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, November 30, 2012

November 2012 was a generally cold month with regular frosts and light snowfall on the mountain tops and an occasional light dusting at lower levels, with, thankfully, no extreme weather meaning that all of my favourite remote safari sites remained accessible. The days are now shorter than the nights, but with more winter-visiting birds arriving throughout the month, and most of our 'local speciality' species still showing well, bird day lists were usually around the 40 mark, with mammal day-lists steady at 6-9 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

Spawning Salmon. It was amazing to see these beautifully marked and often very large fish battling their way up through incredibly fast, shallow water to breed at the very spot that they themselves were spawned several years previously. They were so pre-occupied with the urge to reproduce that they seemed totally unaware of our presence, allowing us to get some superb photos and video. (thanks for the pic Garry! )

A White - Tailed Eagle was seen on several occasions in an upland glen , often near the river where we were viewing the spawning Salmon - not a coincidence methinks! Sightings of these huge raptors with their 8 foot wingspan are quite rare inland and as well as impressing myself and my safari clients, this 'flying barn door' attracted some aggressive responses from the 'local' raptors, with us witnessing it being harassed by everything from Kestrel up to Golden Eagle - super stuff! (see pic courtesy of Nigel Wedge)

Raptors in general were seen very well and  regularly this month , with one of my safari parties viewing 7 different species (Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Buzzard, Red Kite, Golden Eagle, White-Tailed Eagle)  in 1 hour in one memorable visit to a favourite site - cracking entertainment!

The Red Deer rut continued on into early November, though the roaring & chasing around was noticeably less aggressive than in  October, and was pretty much all over by around the 10th of the month, with territorial and mating rights seemingly all sorted by then...

Crested Tits became much less difficult to see than normal, with my Caledonian forest  feeding areas producing some superb close-up views and photo opportunities of these very rare 'local specialities' - though we sometimes had to be patient as they were hugely outnumbered by the much more common (and incredibly tame!)  Coal Tits (see pic courtesy of Nigel Wedge)

Black Grouse  were seen regularly at suitable sites at dawn, with up to 4 cock birds showing well and even occasionally displaying.

Waxwings flooded into our area early in the month, with flocks of up to a hundred of these beautiful   'viking invaders' adding a splash of colour to the wintry backdrop as they pillaged the berries from our trees and bushes, their confiding nature often  allowing decent photo opportunities (see pic)

Dippers were seen at both river and loch sites engaging in territorial disputes, with much chasing and sometimes actual fighting being witnessed, with  their pre-occupied behaviour allowing closer than normal views and photo opportunities (see pic courtesy of Nigel Wedge)

Winter visiting birds increased in number, with us getting good views of Whooper Swans, Greylag Geese, Redwings and Fieldfares in good numbers.

Other 'local speciality' birds seen regularly included Red Grouse and Crossbills, and the occasional Snow Bunting was seen around the Cairngorms Ski Centre.

Mammals were well represented, with 'local specialities' such as Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Mountain Goat and Mountain Hare all being sighted regularly, with one brief glimpse of an Otter at dawn on a local loch.

To sum up - November is rapidly becoming one of my favourite safari months, and is also proving popular with my wildlife photographer clients, as many iconic species are easiest to see and photograph at this time , and the low sun and cold air produce the opportunity for sharper and more interesting pictures, whilst the weather is usually not too wild and wintry to cope with.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

October 2012 was a generally dry month, though it was noticeably colder than September, and with several frosts and regular snow showers turning the hilltops white, it is fair to say that winter has now hit the Highlands. Though the days are shortening , there is still plenty to see, with the hills and forests a blaze of beautiful autumnal colours, the  Red Deer rut in full swing and winter visiting birds flooding in from further north. Bird day-lists crept up into the high 30's or low 40's, and mammal day-lists ranged between 5 and 9 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

The Red Deer rut is surely the highlight of every October in upland areas - with the magnificent fully-antlered Stags battling for domination over their rivals for the right to mate with the hinds as they come into season, with much roaring , chasing and often actual clashing surely making it one of British wildlife's must-see spectacles! (see pic)

Incoming winter-visiting birds: First the Redwings signalling their arrival with their thin 'seep-seep' calls overhead, then the Whooper Swans appeared on local lochs with much loud 'trumpeting', then the Fieldfares , with their harsh 'chack chack chacks', and many 'grey' Geese of several species.

