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

Thursday, December 03, 2009

November 2009 started very mild, but ended very wintry with sub-zero temperatures and the first 'proper' snowfall on the Cairngorm Mountains. The days are getting much shorter now, with only around 8 hours of daylight. With most of the winter visitor birds now here, bird day lists are usually between 30 & 40, with mammal day lists steady at between 5 & 9.

Wildlife highlights included:

A spectacular invasion of our area by record numbers of Fieldfares, with some flocks over a thousand strong, and with good numbers of Redwings as well, it was not uncommon to see berry bushes literally covered in these attractive winter thrushes.

The discovery in our area of 2 locally rare birds - a Great Grey Shrike (or 'butcher bird '- notorious for it's habit of storing it's prey of small birds, mammals & invertebrates on spiky bushes or barbed wire fences) which frequented a local airfield for several weeks, & a Black Redstart (a small robin-like bird with a lovely orange tail which it regularly 'shivers' ,a bird more usually found in urban or mountain environments much further south) which took a liking to a small local farm (see pic.)

Regular sightings of resident 'specialities' such as Dipper, Red Grouse , Red Deer, Red Squirrel.

Good sightings of increasing numbers of male Black Grouse near traditional 'lek' sites.

Decent views of Whooper Swans & winter wildfowl on our local lochs.

Some of my favourite local wildlife watching spots being featured on BBC1's excellent Autumnwatch TV programme, with presenters Chris Packham & Kate Humble showing such 'local specialities' as Crested Tit, Ptarmigan, Pine Marten & Mountain Hare amidst a beautiful snowy mountain backdrop.

Friday, October 30, 2009

October 2009 started cold, with frosts & even a light dusting of snow on the Cairngorms but, rather oddly, ended very mild with unseasonably warm temperatures. The days are shortening now, but by way of compensation, the trees are a glowing blaze of Autumn colours. Winter migration into the area is noticeably picking up now and bird day-lists are now into the 30's & 40's with mammal day-lists steady at 5-9.

Wildlife highlights included:

Amazing views of a Golden Eagle menacingly descending a steep upland slope at speed with it's huge talons outstretched, trying to harass a female Red Deer into fleeing, presumably in the hope it would fall - a magnificent wildlife spectacle!

The Red Deer rut is in full swing in October, and we witnessed many of the 'soap opera' moments - the posturing,... the romance,... the friction,... the aggression,... the winners ...& the losers.... one of British nature's must see events!

Decent dawn views of an Otter on the Spey, always the most sought - after mammal on my safaris, & making the early get-up worthwhile!

A memorable close encounter with 5 Red Squirrels at once feeding just a few feet away from us, so close that we could actually hear them grunting & squeaking to each other!

Seeing our first 'Winter Thrushes' - the Redwings were first to arrive, often betraying their presence with their thin 'seep-seep' calls & the Fieldfares arrived later in the month, and not surprisingly, our Rowan berries are disappearing rapidly!

Super views of a Crested Tit coming to a bird-feeder - not a common occurrence, and a rare chance for my clients to get a 'proper' look at one - rather than the fleeting glimpses we usually get in the forests!

Wildfowl numbers are increasing on our local lochs, with Teal, Wigeon & Whooper Swans being seen regularly.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

September 2009 started with some pleasant autumnal sunshine but ended with a more wintry feel, with night time temperatures dropping noticeably, and the days getting shorter. By the middle of the month the last of the summer visiting birds had departed, but by way of compensation, the first winter visiting birds were beginning to arrive, and with the heather at its vivid purple best and the Rowan trees full of shiny red berries Speyside is a very attractive place to be.

Wildlife highlights included:

Bird day-lists dropped down into the 30's & 40's but resident local speciality birds such as Dipper, Goldeneye, Red Grouse, Crested Tit etc continued to show well.

Mammal day-lists remained steady at 6-9 with local specialities such as Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Mountain Hare, Mountain Goat etc being seen regularly.

Our first sightings of winter visiting birds, mainly large flocks of Greylag Geese (see pic), though a few early Brent Geese & Whooper Swans were reported too.

