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, April 30, 2021

April 2021 actually started and ended in very wintry fashion, with more snow and low temperatures, but after the first week or so, high pressure soon kicked-in and went on to dominate for all but the last few days, meaning that we enjoyed a predominately sunny and dry month with light winds, but with regular overnight frosts, and, rather frustratingly - just like last April - it would have been almost perfect for safaris!

The days really are lengthening nicely now, with around 14 hours of usable daylight, but dawn (for the Black Grouse lek) is now a slightly less sociable 5 am, so if this species is on your 'wish-list', be prepared for an early start...

Although many of the winter visiting birds had departed by mid-month, the increasing influx of summer migrant birds north into this area helped bird species day-lists creep ever higher, and 50+ species would not be uncommon on a full day local safari, or considerably more if you include a visit to the nearby Moray coast, whilst full day mammal species day-lists can creep up towards double figures, with early starts usually providing best results for the shyer ones.

Sadly though, the continuing virtual lockdown and travel restrictions across the UK up until the 26th, meant that April 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 returned at the very end of the month, and to preserve my sanity, I just turned my local daily exercise walks into a safari a few times a week, choosing the best days weather-wise, always armed with my optics and camera of course.

The dawn chorus is at it's best in April, and it is always great to have your early start rewarded by getting to enjoy hearing the resident birds being joined by the newly arrived migrants like Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Tree Pipit.

Add to this  the first butterflies and bees on the wing, the explosion of spring flowers into full bloom and frogs and toads on the move, and the feelgood factor of this time of year is hard to beat...

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 April 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 April'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 (at, or soon after dawn), Osprey, Red Grouse, Ring Ouzel, Slavonian Grebe, Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver, and Dipper, with several decent sightings of Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle early in the month...  just a few brief glimpses of Crested Tit and Crossbill...and on the 6th, a mid-morning forest drive produced another sighting of a male Capercaillie...

Snow Buntings were seen at low level sites early in the month, but seemed to retreat high up to the mountain tops, as the snow line receded...where Ptarmigan can also often be seen...

Winter visiting birds were represented by a few remaining family groups of Whooper Swans, flocks of Greylag and Pink-Footed Geese, wildfowl such as Wigeon and Teal, and a few lingering  BramblingsRedwings and Fieldfares , but most had departed by mid-month...

Summer migrant birds flooded in throughout the month, with the first sightings this year of OspreyCommon SandpiperSand MartinHouse Martin,  SwallowWillow WarblerChiffchaff,  BlackcapTree Pipit, Redstart and Cuckoo,  to name just a few...

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, Red Squirrel, and Feral Mountain Goat, whilst Mountain Hare became a little trickier as they morphed into their spring coat..and both types of Seal can be seen at the nearby Moray coast...


April 2021 bird sightings in more detail:

A pair of Ospreys on their impressive nest


One of my most eagerly-awaited wildlife moments every year, is the return of our local Ospreys to their nesting sites, and these impressive birds of prey are always popular with my safari clients, with their dashing good looks, large size, aerial acrobatics and spectacular plunge diving to catch fish. Many of our local pairs were reunited by mid-month after a winter apart in West Africa, and were soon seen building up their nests with sticks, chasing off intruders and mating frequently, and by the very end of the month some of the hen birds appeared to be incubating eggs as the cock birds began to perform all of the fishing duties, whilst the females presumably carried out brooding duties..

Up on the moors....

A local upland moorland 

Lekking Black Grouse

Black Grouse aggression levels turned up to 10!

April is definitely THE month to see Black Grouse, and dawn (now around 5am) visits to local Black Grouse leks usually delight and amaze my safari clients with as many as 12 blue-black cock birds seen 'performing' in spectacularly aggressive fashion, their incredible  bubbling and whooshing sounds drifting across the moor, and late in the month, we are often lucky to witness the hen birds walking among them, watching the action, and presumably 'rating' the contestants, only around 20% of whom will 'get lucky',  and previously we  have even been lucky enough to see them mating with their chosen partner - a truly fantastic wildlife spectacle and a great way to start the day! 

Female Red Grouse

Male Red Grouse

Our local moorlands continued to echo with the characteristic cackling calls of the cock Red Grouse, many of whom were seen still actively displaying from raised positions, with red 'eyebrows' aglow, presumably 'guarding' their territory and nesting female,  and from mid-month I saw very few hen birds, suggesting that many may already be incubating eggs.....

In the forests...

Ancient Caledonian pine forest

Male Capercaillie - A rare treat!

Female Capercaillie - check out the beautifully coloured plumage!