Towards the end of the month some rarer winter visiting birds in the form of a Great Grey Shrike and a few small flocks of Waxwings were also reported in our area.

Golden Eagles were seen regularly in upland glens, and with shorter days allowing less hunting time, we actually have more and better sightings of these huge, magnificent raptors in winter than in summer, with dry days after a rainy spell particularly reliable.

Crested Tits began to come more regularly to forest feeding stations, making decent sightings a lot easier than trying to pick them out in amongst  the fast-moving mixed species flocks in the forests!

Salmon were spotted making their way up our local rivers towards the spawning grounds in the shallower upper reaches, with the odd flash of a dorsal or tail fin and occasional splash betraying their presence.

Black Grouse were seen at dawn, with up to 4 cock birds being seen, and occasionally even displaying!

Other 'local speciality' bird  species seen  regularly included Red Grouse, Dipper, Goldeneye and the occasional Crossbill.

Many mammal species were seen throughout the month, including 'local specialities' such as Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Reindeer,  Mountain Goat and Mountain Hare along with Rabbit, Brown Hare, Stoat, and Bank Vole.

Monday, October 01, 2012

September 2012 started unseasonably cold, with overnight frosts and even a light dusting of snow on the higher tops, but soon turned milder, and the rest of the month was again quite changeable. The days are getting noticeably shorter now, and the mornings and evenings cooler, and we are undoubtedly into Autumn. A few summer migrant birds lingered in the area until late in the month, but the vast majority had headed South by mid-month. With the Winter visiting birds yet to arrive, our bird day-lists are probably at their lowest in late September at around the 30's, though mammal day-lists remained strong at 6-9 depending on our luck. I took advantage of this slight lull in activity to take a trip South to visit my relatives and friends in South-East England, so my report may be a little shorter than usual.

Wildlife highlights included:

Regular dawn sightings of Capercaillie taking grit from secluded forest tracks, though a stealthy approach is required, as they seem to spook very easily.

Up to 4 male Black Grouse were seen at dawn at a  traditional upland 'lek' site on colder mornings, though they never lingered for more than an hour after first light.

Good views of a female  Hen Harrier hunting  over a managed Red Grouse moor - an enjoyable, but sadly very rare sight........

Crested Tits were seen regularly as part of mixed winter flocks in our local Caledonian forest, and we were also fortunate enough to see a couple coming to feeders at several favoured sites.

Golden Eagles were sighted regularly in suitable upland habitat, especially on the first sunnier day after a couple of rainy ones.

Red Grouse were seen reasonably frequently on the moors, though they are noticeably more wary of Humans since the 'shooting season' started.....

Dippers on our local rivers were seen to be getting very territorial, with much chasing and fighting occurring, especially at first light.

Red Deer stags started to show some preparations for the upcoming 'rut' with a few of the larger animals seen sharpening their antlers and pawing at the ground, and some 'roaring' aggressively.

Our local speciality mammals showed well throughout the month, with regular sightings of Red Deer, Red Squirrels, Mountain Goats and Mountain Hare.

Incoming wildfowl were also noted as the month wore on , with Wigeon & Teal being seen on local lochs.

My trip down south gave me the opportunity to see some species not found this far north - such as Dartford Warbler, Woodlark and Marsh Tit amongst others....

Saturday, September 01, 2012

August 2012 started a bit changeable weather-wise but mid month we enjoyed some proper summer weather with a week of warm, sunny days (at last!), though by the end of the month there was a distinctly autumnal feel to the air, with temperatures dropping and the days becoming noticeably shorter.  With the heather now at it's vibrant , purple best and with the Rowan berries now bright red, the area is arguably at it's scenic best. With many of the summer visiting birds departing the area for warmer climes, bird species day-lists dropped down into the 40's or even 30's towards the end of the month, though mammal lists remained steady at 6-9.