Good views of Black Grouse, our first since late spring, as, with breeding season now over, their numbers increased near their traditional 'lek' sites.

The Red Deer stags became noticeably more aggressive as the October 'rut' approached, with their loud, belching roars echoing around the hills.

At the end of the month I took a break to visit relatives & friends in Surrey & Hampshire, but managed to sneak in a bit of bird watching, which produced a number of 'year-ticks' for me such as Dartford Warbler, Bearded Tit & Little Egret - species that are not, or are only rarely found this far North.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

August 2009 was very changeable weather-wise, with a noticeably autumnal feel towards the end of the month as the days grew shorter and dawn & dusk temperatures began to drop down into single figures.

With most of the migratory birds now departing the area, bird day-lists dropped down into the 50's or 40's but mammal day-lists remained steady at 6-9.

Wildlife highlights included:

Most of the local speciality birds (Red-Throated & Black-Throated Divers, Slavonian Grebe, Osprey, Dipper, Red Grouse, Crested Tit, Crossbill etc) continued to show in the first half of the month, though some of the Summer visitors had vacated the area by the end of the month.

An amazing (& incredibly rare!) close encounter with a female Capercaillie, which, to the delight of my guests!, walked slowly across the road in front of my safari vehicle, stood & posed on the verge for a few seconds, before melting away into the forest - a truly magic moment!

A brief glimpse of a beautiful Kingfisher on the River Spey - a very rare bird in this area.

Watching the young Ospreys coping with being left to fend for themselves after both parent birds departed mid-month.

More sightings of Stoats (sometimes whole families) chasing Rabbits.

Regular sightings of a real local speciality butterfly - the Scotch Argus.

Large numbers of Hirundines (Martins & Swallows) - seen gathering on wires ready for migration South, see pic.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

July 2009 was warm but very changeable, with no two consecutive days alike and a fold-up waterproof jacket a must-have!

Bird day-lists hit 60+ early month but dropped into the 50's later in the month as many of the wader species vacated the area. Mammal day-list remained steady at 6-9.

Wildlife highlights included:

Many of the 'local specialities' (Dipper, Slavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Osprey, Goldeneye, Red Grouse, Red Squirrel etc) many with young, continued to show well and it always brings me great pleasure to see many of my clients add these to their 'life-lists', especially if they have struggled to find them themselves!

July is always a big month for our Ospreys, with the early part of the month seeing the well-grown youngsters stretching & flapping their wings and the latter part of the month seeing them make their first faltering flights - a magic, if nerve-wracking moment!

Several decent sightings of Golden eagles, usually being mobbed by other raptors which gave us the chance to see the huge size difference between the Eagle & say.. a Peregrine Falcon.

Several sightings of Stoats chasing Rabbits

A strenuous but very rewarding walk up a local mountain, along with great scenic views in all directions, gave fantastic close-up views of one of our rarest, most beautiful, and thankfully, most confiding birds - the Dotterel. Some patient searching on a grassy plateau near the summit revealing a small number of adult (see pic) and juvenile birds. Whilst at the summit, my mate Malcy & I also had an amazing 'too close for comfort' encounter with a plummeting Golden Eagle, which shot over his head at a speed which had to be seen to be believed, and which was so close , we could actually hear the wind rushing through it's tightly folded wings - an incredible moment!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Late June 2009 saw us enjoy some beautiful ,hot, sunny weather with temperatures even reaching 30c on a couple of occasions - unusually warm for this area! With over 20 hours of daylight available there is no shortage of time for wildlife watching, though the crepuscular (dawn & dusk) species require an early start & late finish!

Bird day-lists still topped 60 species, with mammal day-lists steady at 6-10 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

Most of our local specialities (Dipper, Goldeneye, Red / Black - Throated Divers, Slavonian Grebe, Red Grouse, Crested Tit, Ring Ouzel, Osprey, Red Deer, Red Squirrel etc) continued to show well.

Fledglings! First sightings of young Slavonian Grebe, Ring Ouzel & Black-Throated Diver.

