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, November 30, 2020

November 2020 was a very changeable month weather wise in this area, with Arctic highs competing with Atlantic lowswe ended up experiencing just about every type of weather possible at some stage, with winds varying from flat calm to gales,  and temperatures ranging from a balmy +13c to a chilly -4c, so I would recommend potential future November visitors to prepare for just about anything!

Overall, when compared to some previous Novembers, it was a reasonably safari-friendly month though, allowing us (but sadly, mostly just me) to get out and enjoy the last of the autumn colours, our first proper snowy backdrops this winter, and some great wildlife.

Though the days are shortening noticeably now, with only around 8-9 hours of usable daylight (7am-4pm approx), a further influx of winter-visiting birds from further north, helped to boost local full-day bird day-lists into the 30's , or more if you include 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 variety of habitats visited, with early starts usually proving to be more productive.

Late autumn colours at Craigellachie on the River Spey

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are planning a future November 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, will help....clicking on the picture enlarges it to full-screen.

Wildlife highlights: 

Local speciality/upland bird species seen regularly during the month included: 

Crested Tit,  Red Grouse,  Dipper,  Golden Eagle, and White-Tailed Eagle. 
Black Grouse were occasionally seen at dawn at traditional lek sites, though they were a little unreliable,   but sadly, Crossbills were frustratingly elusive again.

A good variety of seabirdswaders and wildfowl were seen at the Moray Coast, and winter visiting birds were represented by Whooper Swans, several species of 'grey' Geese,  plenty of Redwings and Fieldfares . a few reports of Brambling, and just 1 local Waxwing was seen - in my garden!

Mammal species seen regularly included:

Red SquirrelRed DeerReindeerRoe DeerMountain Goat ,  Rabbit and (now mostly white) Mountain Hare..... a couple of brief sightings of Bank Vole and Stoat, and we also enjoyed great close-up views of Atlantic Salmon spawning in the upper reaches of our local rivers....

November 2020 bird sightings in more detail:

Crested Tit by Dave Oates

Crested Tit

Winter is by far the best time of year to see Crested Tits, as the weather turns colder and snowier, with the easy pickings on offer at my Caledonian forest feeding stations, especially soon after dawn, seemingly proving to be almost irresistible. With only around 1500 -2000 birds in the UK, and their distribution very localised, it was a great feeling to show off these true 'Speyside specialities' to my safari clients, especially those who were seeing them for the very first time.

Hand-feeding Coal Tits

A bonus by-product of regular winter feeding is often (especially on colder days) being able to feed the incredibly confiding Coal Tits and (sometimes) Great Tits by hand, an experience much enjoyed by my safari clients of all ages...

Still in the Caledonian pine forests, rather frustratingly, Crossbills continued to be a bit of a 'bogey-bird', with (yet again) sightings mainly restricted to snatched glimpses of calling birds flying around the tree tops, us only identifying them by their characteristic "jip-jip" calls...

Male Red Grouse with white winter legs

Red Grouse , being birds of very specific upland heather moorland habitat, are absent from much of the UK these days . Thankfully though, we have no shortage of them in this area, and it was interesting to note that a few of the cock birds (identifiable by their darker plumage and red 'eyebrows') are already starting to get a bit  more 'showy' and aggressive  now the shooting season is over, with a few seen seemingly staking their claim to prime territory, often while uttering their characteristic cackling "go-bak, go-bak" calls.. 

Displaying Black Grouse

On the more remote upland moors, Black Grouse are always popular with my safari clients, probably because of their relative rarity, and sadly, declining numbers over much of the UK.
However, we are fortunate to still have good numbers in Highland Scotland, and our dawn (7am approx) visits to their traditional local moorland 'lek' sites produced some good sightings of up to 8 cock birds displaying, though it should be noted that we also had a few mornings when the birds failed to show, and that the period between January and late May is far more reliable...


On the local rivers, our Dippers are definitely becoming more aggressive now, with much displaying, dawn singing and chasing each other around being witnessed as they presumably seek to establish winter and breeding territories, and it still makes my safari clients and I shiver every time we see them disappear under the icy water in search of food - they sure are hardy little critters!

Golden Eagle by Steve Nicklin

Golden Eagle

White-Tailed Eagle being harassed by Ravens

As I have mentioned in previous years, and with no apologies for repeating myself... November is in my opinion, THE month for raptor sightings in this area, and so it proved again this year, with my favourite local upland glens and moors providing my safari clients and I with pleasingly regular sightings, and even the odd (very rare)  photo opportunity, of the much coveted Golden Eagle and White -Tailed Eagle, with these huge, awesome and majestic 'Kings of the skies' providing great entertainment, numerous memorable 'life-ticks' for my safari clients,  and putting big smiles on many faces....


Red Kite

Common Buzzard

Should the Eagles fail to show, the regular 'raptor back-up cast' of KestrelSparrowhawkPeregrineBuzzard , Red Kite, and the chance of even the occasional MerlinHen Harrier and Goshawk often provide good entertainment by way of consolation though....

Snow Buntings - photo from November 2019

Snow Buntings can often be seen well this month, as they usually begin to frequent known lower altitude sites, possibly driven down from the mountain tops by the snow and cold, and with their numbers likely to have been swelled by visitors from Scandinavia...and I am always sure to have a bag of wild bird seed on board, as they can sometimes be tempted to come and feed at quite close range....

With the Cairngorm Funicular Railway still closed for major repairs, the weather rarely being  suitable, and the days so short now,  I didn't venture up into the mountain-tops myself this month, but for future reference, a few Ptarmigan , now almost totally white, can sometimes be seen, up around the 'snow-line', usually sheltering on the leeward sides of ridges, out of the cold wind...

