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, March 31, 2021


News flash:

Hospitality and tourism in Scotland - and my safaris - are all set to re-open from April 26th 2021. 

Bookings for safaris from this date onwards can be made in advance from now on - I am ready and waiting!

March 2021 saw us enjoy quite a mixture of weather conditions in this area, with snow, sleet, hail, rain, wind and sun all featuring, sometimes even in the same day!.. but thankfully there were no real extremes, and temperatures  were around normal for the time of year, although they did vary from -4c to +14c, so I would recommend bringing a good selection of clothing if you are planning a future March visit

Sadly though, the continuing virtual lockdown and travel restrictions across the UK meant that March was yet another month without a single safari party able to join me for some wildlife adventures...so in order to keep my finger on the pulse of the wildlife activity, in readiness for when normality returns,  I just turned my local daily exercise walk into a safari a few times a week, choosing the best days weather-wise, always armed with my optics and camera of course....and although certain sites were still out of bounds' , causing a few omissions in my usual species portfolio, I still managed to see a decent selection of wildlife under the difficult circumstances, and it was great to hear the ever-increasing dawn chorus, with lots more bird species heard singing for the first time this year , Woodpeckers drumming, Snowdrops and Crocuses in flower, the first Frogs and Toads emerging,  and a few more brave insects on the wing, ...welcome signs that winter is turning into spring...

The days are really lengthening noticeably now, with up to 12 hours of usable daylight, and dawn (for the Black Grouse) is still a relatively sociable 6 am, with dusk at around 7 pm.

Full-day local safari bird lists usually top-out in the 40's at this time of year, helped by the returning waders, though a trip to the nearby (one hour by car ) Moray Coast  (when allowed) can boost this total considerably, whilst mammal day lists  can vary between 3 and 8 species, depending on the time of our start and number of habitats visited, with early starts usually proving to be most productive.

Early spring in a beautiful local upland glen

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

High quality prints of all photographs taken by myself and featured on this website, or that I have sent to you attached to emails , or previously posted on our Facebook page, can be purchased  at very reasonable prices... see the  'Buying my photos' section at the end of this blog for more details...

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

Black Grouse (dawn or soon after only) , Red Grouse, Crested Tit (reliable early in the month only), Dipper, I also had several decent views of soaring Golden Eagle  and White-Tailed Eagle,  and a few brief (mainly fly-over) sightings of Crossbills, and from mid-month, our first local views this year of Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver and Golden Plover - all coming into their splendid summer breeding plumage - and at the very end of the month, our first Osprey, Slavonian Grebe and Ring Ouzels joined the ever-increasing numbers of other Summer visiting birds , such as Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Curlew.

And finally, after many attempts, a post-dawn walk in a local Caledonian forest on the 22nd, at last produced a sighting - and extremely rare photo opportunity - of a male Capercaillie for me.

A good variety of seabirdswaders, wildfowl and Geese can be enjoyed at the Moray Coast and the nearby inland lochs...

Mammal species seen regularly included:

Red Deer, Roe Deer, Rabbit, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare (still mostly white), Red Squirrel, and Feral Mountain Goat (with young), whilst both types of Seal were seen at the nearby Moray coast.

Sunrise on a remote local moorland

March 2021 bird sightings in more detail:

Up on the moors....

Displaying Black Grouse

"Are you lekkin' at me?!!"

Black Grouse are not an easy species to see in most of the UK now, having suffered an 80% decline in numbers over the last 20 years, with their range contracting northwards. They are birds of remote upland moors, preferably with forests and a grassy 'lekking' patch nearby, a very specific combination of habitats that is not so common nowadays. Fortunately, the Scottish Highlands still has a decent number of active  'lek' sites, where the cock birds gather to 'strut their stuff', and dawn (about 6 am in March) on my safaris in the first five months of the year is usually spent enjoying this memorable experience. 'Performances' were noticeably better on calm, frosty mornings.... but please be aware that to avoid disturbance, we have to view from a respectful (and legal) distance, that sightings are not guaranteed, and the birds can fail to show , sometimes without any obvious reason,  or if disturbed by a predator or wandering sheep, cattle , horses.... or inconsiderate birders/photographers...... 

