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, June 30, 2013

June 2013 finally saw us get some proper summer weather in this area, with the first half of the month seeing us enjoy plenty of sunshine and light winds, though the second half was a little more changeable, but still not bad from a safari guide's perspective. Our days are at their very longest in June, with near 24 hour wildlife-watching available for those with the stamina to attempt it! It should be noted though, that a 3-4am start is needed if you are to have any chance of seeing the 'dawn' species such as Black Grouse. While the mountain top species such as Ptarmigan, Dotterel and Snow Bunting are probably at their most accessible at this time of year. Bird day-lists were consistently up in the 50's on full-day multi-habitat safaris, with mammals well represented by 6-9 species on most occasions. The wild flowers are at their glorious best now, adding a wonderful splash of colour to our already beautiful scenery, with the first butterflies beginning to show too.

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality bird species seen regularly throughout  this month included: Dipper, Goldeneye, Slavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Osprey, Red Grouse, Ring Ouzel and Crested Tit, with Black Grouse only being seen early in the month,  Crossbill and Golden Eagle only being seen occasionally and Capercaillie sadly, notable only by their absence.....

Mammals seen during this month included: Rabbit, Roe Deer, Red Deer, Reindeer, Red Squirrel, Brown Hare, (See pic) Mountain Hare, Mountain Goat and  Bank Vole, with a solitary sighting of the much sought after but rarely seen inland Otter, and even more amazingly, a brief early morning  view of a Scottish Wildcat crossing a forest track!

Black Grouse, uncommonly, continued to 'lek' at dawn at one local site up until the 12th of the month, though they were not seen after this date....

Red Grouse frequently showed well on suitable heather moorland , often in family groups, giving my safari parties excellent photo opportunities...(see pic by Steve Simnett)

Crested Tits, again unusually, were seen at and around favourite forest feeding stations on and off throughout the month, and were even seen to be feeding newly-fledged young from around the 20th onwards...(see pic by Steve Simnett)

Our local Ospreys provided superb entertainment throughout, with plunge-dive fishing, nest-maintenance and fish delivering all seen, and the rapidly growing youngsters beginning to flap their wings in preparation for their maiden flights next month....(see pic)

Dippers were frequently spotted, often whilst  feeding their young on our local rivers, although they are a relatively common bird here, they are missing from large areas of the UK, and are a valued 'year-tick' for birders from those areas.....(see pic by Malcolm Fincham)

Our local Slavonian Grebes produced many a "wow!"from my excited safari clients, I suspect,  not just because of their rarity value, but mainly due to their sheer, gorgeous beauty! (see pic by Steve Simnett)

Ring Ouzels were seen busily collecting beak-fulls of worms from wet grassy areas on upland areas, before flying off and disappearing into the heather, where presumably, their hungry young were  waiting...(see pic my Malcolm Fincham)

Red-Throated Divers showed on local lochs on several occasions,  usually at distance, and  it should be noted that these are best looked for early or late, as they are very easily disturbed by human activities....

Black-Throated Divers too were noted quite frequently on their favourite upland lochs, though long-distance views are the norm, we occasionally get lucky with a good close-up photo opportunity...(see pic by Malcolm Fincham)

Crossbills were, (at last!), seen on several occasions in our local forests, frustratingly, usually flying overhead, but on one occasion, feeding at reasonably close range, allowing me to get a half-decent photo....(see pic)

Our local upland glens produced a few sightings of the magnificent Golden Eagle, including , notably, one rather scruffy looking adult bird with a number of feathers missing, which flew directly over our heads at low altitude on the 27th! It's unkempt appearance did not detract from our enjoyment, though!

Cuckoos  continued to show well in the early part of the month, giving good photo opportunities (see pic by Steve Simnett), though they became much more elusive after mid-month....

A Short-Eared Owl was noted hunting low over a local moorland on the 5th, the afternoon sun showing up it's lovely gold, white and black plumage very nicely...

Hobby is not a common bird in this area, so to get several (albeit brief!) sightings of this dashing hawk catching dragonflies over our local lochs was much appreciated...

Woodcock is a 'crepuscular' bird , most frequently seen at dawn or dusk in silhouette over suitable forest habitat, so a close-up daytime sighting of one feeding at the forest edge in daylight on the 20th was a real bonus!

Fledglings! Just about every bird species now seems to have young, bringing many an "aaaahhh" from my safari clients! (See young Curlew pic by Malcolm Fincham)

The middle of the month saw me take a couple of day-trips with some birding mates over to the west coast - Mull giving us good sightings of both White-Tailed and Golden Eagles, Hen Harrier, Wood Warbler, various seabirds and Seals and Dolphins - whilst our day on the north-west coast around the Ullapool to Durness area saw us enjoy the seabird colonies, including everyone's favourite, the Puffins.

