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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

November was a wintry month in the Cairngorms National Park, with regular falls of snow and temperatures dropping down as low as -9c towards the end of the month.

Wildlife highlights included:

A Waxwing 'invasion', with several hundred of the berry-munching beauties from across the North Sea visiting our area, bringing a welcome splash of colour to the dark Winter days (see pic).

Several dawn & dusk sightings of Barn Owls hunting over fields, seeing one of these almost ghost-like creatures in the half-light is surely one of British nature's most enjoyable sights.

Regular sightings of Crested Tits on bird feeders sighted near to Caledonian Forest. They only seem to come to feeders regularly when conditions turn really wintry.

A brief visit to our area by a Snow Goose in it's pure white plumage, it mingled with a flock of Greylag Geese for a few days.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

October saw the arrival of Winter to our area (we don't seem to get a proper Autumn anymore!). The transition is quite dramatic with temperatures significantly lower than September and the Cairngorms having snowy tops for much of the month.

Wildlife highlights included:

Rutting Red Deer stags: This has to be one of British nature's "must see" (& hear!) experiences, with the dominant stags attempting to secure their 'harem' of up to 20 hinds by roaring loudly, thrashing at trees and bushes and occasionally actually coming into spectacular antler to antler contact - an impressive sight! (see pic)

Numbers of Winter wildfowl such as Teal & Wigeon increasing on our local lochs.

Good views of Whooper swans, both in flight (when you can hear their distinctive "whooop whoop" calls, and quietly feeding in the margins of our larger local lochs.

Increasing numbers of visiting 'Winter' Geese being noted feeding on suitable fields.

Large flocks of Redwings & Fieldfares were seen , often covering a berry laden bush and soon stripping it of its crop.

Great views of a ring-tail (female) Hen Harrier, seen hunting low over heather moorland. We see many more Hen Harriers ( & Short-Eared Owls) in Winter due to an influx of birds from even colder climes to the North & east.

Friday, October 03, 2008

September,s weather could also , surprise, surprise!, be described as changeable. Temperatures ranged from a sunny 22deg c, down to 0deg c with a light dusting of snow on the hills at the end of the month. Most of the Summer visiting bird species have now left the area, and are being replaced by our Winter visiting bird species.

Wildlife highlights included:

Mountain Ash or Rowan trees becoming fully laden with their bright red berries, and the Thrush species wasting no time in enjoying this bountiful harvest.

The arrival in our area of Winter visitors from further North such as Greylag & Brent Geese & Whooper Swans.

The mixed woodland flocks grew noticeably larger, with some having 100+ birds of up to 9 different species.

Lots of sightings of 'purple poo' in the forests - the result of many different species of birds and animals feasting on the abundant crop of blaeberries.

Dippers started to sing again along the riverbanks - very noticeable & enjoyable as not many species of birds sing at this time of year (see pic)

The Red Deer began to 'roar' towards the end of the month, in preparation for the forthcoming 'rutting season''.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

August saw the changeable weather continue, with seemingly no two consecutive days the same! This far North Autumn comes early, and later in the month the first signs were noted; shorter days, cooler mornings & evenings, Rowan trees full of their vivid red berries , a few leaves changing colour.

Bird day-lists remained around the 45-50 mark with many of the migrants now gone , and mammal day-lists were still good at 6-9 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

An amazing close encounter with a very bedraggled-looking Scottish Wildcat one drizzly dawn - the fierce glare it gave us with it's wild orange eyes had to be seen to be believed!

A brief visit to a garden in our area by a Rose-Coloured Starling, a rare visitor to the UK, normally found much further East, it was enjoyed by a small number of keen birders , but sadly, not by me, as I missed it!

Our local juvenile Ospreys, now deserted by their parents, initially seemed lost without them & spent many hours calling in vain for them , but eventually seemed to accept their situation & knuckled down to some self-sufficient fishing.

A pair of lost/disorientated Sperm Whales turning-up in the Moray Firth, the initial joy & amazement soon turning to sadness, however, when one of them stranded, and sadly, despite the best efforts of many good people, died.

Also in the Moray Firth, the resident Dolphins delighted many with their super acrobatic displays , sometimes coming amazingly close to the shore.

Many of the local speciality birds such as Crested Tit, Scottish Crossbill, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Slavonian Grebe, Osprey ,Red Grouse, Goldeneye & Golden Eagle continued to show, some more regularly than others of course, though all were seen during the month.

