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 31, 2010

Merry Christmas & a happy & wildlife-filled new year to you all. December 2010 was cold & snowy throughout, with a slight thaw at the end of the month at last allowing access to some of the more remote wildlife-watching areas. Bird day-lists remained in the 40's, with mammal day-lists ranging between 5 & 9 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

Most of our 'local specialities' - Dipper, Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Crested Tit, Crossbill, Golden Eagle, Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Mountain Hare, Mountain Goat etc, continued to show well, when the weather permitted.

The very cold weather tempted many 'garden rarities' such as Brambling, Yellowhammer & Bullfinch, as well as huge numbers of more common birds, into 'bird-lovers' well-stocked gardens - & accordingly, Sparrowhawks too, were seen much more frequently!

Crested Tits were seen regularly coming to feeders in areas near forests.

Snow Buntings were seen on a few occasions in & around the Cairngorms Ski Area car park.

Wildfowl & seaduck numbers continued to increase round our coastline.

Inland, rarities in our area included a Great Grey Shrike & a Bittern, both around Insh Marshes & both good 'ticks' for this area.

Coastally, rarities in our area included a King Eider & Glaucous & Iceland Gulls, all seen in the Moray area.

A trip down to the South coast of England gave me sightings of bird species never, or rarely seen this far North, such as Green Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Jay, Magpie & Ring-Necked Parakeet!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November 2010 started cold, wet & windy &..... deteriorated from there really!, ending with massive snowfalls & temperatures well below zero, which made access to remote areas very difficult. With all the winter visitor birds now here, bird day lists remained at 30-40, with mammal day lists steady at 4-8.

Wildlife highlights included:

Most of the 'local speciality' species (Black grouse, Red Grouse, Dipper, Crested Tit, Crossbill, Goldeneye, Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Mountain Hare, Mountain Goat etc) continued to show regularly - weather permitting!

Good views of Whooper Swans on large local lochs, their mainly yellow bills & much straighter necks making i.d easy.

Close-up sightings (& good photo opportunities for a change!) of Crested Tits coming to bird feeders near suitable forest habitat.

Several decent views of Crossbills in local forests, including a rare opportunity to view one group through the scope for over 10 minutes.

Regular sightings of Golden Eagle in secluded upland glens - this is one species that is actually easier to see in Winter, as they only have a limited number of daylight hours & thermals in which to hunt.

Woodcocks. These normally very elusive crepuscular birds were spotted probing in the leaf litter at dawn & dusk on forest tracks on several occasions.

Black Grouse numbers increased further, with up to 4 males being seen at or near 'lek' sites on local moorlands.

Stoats were spotted eating roadkill on several occasions, their coats now almost totally white except for the black tail tip.

Also now almost totally white are the Mountain Hares, they were very conspicuous & easy to see on the snowless hills, until the snow came, now they are almost invisible! (see pic. courtesy of Greg Morgan)

A first sighting, in this area for me, of a Jay - they, along with Magpies & Nuthatches are very rarely, if ever, seen this far north.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

October 2010 was changeable weather-wise, starting unseasonably mild with temperatures into double figures, with a few frosts & bit of hill snow mid-month, but ending wet & windy. Autumn is possibly one of the most scenic times of year in this area , with the woods ablaze with beautiful coppers, golds, reds & yellows. Incoming winter birds boosted bird day-list up into the 40's, with mammal day-lists still steady at 5-9 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

The Red Deer rut is always an October highlight, with these magnificent 'monarchs of the glen' guarding their 'harems' of hinds, with much roaring & strutting & occasional actual brutal antler to antler contact - awesome stuff - a 'must-see' of British wildlife!

Winter thrushes flooded into our area from further north, first the Redwings, their 'seep-seep' calls overhead betraying their presence, followed soon after by the larger Fieldfares. Not surprisingly, local berry crops were soon depleted!

Waxwings! The end of the month saw a huge influx of these beautiful berry-chomping 'viking invaders' a bird guaranteed to put a smile on your face, with their amazing colour scheme & confiding nature! (see pic)

Other winter visitors noted were good sized flocks of yellow-billed Whooper Swans on local lochs & the first Bramblings on farmland.