Wildlife highlights included:

Ospreys plunge-diving for fish! Although the majority of adult birds depart for Africa by mid-month, we were still lucky enough to witness  juvenile birds  showing us this magnificent wildlife spectacle right up to the very end of the month.

Incredible views of a Golden Eagle chasing a herd of over 100 Red Deer Hinds along a steep ridge before (unsuccessfully) attempting to pursue it's selected victim into tumbling to it's death  - seeing the terrified Deer rear up to try and fend off the attacker, which had it's wings spread wide and talons outstretched, was a superb wildlife moment thoroughly enjoyed by myself and my lucky safari clients!

Decent views of our 'mountain' species - Ptarmigan in good numbers  and a few  Snow Bunting could be found reasonably easily up on the high tops (when the weather was decent enough!) , though the Dotterel appeared to have gone by early August...

One (and sometimes two) Hobbies were spotted hawking for dragonflies over one of our local lochans on a number of occasions, their dashing flight and long, pointed backswept wings giving them the appearance of giant Swifts, and causing panic amongst the remaining Hirundines - magic! - and a rare bird this far north!

Dawn trips to suitable forest and moorland areas produced a few 'bonus' sightings of Capercaillie and Black Grouse for my delighted safari clients , though it should be noted that these species are generally pretty difficult to see in late summer...

Purple poo! The late summer Blaeberry bonanza is taken advantage of by many birds and animals, and walks along quiet forest tracks gave us sightings of colourful droppings produced by Roe Deer, Red Squirrel, Capercaillie and Pine Marten among others.

Local speciality bird species seen included Slavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver (up to mid month only), with Osprey, Crested Tit , Crossbill, Red Grouse  and Golden Eagle seen fairly regularly throughout the month, though sightings of Capercaillie and Black Grouse were less frequent and usually at dawn only.

Our local speciality mammals proved pretty reliable, with regular good views of Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Reindeer and  Mountain Goat, though the Mountain Hares were less easy to find.... add these  to the more common species such as Rabbit, Brown hare and Roe Deer (see pic), with the occasional sighting of Stoats, Weasels, Bank Voles etc and it was not uncommon for our mammal 'day-list' to be approaching double-figures.

August is a big month for wader migration, and small flocks of various species were often heard (especially at night) and sometimes seen overhead, including one group of 4 Greenshanks over a local loch.

Mixed 'winter' flocks of various Tits, Finches, Goldcrests and Treecreepers were noticed to be growing as the month progressed, though picking out the much sought - after Crested Tits required a certain amount of fieldcraft and a lot of patience!

The Moray Firth Dolphins continued to delight - with the 'hot spot' at Chanonry Point on the Black Isle providing reliably regular sightings, sometimes distant, but occasionally amazingly close! - though only at certain states of the tide....

So, although August is often considered to be a bit of a 'quiet' month for wildlife-watching by some - I think that is far from the case, in this area at least!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

July 2012 was, in tune with the rest of the UK, yet another very unsettled month weather-wise. However, with the days still long and with plenty of wildlife to see, this area is still well worth a visit.
Just about every locally breeding bird species has well grown young by now , and along with our regular mammals, we now have our best chance of also seeing a good selection of Butterflies.
Bird species day-lists dropped a little, into the 50's as our wader species left the area for their Autumn coastal territories, whilst mammal day-lists varied between 6 and 9 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

A very rare,  and  very welcome, dawn (daylight!)  sighting of a normally very nocturnal Pine Marten on the edge of a local forest - and to make sure we were certain of what we had seen, it actually showed itself a second time a few minutes later - great stuff!

Dawn in a local Caledonian Forest also gave us super, if brief,  views of a female Capercaillie with 2 chicks - great to see, and very encouraging to see evidence of breeding success for what is one of our rarest and most threatened species.

