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, July 31, 2020

July 2020 was a very changeable month weather-wise in this area, with south-westerly winds off the Atlantic largely dominant, we had lots of mild, showery, breezy days, interspersed with the odd warm, dry and calm one, but do you know what? it really didn't matter, because from the 15th I was able to re-commence providing my wildlife safaris for the public after almost 4 months gap... what a joy, and what a relief!!

For COVID-19 related updates and to see the systems we have in place to keep everyone safe, please see the 'News' section below, click on the HOME page, or contact me for more detailed information.....

With tourism re-opened, travel restrictions lifted,and all sites now accessible, by planning itineraries round the weather, it turned out to be a very enjoyable and pretty successful month for wildlife sightings, and although the days are shortening slightly now, this far north there are still around 18 hours of usable daylight.

Full-day (7-8 hours) safari bird species day lists dropped a little, down into the 40's, as some of our wader species moved away from their upland breeding territories to the coasts, and bird-wise things have definitely quietened down , as just about every species seems to have successfully raised and fledged youngsters now, and some will be preparing to leave the area soon...

Mammal day lists varied between 3 and 8, depending on the length of day, and variety of habitats visited...with early starts generally producing more and closer sightings, with again, many species seen with youngsters..

With plenty of sunshine and warmth between the showers, more heather starting to turn a beautiful vivid purple, and the wild flowers and butterflies at their most abundant, the Cairngorms National Park really was a beautiful and unspoilt place to be, and my safari clients certainly seemed to enjoy themselves.....as did I......

Midsummer on a local upland heather moorland

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future July visit yourself, I hope the following more detailed information, illustrated with photos taken this month or in July 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 throughout the month included: 

Osprey, Slavonian Grebe, Goldeneye and Dipper.
We also enjoyed some good views of  Red-Throated Diver and Black-Throated Diver early in the monththough they became less frequent later ona few reasonable sightings of Crested Tit and Crossbill, and unusually, we had a couple of decent Golden Eagle sightings late in the month...
Sadly, but not unusually,  we failed to see Capercaillie and Black Grouse at all this month....

Mammals seen regularly locally during the month included: Red SquirrelRabbitBrown HareRoe DeerRed Deer, and Mountain Goat, with just a couple of sightings of Mountain Hare and one brief glimpse each of Bank Vole, Stoat and Weasel....

July 2020 bird sightings in more detail:

Adult Osprey delivering a fish to the nest
    Osprey delivering a fish by Rob Ellett

Recently fledged juvenile Ospreys soon after taking their maiden flights..

Hovering Osprey... about to plunge dive for a fish...

Our local Ospreys stole the show again this month, and are often voted as 'Bird of the day' by my safari clients, with the adult birds seen fishing, delivering fish and nesting material, and feeding and encouraging the fast growing 'scaly' looking , orange-eyed youngsters to take their 'maiden flights', and by late-month they had indeed fledged and were seen perched and flying for the first time.. I can therefore highly recommend July as THE month for Osprey watching and photography in this area...

Red Grouse family

Adult female Red Grouse

Red Grouse are always popular with my safari parties, as being a bird of largely uninhabited upland heather moorlands, most of my clients, especially those from abroad, do not have them close to home. We, however, are fortunate to have lots of suitable habitat in this area, and throughout the month we enjoyed good close up views of families of up to 6 of these very characterful and beautifully marked birds, though with the 'glorious 12th' rapidly approaching... I suspect they may not be quite so obliging next month...


Adult Slavonian (Horned) Grebe with well grown youngster

Adult Slavonian (Horned) Grebe

As I reported last month, a pair of Slavonian Grebes, undoubtedly one of the UK's rarest and most beautiful breeding birds, had nested and fledged two young on a quiet local loch, and up until mid-month, all was looking good, with the two chicks growing almost to the size of their parents...but... unfortunately, on the 13th the water bailiff discovered one of the adults dead with injuries consistent with predation by an Otter... and no sign of one of the youngsters....a big loss for the remaining adult, and for us.....