Otters were seen on several occasions on local loch & rivers, usually, and most typically, at dawn, though one obviously hadn't read the rule book, and showed well at midday!

Crested Tits began to visit bird feeders at venues near to forests, making it much easier to see them than wandering round a wood searching for them in roving tit flocks!

Golden eagle sightings became more frequent, as the birds now have less available hours of hunting time, with the first dry day after a couple of rainy days being particularly good.

Other 'local specialities' such as Dipper, Black Grouse & Red Grouse were seen regularly, though Capercaillie proved more elusive.

Friday, October 01, 2010

September 2010 started with a warm, summery feel with us continuing to enjoy seeing some of the remaining summer birds, but soon became autumnal, and ended with a taste of winter, with a few frosts and even a little snow on the higher tops as the first winter birds arrived.

Bird 'day-lists' dropped down into the 40's, but mammal 'day-lists' remained steady at 6-9.

Wildlife highlights included:

Early Sept gave us our last sightings of local speciality summer visitors such as Osprey, Black-Throated Diver & Red-Throated Diver, and we also got to see a Hobby - a rare bird this far north - hawking dragonflies, and a number of Lapland Buntings were noted in coastal areas.

Another rarity noted early in the month was a frustratingly short visit by a Black stork - seen by only a few, and sadly, not by myself!

September was one of our best months for Golden Eagle sightings, most birds were juveniles, presumably actively searching for their own territories after being driven away by their parents.

Our resident 'local specialities' such as Dipper, Crested Tit, Crossbill, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Goldeneye etc continued to show well & delight my safari clients.

Later in the month, early winter visitors in the form of Greylag Geese & Whooper Swans were spotted in the area.

The Red Deer became noticeably more aggressive as the month progressed, with many of the stags 'roaring' & sharpening their antlers on trees & rocks in preparation for the forthcoming rut.

As mid-September is one of the quieter times safari-wise , I took the opportunity to have a trip down to the south of England to see my relatives & friends, and top up my 'year-tick' list with a few' southern specialities' such as Bearded Tit, Woodlark, Yellow Wagtail etc.

Monday, August 30, 2010

August 2010 was a changeable month, with a few sunny, summery days in between the showers, but a noticeably cool autumnal feel towards the end, and with the days shortening, we are definitely approaching the change of season. With many of the summer migrant birds departing, bird day-lists dropped down into the 50's or even 40's, but mammal day-list remained steady at 6-9, and with the heather at it's beautiful purple best & the Rowan trees laden with bright red berries, the countryside is at it's scenic best

Wildlife highlights included:

Our local Osprey youngsters, now almost fully grown, were left to fend for themselves as , first their mothers, and then soon after, their fathers departed for Africa. I was lucky enough, whilst fishing one morning, to see 3 youngsters fishing together under the watchful eye of a parent bird - great stuff!

Our 'local specialities' - Osprey, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Crested Tit, Crossbill, Black-Throated Diver, Red-Throated Diver (see pic), Red deer, Red Squirrel, Mountain Hare, Mountain Goat etc, continued to show well, and helped many of my clients to add sought-after 'ticks' to their 'wish-lists'.

The mixed 'winter' flocks in the forest grew noticeably larger, with some including over 100 birds of 7 or more species - finding the 'Cresties' amongst the crowd requiring a certain amount of fieldcraft!

Large groups of up to 20 Goosanders were noted on local lochs & rivers - but only females & juveniles - where do all the males go?.....

A few reports of Hobbies hunting dragonflies over quiet local lochs, it's always a treat to see this dashing swift-like raptor, especially when it's such a rare bird this far north.

Friday, July 30, 2010

July 2010 was a very changeable month, weather-wise, with just about every combination of sun, rain, cloud & wind that you could imagine, though with the days still long, it's still a great month for wildlife watching. Bird day-lists topped 60+ species at the start of the month, though they dropped a little at the end as some of our wader species began to depart the area. Mammal day-lists remained strong at 6-9 species depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

Osprey action! July is 'Osprey month' (see pic) in my opinion, with the early part of the month seeing the adult birds working frantically to feed the ever-growing youngsters as often as possible, making it the best month for seeing the amazing spectacle of Ospreys fishing and delivering fish to the nest. With the added bonus later in the month, of seeing the youngsters perched on the edge of the nest flapping their wings furiously, and then ultimately fledging, making their first ever flights... great stuff!