Our local Ospreys continued to entertain us, with most nests now having hungry young able to fly and learning  to fish, July is one of the best months to witness the 'must-see' spectacle of Osprey 'plunge-diving' for fish on our local lochs and rivers, before carrying off their prize like a torpedo (see pic courtesy of Malcolm Fincham)

Local speciality species seen well this month included Dipper, Slavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Osprey, Crested Tit, Crossbill, Red Grouse,  Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Mountain Goat, Mountain Hare, with the occasional Golden Eagle sighting, though Black Grouse were very elusive.

July is the last month to offer a good chance of seeing the 'mountain bird' species, and a walk up to the quieter areas around the summits gave good views of Ptarmigan , Dotterel and a solitary Snow Bunting - though suitable days weather-wise were very few and far between....

The Moray Firth Dolphins are a fantastic wildlife spectacle, and a visit , on a rising tide, to Chanonry Point on the Black Isle gave us super views of these charismatic creatures feeding at quite close range, putting a smile on the faces of the watching crowds.

Our local Roe Deer were noted to be rutting this month, with much 'barking' from the Bucks as they chased the Does around, especially at first light.

Stoats were spotted on a number of occasions, often chasing young rabbits, and occasionally feeding on road-kill.

Butterflies are at their most abundant at this time, and most of the common species were seen, with a few sightings of our local speciality - the Scotch Argus (see pic)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

June 2012 was another very changeable month weather-wise, with just about every type of weather (except for snow, thankfully!) experienced at some stage - sadly, not ideal for birds trying to feed newly hatched or recently fledged young.......though on a more positive note, with the days at their longest now,this far north there is almost 24 hours a day wildlife-watching available to those with the stamina to enjoy it! Bird day-lists are at their highest now , with mid-high 60's not uncommon, with mammal lists steady at 6-9.....It should be noted though, that to see the 'dawn' species now requires an extremely early start, and the nocturnal species (such as Pine Marten) become very tricky!

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality species frequently  seen well this month included Dipper, Osprey, Ring Ouzel, Slavonian Grebe, Red Grouse, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Crossbill, and, unusually for June, Capercaillie & Black Grouse....

In fact,  Capercaillie & Black Grouse were still noted to be in 'lekking' mode - the first time I can recall it extending well into June, presumably, the fact that the weather felt more like it would in April/May was the reason...but, whatever the reason, they were a worthy reward for our early starts!

Red Grouse, mostly in large family parties,  were seen regularly, though they are much quieter and less obvious now, as  they creep stealthily through the deep heather...

Crested Tits finally became easier to see, with many family groups being spotted in our local Caledonian Forests. Learning to recognise  their distinctive chuckling trills being by far the best way of locating them...

Ospreys were frequently seen fishing, plunge-diving  into local lochs, and with most of the parents having hungry young to feed, and 8 or more fish per day being needed, mid-summer is the best time to witness this amazing spectacle!

Crossbills were seen frequently, and on several occasions we actually had prolonged views of them through the scope feeding on Pine cones  - instead of the usual brief  fly-over -  not a frequent occurrence - as any safari guide will tell you!

Ring Ouzels were seen collecting beakfuls of insects and worms in suitable upland habitat,  before flying into the thick undergrowth  - I suspect we may see youngsters soon....

Cuckoos were again seen (and heard calling)  frequently, including one female seen emerging from a Meadow Pipit nest at very close range!

Mountain-top birds: June is probably our best month for seeing  Ptarmigan and Dotterel (and the less reliable  Snow Bunting ), and so it proved, with decent views being achieved, though it should be stressed that this inhospitable and potentially dangerous environment should only be visited in very good weather conditions and with appropriate clothing and equipment....

Fledglings! Many more species now have young, including Dipper, Crested Tit, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Redstarts and our local pair of Black-Throated Divers (see pic courtesy of Tim Neale) - though sadly,  our local Slavonian Grebes do not seem to have bred successfully... again, despite several attempts.....