Get your coat! You've pulled! Male & female Red Grouse (photo from March 2020)

Female Red Grouse

Male Red Grouse in full 'display mode'

Still on the upland heather moorlands, many of our our local Red Grouse have most definitely already paired-up, and the cock birds, with red 'eyebrows' aglow,  now seem to be concentrating more on defending their territory and partner from rival birds, often posturing aggressively from the higher parts of the moor whilst cackling loudly, and the 'disappearance' of some of the hen birds late in the month suggests that a few may already be on nests...

In the forests...

Crested Tit

Crested Tit by Jan Shields (photo from March 2020)

Crested Tits were seen at and around my favourite feeding stations , at least early in the month anyway, but  they often failed to show during the latter part of the month, and when they did, they didn't stay for long and rarely called, suggesting perhaps, that they are now concentrating on breeding rather than feeding.....but if you can familiarise yourself with their distinctive calls and song, you always have a chance of seeing them whilst walking in suitable habitat....

It is well worth noting that the colder winter months (October-Feb) are actually the best time of year for seeing the 'wee Cresties', as these characterful little birds can be frustratingly secretive, unobtrusive and almost silent during the breeding season, with sightings being much more difficult to obtain between March and September....

Male and female Crossbills

Male Crossbill taking a drink

Still in the Caledonian forests, and similarly to Jan and Feb, I actually did ok for Crossbill sightings again this month, with some decent views...mainly because the period between December and March is breeding season for them, which means that this is your best chance to see them perched in treetops, often singing to establish a territory and attract a mate....whereas they can be pretty tricky to see for the rest of the year...and I got really lucky on the 22nd, when a pair dropped down to a forest puddle for a drink, giving me a rare photo opportunity...

Male Capercaillie

Male Capercaillie

As I mentioned earlier, the dozens of hours I spend most months quietly driving or walking around local Caledonian forests finally yielded the ultimate reward on the 22nd, when I got to see and photograph a majestic male Capercaillie happily feeding in the understorey, totally unaware of my presence, for several minutes, while I tried to beat the holding your breath world record, before it slowly walked off into the distance....magic!

Please note though, that Capercaillie numbers would still appear to be declining alarmingly,  and I would only rate our chances of seeing one my safaris as "very slim" at best,  and now we are into 'lekking' season, I will be 'responsible'  by staying out of 'sensitive' areas at dawn through April and May to allow this now very rare and elusive bird to (hopefully) lek and  breed in peace....

On the rivers...

Dipper with nesting material


Dippers were seen frequently on local rivers this month, and they seemed to have procreation on their minds, as I am now (presumably) only seeing  male birds, and they appear to be delivering nesting material to their mates, and defending territory near their favourite nest sites of old bridges....

On the lochs...

At the end of the month it is always great to see the return of some of our rarest and in my opinion, most beautiful local speciality birds, namely Red-Throated Diver,  Black-Throated Diver and Slavonian Grebe. 

Scotland is at the south-westerly edge of the world-wide breeding range for these very sought-after species, and the only place in the UK to see them in summer plumage, and I am always very happy (and relieved) to see them back on their favoured waters....and although photo opportunities eluded me this month, I am hopeful next month may give me some decent chances, as they hopefully get down to pairing up and nesting...

Drake Goldeneye

Drake Goldeneye displaying to a female (photo from March 2020)

Of course, we must not forget our resident breeding Goldeneye population , and I was fortunate enough to see them regularly this month, with many of the males now performing their unique and spectacular 'head-banging' mating display!

Up in the glens...

Soaring Golden Eagle (photo from March 2018)

White - Tailed Eagle with Common Buzzard for size comparison!

