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

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

December saw the weather get colder still, with temperatures dropping as low as -11 in the middle part of the month, and snow remaining on the higher peaks throughout the month.

Wildlife highlights included:

A brief visit from a very rare Sabines Gull to a nearby wetland reserve

Snow Buntings regularly being seen in the Cairngorm Ski Centre car park

Crested Tits began coming to feeders in gardens close to forest edges

Mountain Hares now have their beautiful pure white Winter coats

The Male Black Grouse getting noticeably more frisky on the moors

Sunday, November 18, 2007

November saw the first real snows fall on the Cairngorms, suggesting that Autumn has very swiftly turned to Winter! Wildlife highlights have included:

A further increase in the numbers of Whooper Swans appearing on our local lochs, along with
more Winter wildfowl such as Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler & Pochard

The appearance of Redpolls in the (ever-increasing!) mixed Winter flocks seen in the forests

Increasing numbers of reports of Hen Harriers seen over our local marshlands, especially towards dusk, as they gather to roost in the large reedbeds

Several sightings of the (usually!) elusive Woodcock, probing the leaf litter on the edges of the forests

The addition of good numbers of Bramblings to the mixed finch flocks feeding on the stubble fields
A rare (at this time of year) inland sighting, whilst fishing, of a winter-plumaged Red-Throated Diver on a local loch
A brief view of a splendid Male Merlin perched on a farmland fence post, then , in a flash it was gone, fast & low across a field.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

October in the Cairngorms National Park sees the true arrival of Autumn. The days shorten, temperatures drop , the trees take on their glorious golds, coppers, russets and reds and the influx of Winter visitors gathers pace.
October highlights include:

The arrival of Whooper Swans on our local lochs, their large size, mainly yellow bills , straighter necks and bugling calls making them easy to identify.

The Red Deer rut reaching it's climax - the older, larger, stronger stags attempting to secure a harem of up to 20 hinds with aggressive displays of roaring, tree-thrashing and ground -raking and occasional actual antler to antler combat - an awesome wildlife experience! (see pic)

Our first sightings of incoming winter thrushes, the Redwings are first to arrive, their thin 'seep -seep' calls betraying their presence whilst flying, accompanied by 'continental' Mistle Thrushes & Blackbirds, the Fieldfares usually being the last to arrive.

The Male Red Grouse on the moors appear to be much more aggressive & vocal, perhaps already trying to establish territories in preparation for breeding season?
The 18th October gave me a great close-up view of a Barn Owl hunting over a local marsh. Using the car as a hide, I parked up and it actually landed on a roadside fence-post less than 20 feet away - a marvellous sight!
The Mountain Hares are beginning to get their White Winter coats, from their feet upwards.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September saw most of our remaining summer visiting birds depart the area, leaving us to concentrate on our resident species and the first of the Winter visitors. Recent highlights in the Cairngorms National Park area included:

The heather-clad hills looking at their beautiful deep purple best.

Mountain Ash or Rowan trees full of Autumn berries (see pic).

The Roe Deer rutting, their loud barking calls alerting us to their presence.

Large flocks of incoming Greylag Geese seen arriving from further North.

Mixed woodland flocks increasing in size and numbers of species - picking out the Cresties is quite a challenge - unless their chuckling trill gives them away!

Large flocks of Mistle Thrushes were noted - presumably Winter visitors from further North.

Dippers on the rivers were heard to sing again for the first time since Spring.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mid- late August saw further evidence of the approaching Autumn - dawn is becoming later, and dusk earlier (and cooler!), Rowan berries became noticeably abundant and Swift numbers were seen to reduce. Most of the local specialities continued to be seen and enjoyed. Highlights included:

Good views of a Golden Eagle interacting with a pair of Buzzards in a beautiful upland glen, it's white wing patches and tail base identifying it as a juvenile.

An unusually long view of a Stoat exploring amongst riverside rocks, it's quick, jerky movements sadly making it impossible to grab a photo!

Good views of our local speciality butterfly - The Scotch Argus (see pic)

Male Black Grouse numbers increasing at their traditional lek sites

Decent views of a pair of Kingfishers - a rare bird in these parts!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Early August saw most of the local specialities continue to show well, highlights included:

An early morning encounter with an Otter on the River Spey - worth getting up at 4am for!

Our mammal day-list record of 11 being equalled (Otter, Rabbit, Bank Vole, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare, Roe Deer, Red Deer, Reindeer, Sika Deer, Red Squirrel and Mountain Goat)

Our local juvenile Ospreys being seen to fish successfully by themselves for the first time - just as well, as their parents will abandon them any day now and fly off to Africa, leaving them to find their own way!