With no 'rogue' birds in this area to go for these days, and numbers confirmed to be declining to dangerously low levels,  Capercaillie sightings are now much more difficult to come by, and sadly, I only managed a single, brief mid-morning sighting of one male bird and one of a female this month, despite many walks and slow drives through suitable Caledonian forest habitat, where we had been successful before...

Please note: In order to help protect them and keep sensitive sites 'off the radar', I no longer take clients on specific Capercaillie-hunting missions, and although we do visit suitable areas of forest, I would only rate our chances of seeing one on 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....

Crested Tit - not easy to see in springtime...

Still in the forests, Crested Tit sightings became much more difficult to obtain this month, with one or two birds seen early on using forest feeding stations on the colder mornings, but generally they were pretty elusive, seemingly quietly going about their business breeding.....and I should point out that you really need to be familiar with their 'chuckling trill' of a song to have a realistic chance of seeing them... but I usually plan a short Caledonian forest walk in order to give us a chance...

Female Crossbill

Male Crossbill

Continuing the forest theme, I think probably because I had plenty of spare time to spend looking and listening for them, I actually did pretty well for Crossbill sightings , though most of them were of the typical and rather annoying fly-over variety, I also had a few better views, and (unusually!) on the 21st, I even managed a few photos!

On the rivers...

River Spey



It was noticeable that there were increased occurrences of male Dippers seemingly delivering food to the now well hidden female birds at their nest sites , usually underneath bridges or under high , overhanging banks...and I also witnessed a few instances of rival males having territorial disputes....

On the lochs...

Early morning at a beautiful local loch

A distant view of Red-Throated Divers

Black-Throated Diver

Slavonian (Horned) Grebes

Now the local lochs are no longer in danger of freezing over, some of our highly prized local speciality water birds are back on their summer breeding territories, and I managed to see some of the most attractive and rare examples regularly this month - namely Slavonian (Horned) GrebeRed-Throated Diver and Black-Throated Diver, all in their splendid summer plumage.

Female Goldeneye

Male Goldeneye

Also on the lochs (and rivers), we must not forget our breeding Goldeneye population , and I was fortunate enough to see them regularly this month, with many of the dapper males still performing their unique and spectacular 'head-banging' mating display!

Up in the mountains....

A wintry April morning in the Cairngorm Mountains

Male Snow Bunting

Although I did not walk up to the the summit area myself this month - the Cairngorm Funicular railway is still out of action  - visits to the ski centre car park early in the month, while the snow was still down to lower levels, gave me some good views of a few lingering Snow Buntingsbut they seemed to retreat high up to the mountain tops as the snow line receded.... Those that do walk up though, can get some decent sightings of Ptarmigan as well, with both species now morphing into their summer plumage...

Male Ring Ouzel

At slightly lower levels ( but still generally at 1,500ft/450m +)  Ring Ouzels - sometimes called the Blackbird's mountain dwelling cousin -  always prove to be popular with my safari clients, presumably because not many will have seen them, as they tend to breed only in remote upland areas well away from human disturbance, and can be quite tricky to find. We are fortunate in having plenty of suitable habitat for them in this area though, and we are often able to get decent views and sometimes photographs of newly-arrived male and female birds .....

Up in the glens...

April in a beautiful local upland glen

Hovering Kestrel

Common Buzzard

Sub-adult Golden Eagle - photo from April 2019

Up in the local glens, it is worth noting that bird of prey sightings usually become less frequent during the longer days of spring and early summer, with many of the female birds nesting and many more hours of daylight available for hunting meaning that our chances are reduced. However, we still usually manage reasonably regular sightings of OspreyCommon BuzzardRed KitePeregrineKestrel and Sparrowhawk, with maybe a few views of GoshawkGolden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle, and, if we are really lucky, possibly a Merlin too...

Spring at Insh Marshes

Winter-visiting birds seen locally:

Pink-Footed Geese

Whooper Swans

Greylag Geese

A lot of the winter-visiting birds seemed to have departed from this area for their breeding grounds even further north by mid month, but I still managed to see Whooper Swans, Pink-footed and Greylag Geese. 

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

Kingfisher, Common Crane, Rough-Legged Buzzard, Short-Eared Owl, Mandarin Duck, Hoopoe, Gadwall and Shoveler...

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

Little Grebe

Pied Wagtail

Reed Bunting


Stonechat (female)

Stonechat (male)

Bullfinch (female)

Bullfinch (male)

Song Thrush

Red-Legged Partridge

Tufted Ducks

Common Snipe

Grey Wagtail


A few newly-arrived migrant birds:

Tree Pipit


Adventures 'out of area': 

Tarbat Ness lighthouse

Lapland Bunting at Tarbat Ness

Lapland Bunting at Tarbat Ness

The 12th of the month saw me take a trip up north of Inverness to Tarbet Ness in response to an alert from my Rare Bird Alert pager about a 'fall' of Lapland Buntings, and I am pleased to report that my trip was successful, with at least 7 birds being seen, though they proved to be a bit elusive for photography, I did at least manage a few distant shots...