Another dawn close-encounter with a female Capercaillie, on a forest track, with her happily taking grit quite unperturbed by us sitting quietly close by in my safari vehicle - a great start to the day - making the early start worthwhile.

Our closest ever views - down to 4ft away! - of a family of Crested Tits feeding at our eye level for a good 10 minutes, giving my safari clients the rare opportunity of getting some close-up photos.

Butterflies! July is our best month for butterfly spotting, with all the common species showing well, and our local speciality species such as Mountain Argus being spotted for the first time this year.

The first sunny day after a couple of rainy days giving us the rare & very enjoyable sight of 5 different species of raptor ( Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Peregrine & Red Kite) all seen from the same spot in a beautiful upland glen in a 20 minute spell - magic!

Most of the 'local speciality' bird species (Dipper, Red & Black-Throated Divers, Slavonian Grebe, Red Grouse, Osprey, Crested Tit, Crossbill etc, all with well-grown young, continued to show well & delight my clients, with the occasional sighting of Capercaillie, Black grouse & Golden Eagle sometimes putting the icing on the cake!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

June 2010 was mainly a warm, dry month - great weather for safaris, and with the days at their longest there was nearly 24 hours available for wildlife watching, for those with the stamina to attempt it! We usually get our biggest bird day-lists in June, with 60+ species a day not uncommon, and with mammal day-lists steady at 6-10 species a day, depending on our luck, my clients invariably went home very happy with what they had seen.

Wildlife highlights included:

Most of our local specialities (Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Osprey, Ring Ouzel, Red Grouse, Goldeneye, Dipper, Crossbill, Crested Tit, Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Mountain Goat, Mountain Hare etc etc) continued to show well, with occasional sightings of other sought after species such as Capercaillie, Black Grouse & Golden Eagle.

Our local Ospreys continued to delight us , with regular sightings of them fishing, delivering fish, & feeding the rapidly growing youngsters.

An incredibly close - less than 6ft away!! - dawn view of a pair of Woodcock in a local forest, giving us a rare chance to admire their incredibly intricate, cryptic plumage.

The fantastic, and very rare!, sight of 3 Golden Eagles in the air together, hunting in a beautiful local upland glen.

The (even rarer!) treat of a dawn sighting of Britain's rarest & difficult to see mammal, the Scottish Wildcat - my first sighting for over 2 years!

The end of the month saw me take a small party to one of my favourite wildlife-watching locations in the whole UK - Mull. An epic 16 hour day saw us on the island by 8am, and by the end of the day, we had enjoyed super views of Otters fishing, Golden Eagles & White-Tailed Sea-Eagles, Red- Throated Divers & many other various sea-birds - a tiring, but very enjoyable day!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

May 2010 saw us, at last, enjoy some decent wildlife-watching weather, with , apart from a few morning frosts, the weather remaining dry & warm throughout the month. The last 'missing' summer visitor birds - Swifts, Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat etc.. finally arrived in our area, and this boosted our bird day-lists up towards 60, whilst mammal day-lists remained strong, with a new 2010 day record of 10 different species being recorded.

Wildlife highlights included:

Regular sightings, in the early part of the month, of Capercaillie at RSPB Loch Garten, with the odd 'random' sighting in suitable habitat.

The local Black Grouse continued to 'lek' at dawn, though activity began to tail-off towards the end of the month.

Fledglings! Many species were seen with young, notably Red Grouse, Goldeneye, Osprey, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Curlew & Crested Tit as well as many more common species.

Our local Ospreys continued to delight us, with us frequently witnessing the males plunging into the water to catch fish, eating the head, and then delivering them to the females - great stuff!

Most of our 'local speciality' birds - Slavonian Grebe (see pic) , Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Osprey, Crossbills, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Goldeneye, Ring Ouzel, Dipper etc continued to show well, with occasional sightings of Golden Eagle & Crested Tit , and just a couple of views of Red Kite & Kingfisher.