Great views of Dolphins at the Moray Firth (see pic), so close that we could hear them 'snorting' in air between dives!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Late July saw us get a few sunnier days but daytime temperatures still rarely topped 18c and some nights saw temperatures as low as 5c! These big diurnal temperature ranges often create very atmospheric, misty mornings though, as compensation (see pic).

Safari highlights included:

Good views of Mountain Hare families on the boulder-strewn slopes of an upland glen - their mottled blue-grey/brown/white coats providing good camouflage.

Super overhead views of a Peregrine Falcon and Kestrel having a high-speed fracas, giving us a good chance to compare the the slim, lightweight build of the Kestrel with the altogether heavier more solid build of the Peregrine.

Watching an Osprey make several (sadly,unsuccessful!) plunges into a rather choppy upland loch - a fantastic sight to see!

Several sightings of Stoats chasing young Rabbits.

Our first sightings of Mountain Argus Butterflies, a local speciality.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Mid-July saw no significant improvement in the weather, and perhaps these un-summerlike conditions hastened the Autumn dispersal of breeding birds from the hills and moors, with species such as Redshanks, Curlews, Lapwings and Oystercatchers becoming noticeable by their absence.
There is still plenty to see though, with recent highlights including:

An unusually close-up view of a pair of Red-Throated Divers on a local loch on a beautifully calm, misty morning.

A family of 4 Red Squirrels all feeding closely together.

A really close view of a whole family of 6 Spotted Flycatchers perched on a track-side fence.

Seeing the newly fledged Osprey young taking their first flights and watching intently as their parents teach them how to fish.

Some great early-morning close-ups of Roe Deer - why do they always seem to run out in front of cars?!!

Good views of a very un-seasonal Whooper Swan (usually a winter visitor). This bird has now spent nearly two full years on a local loch, and I suspect it is probably unable to make its usual migration flights due to injury (or perhaps it just likes it here!)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Early July saw a slight improvement in the weather, maybe Summer is here at last?

Safari highlights included:

A new mammal day-list record of 11 (Rabbit, Otter, Red Deer, Roe Deer, Reindeer, Red Squirrel(see pic), Mink, Water Vole, Sika Deer, Mountain Goat, Mountain Hare)

Seeing the 2 young Osprey in a local nest flapping their wings furiously in preparation for fledging, under the watchful eyes of their parents

A good close-up view of an Otter on the River Spey soon after dawn

Good views of a pair of Red-Throated Divers, a family of Crested Tits and a family of Scottish Crossbills all from the same forested lochside location!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Late June saw the unsettled weather continue, with a light dusting of snow being noted on Cairngorm on the 26th!!. Safaris continued of course, with the unseasonal weather adding a certain amount of atmosphere to the experience! recent highlights included:

A dawn encounter with a Scottish Wildcat and it,s 2 kittens - their robust build, thick black-circled tails and wariness of humans hinting at their lineage - though only a DNA test can confirm it for sure, as they are known to mate with domestic cats!

Several sightings of Stoats hunting young Rabbits - it always amazes me when I see them tackling prey that is much larger & heavier than themselves!

Great views of Ospreys feeding their young in the nest - with the youngsters visibly growing by the day!

Very close views of Red Grouse families - some with as many as 9 young.

Good views of Crested Tit families - their chuckling trills betraying their presence.

Several amazing close encounters with Sparrowhawks hunting smaller birds near bird feeders (see pic. courtesy of Joe Adams)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mid-June saw me take a trip to Sutherland on the North West coast of Scotland to visit the Scottish Wildlife Trust's beautiful Handa Island Wildlife Reserve. Just a 10 minute ferry crossing from Tarbet, during which we saw Black Guillemots and Seals, sees you land on one of the small, uninhabited island's many unspoilt sandy beaches. A short walk through heather moorland provided Meadow Pipits, Stonechats, Wheatears, Sedge Warbler, Skylarks, and a super close-up of a family of Red Grouse, and aroused plenty of interest from the nesting Arctic Skuas & Great Skuas, though thankfully, they were not particularly aggressive on this occasion!

The main attraction of Handa though is the island's 300ft+ high sandstone cliffs and the huge (200,000!) numbers of seabirds that nest on them. From our clifftop viewpoint we saw, heard (and smelt!) Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, and most popular of all, good numbers of Puffins (see pic),often at close range - a breathtaking spectacle that I highly recommend.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Early June saw many species with newly-fledged young, causing many aaaaahhh! exclamations amongst my customers as doting parent birds were seen dutifully feeding their wing-quivering offspring.
Though the weather has still been a little changeable, the days have now lengthened to around 20 hours of available birding time, for those with the stamina to attempt it!
The combination of sun and rain has given a very lush look to vegetation and inspired the wild flowers to bloom, and accordingly, more butterflies are now being seen regularly.
Early June highlights included:

Seeing one of our local Ospreys delivering a good-sized trout to the nest.