A mixed flock of Redwings and Fieldfares

Pink-Footed Geese

Whooper Swans (foreground) with Mute Swans

Winter-visiting birds seen in our area this month included: Whooper SwansGrey Geese (Greylag , Pink-Footed and a few Barnacle),  Redwings, Fieldfares.... a few Bramblings... and a solitary Waxwing....

Other good/scarce (in this area) birds seen/reported locally this month included:

Scaup, Kingfisher, Iceland Gull, White-Fronted Goose, Slavonian Grebe....

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

Male Tufted Duck

Grey Heron

Male Chaffinch

Male Bullfinch

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Nice autumn colours at a picturesque local loch

Adventures 'out of area':

Burghead Bay viewed from Roseisle Forest on the Moray Coast

The Moray coast is only about an hour drive north of Aviemore, and my trips to favourite reserves, lochs, bays and harbours gave good views of wintering birds such as Greylag Geese,  Pink-Footed GeeseBrent GeeseBarnacle GeeseWhooper SwanShovelerWigeonTealScaupPintail,  Bar-Tailed GodwitKnot, Golden Plover , Grey Plover Ringed PloverPurple SandpiperRedshankOystercatcherTurnstoneCurlewCommon ScoterVelvet ScoterRed-Throated DiverLong-Tailed Ducks, a male Blackcap, and a nice 'year-tick' for me in the form of  Tree Sparrows....


Purple Sandpiper



Male Wigeon



Eiders by Steve Nicklin

Oystercatcher by Steve Nicklin

Male Blackcap by Steve Nicklin

Tree Sparrow

November 2020 mammal sightings in more detail:

Mountain Hare

Mountain Hares , being very rare in the UK, and now they are turning 'winter white' are often voted as 'mammal of the day' by my safari clients  at this time of year, and we were fortunate enough to see them in their upland habitats on a number of occasions, ...please be aware though, that a fair bit of rough uphill walking may be required for photography purposes..

Red Deer stag

Still in the uplands, although the annual autumn 'rut' is now over and apparently already forgotten by the participants!, it was still a treat to see the magnificent fully antlered Red Deer stags, seemingly now all friends again and concentrating on feeding and chilling out after the demands of October....

A well-camouflaged Feral Mountain Goat

Feral Mountain Goats always prove to be popular with my safari clients, and they were seen on most visits to their upland habitat, though they generally kept their distance, so photo opportunities were a bit limited..

Red Squirrel

In the Caledonian forests, Red Squirrels  always prove to be popular with my safari clients , and who am I to disagree? Being rare in the UK outside of Highland Scotland, attractive, charismatic and cute, they certainly tick a lot of boxes, and thankfully, with a bit of patience, they can usually be relied upon to put in an appearance at  feeding stations in the winter months (they love peanuts!)....though we also get the odd random sighting whilst on forest walks too...

Roe Deer

Roe Deer, although much more common UK-wide than Red Deer , can often be overlooked due to their crepuscular nature and nervous disposition... but several were seen, usually at dawn or dusk, but also during the day in less-disturbed places... 

Brown Hares, similarly to the Roe Deer, can also be very nervous and  'crepuscular' in nature, and most of our best sightings happen in the first hour of daylight, though I can't actually recall seeing one at all this month....

Murdo loves carrots!

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....

Spawning Atlantic Salmon

Mid October-early December is usually the time of year to see our Atlantic Salmon spawning. 
These remarkable and often very large fish spawn in the shallow waters in the upper reaches of our rivers, at the very spot where they themselves were hatched several years before, having originally spent 2-3 years in the river, then another 2-3 years feeding, growing and maturing out in the mid Atlantic, before undertaking a perilous journey many miles upriver, often involving avoiding poachers, anglers and predators and negotiating high falls and rapids on the way ,  an amazing migration story! However, sightings are very reliant on the rivers water levels - too little water and the Salmon cannot access the upper reaches - too much water, and they can get there... but we can't see them....fortunately, for the first half of the month it all fell into place and we enjoyed some decent views, though it was often tricky in the very high rivers...

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.

Early morning light in the Abernethy Forest


Highland region has been placed in COVID Protection Level 1 - with very few restrictions for visitors - Good news! - Click the link below to see what that means in more detail:

Coronavirus (COVID-19): local protection levels - gov.scot (www.gov.scot)


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.


After three (Aug/Sep/Oct) wonderfully busy months of safaris - thanks to everyone who came out with me :) - Sadly, I was largely back to 'solo' days out throughout November,  as much of the UK was locked-down again, meaning that all but a couple of my bookings were cancelled.                      However, I tried to make the best of it, by investigating a few 'new' venues, as well as visiting my 'old favourites' ,  always with optics and camera to hand of course, in order to keep up to date with the comings and goings and changing behaviour patterns of the local wildlife, so that I am 'ready to go', if and when my clients are able to return, also to get a few photos to help illustrate my monthly sightings blog...and, perhaps most importantly of all,  to help preserve my sanity! - I'm not very good at staying home!

I am definitely at my happiest when out and about enjoying the fresh air, scenery and wildlife, and I consider myself very fortunate to have an abundance of all of these in my local area, and , despite the changeable weather, this November turned out to be a very fruitful and enjoyable month for wildlife watching in and around the Cairngorms National park,  I just hope that I can get to share it with you all very soon.....

Sunset at a local 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:

Safari gift voucher

With Christmas coming, 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....