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

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

September 2020 was a changeable month weather-wise in the Cairngorms National Park, and, as is usual for early autumn, our weather was largely dominated by a succession of Atlantic lows brought in by south-westerly winds, meaning generally breezy, showery but mild conditions, with just the odd sunnier, calmer spell here and there.

Temperatures ranged considerably,  with 20c reached on a few of the calmer, sunnier days, but it is considerably cooler at dawn and dusk now though, and it actually felt quite chilly on some of the windier days, and the first frosts are surely not too far away...

The regular rainfall has helped the rivers to reach their normal levels for autumn, which is good news for the Atlantic Salmon on their way to the spawning grounds in the upper reaches.

The days are shortening noticeably now though, with only around 12 hours (7am-7pm) of usable daylight , but by way of consolation, the heather is still a lovely purple in places, many trees are full of colourful berries, and some of the leaves and ferns are now in their attractive autumnal hues.....

Autumn at a picturesque local loch

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future September visit, I hope the following more detailed information, illustrated with photos taken at sites in and around the Cairngorms National Park by myself, my friends or my safari clients this month and in previous September's, will help...clicking on the picture enlarges it to full-screen.

With just about all the summer visiting bird species gone by mid-month, and the first of the winter visiting bird species only just arriving, full-day (6-8 hours) local safari bird lists dropped down to their lowest levels of the year (in the 30's), though this could be upped considerably by a trip to the nearby Moray coast, whilst mammal day lists varied between 3 and 7 species, depending on the time of our start and the number of different habitats visited, with early starts usually proving to be more fruitful...

Wildlife highlights included:

Local speciality/upland bird species seen regularly during the month included: Osprey  and Black-Throated Diver, (both very early in the month only), DipperRed GrouseGoosander and Goldeneye, we also had reasonably regular sightings of Golden Eagle and a couple of White-Tailed Eagle, a few decent views of Crested Tit,  just a couple of glimpses of Crossbill, and - rather unusually - one surprise mid-day encounter (they are usually only seen at dawn from Jan-May!!) with a group of displaying Black Grouse!!
Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting were both reported on local mountain tops, though suitable days and opportunities were rare, and I did not venture up myself this month.
Sadly, but typicallyCapercaillie were not seen at all this month, though this is not unusual away from late winter/springtime, or to be honest, at any time of year these days....

Mammal species seen regularly included: Red SquirrelRed DeerReindeerRoe DeerMountain Goat , Brown Hare and Rabbit......with just a couple of glimpses of Bank Vole...it should be noted that Mountain Hares are still really tricky to see in September, but should become a little easier as they morph into their white coats next month....

September 2020 bird sightings in more detail:

Osprey.... the last one we will see this year....:(

A few of our local juvenile Ospreys lingered around their now redundant nest sites and local lochs and rivers for the first week of the month, giving us our last chance to admire these attractive and impressive raptors and their fishing skills, though it should be noted that seeing them was a bit 'hit and miss'....until they return in the spring. It always amazes me to think that these young birds will attempt to undertake a 5,000 odd mile migration alone and unassisted by their parents at the age of around 3 months!!

Red Grouse

Red Grouse close-up

Considerably more reliable were the Red Grouse on our local upland moors,  mostly still in  family groups, they continued to entertain my safari clients with their confiding nature and 'cackling' calls, and similarly to last year, with seemingly little or no shooting going on in this area this autumn, they were actually easier than usual to see... long may it continue.....

Dipper by Freddie Oxley


As is usual at this time of year, Dipper sightings were still a little 'random' early in the month, as the birds seemed to range wide and far, but later in the month we witnessed some more 'territorial' behaviour (loud singing and aggressive posturing) near to some of their favourite nesting bridges....

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 many local lochs, and we again got to see many large families of these very attractive little ducks this month...though it should be noticed that the males are still in their brown-grey 'eclipse' plumage which is very similar to that of the females and youngsters...you will have to wait a while to enjoy them in their dapper breeding plumage...

Crested Tit by Freddie Oxley

Crested Tit by Freddie Oxley

Crested Tit is always high on my safari clients 'wish-lists', with it being a UK rarity and Speyside speciality, and it should be noted that they can be a difficult bird to see in spring and summer,  but although they are now mainly to be found in mixed flocks roaming around the Caledonian pine forests, we also managed to get a few decent views of them at my favourite feeding stations, especially soon after first light on the colder mornings in the second half of the month...and they should become a little more reliable in the coming weeks...

Male Crossbill

Still in the forests, despite my best efforts, Crossbills sightings were ( yet again!) usually of the rather frustrating 'fly-over' variety, with them only being identified by their characteristic 'jip' 'jip' calls as they flew overhead between different parts of the forests...so sadly, there were very few "through the scope" views or decent photo opportunities this month...