A short (& very off-course!) visit to our area by a Hoopoe!! This exotic 'vagrant' was seen by just a handful of people, but sadly, not by me!

A trip to Chanonry Point on the Moray Firth gave us great, close-up views of Dolphins, including a mother with a very small youngster - well worth a visit!

Another 'out of area' day trip up North West to the Scottish Wildlife Trust's beautiful Handa Island reserve, gave us a chance to see some wonderful seabird colonies nesting on the island's cliffs - Razorbills, Guillemots, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, and, everbody's favourite - Puffins! and on the moors, Arctic & Great Skuas, Red Grouse Wheatears & much more, with a bonus sighting of an Otter fishing! Highly recommended.

Friday, April 30, 2010

April 2010 started with another massive dump of snow, which fortunately didn't stick around too long as more spring-like weather gradually took hold, though we had plenty of days where the weather could certainly be described as 'changeable'! The lingering wintry conditions certainly held back the usual influx of spring migrant birds, and the winter visitor birds lingered longer than usual. Bird day lists increased up into the 50's, and mammal lists remained steady at 5-9 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

Year ticks! Spring migrant birds seen for the first time this year included Common Sandpiper, Willow Warbler, Sand Martin, House Martin, Swallow and Tree Pipit.

Good dawn views of an Otter on the River Spey - a 'first' for one of my safari guests - and a great start to the day!

Regular decent views of Capercaillie, one of Britain's rarest & most sought-after birds, at the RSPB's excellent early-morning Caper-watch initiative at their beautiful Loch Garten reserve - and a bonus (& unexpected!) late afternoon close-encounter with a female on a nearby forest track (see pic).

The Black Grouse continued to entertain , as the 'leks' hit their peak activity mid-late month.

Our local Ospreys appear to be on eggs already - the females now only leaving the nest briefly to exercise, whilst the males now do all of the fishing.

Forest walks provided us with regular sightings of Crossbills (all 3 species) & occasional sightings of Crested Tits - though it is important to know their calls, as an aid to location amongst the ever increasing volume of 'general' bird song.

Local lochs gave us good views of some of our rarest & most beautiful water birds - namely Black-Throated Diver, Red-Throated Diver & Slavonian Grebe - all now in their superb summer plumage.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March 2010 started with heavy snow and low temperatures, had a very welcome mild, almost spring-like middle, then hit us with a 'sting in the tail' ending, with more heavy snow, just to remind us that winter was not quite over yet! March is definitely a 'crossover' month bird-wise up here, with most of our winter visitors like Geese, Whooper Swans and wildfowl still lingering, whilst the end of the month saw our first 'spring/summer' species return to their breeding grounds in this area. Bird day-lists increased slightly into the 40's and mammal day-lists remained steady between 5&8.

Wildlife highlights included:

Birdsong! After a long, hard winter, it's great to hear a 'dawn chorus' again.

The wintry weather continued to attract 'garden rarities' into my garden - including a new 'garden-tick' in the form of a Skylark.

Good views of Snow Buntings around the Cairngorm Mountain car park - despite the thousands of snowsports enthusiasts all around us!

Common Buzzards were seen to be displaying over local woodlands, making their characteristic 'peeww' calls whilst they did so.

Greater Spotted Woodpeckers were heard 'drumming' loudly on tree trunks.

The male Black Grouse began to properly 'lek' - strutting and jumping aggressively at each other whilst uttering their loud 'hissing' calls (see pic).

First sightings of the year in this area of Slavonian Grebe, Osprey, Red- Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Grey Wagtail, Lapwing and Oystercatcher among others.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

February 2010 started mild-ish (compared to January!), with the snow starting to disappear, and I was at last able to get to some of my favourite , remote, wild places. However, it was a bit of a false dawn, as the month ended with more heavy snowfall & sub zero temperatures which , again, caused problems getting around, though the lengthening days were very welcome.

Wildlife highlights included:

A dawn encounter with an Otter on the Spey, an enjoyable & memorable experience, which made the early start worthwhile!

Several after - dark sightings of the elusive & very sought - after Pine Marten at a local baited site, though their arrival time was very variable, sometimes within 15 minutes of arriving, at other times after 2 hours+ of waiting, with the occasional 'no-show', just to keep me on my toes!