Mammals featured well during the month with the following all being seen at some stage;

Red Deer, Roe Deer (see pic), Reindeer, Sika Deer, Red Squirrel, Brown hare, Mountain hare, Mountain Goat, Stoat, & Bank Vole.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Late July saw the weather remain changeable, though temperatures were generally quite high, with plenty of sunshine & 16hours+ daylight. Bird day-lists dropped a little into the low 50's due mainly to the exodus from our area by most of the wader species, though mammal day-lists still hit 6+ most days. Another sign of Autumn approaching was the early forming of 'winter flocks' by our resident small birds.

Wildlife highlights included:

Visits to our local Osprey nests gave us good views of the nearly full-grown youngsters furiously exercising their wings in readiness for their 'maiden flight', while their parents sat nearby screeching encouragement.

Super views of a Black-Throated Diver family all fishing together on a beautiful upland loch, their dapper black, white & grey plumage never failing to impress my safari clients (see pic).

Regular sightings of whole families of Spotted Flycatchers eagerly catching insects.

Great views of a Slavonian Grebe family, with the parents seen feeding the still stripy , but rapidly growing youngster.

Regular sightings of Crossbills, their loud 'glip -glip' calls betraying their presence as they fly from tree to tree in search of pine cone seeds.

The Roe Deer rut is now in progress, with the bucks frequently being seen chasing after the does, and their rasping, barking calls being heard from some distance.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Early July saw a slight improvement in our weather though it was still a bit changeable. Although we have now had the longest day, we still have 18 hours of daylight available for wildlife-watching, and bird day-lists still regularly hit 60+ and mammal day-list still average 7+.

Just about all bird species now have fledged young, making them easier to find as they feed in family groups.

Wildlife highlights included:

An amazing and rare close encounter one early morning with a female Capercaillie and her 2 chicks, seen taking grit from the edge of a track (see pic - courtesy of Alan Everest).

Good views of a Peregrine Falcon family on a craggy cliff, the fluffy grey chicks growing rapidly, with the adults often perched nearby.

Regular sightings of Scottish Crossbills in our local Caledonian Pine forests, their presence often being betrayed by their chunky 'glip - glip' calls and the sound of pine cones dropping.

Good views of a Golden eagle in a beautiful upland glen, first over a high ridge, and then the very rare opportunity to see it well through the scope when it landed on a rock in the heather - magic!

A new 2008 record mammal day-list of 11 species! namely: Rabbit, Roe Deer, Brown hare, Bank Vole, Red Squirrel, Reindeer, Brown rat, Red Deer, Mountain Goat, Sika Deer and Mountain Hare.

Regular sighting of Crested Tit families - these real 'local specialities' always proving popular with my clients.

A short, but very enjoyable trip to the Isle of Mull produced superb views of Sea Eagle & Golden Eagle (both adults & youngsters), and a very close loch-side encounter with an Otter - marvellous stuff!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Late June saw more changeable weather, with most days seeing us experience a little bit of everything, except snow, thankfully! Bird day lists continued to hit 60+ species most days, with one late June day also giving us 10 mammal species!

Wildlife highlights included:

An amazing dawn encounter with arguably 'Britain's rarest mammal' a magnificent Scottish Wildcat - the animal in question seen hunting wader chicks, our attention being drawn to it by the furious, and very vocal 'mobbing' of the parent waders. The Wildcat's key i.d. points of large size, heavy build, broad head, black spinal fur, white face & whiskers and thick black ringed tail leaving us with little doubt as to it's lineage.

Good views of Osprey parents feeding their chicks, and the fast-growing chicks being seen to stretch & exercise their wings for the first time.

Decent views of a Golden eagle duelling with a Buzzard in a beautiful upland glen, giving us the chance to see just how much bigger than a Buzzard an Eagle really is!

A very dapper pair of Black-Throated Divers, resplendent in their beautiful grey black & white plumage with a very young looking chick - good news for a very rare species.

A close encounter with a lovely Golden Plover on a local heather moorland (see pic) our attention being drawn to it by it's plaintive whistling call.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Early June saw changeable weather hit the area, with a light dusting of snow on the Cairngorms in the second week! The long days however, provide the opportunity for 20 hours of birding for those with the stamina to attempt it! With all the migratory bird species now back in the area we have seen bird day-lists approaching the 70 mark, many of them with recently fledged young, with mammal day-list usually between 6 & 9 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

A couple of amazing track-side close-ups of Woodcock - giving us the chance to admire the wonderfully cryptic plumage of this usually very elusive bird.

