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

Monday, June 29, 2020

June 2020

Let's start with some good news! 

The Scottish Government has provisionally given us July 15th 2020 as a potential date (with conditions) from which to re-commence tourism activities in Scotland, and yes!!, that includes my safaris.

For COVID-19 related updates please see the 'News' section below, click on the HOME page, or contact me for more detailed information.....

June 2020 for me however, unfortunately, continued the theme from last month, despite the very slight easing of the lockdown , with all tourism and holiday accommodation in Scotland still completely shut down due to the Coronavirus crisis, access to many of my favourite reserves and sites still denied, and unable to provide my guided safaris due to travel restrictions and social distancing regulations, rather than dwell on the potentially business threatening implications of no work and no income at what is usually my busiest time of year,  in an attempt to retain as much 'normality' as possible,  I again decided to turn my daily local exercise walks and local drives into 'solo mini-safaris', often setting off soon after dawn, walking many miles,  and visiting as many different types of habitat as possible, in search of a good selection of local speciality wildlife, always with my camera to hand of course.

The plan was that I would again get some great (and much-needed) exercise, continue to keep my 'finger on the pulse' of the local wildlife comings and goings, avoid the 'crowds' of people all using the popular local walks later in the day, hopefully still get a few photos for my monthly blog to illustrate what it is possible to see here in a more 'normal' June, and of course, keep my sanity intact as far as possible, as being very much an 'outdoor person',  I'm not great at staying home!!

So, in similar style to April and May, my sightings report this month will be an amalgamation of  'actual' June 2020 sightings combined with archived reports from June in previous years....

June 2020 was much wetter than the previous unusually dry two months, and with south-westerly winds largely dominating, a succession of Atlantic lows meant that the weather was generally mild, breezy and showery, with just the odd still and sunny high barometric pressure day sandwiched in here and there,  and no extreme conditions experienced.

With nearly 20 hours of usable daylight and all of our summer visiting bird species on territory, bird day-lists are usually just below the highest in the year now, with full-day (10 hours with starts no earlier than 6am needed) multi-habitat safaris regularly producing over 50 species - many with youngsters - and June is definitely 'fledgling month' - so if you enjoy seeing baby birds, this is definitely the month to visit!

Mammal day-lists tend to range between 4 and 9 species depending on the length of safari and variety of habitats visited, with early starts, as usual, proving to be most productive for the 'shyer' and more crepuscular species.

The combination of sun and  rain this month helped to restore the lush, green appearance of the spectacular highland scenery and kept the river levels topped-up, whilst the wild flowers are approaching their colourful best now, and a few patches of purple heather began to appear on south-facing banks towards the end of the month.

A few more butterfly and day-flying moth species were noted on the sunnier days,

Midsummer in a beautiful local upland glen

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future June visit yourself, I hope the following more detailed information, illustrated with photos taken this month or in June in previous years,  in and around the Cairngorms National Park  (and occasionally beyond) by myself,  my friends or my safari clients will help (thanks for the pics everyone!) - clicking on the picture enlarges it to full screen.

Local speciality and upland bird species seen regularly this month included:

Osprey, Slavonian Grebe
Ring OuzelRed GrouseRed-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, Goldeneye, Dipper,  with a few sightings of Pied Flycatcher , Wood Warbler,  Crested Tit and  Scottish Crossbill, ....it should be noted though, that, apart from brief glimpses, I (not unusually) failed to 'properly' see Golden Eagle,  White-Tailed EagleBlack Grouse or Capercaillie at all this month....

Mammals seen regularly during the month included:
Rabbit, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare, Red Squirrel, Roe Deer, Red Deer, Reindeer, and Mountain Goat , I also managed just a couple of brief views of  Bank Vole, and one very enjoyable but very brief dusk view of an Otter on the river Spey.......