Decent views of up to 7 male Black grouse at a local 'lek' site, their behaviour becoming noticeably more aggressive (& noisier!) towards each other, as the breeding season draws nearer.

Similarly, the Red Grouse on local moorland have begun to display, the bright red 'eyebrows' of the males now showing well, as they utter their guttural, cackling calls from a prominent perch in the heather.

Snow Buntings were seen regularly at favourite spots in the Cairngorm Mountains, though sightings were very subject to disturbance by the thousands of snowsports enthusiasts on the nearby slopes.

Also on the snowy local mountains, we managed a few sightings of beautiful winter-white Ptarmigan, with a stealthy approach allowing some good close-up views.

Mountain Hares also featured on hill-walks, with their cute, fluffy appearance not diminishing our respect for them as they 'tough it out' in the Arctic conditions - these guys are very hardy! (see pic - courtesy of Greg Morgan)

The first Waxwings of the year were seen in the area, beautiful visitors from colder climes further North, though not yet in the large numbers of recent winters.

Dippers were seen to be displaying on local rivers, their comical bobbing, wing-waggling dances were very entertaining, and their song is about the only one to be heard at this time of year.

Redpoll was added to my 2010 'garden-list' as several uncommon (in gardens) species, joined the dozens of more common birds in taking advantage of the food & water I provide for them.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A happy new year to all our readers - wishing you a wildlife filled 2010!

January 2010 will probably be remembered more for the extreme weather we experienced than for the wildlife sightings. We had our coldest & snowiest January since records began, with the snow measured in feet rather than inches, and temperatures seemingly permanently below zero, this made getting to remote areas for wildlife watching almost impossible, so most watching was done from roadside verges, though we did get a gradual thaw towards the end of the month.

Wildlife highlights included:

Several sightings of pure white Stoats chasing rabbits, and some being spotted eating roadkill.

More 'countryside' birds being seen in my garden, with Pheasant being added to to the list of other garden rarities such as Brambling, Yellowhammer and Bullfinch.

Dippers were heard to be singing from exposed rocks along the River Spey, they are about the only species that make the effort at this time of year.

Huge flocks of mixed Buntings & Finches were noted on farmland, taking advantage of extra food put out for cattle.

Several after-dark sightings of Pine Marten from a baited site, always a treat, as it is one of Britain's rarest and hardest to see mammals.

The Moray coast played host to a number of rare species throughout the month, namely, Little Bunting, King Eider, Smew, & Iceland & Glaucous Gulls.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

December 2009 started cold , then got colder still!, with temperatures as low as -16c and lots of snow at the end of the month - great for snowsports enthusiasts & very picturesque - but not great for getting around! The days are very short up here in December, with barely 7 hours of daylight. There is however, still plenty of wildlife to see, for those hardy enough to venture out. Bird day- lists remain in the 30's, and mammal list were steady at 5-9 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

One 'plus' of the severe winter weather is that, as natural food becomes scarce, it tends to drive less common bird species into the gardens of those who put food (& water) out for them - so far I have had visits from 'garden rarities' such as Yellowhammers, Bullfinches, Redwings, Fieldfares & Bramblings (see pic). Numbers of more common garden visitors are also greatly increased and I think that it is really important for as many of us as possible to help our garden birds during the winter.

Local speciality bird species such as Dipper, Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Crested Tit, Red Deer , Red Squirrel, Mountain Hare etc continued to show well.

Winter wildfowl such as Whooper Swans, Greylag Geese, Teal, Wigeon etc showed well on local lochs & rivers early in the month, but the 'big freeze' at the end of the month saw them become harder to find.

Large mixed flocks of assorted finches & buntings were noted feeding in fields, taking advantage of the food put out for cattle and game birds.

Raptor sighting are easier and more numerous at this time of year, probably because they only have a limited amount of time for daylight hunting, especially when compared to mid-summer, when they have 20+ hours of opportunity.

A very close encounter with a marauding Sparrowhawk, which tried to catch a Chaffinch off my birdfeeding table whilst I was filling up a nearby feeder.