Regular sightings of families of Stoats hunting for Rabbits.

Continued regular views of Osprey fishing in local lochs.

Good views of large herds of Red Deer in upland glens - the stags & hinds still in separate groups, seemingly more interested in feeding than each other.

A short, but extremely enjoyable family trip to the isle of Mull - concentrating on the area I know best (the South-East corner) produced super views of all the target species - Sea Eagle (at nest & flying), Golden Eagle (hunting) & some of our best ever close-ups of Otter (see pic), along with good views of bonus birds such as Short-Eared Owl, Gannet, Black Guillemot & Snipe.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Early June 2009 saw us temporarily return to wintry conditions with early morning frosts and even a fresh dusting of snow on the Cairngorms! (see pic). The birds & animals seemed relatively unaffected though, and bird day-lists rose higher into the 60's and mammal lists remained steady at 6-10.

Wildlife highlights included:

Fledglings! Just about every species of bird we saw seemed to have youngsters - drawing lots of "aaaah's" from my safari clients!

A brief visit to our area by a very rare and beautifully marked adult male Red-Backed Shrike, and yes, I'm pleased to report that I was one of the lucky few that got to see it!

The very unusual sight of both Red-Throated Diver & Black-Throated Diver on the same loch at the same time.

A brief sighting of a Stoat chasing Rabbits near a farmland track.

Most of the 'local specialities' - (Divers, Slavonian Grebe, Osprey, Grouse species, Crested Tit, Crossbill, Dipper, Ring Ouzel, Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Reindeer, Mountain Goat etc) continued to show regularly & delight my safari clients.

Regular sightings of Ospreys fishing on local lochs - seeing these magnificent birds plunge-dive so spectacularly must be one of British wildlife's must-see moments.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Late May 2009 saw us enjoy some fantastic dry,hot, sunny weather with temperatures soaring to to 27.5c on the last weekend, and we now have almost 20 hours of daylight - great wildlife watching weather! With all of the Summer visitors now arrived, bird day-lists crept higher up into the 60's, with mammal day-list steady at 6-10.

Wildlife highlights included:

Most of our 'local specialities' - the species that my clients most hope to see (Osprey, Goldeneye, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Slavonian Grebe, Dipper, Red Grouse, Ring Ouzel, Crested Tit, Crossbill, Red Deer, Red Squirrel, Mountain Hare, etc) continued to show well - though Capercaillie & Black Grouse, with their 'lekking' season over, have become much more difficult to see.

A new 2009 record (so far!) mammal day-list of 10 - Rabbit, Bank Vole, Wood Mouse, Roe Deer, Red Deer, Reindeer, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare, Red Squirrel, & Mountain Goat.

Regular views of our local Ospreys fishing (& sometimes actually catching a fish!) & delivering their catch to the female & chicks at the nest - a wonderful sight!

Great views of a ring-tail (female) Hen Harrier hunting low over heather moorland, impressing us all with it's very buoyant , acrobatic flight - sadly, this is a very rare sight these days.

Super close-ups of one of Britain's rarest & most beautiful birds - Slavonian Grebe, on a lovely secluded local lochan (see pic).

A brief mid-afternoon glimpse of a beautifully marked Woodcock on a quiet track - a rare & enjoyable treat as they are normally only seen at dusk.

Fledglings! First sightings of young Goldeneyes, Red Grouse, Greylag Geese & Ospreys.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Early may 2009 saw us , generally, enjoy proper Spring weather, though it could still be frosty overnight, and we did wake up to a light dusting of fresh snow on the hills a few times - so my safari clients were advised to dress for all 4 seasons in one day!

With more Summer species arriving , we saw bird day-lists hit the 60 mark for the first time this year, whilst mammal day-lists ranged between 6&9.

Wildlife highlights included:

Regular dawn sightings of Capercaillie at RSPB Loch Garten - the males still seemed to be 'lekking' - though not as aggressively as in late April.

Good early morning views of 'lekking' Black Grouse - though they too seem to have calmed-down a little lately.

