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, January 31, 2014

January 2014 was unseasonably mild (for these parts!), with no real extremes of weather , apart from  the odd very windy day. This, thankfully,  made it a much better month than December for wildlife watching, and I am pleased to say that my safari clients and I took full advantage, getting out in the wilds as much as possible, to enjoy some memorable sightings. The days are getting noticeably longer now, with around 9 hours of daylight, and although it is tempting to suggest that Spring is not too far away, I feel I should stress that it is really still midwinter this far north. Bird species day lists remained in the 30's, whilst mammal day lists varied between 5 & 8 species depending on our luck.

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality birds seen regularly this month included: Dipper, Red Grouse, Black Grouse, Crested Tit and Snow Bunting, whilst we also had a few brief views of Crossbill and Golden Eagle, and on the 30th, our first sighting this year of our local 'rogue' Capercaillie, who put on quite a show!
We were also fortunate to have a few true 'rarities' in our area, in the form of an Iceland Gull, a King Eider, and rarest of all, an American Coot!

Mammals seen regularly this month included Red Squirrel, Red Deer,   Roe Deer, Reindeer, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare (white), Rabbit and Mountain Goat, with a few brief glimpses of Bank Vole and Stoat (white), but the highlight has to be an unforgettable pre-dawn encounter on the 25th, on the edge of a local forest, with........ a Scottish Wildcat!! Only my 6th glimpse of this incredibly rare and declining creature in over 11 years living here!! Thankfully, both of my safari clients were awake and alert enough to see it too!

Bird highlight of the month, was the return of an old 'friend' - our local rogue Capercaillie, who, on my 7th attempt of the month to find him, suddenly emerged from his forest home, and then proceeded to display magnificently, and actually advanced towards us to make us retreat from 'his patch' - which we respectfully did! An unforgettable experience! (see pic)

Our local Black Grouse showed well at known 'lek' sites at dawn, with up to 4 cock birds seen displaying and posturing aggressively, with their loud bubbling and hissing calls clearly audible across the moor - always a great start to a safari day! (see pic)

The Red Grouse too, are clearly getting very territorial on our heather moorlands, with the cock birds seen laying claim to 'their' patch with much loud calling and chasing of rivals, their pre-occupation with each other often giving us the chance to get quite close, using the vehicle as a mobile hide, for good photo opportunities (see pic)

Crested Tit is a 'must-see' species for most of my safari clients, with them being very rare, sedentary and localised birds, and pretty difficult to see.. So I am always pleased, (and so are my clients!), when my winter tactic of feeding them regularly at several local Caledonian Pine forest sites pays off, with some excellent close-up views! (see pic)

Snow Bunting is a bird more usually associated with coastal saltmarsh during the winter, but we are fortunate to have a resident flock who frequent our local mountain, and who, like the Crested Tits, I have been feeding regularly at a few sites, and although they can be a bit 'flighty', especially when there are large numbers of snowsports enthusiasts around, occasionally we are able to get some good close-up photo opportunities (see pic)

Dippers continued to show well on our local rivers, and were seen to be 'dipping' and heard singing in the early mornings, and is another bird, which, although relatively common here, is absent from much of the UK, and is always popular with my safari clients from 'Dipper-free zones'

Crossbills were generally heard more than seen (as usual), though I did manage a decent view of one singing male bird atop a conifer, sadly on one of the days when I was birding 'solo'!

Golden Eagle sightings were noticeably less frequent than before Christmas, presumably because they are early nesters, and they now also have more hours of daylight in which to hunt, but we still managed a couple of half decent, if brief views.

Whooper Swans could be found on our local lochs and rivers, though the fluctuating water levels meant that they used many different sites to feed, which could sometimes make it difficult to locate them.

Grey Geese were seen regularly, mainly Greylag, but with a few Pink-Footed, and even the odd much rarer Snow Goose being reported from a few sites in nearby Aberdeenshire.

Wigeon and Teal are our most common winter wildfowl in this area, with a few Scaup and the odd Smew noted, but the star of the show is the Goldeneye, with the male birds now performing their elaborate courtship display, which involves them throwing their head back in a most comical fashion!