Local speciality mammals: It is easy for someone like myself to take Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Mountain Hare and Mountain Goat for granted - but it is always brought home to me how relatively rare outside of upland areas these are, when I see the smiling faces of my safari clients as they get to see them for the first time.... especially on one occasion when we witnessed the Mountain Goats climb quite high into trees to get to the tasty higher leaves! (see pic)

Brown Hares were seen 'boxing' early this month! Again, much later than usual....

Pole-dancing Stoat! Mid-month we enjoyed an incredible close encounter with a Stoat that ran across a track in front of us, and then proceeded to wrap itself round a nearby sapling support stick in an attempt to hide from us, but it couldn't resist constantly changing it's position in order to peep round at us -  just like a pole-dancer (so I am told!) - great stuff!

Butterflies: Most of our common species are now (finally!) on the wing , and I don't know whether it is just me... but we seem to see a lot more Orange Tips than we used to....

Mull lured me over again! Please forgive me - for I am too weak to resist the temptation! A mid-month day-trip producing reasonable sightings of Golden Eagle & Sea Eagle, and some really nice views of a gorgeous male Hen Harrier, along with many more common coastal species....

Thursday, May 31, 2012

May 2012 started with high pressure dominating, giving us a week of cold, frosty nights, and glorious sunny days, but soon became less settled, with the rest of the month seeing just about every weather imaginable, sometimes all within the same day! However, the lengthening days did at least give us the feeling that summer is approaching at last. By the end of the month all the summer visiting bird species had finally arrived and bird day-lists crept up into the high 50's or low 60's, whilst mammal day-lists fluctuated between 6 and; 9 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality species seen this month included Dipper, Black Grouse, Red Grouse (see pic), Capercaillie, Ring Ouzel, Osprey, Red -Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Slavonian Grebe, Golden Eagle , Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Mountain Goat, Mountain Hare, with a couple of bonus dawn  sightings of Otter on local lochs, though it should be noted that Crested Tit was generally very elusive, with the females on eggs and the males spending all day quietly and secretively delivering food and rarely calling....

Osprey action! Our local Ospreys were viewed mating, plunging for fish, delivering fish to the nest, and towards the end of the month, youngsters were spotted for the first time - all great stuff and surely one of British Wildlife's 'must-see' experiences?!

Our local Capercaillies & Black Grouse were seen to be still lekking almost to the end of the month, a good fortnight longer than usual, probably due to the unseasonably wintry weather fooling them into thinking it wasn't yet Spring, making our dawn starts very rewarding!

Loads of Cuckoo sightings. Any habitat with Meadow Pipits seemed to have Cuckoos watching their nests from nearby treetops or overhead wires, giving us the opportunity of some great views of a bird that is far more often heard than seen....

Fledglings! More species seen with youngsters this month included Red Grouse, Golden Plover and most of the 'garden' species.

First migrant sightings of the year included Spotted Flycatcher & my favourites, the Swifts, especially when heard 'screaming' around the rooftops!

Crossbill sightings increased through the month, presumably as the local cone crop became a more important food source, with some groups numbering 30+, the birds often giving away their location with their 'glipping' calls, and by the sound of emptied cones being dropped from the trees.

Divers: We were lucky enough to have many good sightings of the Males of  both Black-Throated and Red-Throated, though the females would have spent most of the month on the nest....

Ring Ouzels were spotted on several occasions on mountainsides , they too, had presumably put back breeding for a while due to the wintry weather.

Slavonian Grebes were frequently  seen well, though they appeared to be struggling to breed successfully (again!), with the fluctuating water levels leaving their nests either flooded or dried out!
It is no surprise that their inability to adapt to building a floating nest is sadly causing their numbers to drop in the UK.....

Raptor-fest! A dry day after a run of wet days is often good for watching raptors hunt as they are less likely to have fed well during the preceding days - this was just the case at one of our local upland glens - where we were amazed to see Merlin, Peregrine, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Red Kite, Buzzard and  Golden Eagle all within 30 minutes from one spot!