A Peregrine Falcon hunting waders over a riverside field.

7 Buzzards circling together using the same thermal in a beautiful local glen.

Regular sightings of Cuckoos, often being chased away by Meadow Pipits.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Late May saw bird day-lists hit the 70 mark for the first time this year, with most of the local specialities continuing to show regularly. Highlights included;

Good views of a hunting Golden Eagle being buzzed by a very brave Peregrine Falcon

A family of 4 Red Squirrels all feeding together

Good views of a flock of 20 Golden plover in smart Summer plumage

Super close-up views of a Cuckoo (see pic)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mid-May saw a return to unsettled conditions, with some days seeing us experience all four seasons in the space of just a few hours, and some light snowfall turning the mountain-tops white.

Day lists of birds crept up through the 60's with the arrival of more migrants such as Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher,with most of the local specialites such as Osprey, Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Ring Ouzel, Dipper, Slavonian Grebe, Goldeneye, Crested Tit etc etc continuing to delight us. Mammal day-lists remained steady at between 5 & 8 depending on our luck!

Highlights included:

The very unusual occurrence of a Red-Throated Diver beaching itself on the shores of a local loch just 50 metres from us, it,s comical attempts at walking hindered by the positioning of it's legs at the very rear of it's body.

A close-up fly-past by a female Merlin with a small bird in it's claws being harried by a Buzzard.

The discovery of a Crested Tit territory giving us the opportunity to get some decent views of this usually difficult species (see pic). Great stuff!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

May,s first week saw the amazingly warm, settled weather continue. I was therefore inspired to take a small party high up into the Cairngorms in pursuit of the true mountain species. We had only been walking a while, and had reached around 2,000ft, when we had good views of male Ring Ouzel and male Red Grouse, on both occasions being alerted to their presence by their distinctive calls, a harsh "chak-chak" and a guttural "go-back, go-back" respectively - a good start! By the time we had reached 3,000 ft we had added several male Wheatears to our list, their smart grey, buff, black and white plumage giving them a very dapper appearance, and the views, of course, became truly spectacular in all directions. The gruelling "final push" up to the summit at 3,600ft was rewarded in great style, when our packed-lunch break was interrupted by a lovely close-up visit from an inquisitive male Snow Bunting in his beautiful almost all-white summer plumage (see pic). Our luck continued as we walked around the sheltered corries below the summit, when, within just a few minutes,we had good views of 2 Ptarmigan, their upper plumage beginning to turn a mixture of greys and browns, though their lower half remained winter-white, a splendid white Mountain Hare, and one of the Cairngorms Reindeers - giving us pretty much a full-house of the hoped-for species, Excellent!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Late April saw fantastic weather - high pressure and clear skies meant cold, crisp mornings followed by warm, sunny days - perfect safari conditions.
Safari highlights (as voted for by my customers) were several good dawn sightings of Otter on the River Spey ( a good way of justifying the 4am alarm clock!) , lekking Black Grouse, calling Cuckoos, Ospreys catching fish and delivering them to the nest, a hunting Red Kite, good views of Scottish Crossbills, and an amazing close encounter with 2 Ptarmigan.
With bird day-lists now hitting 60+ and mammal day-lists of 7-8, it is probably fair to say that we are getting into peak safari-season!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Mid April at last saw us enjoy some Southerly winds and warmer weather, and with it came some of our returning migrant birds, with species such as Ring Ouzel (see pic), Wheatear, Common Sandpiper, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Swallow, House Martin & Sand Martin all being seen in this area for the first time since late Summer last year.
Capercaillie always seem to feature on my Safari guests "wish-lists", but are one of the most difficult species to see, with many hours searching in suitable forest usually ending in failure, or at best, with a fleeting glimpse of the backside of one as it disappears noisily into the canopy, it having seen you long before you saw it!
However, help is at hand in the form of the RSPB early morning Caper-Watch , which takes place at their Loch Garten reserve between April 1 and May 20, with the Osprey hide and a specifically built new hide overlooking a traditional lek site giving us a much better chance of seeing this magnificent creature. With as many as 4 Capercaillie being seen on some mornings it is well worth a visit, and also means less pressure on other sensitive lek sites.