June 2020 bird sightings in more detail:

Male Osprey delivering a Trout to the waiting female and chicks

Male Osprey with a good-sized Trout

Osprey is usually the 'star bird' of the mid-summer months up here  - with my safari parties often fortunate enough to see them sat in and around the nest, plunge-diving spectacularly to catch a fish, or delivering a fish to the nest on several occasions, and towards the end of the month we usually begin to see the rapidly growing 'downy' youngsters heads popping up in the nests for the first time this year....a marvellous and heart-warming sight!

Adult Slavonian (Horned) Grebe with cute chicks

Slavonian Grebes, in their beautiful summer plumage, were seen and enjoyed regularly on their favoured quiet lochans,  the males frequently observed delivering food to the female birds on their nests hidden deep in the sedge beds ,  and I could finally confirm much-needed breeding success for this (UK-wise) rare and threatened species, when I finally got to see the incredibly cute humbug-striped youngsters - great news!, for what is a very rare and declining bird in the UK.

Male Ring Ouzel

Female Ring Ouzel (photo from June 2018)

Ring Ouzels, often in family groups frequently showed well in upland habitats near their nesting  areas early in the month but became noticeably more elusive as the month progressed as they and their recently-fledged young began to roam further afield....

Adult female (left) and male Red Grouse

A beautifully marked Red Grouse chick

Red Grouse were not too difficult to find in suitable areas of heather moorland, despite their impressive camouflage,  and if you could spot the heads of the adults above the dense heather, and looked carefully, you then usually got to see their brood of very cute, fast-growing youngsters too...

Adult Black-Throated Diver with chicks

Red-Throated Diver (photo from June 2018)

Both Red-Throated Divers and Black-Throated Divers in their striking summer plumage, were seen reasonably regularly on suitable secluded local lochs,  though they were not totally reliable, and  I  generally had my best views on calmer days, with little or no ripple on the water, and usually had my closest encounters early  in the day, when human disturbance was it it's lowest....and very pleasingly, I got to see evidence of local breeding success , in the shape of two fluffy Black-Throated chicks , though I have yet to see any young Red-Throated...

Goldeneye family

Goldeneye too are a 'local speciality' breeding bird, and I enjoyed good views of families of these very attractive little ducks throughout the month

Crested Tit by Bob Smith (photo from June 2016)

Crested Tit (finally!!!) became a little less difficult to see on my Caledonian forest walks, though they could still not be described as 'easy', as the recently-fledged youngsters learned to forage for food with their parents in family groups, often only alerting me to their presence in the Caledonian pine forests with their distinctive rippling trills....but please be aware that you need to be able to hear and recognise this to have a decent chance....don't worry, I will use the app on my ipad and mobile phone to train you up!!

Male Crossbill

The same could be said of Scottish Crossbills, usually one of the more tricky species to see well regularly due to their unpredictable 'irruptive' behaviour,  but by listening out for their trademark 'jip jip' calls and for falling pine cones....I actually got lucky and managed decent sightings on a couple of occasions this month, and even had a rare photo opportunitiy!!


Dippers usually feature reasonably frequently on my safaris this month, with our local rivers often producing decent close-up views of the fast-growing families of these characterful and endearing little birds, that always prove to be popular with my clients, many of whom do not have them on or near their local patch, as they are generally restricted to upland areas...

Golden Eagle by Liz Rodgers (photo from June 2019)

Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle are iconic 'Scottish' birds which always seems to be on visiting birders 'wish-lists', and we are fortunate to have a number of suitable upland glens nearby, however.... it should be noted that, with most females still on eggs, or with very young chicks, and 20+ hours of daylight available for the males and sub-adults to use for hunting, the chances of us just happening to be in the right place at the right time to see one are are fairly low during  spring and summer  (when compared to the autumn/winter months) and generally raptor sightings in this area were pretty hard to come by this month...

Common Buzzard (photo from June 2015)

Other birds of prey seen reasonably regularly on my solo safaris this month included OspreyCommon Buzzard, Kestrel, PeregrineSparrowhawk and Red Kite.....with just one dawn glimpse of a Tawny Owl....