Good views of Red Grouse families on the Heather moorland, some with as many as 8 well-grown youngsters.

A 'bonus' view of a splendid male Capercaillie up a silver birch tree, discovered by accident as we were observing an Osprey in an adjacent tree!

Nice close-ups of singing Wood Warblers - not a common bird in these parts - their whole bodies quivering with the effort.

Several sightings of Cuckoos being 'seen-off' by Meadow Pipits - the Pipits obviously very aware that they are a favourite species for the Cuckoo to parisitize!

Good views of Osprey in their nest, with the fluffy, grey youngsters seemingly growing bigger every day (see pic).

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The second half of May saw the warm, dry weather continue and the last of the expected migrant bird species such as Dotterel and Whinchat appear in our area, and this combination of good weather and a near 'full-house' of Summer wildlife, of course, made for perfect safari conditions!

Wildlife highlights included:

Bird day-lists hitting the high 60's for the first time this year and mammal day-lists usually between 6 & 9 depending on our luck!

BBC Springwatch featuring the Cairngorms National Park as one of their featured locations, with Simon King 'spreading the word' about Speyside being a great place for watching wildlife and their wonderful footage backing up his claims.

Good dawn views of an Otter fishing on the River Spey - a great way to start the day!

Huge herds of Red Deer seen grazing on the fresh Spring grass on the floodplains of a beautiful upland glen - a magnificent sight.

A walk up to the summit of Cairngorm Mountain - the physical exertion being well rewarded by reasonable views of Ring Ouzels, Mountain Hares and Ptarmigan.

The first new-arrivals for some of our local speciality species - with the first Red Grouse and Osprey chicks being seen at the end of the month.

Unusually good views of a Crossbill family in one of our local forests -the birds, for a change, feeding part-way up a tree rather than at the top - giving me a better opportunity to get some decent photos (see pic).

A day-trip to the SWT's lovely Handa Island reserve off Scotland's spectacular North West coast producing super views of many nesting seabird species such as Arctic & Great Skuas, Razorbills, Guillemots, Fulmars and everbody's favourite, the Puffins. We also had bonus mammal encounters with Seals, Harbour Porpoises and a Minke Whale! A great day out in beautiful surroundings - highly recommended!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

May started with a prolonged period of high pressure, Southerly winds and fine weather helping the late-arriving migrant birds such as Swifts, Spotted Flycatchers and Hobbies to make their journey here.

Wildlife highlights included:

A trip to the Moray Coast near Inverness gave us nice views of Dolphins, Porpoises and Seals, with a supporting cast of various Gulls,Terns & Waders, Gannets, Guillemots, Eiders, Long-Tailed Ducks etc.

Closer to home, we have had:

Regular dawn sightings of Capercaillie, mainly at the RSPB Loch Garten hide, though we also managed to see a few taking grit from forest tracks whilst driving between venues.

Good views of Black Grouse 'lekking' (see pic) , making the early starts and stealthy approaches worthwhile!

Most of our local Ospreys are now paired-up with the females on eggs and the males dutifully supplying them with regular fish deliveries.

Regular sightings of both Red-Throated Divers & Black-Throated Divers on local lochs, both species looking very dapper in their smart Summer plumage.

Slavonian Grebes being seen nest-building in sedge beds on secluded local lochans, their amazing golden 'ear-tufts' seemingly glowing in the Spring sunshine.

Occasional sightings of family parties of Crossbills, the pale, streaky youngsters being outshone by the bright brick-red & green-yellow parent birds.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Early April saw the wintry conditions continue, and with no helpful Southerly winds migrant birds remained a little thin on the ground, and most of the Winter visitors remained.
The end of the month however, saw warmer sunnier weather arrive, bringing with it more of the expected Summer visitors.

Bird day-lists started to beat the 50 mark for the first time this year and mammal day-lists were between 6 & 9 depending on our luck!

April highlights included:

Regular sightings of Capercaillie at the RSPB Loch Garten reserve after the 7th as the annual 'lek' got into full swing.

Ospreys being seen at traditional nesting sites, the females first, shortly followed by the males who earned their conjugal rights by providing regular fish deliveries!

Increasing numbers of the beautiful summer-plumaged Slavonian Grebe on shallow weed-fringed lochs, and we even got to see them perform their amazing mating dance .

Black Grouse in full 'lek' mode, with up to 11 males 'strutting their stuff' in an attempt to impress the attendant females.

