), their plumage a mixture of pure white Winter feathers and grey-brown Summer feathers. Lunch was spent in the snow at the summit cairn admiring fabulous views in all directions-we could see the Nevis Mountain range 60 miles to the West and the Moray Firth 50 miles to the North!
The best however was still to come - when two very aggressive male Ptarmigan decided to fight out a dispute before our very eyes! 'Belching' loudly, they leapt vertically in the air at each other and actually bit at each others wings and tails until the stronger combatant chased off the loser! Luckily, I had the presence of mind to video this behaviour as I don't ever recall seeing it before. A fantastic Wildlife experience, and a great way to end the month!
May started with a family trip( not officially a Safari!) to the Moray Firth coastline with tearooms and scenic views competing with the Wildlife for my attention. A bit of secretive scanning however, turned up plenty of Gulls & common seabirds, and year ticks in the form of Swifts, Sandwich Terns and Common Terns. Also seen were Black Guillemots, Gannets, Eider Ducks, Red- Breasted Mergansers and Rock Pipits. Bird of the day was a quite rare Glaucous Gull, it,s strikingly all-white plumage and 'heavy' appearance making it stick out from the crowds of commoner gulls.
May,s first week also saw me spend a couple of evenings watching Pine Martens( Britain's rarest mammal!) at a pre-baited area. I am working on adding evening Pine Marten watches to my Safari repertoire - so watch this space!
A mini - safari (5am - 9am) on May 11th produced a brief sighting of a male Capercaillie, excellent views of Black Grouse (& Britains most famous birder, Bill Oddie!) at a lek site, a Red Grouse(see pic) which, (for once!) posed beautifully for the camera!,a group of 6 noisy Scottish Crossbills, the bright red males & greeny-yellow females showing well in the low but bright early morning sunshine,a pair of Bullfinches, and another year-tick in Spotted Flycatcher as well as a good supporting cast of more common species, and all before breakfast!
The second weekend of May saw us make a trip North out of the Spey Valley beyond Loch Ness (sorry, no monster sightings to report!) to the magnificent ancient Caledonian pine forests of Glen Affric. We did several of the attractive waymarked walks, taking in riverside, waterfalls, forests, and moorland, seeing Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Crossbill, Redstart and many others on the way. The real highlights of the day though were the magnificent views at various points (see pic) along the glen and the feeling of being in a truly beautiful and unspoilt place - some of the trees are over a thousand years old!
The middle-end of May saw me take out a number of guests enjoying their first trip to the Scottish Highlands. Some were surprised at the wintry conditions we encountered, but all of them were impressed with the amazing scenery and the absence of other people at the places we visited. As all of the migrant species have now returned, May is probably the most productive month in terms of numbers of species of birds & mammals seen in one day, with totals reaching 60+ birds and up to 8 mammals including most of the local specialities that visitors have on their wish-lists! One of the great joys of doing what I do is seeing the look of amazement on people's faces when they get their first ever sighting of a much sought - after species, sometimes after several years of trying!
June sees the days noticeably lengthening, with 24 hour birding almost possible, and large day-lists possible, the only problems being the seriously early start needed to see the 'dawn species' and the seriously late finish needed to see the 'dusk species!
Most of the bird species now have fledged young to care for, giving us the chance to see some of the usually more secretive species such as Woodcock (see pic) and Golden Plover with close-up views of family groups of birds proving very popular with my Safari customers.
Mammals always prove popular with my safari customers, with most days providing Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Roe Deer, Brown Hare and Mountain Goat, and the occasional sighting of rarer species such as Pine Marten, Mountain Hare, Bank Vole, Stoat and Weasel.
However, an early start on June 11th gave us the most prized mammal of all, when an Otter entertained us for several minutes as it caught a fish out of the Spey and ate it on an island within 20 yards of us (see pic), fantastic!!.
Inland Otters are notoriously difficult to see due to them being almost entirely nocturnal in their activities, especially so in the Summer, when we are blessed with 20+ hours of light, so this was truly an exceptional sighting.
Despite the changeable weather, safaris throughout the remainder of June continued to produce good day lists of both birds & mammals, with good views of family
groups of most species,with Osprey,Red Grouse and Crested Tits proving particularly popular.
July started in a similar vein to June, with good weather and large day - lists.
Early highlights were good views of a Weasel, and a rare chance to obtain a good photograph of a perched Osprey (see pic)
July,s heatwave made for some memorable days out, with us all enjoying the warm ,sunny weather - there,s no doubt that our local scenery takes a bit of beating on a Summer,s day, and with the birds & wildlife continuing to show well, the feel good factor is running high!
July also sees most bird species with families, and with the adults preoccupied with feeding their young , and a stealthy approach, it is often possible to get much closer than usual views of some of the more flighty species such as Black -Throated Diver (see pic) .