Female Ptarmigan (photo from June 2016)

Male Ptarmigan by Margaret Holland (from June 2016)

Dotterel by Margaret Holland (from June 2016)

June is probably the best month to have a chance of seeing all 3 of our mountain top bird species - Ptarmigan, Dotterel and Snow Bunting - but the weather was rarely suitable this month, and unfortunately, the Cairngorm Funicular railway is still out of action awaiting major repairs ,which means a long and gruelling walk up, so  I only managed one trek up, on which I saw several Ring Ouzels and Snow Buntings, but 'dipped-out' on  Ptarmigan And Dotterel....but I thought I would include a few photos from previous June sightings, to give you an idea of what is possible given easier access and more favourable conditions...

Whooper Swan

Spotted Flycatcher


Wood Warbler

Pied Flycatcher

Other 'good' birds of note seen locally this month included CuckooRedstartBullfinchCommon Sandpiper,  
Spotted  Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler, some of which can now be tricky to see in large parts of the UK....and we also had one lingering Whooper Swan, a few of reports of Kingfisher, Marsh Harrier, Lesser Whitethroat, Magpie and Grey Partridge,(all uncommon here) and a few rarities around in the form of Rosy Starlings, and a Quail (heard only).......

A few photos of more common birds seen locally this month: 

Mallard family

Grey Wagtail




Song Thrush

The impressive sea cliffs of Handa Island (from June 2018)

June is also probably the best month in which to visit a coastal or island seabird colony, and despite not being able to make a visit myself this year due to travel distance restrictions, and the reserves and car parks being closed, I can highly recommend a trip to any of the many seabird colonies around Scotland's coast , often with impressively high and wonderfully scenic cliffs and where you can enjoy the unique sights, sounds (and smells!) of good numbers of FulmarsKittiwakesRazorbillsGuillemots ,Gannets and yes, everybody's favourite - Puffins
Not forgetting of course, the usual 'back-up' cast of species such as Wheatear, StonechatSkylarkYellowhammerEider, Rock Pipit, Terns, LInnet, Snipe and Ringed Plover...

A local Caledonian forest

June 2020 mammal sightings in more detail:

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrels always seem to feature on my safari clients 'wish-lists', not surprising I suppose as they are sadly largely absent from most of the UK now, and just happen to be very attractive, entertaining and endearing little animals that can usually (with a little patience) be relied upon to appear at forest feeding stations for a free meal, though we often get more 'natural' random sightings whilst on forest walks and drives too...

Feral Mountain Goats

Feral Mountain Goats too are rare across much of the UK, being a living remnant from the crofting age, and largely confined to remote upland areas, but I managed to see them on several of my outings this month.....

Red Deer stags with their new antlers still 'in velvet'

Red Deer hinds with a very cute youngster (Photo from June 2019)

A typically 'nervous' Roe Deer

My clients always love to see Deer too, and early starts and a variety of different habitats on the itinerary can give us the chance of seeing up to four different species, though it is usually the local speciality Red Deer and (re-introduced) Reindeer that prove to be the most popular....though due to their crepuscular and nervous nature,  Roe Deer are still quite rare and enjoyable sightings for many people....

Brown Hare by Bob Smith (photo from June 2016)

Brown Hare sightings were a little less frequent this month, probably because I was not out and about quite as early as in April and May, but I still had quite a few decent views in quieter locations...

A very well camouflaged Mountain Hare

Mountain Hare sightings too, were largely restricted to early mornings, and it doesn't help that their mottled blue-grey, brown and white coats provide great camouflage against the lichen-covered rocks in their upland habitat..

Rare/nocturnal mammals:

I get a lot of enquiries about the possibility of seeing  Badgers and  Pine Marten from my safari clients, many of whom I suspect are unaware that they are actually a largely nocturnal creature, and although we do get the occasional (maybe one or two a year) dawn glimpse of one, you would definitely have a much higher chance of seeing them at a specific dusk Badger/Pine Marten watching hide - Please contact me for more information.