Ring Ouzel (photo from July 2019)

Ring Ouzels were seen in upland habitats near their nesting and feeding areas, at least early in the month anyway, especially near the wetter areas with most worms, but became noticeably more elusive as the month progressed as they and their young began to roam even further afield, and it appeared that some may well have already vacated this area and headed south for warmer climes by the end of the month....

Red-Throated Diver (photo from July 2018)

Adult and juvenile Black-Throated Diver taking a nap

Divers (Loons), being very rare in summer south of hereand looking resplendent in their dapper summer plumage are always popular with my safari clients, and we were fortunate enough to get some good views of both Red-Throated and Black-Throated throughout the month, both with their rapidly growing youngsters on their favoured local lochs.  It should be noted however, that they are rarely seen close to the shore, can be difficult to find in 'choppy' conditions, and are easily disturbed by non wildlife-friendly tourists dog-walking, swimming and boating etc, so the less windy days and early morning starts in search of them usually gave us our closest sightings, and sightings became noticeably less frequent as the month progressed, as some presumably moved out to the coast where they will spend the autumn and winter... 

Goldeneye family (photo from July 2017)

Goldeneyes only breed in the UK in northern Scotland, and their numbers have increased greatly in recent years, mainly due to the RSPB providing nest boxes on trees around most local lochs - yes, they really are a duck that nests up a tree! - and we got to see many large families of these very attractive little ducks this month...

Adult Dipper (photo from July 2016)

A well grown juvenile Dipper (photo from July 2019)

Dipper sightings were a bit 'random' this month, with the birds seemingly quite mobile up and down the quite low level rivers. On some days, despite our best efforts,  we saw none, and on other days we saw one or more on each river we visited! Which just goes to show that although local knowledge and experience are important, sometimes you need a bit of luck too......

Crested Tit by Rob Ellett

Crested Tits were seen occasionally on our walks through Caledonian pine forests, usually in family parties, though there didn't appear to be any 'pattern' to our sightings, and I must stress again, that they can be very elusive in the spring and summer months, and knowing their distinctive rippling trills is a huge advantage in helping you to see these very 'flitty' little local specialities....which are incredibly difficult to photograph away from feeding stations by the way...

It was a similar story with Crossbills too, with the majority of our sightings being of the rather frustrating 'fly-over' variety, with them only being identified by their characteristic 'jip' 'jip' calls as they flew between different parts of the forests...but we did get lucky on a couple of occasions when birds perched briefly, allowing the rare treat of snatched views through a scope ...though unfortunately, a decent photo escaped us..

Eagles are probably hardest to see in mid-summer (in this area at least), as the birds are still concentrating on fledging their young, and have so many hours of daylight in which to hunt, and sadly, but true to form, we struggled to get any sightings this month......but if previous years are anything to go by, things should improve soon as the youngsters take to the wing for the first time....

A very tatty looking Red Kite

Soaring Common Buzzard

Other birds of prey seen reasonably regularly on my solo safaris this month included OspreyCommon BuzzardKestrelPeregrineSparrowhawk and Red Kite.....

Snow Bunting by Brendan Meyerink (photo from July 2019)

Young Dotterel (photo from July 2017)

Female Ptarmigan with her young (photo from July 2019)

July is 'last chance saloon' for seeing all 3 of our mountain top species ( Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting and Dotterel) in one trip, as the Dotterel often depart in early August , but with conditions rarely conducive to a safe and productive effort, I didn't attempt a mountain top walk myself...so I have included some photos from previous years, to show what is possible given nicer conditions and better luck..

Other good birds seen locally this month included:

Summer plumage Great Northern Diver on a local loch

Spotted Flycatcher

Male Bullfinch

Whooper Swan

Great Northern Diver, Whooper Swan, Marsh Harrier, Spotted Flycatcher, and  Bullfinch, all of which can now be tricky to see in much of the UK....