A dawn encounter with an Otter, seen fishing on the River Spey - a great way to start the day.

An unbelievably close view of a beautiful Golden Plover on our local heather moorland (see pic).

Regular mountainside encounters with Ring Ouzels - the male birds looking very dapper with their white crescent moon chest markings & silvery wings.

On our seclude local lochans we had regular sightings of Black-Throated Diver, Red-Throated Diver & Slavonian grebe, all looking superb in their striking summer plumage.

Our local female Ospreys all seem to be incubating eggs, but we sometimes got lucky & witnessed the males either plunging in to the water to catch a fish , or delivering fish to the waiting female - both sights being thoroughly enjoyed by my clients & myself.

More year ticks! - Redstart, Cuckoo & Swift were noted for the first time this year.

Walks in our local Caledonian pine forests gave us regular views of Crossbills, though Crested Tits became more difficult, as we only had the males to see as the females must be on eggs.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

April 2009 saw Springtime finally hit this part of the world, with, apart from a few frosts at the start of the month, the weather generally warmer & sunnier. With most of the Winter visitors now gone and many of the Summer visitors arriving, bird day-lists crept up into the 50's, with mammal day-lists ranging between 6-9 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

Good views of one of Britain's rarest & most impressive species, the magnificent Capercaillie at the RSPB's excellent early-morning caper-watch hide at their beautiful Loch Garten reserve (open April1-May20 5:30-8am). Seeing these huge Grouse 'lekking' with their huge tails fanned is surely a 'must-see' for any real birder.

The first 'fledglings' of the year being seen - namely Mallard chicks, closely followed by Blackbirds.

Nesting Ospreys appear to be on eggs - the female doing most of the incubating, whilst the male brings her fish, the male only incubating whilst she feeds or exercises her wings.

The Black Grouse 'lek' also peaks in mid-late April - like the Capercaillie, seeing their bizarre strutting, jumping dances accompanied by strange bubbling, whooshing calls is an amazing spectacle, and highly recommended.

Year ticks! Whether it be the first flash of a Wheatear's white rump, the first hirundines (Martins & Swallows) seen catching insects over the River Spey, or hearing the Willow Warbler's uplifting whistling song from the top of a silver birch - these are actually much more than just mere 'ticks' , they are signs that Winter is over & Spring is here!

Black-Throated Divers (see pic), Red-Throated Divers and Slavonian Grebes are now back on territory and in their splendid Summer breeding plumage - these are all very rare breeding birds in the UK and very welcome & attractive additions to our day-list.

Walks in the Caledonian forests produced frequent sighting of both Crested Tits & Scottish Crossbills, though it should be noted that knowing their calls is very important in locating them.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

March 2009 started cold & wintry, but ended mild & spring-like. March in this area is probably best described as a seasonal overlap month with many of the Winter visitors such as Redwing, Whooper Swan & Fieldfare lingering, and the end of the month seeing some of the Summer visiting species such as Red, & Black-Throated Divers , Slavonian Grebe & Osprey returning to the area to breed. With many species now beginning to sing & display, I think it's fair to say that 'Safari season' is now officially here!

Wildlife highlights included:

The first Ospreys returning to traditional nest sites after a Winter in Africa, during the last week of the month, many of them 'old friends' - identified by leg rings. These iconic birds are always very popular with my guests and a welcome addition to our day-lists.

The male Black grouse were seen to be properly 'lekking' - posturing aggressively at each other, fanning their tails, flutter jumping & 'hissing' harshly - an amazing sight!

Good views of a Peregrine Falcon perched proudly on a sentinel point on a steep cliff, it's dark 'hood & moustache' , barred front & yellow legs showing up well through the scope.

A brief sighting of a Kingfisher - a rare bird in this are - on a local loch.

Super views through the scope of a family party of Scottish Crossbills feeding high up in a conifer, the orangey-red males looking particularly impressive (see pic).

A new mammal day-list record for 2009 (so far!) of 9: Red Deer, Roe Deer, Sika Deer, Reindeer, Red Squirrel, Rabbit, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare, Mountain Goat.