The Red Grouse were seen to have 'paired-up' already , with the males, their bright red 'eyebrows' seemingly glowing, very protective of their partners (see pic).

Regular sightings of both Red-Throated & Black-Throated Divers on suitable local lochs
The end of the month saw many more Summer migrants arrive, such as Willow Warblers, Ring Ouzels, Wheatears, Swallows, House Martins & Sand Martins.

Monday, March 17, 2008

March may be regarded as early Spring in many parts of the UK, but it is still very much Winter in this area. Though the lengthening days may hint of what is to come, the sleet, hail , snow & frosts suggest that we are still in Winter's icy grip.

Wildlife highlights included:

Close scrutiny of a wintering Geese flock giving us 3 different species - Greylag, Pink-Footed and Greenland White-Fronted.

Good views of Scottish Crossbills in the Caledonian Pine Forests (see pic).

Pied & Grey Wagtails returning to the area, after their partial Winter migration to milder climes.

Dawn birdsong increasing in both numbers of birds & volume, as the mating instinct kicks in.

Wader numbers increasing along the Spey floodplain - Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Redshanks & Curlews, their calls seemingly filling the air with hope that Winter is nearly over.

The Drake Goldeneyes serenading the females with their amazing display dance which involves cocking their head violently onto their back then pointing their bill skywards whilst croaking loudly - an amazing sight!

Black Grouse numbers increasing at their 'lek' sites, with the males getting noticeably more aggressive and noisy as lekking season draws near.

Red Grouse males becoming more conspicuous on the heather moorland, their guttural "go-back" calls giving away their location, and the males' vivid red 'eyebrows' almost seem to glow as they reach their finest breeding plumage.

A super close-encounter (less than 100 metres away) with a sub-adult Golden Eagle seen hunting along a low ridge at the foot of the Cairngorms one beautiful frosty dawn, an amazing wildlife experience, and for once I was able to get some good video footage, so I can get to relive it over & over again.

Frogs being seen near watery areas for the first time this year.

The final week of March saw the welcome return to Speyside of some of our most popular local specialities, namely Ospreys, Red-Throated Divers and Black-Throated Divers.

Friday, February 15, 2008

February saw a mix of weather conditions with snow, floods, frosts and sunshine all making an appearance and temperatures ranging from -11c to +11c! Though still very much Winter in this area, there were a few early signs of Spring approaching.

Wildlife highlights included:

A memorable close encounter with a juvenile
Golden Eagle, seen hunting along a ridge in a beautiful steep-sided glen.

Great close -up views of an Otter fishing in the River Spey at dawn - meaning the early start and -9.5c temperature were soon forgotten.

Dawn bird-song starting up for the first time for many months.

Lapwings & Oystercatchers being seen returning to their breeding grounds along the River Spey.

Super close-up views of Mountain Hares in upland areas (see pic).

11 Common Cranes remaining in fields near Elgin (see Jan).

Regular sightings of Barn Owls hunting over fields at dawn & dusk.

Excellent close views of a feral Mountain Goat and her very cute newly - born kid.

Cracking views of a pair of Peregrine Falcons displaying over a ruined castle.

A brief glimpse of an almost pure white Stoat running across a road between two fields.

Black grouse numbers increasing at their traditional lek sites on woodland edges.

Red Grouse males becoming noticeably more vocal on the heather moorland.

Nice views of a pair of Scottish Crossbills in the Caledonian pine forest.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

January 2008 saw the cold, wintry weather continue, with plenty of snow and low temperatures, and the snowsports centres having their busiest winter for a long time.

Wildlife highlights included:

Great close-up views of Snow Buntings at the Cairngorms Ski car park (see pic) their confiding nature making it quite easy to get some decent pics

Good, extended views of an Otter fishing amongst the kelp at a local coastline, always a wonderful wildlife experience!

A small flock of Waxwings taking advantage of the berry crop in the gardens of a nearby village, their wonderfully colourful plumage lighting up the dull Winter days!

A Ring-Necked Duck & a Wood Duck, both rare birds in these parts, visiting a local loch

A flock of very rare Common Cranes (presumably stopping off for a pit-stop on migration between Africa and Scandinavia?) paying a visit to the nearby Moray Coast, these huge, almost Ostrich-like birds, not surprisingly, drawing a lot of interest from local birders!

One huge mixed finch/bunting flock on local farmland included Reed Buntings, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Bramblings, Yellowhammers and Twites