A late May day-trip to the SWT's superb Handa Island reserve on Scotland's ruggedly beautiful North-West coast gave great views of all the seabird colony favourites, including Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and everybody's favourite, Puffins! We also saw Great and Arctic Skuas, Arctic Terns, Gannets, and on the water, many Seals and  even  a bonus view of a Minke Whale! A lovely venue, well worth a summer visit.

I also managed a mammoth (4.30am-7.30pm) day trip to Mull at the end of the month. For anyone wanting to see Otters, Golden Eagle and Sea Eagle in the UK -  this is the place to go! Within an hour of reaching the island we had seen 2 Sea Eagles and an Otter, and our luck continued throughout the day, with a final tally of 6 Sea Eagles, 3 Golden Eagles and 3 Otters,  along with numerous Cuckoos and assorted seabirds - a great day at a truly magnificent wildlife destination!

So that was May, Phew! What a month! I may have said it before, and I may well say it again, but with it's snow, frosts, sleet, hail, rain, sun, stunning dawns & dusks and fantastic scenery and wildlife, I honestly wouldn't rather be anywhere else in the world than Speyside in Springtime!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

April 2012 showed us in no uncertain terms that Winter was not yet over! The month started cold and snowy, mid-month was rainy with floods, and ended with more frosts and hill snow! A rude awakening after the mild March! A fair number of winter visiting birds lingered, and the influx of summer migrants helped swell bird species on our day lists to 50+, whilst mammal day lists remained steady at 6-9 depending on our luck....

April is probably my favourite month for wildlife watching in this area. It is always an exciting time with many rare species returning to their local breeding grounds and many displaying, and therefore at their easiest to see...

Wildlife highlights included:

Local specialities that continued to show well regularly included Capercaillie, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Dipper, Slavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Osprey, Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Mountain Goat, Mountain Hare etc with Crested Tit, Crossbill and Golden Eagle seen occasionally...

April is THE month for Grouse species in this area - Capercaillie (males and females) were seen     regularly at dawn at the RSPB reserve at Loch Garten (open April 1 - May 19). Black Grouse lekking peaked at the end of the month, with the odd female appearing to spur the males on! Cock Red Grouse continued to display & call throughout...

Secluded local lochs gave us super sightings of Slavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver and Black-Throated Diver, all in their stunning summer plumage.

Good views of an Otter fishing soon after dawn on a local loch - a great start to the day!

More summer migrants arrived, with Wheatear, Swallow, Common Sandpiper, Willow Warbler and Ring Ouzel all seen for the first time this year....

Our local Ospreys got down to business, with them being seen nest building and mating and we were even lucky enough to see a fish being brought to the nest on a couple of occasions!

Golden Eagles were seen on several occasions in upland glens, with us even witnessing 2 birds 'teaming-up' in an attempt to catch a group of Red Grouse - exciting stuff!

Merlin was noted for the first time this year , with good (if brief!) views of one hot on the tail of a fleeing Meadow pipit.

Fledglings! Mallard youngsters were noted mid-month - all together now - aaaahhhh!

Early risers were able to enjoy a 'proper' dawn chorus for the first time this year - a very enjoyable and under-rated experience!

One sad story to report.... One of our 2 local 'rogue' Capercaillies met an untimely and unnecessary death mid month when it was killed by a dog whose owner apparently ignored signs requesting leads to be used &control to be exercised...........

Saturday, March 31, 2012

March 2012 was incredibly mild and spring-like virtually throughout in this area, with record high temperatures, sometimes over 20c being recorded mid-month! & the weather generally very pleasant. We now have more hours of daylight than darkness, so it really feels like spring too...The migratory birds obviously thought so , with many returning to the area a good week earlier than normal.... & with these returning migrants adding to the resident birds & lingering winter visitors, bird day-lists crept up into the 40's, whilst mammal day-lists were steady at 6-9 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality species that continued to show well included Dipper, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Capercaillie, Crossbill, Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Mountain Goat, Mountain Hare etc all being seen regularly - though Crested Tit became more difficult as they began nesting early....