Monday, March 02, 2009

February 2009, can probably best be described as (to use an old football cliche) a month of two halves - the first half being very cold, with temperatures down as low as -18c, and lots of snow turning the area into a true winter wonderland - whilst the second half was unseasonably mild, with temperatures into low double-figures and a real spring-like feel about it.

Wildlife highlights included:

Bramblings, Yellowhammers, Waxwings & Redpolls were all seen in or around my garden during the coldest weather, taking advantage of the food & water on offer when natural food was hard to come by.

A fantastic close encounter with a flock of Waxwings in a fellow birder's garden (thanks Peter!) - with our kind host allowing us access to within a few feet of the birds - a marvellous experience (see pic).

A trip North to the Moray coast to escape the snow provided a good selection of waders, wildfowl, water birds & sea ducks including Knot, Long-Tailed Duck, Scaup, & Common Scoter.

The local feral Mountain Goats were seen to have (very cute) white, new-born youngsters.

Good views of a Merlin hunting Buntings & Finches over some local farmland - the speed & agility of these small raptors has to be seen to be believed!

Several species of birds were noted carrying nesting material, including Dippers & Ravens.

Red Grouse males are reaching peak condition, & are quite easy to see (& hear ) as they display from high points amongst the heather on the moors.

Wader numbers were seen to increase along the Spey valley flood plain, including Oystercatchers, Curlews & Lapwings.

Skylarks were heard singing properly for the first time for many months.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Happy New Year to all our readers! May you have a wildlife-tastic 2009!

January 2009 started very cold up here with plenty of snow & temperatures down to -11c but got less cold as the month went on, and finished with an unseasonably mild spell, and the days began to grow noticeably longer.

Wildlife highlights included:

Good views of Red Grouse on the moorland - the males already becoming very vocal, their guttural 'go-bak, go-bak' calls livening up the otherwise near-silent moors. (see pic)

Super views of a juvenile Golden Eagle hunting low over heather moorland just before dusk, presumably on the look-out for a Red Grouse or a Mountain Hare, it's white tail-base & wing patches showed up well in the low light as it changed direction.

A dawn encounter with a Stoat in it's beautiful pure white winter coat on the banks of the River Spey. It appeared to be manically searching bankside holes for small mammals.

Good, close up views of Red Deer in a beautiful Highland glen - Winter often gives us our best views of these impressive animals as they get driven down off the hills by bad weather.

Waxwings - several small flocks of these gorgeous winter visitors lingered in our area, with 3 seen just outside my garden on the 24th.

Early signs of Winter's end & Spring's arrival were also evident:

Blackbirds & Thrushes began to join the Robins in a (very weak) dawn chorus.

The first Lapwings were seen alongside the River Spey.

Common Buzzards were seen to be displaying.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

December started & ended cold with a brief mild spell in the middle of the month with less snow than last month, and sadly, very little over the Christmas period. Though the days are now at their shortest, there is still plenty to see.

Wildlife highlights included:

A brief glimpse of a Stoat chasing Rabbits on a roadside verge, looking splendid in its pure white winter coat with just the tip of the tail remaining dark.

Another animal that changes colour to white in winter is the Mountain hare, and these are quite easy to find on the hills - as long as there is not too much snow!

Snow Buntings were seen on a few occasions near the Cairngorms Ski centre car park, they appear to be driven down from the mountain tops by bad weather & heavy snowfall (see pic).

Ravens were seen to be displaying - wheeling around acrobatically whilst uttering their coarse "gronk-gronk" calls

Woodcocks were seen on a few occasions, usually over woodlands at dusk.

Waxwings were still in the area, often being seen around local villages, usually feeding on berry bushes.

The number of male Black grouse at traditional lek sites was seen to increase, with up to 5 seen at a time - numbers should continue to grow as the lekking season approaches.

One sad thing to report: One of the River Spey Otters was unfortunately found dead, killed whilst attempting to cross a road near the river. With no real predators, this is the biggest cause of premature death to the UK's Otters.