Monday, April 09, 2007

April started with the weather showing signs of improvement, with the Easter weekend being particularly pleasant, and ideal for safaris. However, with no Southerly winds to report, returning migrant birds were still very thin on the ground.
Despite the lack of migrants, day-lists of birds started to creep up into the mid 50's, with day-lists of mammals regularly reaching 7 or 8.
My personal favourite sighting of early April,s outings had to be the return to her nest of a female Osprey - to be joined a day later by a male who soon earned his conjugal rights by bringing her regular fish deliveries!
Another highlight was a close-up fly -past by a dashing male Merlin with a small bird clutched in his claws, which interupted our viewing of the (still mainly white) Mountain Hares in a beautiful mountain glen.
The Slavonian Grebe was seen to have transformed from it's uninspiring black and white Winter colours into it,s beautiful summer plumage with those amazing gold ear tufts seemingly glowing in the sunshine.
Most of the other "local specialities" continued to show well and I think it' fair to say that my safari customers went away very happy with what they had seen , if a little tired maybe, after the 5am starts!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mid- March saw Winter return with a vengeance, with one 48 hour period seeing 10 inches of snow fall in the Cairngorms National Park -very scenic (see pic) and great for skiers- not so great for birders wanting to get to remote areas!
However,the weekend of the 24th/25th saw the winds switch from Northerly to Southerly and the beautifully calm, sunny days made for perfect safari conditions.
A safari on the Saturday gave 50+ bird species & 8 mammal species:
The Rivers produced Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Goosander, and Goldeneye.
Farmland's highlight was a great close-up of a perched Long-Eared Owl, it's prominent ears and bright orange eyes showing well at close range - sadly, it flew off as soon as I reached for the camera! Yellowhammer, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Curlew, greylag Geese & 4 Thrush species as well as Roe Deer and Sika Deer were also all seen.
Moorland gave us Black Grouse (lekking), Red Grouse, Meadow Pipit and Stonechat.
Lochs produced 4 red-Throated Divers & 3 Black-Throated Divers and many other species of wildfowl & waders.
Forest specialities were represented by a beautiful male Crossbill seen drinking from a puddle, and several Red Squirrels.
Mountain habitat's best sightings were 20+Reindeer , white Mountain Hares, and a herd of multi-coloured Mountain Goats with 2 tiny youngsters.
Even the breakfast stop was enlivened by a close encounter with a dashing male Sparrowhawk attempting to snatch a chaffich from the bird feeders as we enjoyed our bacon butties!
A great day of wildlife-watching, and all with a fantastic backdrop of blue skies and snowy mountains!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Early March saw lengthening days and rising temperatures and more birds making their return to Speyside for the breeding season. Curlews were seen to join the Lapwings and Oystercatchers , their bubbling calls drawing your attention to them from some distance away.
I saw my first Grey wagtail of the year on the 4th March, it,s long tail pumping furiously as it sat on a rock in the River Spey, it,s gorgeous lemon yellow underparts showing well in the sun.
Our Winter visitors are still around, with good numbers of Greylag geese and Whooper Swans still being noted, with just the odd report of a Waxwing here & there, though Waxwing numbers in the UK this Winter are well down on the previous few years.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

February ended with more signs of Spring approaching. The Red Grouse are becoming noisy & conspicuous now, their guttural "go back , go back" calls enlivening the previously quiet Moors, their red eye-combs becoming visibly larger & brighter. Oystercathers are returning to their breeding grounds along the River Spey flood-plains, their dapper black & white plumage & bright orange bills brightening up the still wintry scenery (see pic), their shrill "peep peep peep" calls filling the air as they wheel around in display flights.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

February started as January had finished, with cold snowy conditions, but by the second week most of the snow had melted in the much milder conditions. Early feb wildlife highlight was a good dawn sighting of a male Capercaillie, seen taking grit from a forest track before very casually and surprisingly elegantly, melting into the deep undergrowth - a wonderful (& very rare!) experience.
Other notable sightings included more regular views of Crossbills and Crested tits, perhaps evidence of the onset of the breeding season? Further evidence of Spring's approach was the growing numbers of Lapwings seen on their traditional breeding grounds, and a noticeable increase in birdsong particularly at dawn.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The third week of January saw decent falls of snow in the Cairngorms region, and with the wind dropping ,(at last!) good number of people were able to enjoy the first snow sports opportunity of this Winter. Wildlife highlights included good views of a large flock (300+) of Bramblings (see pic), on local farmland-their blackish heads, orangey breasts and white rumps showing well as they whirled around in a close-knit flock, with a few Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Greenfinches for company.

Monday, January 08, 2007

January 2007
The first half of January was not perfect weather-wise for wildlife watching, with high winds and rain dominating. However, Bird highlights included: A beautiful Barn Owl on nearby farmland, a hunting Red Kite low over the A9, and a decent view through the scope of a Golden Eagle, all on the 2nd. A rare day of dry,cold weather on the 6th produced a decent day-list including a good, close view of 7 Whooper Swans on a flooded field close to the River Spey, a Hen Harrier (ringtail) and 4 Black Grouse on the moors at Dawn, and a close encounter with a gorgeous Mountain Hare, it's pure white winter coat making it very easy to pick out on the virtually snow-free slopes of a local glen!