Soaring Golden Eagles

Golden Eagle at low level

Gliding White-Tailed Eagle

White-Tailed Eagle

Golden Eagles are more commonly seen on my safaris during the shorter days of late autumn and winter, when they have less hours of daylight in which to hunt, and all of the family are actively flying,  but we actually had a pretty good 'strike-rate' on my safaris this month, with a favourite upland glen giving us decent sightings on a good number of occasions, even a few brief photo opportunities, and more importantly lots of my clients a much sought-after 'life-tick' of an iconic Highland speciality.....we also saw White-Tailed Eagle on a couple of occasions, including great views of one juvenile sat in a field, and I would expect more sightings of them next month as the Atlantic Salmon should start to spawn in the shallow upper reaches of our rivers soon...


Kestrel by Freddie Oxley

Common Buzzard by Freddie Oxley

Red Kite (juvenile)

In fact, raptors in general were noticeably more active than last month with us also regularly seeing Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Common Buzzard and Red Kite, with a couple of decent sightings of Goshawk too...

Other good birds seen/reported locally this month included:

Large flocks of MistleThrush, Family groups of Goosander, a few late Ring Ouzels, a few early Redwings and Fieldfares, 2 very early Whooper Swans on Loch Inshand a presumably wind-blown Common Guillemot on the River Spey near Kingussie....

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

Goosanders on the River Spey


Great Spotted Woodpecker

Blackbird (juvenile)

Male Bullfinch (juvenile)

Treecreeper by Freddie Oxley

Adventures 'out of area':

Birders prepared to travel away from Speyside a little this month, especially to reserves on the Moray or Aberdeenshire coasts would have noticed lots of passage of Shearwaters, Auks and Skuas,  plenty of incoming waders and wildfowl , a  good influx of 'grey' Geese from mid-month... and the first Whooper Swans later in the month...and a little further north and east of here, there were a few reports of Yellow-Browed Warblers....

An atmospheric autumn dawn in a local ancient Caledonian forest

September 2020 mammal sightings in more detail:

As I mentioned last month, with the summer visiting local speciality birds departing this area, mammals become more of a focus on my safaris, and we were fortunate to see a good variety again this month.   

Red Squirrel by Freddie Oxley

Red Squirrel by Freddie Oxley

Red Squirrel by Freddie Oxley

Despite stiff competition from 'Murdo' (see below!!), the  'mammal of the day' award was invariably won by the cute and ever popular Red Squirrel - with many of my safari clients seeing these very characterful and attractive 'Highland speciality' animals for the first time..

A 'mega-herd' of Red Deer

Red Deer stags... the calm before the October storm....

Although there is often little indication of it approaching, the end of September , and the first frost, usually sees the start of the Red Deer rut, with the previously quite sociable stags beginning to 'check-out' and assemble their 'harems' of hinds, sharpen up the tips of their antlers on rocks and trees, and partake in a little light 'sparring' with likely rivals, often accompanied by a tremendous 'roaring', which echoes round the glens... a marvelously atmospheric spectacle....

Still up in the glens, our Mountain Hares, though still in their browny-grey summer coats, are about to turn whiter from their feet upwards as autumn progresses, in preparation for the snow to come, though actual sightings of them were not as frequent, or as good as I would have liked... but that is not unusual outside of the winter months..

Brown Hares were seen occasionally, but most of our sightings were early in the morning, and in poor light, so I didn't manage any decent photos of them this month...

Feral Mountain Goats

Our local Feral Mountain Goats however, were a little more obliging...with plenty of decent views of large family groups being enjoyed, with many of my safari clients seeing them for the first time...

Roe Deer

Although not as physically impressive as their larger Red cousins, and having a much more nervous disposition,  Roe Deer are probably more often described as cute - like Bambi even, but they always prove popular with my safari clients, and we were fortunate enough to see them on several occasions this month, especially soon after dawn, or in remote, quiet areas...

Murdo... the friendly Highland Coo....

Highland Coo's always prove to be popular with my safari clients, especially those who do not have them close to home, so don't be afraid to ask me if you fancy going to see them, and maybe even get to feed and  'pat' them,  as I have a couple of great sites....

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.

The attractive upper reaches of a local Highland river

Other wildlife: 

The few warm and still days saw us enjoy a last blast of butterfly action for this year, with a nice selection of common species seen...

Small Tortoiseshell

Red Admiral



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, preferably connected groups - so no mixing of unconnected parties unless we can do it safely and legally.
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.

Admire the purple heather... as the first proper frost will turn it brown, until next summer


Similarly to August,  being a bit of an 'in between month', with a limited number of bird species possible,  in all honesty it's probably not the best month for the hard-core birder or 'twitcher' to visit, but September in the Cairngorms National Park would still appear to have plenty to offer the more casual or beginner nature-watcher or those looking for a less intense or 'taster' Highland wildlife safari experience, with the chance of a migrating 'rarity' turning up, a better likelihood of seeing birds of prey and Crested Tit than in the spring and summer, less tourists around and no early starts needed, in arguably, one of the most colourfully scenic months of the year...and I will admit to being pleasantly surprised at how well we did for sightings.

A 13th century castle adds interest to a local upland heather 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....



Autumn is fungi time....

Gift Certificates:

Safari gift voucher

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....