Meadow Pipit

Sky Lark


Seawatching from the point proved to be a bit disappointing, but the fields and coastal scrub produced great sightings of Skylark, Stonechat, Linnet, Meadow Pipit and Yellowhammer...

Inverness/Moray coast birds:

The ruggedly beautiful Moray coast


Black Guillemots

Male Eider 

A sleepy pair of Teal


The very scenic Moray coast is only about an hour drive north of Aviemore, and my April trips to favourite reserves, lochs, bays and harbours provided good views of resident and wintering birds such as  Greylag Geese,  Pink-Footed Geese Barnacle GeeseWhooper Swan, Wigeon, Teal,  ScaupPintail,  Bar-Tailed  and Black-Tailed Godwit Golden Plover ,  Ringed Plover, Shag, Gannet,  Razorbill, Common Guillemot, Black Guillemot,  Rock Pipit, Fulmar, KittiwakeRedshank, Oystercatcher, Turnstone,  CurlewDunlinEider Red-Throated Diver, and on the 16th, again, following a 'tip-off' from my pager, a rare sighting of a White-Billed Diver off of Cullen, though sadly, too far out for photos... ..  it was noticeable though, that some of the winter -visiting species were in smaller number than last monthand of course, many of these birds will disappear off north to their breeding grounds soon...

April is Daffodil month this far north

April 2021 mammal sightings in more detail:

Mountain Hare in spring coat by Steve Nicklin (photo from April 2019)

Despite most of them now sporting their mottled white and blue-grey spring outfits, Mountain Hares usually seem to be the one to beat in our 'mammal of the day' awards in April, though they certainly become tricky to find among the mottled white and blue-grey rocks of their upland homes!!

It should be noted though, that most of our views are at range through my telescope, and that a closer view or photographic opportunity usually involves some considerable amount of rough uphill walking, often on snow, yes, even in April!

Red Deer 'snowbathing'

Red Deer stag - minus his recently shed antlers

Red Deer too, always prove popular with my safari clients. Being an iconic animal of the Scottish Highlands, the 'Monarch of the Glen' is on most visitors 'wish-lists', and we usually manage to see them regularly in large same-sex herds in upland glens this month, though many of the stags have now lost their old fully-grown antlers, and are growing a new set...

Feral Mountain Goats

Feral Mountain Goats too are only found in a few remote upland areas of the UK, and we are often fortunate enough to have good views of these wild looking, multi-coloured creatures, with the fast-growing youngsters now almost as big as the adults...

Red Squirrel

Seeing a Red Squirrel is always a treat, especially for those who don't have them locally, but we have good numbers here, and I was lucky enough to see them regularly this month, sometimes at forest feeding stations, and sometimes running around or climbing trees...

Roe Deer

Roe Deer however, are common and numerous over most of the UK, but due to their nervous nature and crepuscular habits, they are rarely seen well unless you are out and about early or late, or in a really quiet place, well away from human disturbance..

Brown Hare

As spring tends to reach us a little later this far north, where Brown Hares are concerned, we tend to get 'Mad April Hares' rather than 'Mad March Hares'' , and that proved to be the case this month, with lots of frisky behaviour being witnessed.

"Got any more of those yummy carrots?!!"

Feeding time for Murdo

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:

Some of the warmer days  saw a few brave butterflies - Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Comma and Small White - on the wing, joining the increasing numbers of bees, and the end of the month saw the first few bats catching insects at dusk.

Looking across upland moorland towards the Cairngorms


The BIG news is that from 26th April all tourism/hospitality/activities in Scotland have now re-opened.

With all national travel restrictions lifted too, Scotland is now officially 'open for business' for visitors from all over the UK.

For those considering a visit, these wildlife/outdoor tourism websites may prove useful:


NatureScot (outdooraccess-scotland.scot)

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 have re-commenced my wildlife safaris - 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.

Cute spring lamb


Wow! What a great month of weather and wildlife that was for me! I am not going to dwell on having to do it all solo, and with no earnings, instead, I will concentrate on telling you all what a great month April is for wildlife watching up here.

With the local speciality birds displaying and singing, the returning summer visiting birds flooding northwards to join our resident species and a few winter stragglers, the days lengthening, flowers  blooming, butterflies and bees on the wing , the stunning scenery - especially at and soon after dawn - and the weather improving, I can honestly say that I felt very lucky to have such a great variety of special and unique habitats and wildlife species so close to my home, and would not want to be anywhere else in the world than here in the majestic Scottish Highlands at this time of year....


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........