A very successful Safari on July 27, as well as providing good views of such sought-after local bird specialities as Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Dipper, Goldeneye, Slavonian Grebe, Red -Throated & Black-Throated Divers, Osprey & Crested Tit (many in family groups) also gave us a record day-list of 9 mammal species! Namely: Rabbit, Brown Hare, Mink, Otter, Red Deer, Reindeer, Roe Deer, Red Squirrel & Feral Mountain Goat, and of course, a very happy Safari party!
August,s Safaris saw a slight drop in the number of bird species seen to around 50 per day, as some of the migratory species became notable by their absence. Compensation came in the form of seeing young Osprey learning to fish for themselves, a beautiful Kingfisher (a rare bird in these parts!) plunging into the River Spey, and the amazing sight of baby Slavonian Grebes being taken for a ride on the parents back! (see pic). It was noted in the Forests that large mixed flocks of all the Tits, Goldcrests, Treecreepers etc were beginning to form - a sure sign of Autumn approaching!
Other August highlights included an unusually close & prolonged view of a beautiful male Merlin, perched on a post on a remote area of moorland, it,s orangey breast & yellow legs showing well in the sunshine, and a brief sighting over a small local lochan of a Hobby(a rare bird this far North!) hunting dragonflies, it,s long, pointed , backswept wings, and swooping flight giving it the appearance of a giant Swift. Goshawk also made a welcome appearance on several occasions, one splendid male bird remaining perched in full view at quite close range giving us the chance to admire it,s powerful 'hip-heavy' build and broad, black-banded tail.
Late August saw more of the migrant birds such as Swifts & Flycatchers depart the area. Mammals, however, especially the semi-nocturnal ones such as Otter & Roe Deer actually became easier to see as our 5am starts coincided with the later arrival of sunrise. Stoats were a surprisingly regular sighting, with several seen eating road-casualty rabbits!.The mornings started to get a little chilly, with temperatures down to 4deg c - Autumn is definitely on it's way!
September saw the majority of the lingering migrant species departing our area, so we began to concentrate more on 'resident' species. Dawn starts in the Abernethy Forest produced several decent sightings of Capercaillie, and the colder mornings seemed to prompt the Black Grouse on the local moors into more activity. Raptor sightings continued to impress, with regular views of Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, occasional Merlin and Goshawk, and best of all , on the 15th, 2 juvenile Golden Eagles seen clearly trying to scare a group of young feral mountain goats into stumbling off a steep cliff! Roe Deer stags were seen & heard rutting, their loud barking calls resonating around the forests, and Red Deer Stags became noticeably more aggressive in preparation for their forthcoming rutting season (see pic)
October, despite starting unseasonably mildly, saw the first signs of migration to Britain from further North, with the numbers of winter visitors to our area increasing rapidly. Greylag Geese were seen regularly from the start of the month, and from mid-month, large groups of Redwings began to strip the local berry bushes, and groups of Whooper Swans were noted on local lochs, their loud whooping calls carrying for quite a distance. The Red Deer rut started in earnest, and it was fascinating to watch the dominant males coralling their harems of females, and meeting the challenges of other rivals with mighty bellowing calls and occasional violent antler to antler clashes.
The end of October saw large flocks of Fieldfares appear in our area, and it was not uncommon to see Rowan trees heavily laden with bright red berries, being pillaged by all 5 of our Thrush species at once! October 26 saw our first snowfall on the Cairngorm Mountains, though it only lasted the one day in the still unseasonably mild temperatures!
November started in a similar vein, with temperatures dropping but no real frosts & the leaves finally turning to proper Autumnal colours. The numbers of Redwings & Fieldfares increased further still, with Continental Blackbirds starting to join them, their dark bills & sooty plumage distinguishing them from our native race. The first real frosts in mid-month saw the arrival of our first Waxwings of this winter in the Aviemore area, the Cotoneaster & Pyrocantha bushes in the Hotel car Park proving irresistible to these beautiful Scandinavian invaders! A noticeable increase in the numbers of more common birds feeding in our garden was seen, with the numerous feeders needing re-stocking much more frequently!
The third week of November saw snow fall on the Cairngorms above about 2,000ft, and a chilly walk into a sheltered corrie saw excellent close-up views of Ptarmigan (see pic) their plumage now almost entirely it's amazing Winter-white in order to provide maximum camouflage in the snow.
High winds and heavy rainfall throughout the last week of the month curtailed my wildlife watching plans, so I concentrated on my Pike fishing - catching (and returning) some nice specimens up to 16lb in weight. My binoculars did of course accompany me on my fishing trips, and although I have nothing spectacular to report, I did get some amazing close-up views (down to 4ft!) of mixed tit flocks, who seemed unaware of my presence under my camouflage brolly!