White-Tailed Eagle close-up - Lock up your pets and small children!!

As I have mentioned many times before, the shorter days of the winter months (Oct-Feb) give us our best chance of seeing Golden Eagles and White-Tailed Eagles, as when the days lengthen and breeding season commences, the frequency of sightings definitely reduces, but despite the adult females presumably nesting by now,  I was still fortunate enough to enjoy a few decent  sightings of these majestic birds hunting in my favourite upland glens.

A Kestrel in classic hovering pose

Soaring Common Buzzard

Goshawk by Steve Nicklin (photo from March 2020)

Red Kite

It was a similar story with the other birds of prey, but raptors in general were still fairly well represented this month, with KestrelSparrowhawkCommon Buzzard, and Red Kite  all being seen regularly, Goshawk sighted a couple of times and Merlin just once ...and the first returning Ospreys have been reported locally in the last few days of the month....

Up in the mountains....

Snow Buntings (photo from March 2019)


Sadly, with  COVID restrictions meaning that the Cairngorm Mountain approach road was still closed to prevent large numbers of  snow sports enthusiasts visiting, I too was unable to access the mountains again this month. 

However, for future reference, Snow Buntings can often be seen well there during the winter (Nov-April) as they usually  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....so I have shown some photos from previous March's...

It was a similar story with the other 'mountain species, but I can advise that a few Ptarmigan , still 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...

The Cairngorm Mountains seen from Loch Morlich

Winter-visiting birds seen locally:

Pink-Footed Geese

Whooper Swans



Winter-visiting birds seen in our area this month included: Whooper SwansGrey Geese (Greylag , Barnacle, Pink-Footed) ,   a few Bramblings... and the small, long-staying flock of Waxwings

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

Around 80 Kittiwakes on Loch Insh (unusual inland) on the 14th, Pintail, Jack Snipe, Tundra Bean Goose,  Green Woodpecker, Barnacle Goose, Rough-Legged Buzzard...

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

Golden Plovers have arrived back from the coast

Curlews are a regular sight on local farmland from March to August

As are Oystercatchers...


And Mistle Thrushes..

Pheasants like this splendid male can be seen locally all year.

Siskins can be tempted into gardens by nyjer seed feeders.

Mallards are common and can be seen on just about any type of water habitat

A walk in the ancient Caledonian forest...

Adventures 'out of area': 

A picturesque bay at the nearby Moray coast

Inverness/Moray coast birds:

Purple Sandpipers

Long-Tailed Duck

Drake Eider


A typical view of a Water Rail

Drake Wigeon

Hooded Crows are most commonly seen at the coast

The very scenic Moray coast is only about an hour drive north of Aviemore, and my March trips to favourite reserves, lochs, bays and harbours provided good views of resident and wintering birds such as  Water RailTree SparrowGrey Partridge, Greylag Geese,  Pink-Footed Geese Barnacle GeeseWhooper Swan, Wigeon, Teal,  ScaupPintail,  Bar-Tailed  and Black-Tailed GodwitKnot, Golden Plover ,  Ringed Plover, Shag, Gannet,  Razorbill, Common Guillemot, Rock Pipit, FulmarPurple Sandpiper, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Turnstone,  CurlewCommon ScoterDunlinKnot Red-Throated DiverEider and Long-Tailed Ducks... though it was noticeable that some of these species were in smaller number than last monthand of course, many of these birds will disappear off north to their breeding grounds soon...

A scenic local stretch of river

March 2021 mammal sightings in more detail:

Mountain Hare

Mountain Hare (photo from March 2020)

March is the last month to see our local Mountain Hares in their beautiful all-white winter coats, though a  few are usually starting to morph into their spring blue/grey colours by now, and a few may have grey-brown faces, but they still usually get voted as 'mammal of the day', with many of my safari clients in previous years delighted to see them, often for the first time, and if their upland habitats remain relatively snow-free , they can actually be reasonably easy for me to find, and can often be quite confiding, occasionally allowing a reasonably close approach for photography....