Similarly, our inland Otters too are mainly active during the hours of darkness, and again, although we do get a few early-morning sightings on local lochs and rivers each year, looking for them feeding in a suitably quiet, kelp - filled bay on the coast on a rising tide, but at any time of day, would give you a much better chance.

Whilst we are still on the 'tricky to see stuff', the Scottish Wildcat too, as well as being incredibly rare now, is also generally nocturnal, and the fact that I have had a mere handful of  (dawn or dusk) sightings in 16 years of providing wildlife safaris should give you an idea of how difficult they are to see.

A misty dawn over the River Spey

Other wildlife:

Pearl-Bordered Fritillary by Bob Smith (photo from June 2018)

Small Copper by Bob Smith (photo from June 2018)

Common Spotted Orchid

Midsummer is peak time for butterflies and wild flowers in this area, and a typical June, given some sunny and calm days, usually sees us enjoying sightings of  Red Admiral, Peacock. Pearl-Bordered FritillarySmall Copper, Common Blue and Orange Tip among others, ...and a splendid range of wild flowers including  several types of Orchids....


The Scottish Highlands has had very few COVID-19 cases in comparison to most of the UK, and on my safaris we tend to visit remote , wild habitats well away from the more popular tourist areas, and usually have very little interaction with other people, and this is something that I intend to continue.

I can advise that I have not had COVID-19, have no symptoms, and have not knowingly been in contact with anyone who has.

I am planning to re-commence providing my wildlife safaris from 15th July 2020, subject to the following conditions/changes:

1)  Parties will be limited to pre-booked small, connected groups - so no mixing of unconnected parties.
2) There will additional COVID-19 related health questions asked at the time of booking.
3)  My safari vehicle will be deep cleaned before and after each safari.
4)  We will use the middle and rear rows of seats in my vehicle (a spacious Land Rover Discovery 7-seater) in preference to the front passenger seat where possible.
5)  Any parties uncomfortable with travelling in my vehicle will have the option to follow me in their own vehicles.
6)  Whilst on board my safari vehicle your guide and all clients will be required to wear face coverings. 
7)  We will adhere to Government social distancing recommendations where possible.
8)  All surfaces/equipment touched frequently will be cleaned regularly by your guide.
9)  Hand sanitizer will be provided for guide and client use.
10)  Clients will be asked to bring their own optical equipment where possible - any loaned/communal equipment will be cleaned regularly.
11)  Clients will be asked to provide their own food/drink as we cannot do so at present.
12  Public toilets will be used where possible, with the option to return to client accommodation for comfort stops if required, and 'bush-toilets' only being used as a last resort.
13)  If first aid is required, I may need to ask other members of the party to assist.
14)  I will require all clients to complete a COVID-19 disclaimer/ infection declaration form.
15)  A Health and Safety Executive risk assessment form has been completed and will be displayed in my vehicle..

If you have any questions/queries, please feel free to contact me.


Well, that was certainly another excellent month of wildlife watching, with a splendid selection of wildlife seen , despite the changeable weather.  The highlights for me were witnessing the breeding success of some of our rarer bird species ,seeing the cute fledglings of so many more common birds,  and the feelgood factor of just spending time out and about in the beautiful Cairngorms National Park among all the lovely wild flowers and spectacular scenery....  and hopefully this was the last month spent enjoying it all by myself!.... as there is no doubt in my mind that sharing it with other like-minded people definitely enhances the experience....

An atmospheric dawn at a local moorland loch


I know a lot of visitors to this area very wisely check out reviews of attractions/experiences at Tripadvisor before 'taking the plunge' and booking - if you wish, you can check out my clients comments at the link below....



Gift Certificates:

If you think you know someone who may enjoy a taste of what I do, why not treat them to a safari gift 
certificate? They make a thoughtful and imaginative present, are available for any amount and are valid at any time within a year from the date of purchase....