Osprey (see pic), Slavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver & Black-Throated Diver - all very sought-after 'Highlands' species - returned to local breeding sites later in the month, putting smiles on many faces...

Winter visitor bird species such as Whooper Swan , Redwing, Fieldfare & 'Grey' Geese continued to linger , though their numbers were seen to reduce later in the month.

More wader species, such as Redshank & golden Plover, & even a rare inland Dunlin were noted later in the month, joining the Oystercatchers & Lapwings.

A 'proper' dawn chorus can now be enjoyed most mornings , with many more species joining the ever reliable Robins & Blackbirds..

The 'mountain' species such as Ptarmigan & Mountain Hare were seen on & off, though they have lost their pure winter-white colours now, it being replaced by a mottled grey.

Amazingly, a second 'rogue' Capercaillie appeared, at a different location to the 'original' one - giving me much more chance of showing my safari clients this incredibly rare & (usually) very wary species!

Both the Black Grouse & Red Grouse are at their easiest to see now, with the Blackcocks 'lekking' for a couple of hours from dawn , and the cock Red Grouse seemingly spending all day posturing & displaying.

Golden Eagles get progressively harder to see as the days grow longer, but we did manage a couple of good views, on both occasions seeing them in aerial battles with Buzzards.

We are now entering my favourite time of year for wildlife-watching in this area, so I hope to be very busy showing lots of safari clients the special wildlife of this beautiful & unspoilt area over the coming weeks....

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February 2012 started cold with a little light snow & some sharp frosts , but soon became milder & less wintry, and actually ended with near -record high temperatures for February!All this almost spring-like weather made life much easier for me as a safari guide than the previous two winters, with us able to access all the best wild, remote areas in search of wildlife. The days are growing longer now, with almost 12 hours of daylight, winter is nearly over.....Bird day-lists increased into the mid-upper 30's , while mammal day-lists were steady at 5-9.

Wildlife highlights included:

Most of our 'local speciality' species continued to show frequently - with Dippers, Crested Tits, Crossbills, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Capercaillie, Goldeneye, Whooper Swan, Golden Eagle, Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Mountain Goat, Mountain Hare etc all being enjoyed by my safari guests, along with many other more common species.

Our winter visitor bird species remained in the area, with Whooper Swans, several species of 'grey' Geese & wildfowl all frequenting local lochs & rivers...

Otters! We were fortunate enough to have several sightings at dawn of not just the more usual lone Otter, but on 2 occasions a family group of 1 adult & 2 youngsters. A magic start to the day!!

Our local 'rogue' male Capercaillie continued to entertain, with with him still occasionally putting on an occasional lekking display! - still several weeks ahead of their more usual breeding season - surely one of British nature's 'must-see' events?

Our local Dippers continued to sing & display at dawn on the rivers, with much male-female interaction and we witnessed possible nest-building occurring under bridges.

Male Black Grouse were noted at or near to traditional 'lek' sites, though not yet in the numbers of previous years at this time....

Male Red Grouse however, seem to be doing very well on the moors, with good numbers seen posturing aggressively at rivals.

Crested Tits continued to delight my customers at forest feeding stations, especially photographers, who took the rare opportunity to get good close-up shots of this rare & 'flitty' species....

Several species of raptor were seen displaying & heard calling in upland glens, with Buzzards, Peregrines & Golden Eagle all noted, along with the accompanying Ravens!

With the weather being reasonably kind, mountain-top species such as Ptarmigan & Mountain Hare (see pic) were easier to see than normal at this time of year, though it should be noted that a fair amount of physical effort & stealth is still required......

The last week of the month saw waders returning to our area from their coastal wintering grounds, with lapwings & a few Oystercatchers being the earliest arrivals....

To summarise, it really does feel like winter is almost over (early for this area!!) & that spring may be just around the corner....