Last month I reported that I had a Lesser Redpoll coming to my nyjer seed feeder, well, he now has a friend! I now have 2 of these delightful little birds visiting regularly (see pic)

'Mammal of the month' was shaping up to be the white Mountain Hare, with all of my safari clients enjoying good views of these beautiful and very hardy creatures (see pic below), until the surprise sighting of the Scottish Wildcat, who rather cruelly, snatched the crown late in the month! Other local specialities such as Red SquirrelReindeer, Red Deer (see pic above) and Mountain Goat also proved popular.

So, I don't think it is unreasonable or boastful to say that we have got 2014 off to a very enjoyable 'flying start'! Lets hope it is a sign of things to come.....
Thanks for reading this - why don't you come and join us yourself in search of some memorable wildlife sightings in the varied habitats and beautiful scenery of the stunning Cairngorms National Park?

Friday, January 03, 2014

Merry Christmas and a happy and wildlife-filled new year to all my readers!
And a big "thank
you" to everyone who used my safari guiding services during the year....

December 2013 will not go down on record as a particularly good safari month weather -wise!
With snow, rain, floods and gales dominating, and with just a handful of decent wildlife-watching days, good sightings were at a premium, so I have therefore decided to file a 'typical' December report, using sightings and photographs from previous, more 'normal' Decembers....
The days are very short at this time of year, with only around 7 hours of daylight, but you can still reasonably hope to see 30+ bird species and 6+ mammal species given decent weather.

Typical wildlife sightings usually include:

Black Grouse at or near their moorland 'lek' sites at dawn, with the birds occasionally actually displaying on bright frosty mornings (see pic above)

Red Grouse too are usually fairly easy to see on our local heather moorlands in December, with the cock birds seemingly becoming territorial and often heard calling and seen displaying from raised areas (see pic above)

Dippers too seem to become very territorial at this time of year, with the cock birds even heard singing their high-pitched rippling warble ( a rare occurrence) at dawn whilst displaying...

Crested Tits are regular visitors to my favourite forest feeding stations during the winter months, with the lure of an easy feed seemingly hard to resist, though it should be noted that they are often very 'flitty', only staying for a few seconds, and are heavily outnumbered by the more common species..(see pic above)

Golden Eagles, and in fact, birds of prey in general, are usually seen more frequently in the winter months, with Kestrel, Buzzard, Red Kite, Peregrine and Sparrowhawk all appearing regularly, the shorter hours of daylight giving the birds less available hunting time...

Ptarmigan, looking resplendent in their winter-white plumage are a realistic target given some calm, sunny weather, though you will need to venture up to the snow-line in the mountains to have a chance of seeing them...

Snow Buntings too are best looked for in the winter months, and are a little more 'user-friendly', in that they can often be found at lower levels than the Ptarmigan , and can be very confiding, sometimes even visiting our ski centre car parks in search of food...(see pic above)

Whooper Swans (see pic above) are seen regularly on our local lochs and rivers, the Highland winter being more clement than their Arctic breeding grounds, where temperatures of -40c are not unusual!

Cold weather also drives other scarcer species such as Brambling, Yellowhammer, Bullfinch and Redpolls to visit feeding stations, and it is not uncommon for me to record all these species visiting my Aviemore garden in midwinter.

Mammals seen in an average December usually include Roe Deer, Red Deer, Reindeer, Red Squirrel, Brown Hare, Rabbit, Mountain Goat, and two more 'winter-white' specials, in Mountain Hare (see pic above) and Stoat, with the occasional dawn sighting of Otter.

The odd Salmon can still be seen in our local rivers, trying to make their way back out to sea, many looking a bit battle-scarred after the rigours of migration and spawning.

Looking back at 2013, I honestly think it was probably my most enjoyable and best year yet for wildlife sightings, and with the arrival of a 'proper' 7-seat 4x4 safari vehicle, and gaining a 5 star wildlife experience grading from Visit Scotland, it will be a hard act to follow, but I am sure it will be fun trying!