So, to summarise, a hectic but very enjoyable month with decent weather and lots of very enjoyable wildlife-watching - probably the best month of the year for the 'all-rounder' after lots of birds, mammals, butterflies, wild flowers and no snow!

Saturday, June 01, 2013

May 2013 can probably best be described as 'changeable' weather-wise in this area, starting off mild but wet and windy, calming down mid-month, with an icy blast and hill snow around the 20th, then a warm spell to finish. The days are really lengthening now, with nearly 20 hours of daylight and a 4am start needed to catch the 'dawn' species such as Capercaillie and Black Grouse. The 'late' spring this year meant that many species of birds were actually still lekking, displaying and singing, making them easier for us to see, when in a 'normal' year they would already be on eggs or even already have fledged young. The winter visiting birds have pretty much all departed now, and by the end of the month the last of the summer visiting birds had arrived, swelling our bird species day-lists up towards 60, whilst mammal day-lists varied between 6 & 9 depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality bird species seen regularly this month included: Dipper, Capercaillie, Black Grouse, Red Grouse, Osprey, Slavonian Grebe, Black-Throated Diver, Red-Throated Diver, Ring Ouzel and Crested Tit, with Capercaillie and Golden Eagle both seen frequently early month.

Dawn views of an Otter on the river Spey on May 1st - not bad for our first mammal seen this month! Especially when you consider that they are almost entirely nocturnal on inland waters.....

Capercaillie were seen well on several occasions at dawn at RSPB Loch Garten's Caper-watch early in the month, including two cock birds actually in combat for mating rights - a cracking reward for the early start! I left our local 'rogue' cock bird well alone throughout the month to ensure that his lekking and  possible mating was not disturbed.....

Our local Black Grouse too, continued lekking throughout May, with bright, frosty mornings being best, and the action only tailing off as the weather warmed up later in the month.

Red Grouse were seen very regularly on our local moors, noticeably though, only the cock birds for most of the month, whilst the females incubated eggs, with the last week of the month giving us our first views of the tiny and very cute newly fledged youngsters.

Our local Ospreys continued to entertain my safari clients, with us witnessing 'plunge-diving',fish deliveries and flights over our heads (see pic) on several occasions - superb entertainment!

Our local speciality water birds - namely Slavonian Grebe (see pic by Bob Smith), Red-Throated Diver and Black-Throated Diver were all seen , though they were not as reliable as usual as the very late spring has seen them delay pairing - up and breeding until the latter part of the month.

Crested Tits, unusually,  continued to visit forest feeding stations during the early part of the month, giving us some unexpected but very welcome photo opportunities (see superb pic by Bob Smith) though sightings noticeably tailed-off late month as they presumably, finally got around to breeding.

Ring Ouzels showed well early month, with the male birds often perching prominently (see pic), whilst uttering their high-pitched fluty call, making them fairly easy to home in on, though they too became harder to see as the month went on.

Golden Eagles were seen well , especially early in the month, with 2 young birds together being noted on a couple of occasions, giving several of my safari clients spectacular  'year-ticks' and some the much sought-after 'life-tick'!

Another raptor seen in our local upland glens during the month was a huge White-Tailed Eagle, which absolutely dwarfed the Common Buzzards that were mobbing it - not for nothing are they often called 'the flying barn door'! (see my very poor, but in my defence, very distant pic)

Other raptors noted included a dashing Hobby, a rare bird in these parts, seen hawking dragonflies over a local lochan on May 17, and a cracking cock Merlin, seen perched on a moorland deer fence, before flying swiftly off, low over the heather, on the 30th.

Unusually, Owls featured on our sightings list a few times this month, with Tawny being seen at dawn in our local forests at dawn on several occasions, and Short-Eared seen quartering moorlands and fields during daylight - always a bonus!

Other migrant birds seen for the first time this year included good numbers of Cuckoos, Swifts, Spotted Flycatchers, Redstarts, and a lovely male Whinchat.

Mammals were well represented this month, with Rabbit, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare, Bank Vole, Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Reindeer, Roe Deer and Mountain Goat all seen regularly, and solitary sightings of Otter, and rarer still , a Pine Marten, seen crossing a forest track at dawn!

So, although many people will have complained about the late spring , and unseasonably wintry weather this May, I actually feel that it delayed the breeding season for many bird species, giving us the opportunity to see many sought after local specialities - which would normally have quietened down by now - still displaying and showing well - giving us a superb month of sightings - so this cloud really did have a silver lining! May is probably THE best month for seeing a broad range of bird species, including the iconic Highland endemics, and a trip here then for a safari is highly recommended!