It should be noted though, that most of our views are at range through my telescope, and that a closer view usually involves some considerable amount of rough uphill walking, often on snow.

Red Deer herd

Red Deer stag

Red Deer are obviously an iconic Highlands animal, often featuring on the wish-list of my safari clients, and visits to suitable upland areas usually result in us getting to see them, often in large same-sex herds,  though again, it should be noted, that most of our views are from a fair distance and that many of the stags have now shed their old antlers, and are growing new sets,  and are therefore not quite as impressive as they look in autumn.

Feral Mountain Goats

Feral Mountain Goats

Still up in the glens, our local feral Mountain Goats can sometimes be seen too, and at this time of year, they often have very cute , fast-growing youngsters with them, that always prove popular with my safari clients.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrels are pretty reliable visitors to the quieter forest feeding stations, especially during the colder weather, and I saw them regularly on my adventures this month,  and I also had some nice random sightings in more natural settings too...

Roe Deer

Roe Deer, despite being common and widespread throughout the UK, due to their crepuscular nature and slightly nervous disposition, can actually be surprisingly difficult to see. However, if you are out and about early or late in the day in suitably quiet areas, you always have a chance...

Brown Hares too, are a bit shy and nervous, and although I did see a few on quiet local farmland this month, sadly, they didn't stick around long enough for me to grab any photos...


"nom, nom, nom!... I luuuuuurve 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....

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 17 years of providing wildlife safaris should give you an idea of how difficult they are to see.

Other wildlife:

Common Toad

The warmer days at the end of the month saw the first Frogs and Toads emerge, and start their migrations towards their spawning areas.....

Insh Marshes nature reserve


Well, the big  - and very good - news  from the First Minister's announcement on March 16th is the planned re-opening of tourism and hospitality in Scotland from April 26th, so , at last , it looks like I will be able to recommence my safaris from that date - this is obviously subject to the COVID situation continuing to improve,  but is still a very welcome light at the end of what has been a very long tunnel...there is not a lot of  other news to report this month from a personal point of view... but these tourism/wildlife related features/stories may be of interest...


Can Nature Help Health? | Nature Prescriptions - YouTube

Scotland, Yours to Enjoy. Responsibly. - YouTube

Cairngorms National Park Authority

Highland Wildlife Park


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 have had my first anti-COVID vaccination.

I intend to re-commence providing my wildlife safaris when allowed, 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.

Snowdrops have finally emerged...


Well, when looking back over the last few weeks to compile my report, with plenty of lingering winter birds seen, as well as a few newly-arrived summer birds, a good selection of indigenous local specialities and one real rarity encountered, and  a few signs of spring approaching,  I would have to say that March 2021 turned out to be a very productive and most enjoyable month for me where wildlife adventures were concerned, and I reckon I am up to date and 'in-tune' with my local wildlife comings and goings, and well prepared for getting back to work soon....

The only downside though, was once again, not being able to share it with anyone, and as April is one of my favourite, and usually one of my busiest safari months, with loads of great Highland speciality birds like Osprey, Slavonian Grebe, Ring Ouzel and Red-Throated and Black-Throated Divers due to join the indigenous species,  but still not being able to share the experiences or earn any income, I suspect that the first 25 days of April are likely to feel a bit 'hollow' for me....but at least I should have plenty of time for scenic and wildlife photography for my end of April report....so watch this space...



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....



Buying my photos:

Due to public demand, prints of any of the photos (taken by myself) shown on this blog, going right back to 2015,  reproduced on high quality photographic paper,  with a choice of sizes up to A3, and satin pearl or glossy finishes available, can now be purchased from me at very reasonable prices. So if you see an image that might look nice in a frame (provided by yourself) on your wall, please make a note of the year and month of my blog in which it appeared, and email me for more information.

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, with (currently) no expiry date........