Saturday, February 04, 2012

January 2012 was generally unseasonably mild with just a few frosts, and only the odd, light dusting of snow. This was great news for me, as a wildlife guide, allowing me to take my guests to most of the wild, remote areas that had been inaccessible for most of the last two winters! The days are growing noticeably longer now too, and dawn birdsong seems to be increasing, and though winter is most definitely not over yet, maybe the end of it is in sight......
Bird day-lists remained in the low 30's, and mammal lists were between 5 and 8 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

Most of our resident 'local specialities' such as Dipper, Crested Tit, Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Golden Eagle, Red Deer, Red Squirrel, Mountain Hare, Mountain Goat etc continued to be seen regularly, putting big smiles on my safari clients faces, as most of them are from areas where these species are not found. Crossbills, however, proved very elusive for some reason, with just a few heard flying....

Unusually for January, we were lucky to enjoy great views of a male Capercaillie in a secluded forest location, who actually began to display - fully 2 months ahead of their 'usual' lekking time!! An amazing sight!(see pic)

Crested Tits were regular visitors to a baited site in a local forest, giving great close-range views and providing good photo opportunities for this charismatic and usually very elusive little bird...

The same site also gave us super views of Red Squirrels, with up to 4 being present at once on occasions, their constant squabbling, fighting & chasing around proving very entertaining.

Record numbers of Whooper Swans & winter Geese were reported at the nearby Insh Marshes RSPB reserve, along with many other winter wildlfowl and regular Hen Harrier sightings.

Male Red Grouse were seen to be getting noticeably more showy & aggressive (& noisy!) on the heather moorland, making them easier to spot - though the local Black Grouse do not seem to have started 'revving up' for Spring quite so much yet, with just a few brief views.

White Mountain Hare proved to be a popular addition to our mammal day-lists, with them scoring high points for cuteness as well as relative rarity.

Another winter-white mammal in these parts is the Stoat, and we were lucky enough to get several brief glimpses of them feeding on road-kill rabbits.

Our local Dippers continued to entertain, with their dawn courtship songs & displays adding even more enjoyment to watching the sun rise over the mountains and illuminate their river home - magic!

Golden Eagle was seen on several occasions in upland glens, with windier days proving better than still days.

Evening Pine Marten watches proved popular at my local baited site, with us having a 75% sightings success rate, though with the days getting longer now, their visits are getting later.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

A Merry Christmas & a wildlife-tastic New Year to all our readers!
December 2011 started unseasonably mild, only to rapidly turn very wintry, with gales first, then floods, followed by snow & sub-zero temperatures. The days are very short now, with less than 8 hours daylight, but there is still plenty to see. Bird day-lists remained in the 30's or 40's, with mammal day-lists steady at 5-9 species depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

Winter-white specialities: Our local Ptarmigan & Mountain Hares are now resplendent in their thick pure white coats, though opportunities to see them are restricted to days with reasonable weather due to their upland & mountainside home territory.

Local speciality species such as Dipper, Goldeneye, Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Crested Tit, Crossbill, Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Mountain Goat, Mountain Hare etc all continued to show regularly.

Our local Dippers continued to display & sing loudly at dawn, with the need to establish a territory & find a mate well underway.

Black Grouse numbers at or near traditional 'lek' sites continued to increase, with the cock birds becoming noticeably more vocal & aggressive as the countdown to breeding season begins.

The cock Red Grouse on the moors too are starting to become more obvious, with much calling & displaying going on.

Crested Tits are still best seen at forest feeding stations, as natural food becomes more elusive, giving us the opportunity to see & photograph them at close range..

Golden Eagles continued to show in secluded upland glens, with the shorter days giving less time to feed , winter is definitely the best time for raptor-watching in this area.

The colder, snowier weather usually brings a few rarer birds into well stocked garden feeding stations, and I was lucky enough to tempt a Brambling into mine, with locals also reporting Yellowhammers & Redpolls.

Mixed flocks of Finches & Buntings on farmland continued to grow, with some flocks having upwards of 300 birds of many different species.

Coastal birding is often a good substitute if our upland areas are inaccessible due to bad weather, with attractions such as King Eider , Iceland Gull & Glaucous Gull along with the more common species.

A few Waxwings were reported , but not in anything like the numbers of last year's 'invasion'.