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

Greylag Geese


Tufted Duck



Goldcrest by Rob Ellett

Adventures 'out of area':

Handa Island sea cliffs by Bob Smith

Great Skua or 'Bonxie'


Fulmar with cute chick

Puffin close-up by Bob Smith

May, June and July are also the best times in which to visit a coastal seabird colony, so taking advantage of  the re-opening of Scottish tourism, and the 15th saw us take a very scenic drive up to the north-west coast, then on a pre-booked boat excursion to the SWT's wonderfully remote and beautiful  Handa Island.
Red-Throated Divers were seen on lochans en route, and Twite were seen feeding around Tarbet harbour car park, and even the short ferry crossing gave us super close-up views of Seals, and Common Guillemot , and once on the island,  we went on to see more Red-Throated Divers,  Snipe,  WheatearsSkylarks, Arctic and Great Skuas nesting on the moors. 
Once at the impressively high (350ft+) cliffs and coastal stacks, we were treated to the unique sights, sounds (and smells!) of a seabird city, with good numbers of  FulmarsKittiwakesRazorbillsGuillemots  and yes, plenty of everybody's favourite - Puffins!

July 2020 mammal sightings in more detail: 

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel was probably voted 'mammal of the day' most frequently by my safari clients this month, with many of them seeing these charismatic and undeniably cute little animals for the first time, and bringing home to me the fact that they are now very difficult to see in the UK, being confined mainly to the northern Scottish Highlands, with just a few small localised populations remaining in other areas...

Feral Mountain Goats

Similarly, we also had regular good views of  large groups of another scarce and very localised mammal, the feral Mountain Goat..  interesting animals,  that seem to like remote upland areas, and come in a wide variety of colours, from white, through grey and brown to black, or sometimes a mixture of all of these...

Red Deer hinds with their young

Another 'Highland speciality',  Red Deer were seen regularly in local upland glens, usually in large same-sex herds, the stags happily feeding and seemingly relaxing, and the hinds with their fast-growing young always nearby ....with many of my safari guests from far-away lands usually putting these iconic beasts high up on their 'wish-lists'....

Roe Deer

Though Roe Deer are actually quite common and widespread across the UK, their shy, nervous disposition means that they are more frequently found in quieter, less disturbed places, especially at dawn and dusk, meaning that most members of the general public rarely encounter them...but we see them most days, especially if we make a reasonably early start...

Brown Hare

The same could also be said of Brown Hares, with most of our sightings coming early in the day before too much human disturbance, and generally on the more remote and secluded areas of open farmland...

Mountain Hares too are actually pretty tricky to find, certainly outside of the winter months, especially in their 'summer camouflage' coats of mottled brown and grey,  and most of our sightings are 'random' encounters on mountainsides or high moorlands, whilst in search of the special birds of those habitats..

Rare/nocturnal mammals:

I get a few 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.

Ancient Caledonian forest

Other wildlife:

Small Tortoiseshell

Common Blue

Red Admiral

Comma by Jean Heath

Mating Dark Green Fritillaries

Butterflies of several different types were seen regularly, well, on the sunnier days at least, with the more common species now being joined by our 'local speciality' the Scotch Argus towards the end of the month...

Leaping Atlantic Salmon (photo from July 2016)

The recent rainfall and corresponding rise in water levels allowed the Atlantic Salmon to make their way further up our local rivers, and visits to popular local falls and 'leaps' can give great views - and for those with LOTS of patience, even the odd photo opportunity, as these amazing creatures attempted to fight the powerful flows and often steep ascents, to return upstream to their birthplace breeding grounds to reproduce...a highly recommended wildlife experience....

Wood Ants nest
Wood Ants are at their most active in the summer months, and walks in local forests revealed several huge nests, with thousands of worker ants frenziedly collecting and delivering caterpillars, insects and even beetles many times their own size!


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 re-commenced 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.


My over-riding feeling this month is one of huge relief at being able to re-commence my safaris, and once again share the delights of the wonderful Cairngorms National park with my clients....to see the smiles and looks of surprise and wonder on their faces.....it feels like it's been a long time!!! 

Although the bird breeding season is almost over, July is still a pretty decent month to see a good selection of birds, animals, butterflies and other wildlife in this area, with no need for a really early start, and it's also good for a mountain-top adventure, or a trip to a seabird colony with (usually) fairly good weather, and all still with plenty of daylight hours....

I must confess though,  that I always tend to feel just a little sad at the end of every July , as I know that many of our summer visiting birds are soon to vacate this area and fly south to warmer climes as summer turns to early autumn next month, and we won't see them again until next spring....

A picturesque local lochan


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....