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, June 30, 2021

June 2021 finally saw some more seasonal warmer and much drier weather arrive in this area, though it wasn't all plain sailing, with a few wet or windy days here and there too. Generally though, the weather was pretty decent for wildlife-watching, with no days totally unsuitable, and no real extremes experienced. It should be noted though, that it can be pretty cool early in the mornings after a clear night, and we even had a slight ground frost on one occasion, so layers of clothing is still recommended.

With nearly 20 hours of usable daylight and all of our summer visiting bird species on territory, bird day-lists are usually just below the highest in the year now, with full-day (10 hours with starts no earlier than 6am needed) multi-habitat safaris regularly producing over 50 species - many with youngsters - and June is definitely 'fledgling month' up here - so if you enjoy seeing baby birds, this is definitely the month to visit!

Typically this month, a few day-trips further afield to various favourite places, often including the Moray coast,  Isle of Mull, RSPB Fowlsheugh , the Ythan Estuary and SWT Handa Island usually give me my annual 'fix' of summer seabirds , and lots of new 'year-ticks',  including SkuasTernssea ducks and Auks including Puffins, and often some decent raptor and mammal sightings.

Mammal day-lists tended to range between 4 and 9 species depending on the length of safari and variety of habitats visited, with early starts, as usual, proving to be most productive for the 'shyer' and more crepuscular species.

The combination of plenty of sun and occasional rain this month gave the spectacular highland scenery a lush, green, almost spring-like appearance, and kept the river levels topped-up, whilst the wild flowers are finally starting to bloom now, and a few patches of purple heather began to appear on south-facing banks towards the end of the month.

A few more butterfly and day-flying moth species were noted on the sunnier days,

An idyllic scene at a local loch with the snow-capped Cairngorms behind

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

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

Osprey, Red Grouse, Ring Ouzel, Slavonian Grebe, Black-Throated Diver, Red-Throated Diver, Goldeneye and Dipper, we only managed a few brief glimpses of Crested Tit and Crossbill, whilst, not unusually for this time of year,  both Eagles proved very elusive with just a couple of very distant views, , and Black Grouse and Capercaillie were not seen at all....

Mammal species seen regularly included:

Rabbit, Red Squirrel, Red Deer, Roe Deer, Reindeer, and feral Mountain Goat, and we also had a couple of sightings of Brown Hare and Mountain Hare , Whilst trips to the coast usually produced views of both types of Seal.

June 2021 bird sightings in more detail:

On the lochs...

Early morning at a picturesque local loch

Osprey with a good sized fish (a Pike)


Our first glimpse of an Osprey chick this year 

Osprey is usually the 'star bird' of the mid-summer months up here, and that proved to be the case this month, with my safari parties often fortunate enough to see them sat in, on or around their nest, occasionally plunge-diving spectacularly to catch a fish, or delivering a fish to the nest on several occasions, and towards the end of the month we started to see the rapidly growing 'downy' youngsters heads popping up in the nests for the first time this year....a marvelous and heart-warming sight!

Slavonian (Horned) Grebe

Slavonian (Horned) Grebe with chick

Slavonian Grebes, in their beautiful summer plumage, were seen and enjoyed regularly on their favoured quiet lochans,  the males frequently observed delivering food to the female birds on their nests hidden deep in the sedge beds ,  and although we were delighted to confirm much-needed breeding success for this (UK-wise) rare and threatened species, when we finally got to see the incredibly cute humbug-striped youngsters at a couple of sites,  - sadly, both chicks on one of our local lochs were predated within a few days...showing just how precarious breeding success can be for what is a very rare and declining bird in the UK.

Red-Throated Diver (Loon)

Black-Throated Diver (Loon)

Both Red-Throated Divers and Black-Throated Divers in their strikingly beautiful summer plumage, were seen reasonably regularly on suitable secluded local lochs,  though they were not totally reliable, and it should be noted that generally we had our best views on calmer days, with little or no ripple on the water, and usually had the closest encounters early in the day, when human disturbance was it it's lowest...and we are yet to confirm any local breeding success for either species...

Goldeneye family

Female Goldeneye with her brood (photo from June 2020)

Goldeneye too are a 'local speciality' breeding bird, with Highland Scotland their only UK breeding area, and our local nest boxes proving popular, we enjoyed good views of families of these very attractive little ducks throughout the month.

Up on the moors....

A local upland heather moorland in early morning light

Male Red Grouse

Female Red Grouse with one of her cute chicks

Red Grouse were not too difficult to find in suitable areas of heather moorland, despite their impressive camouflage,  and if you could spot the heads of the adults popping up like periscopes above the dense heather, waited patiently, and looked carefully, you then usually got to see their brood of very cute, fast-growing youngsters too...

On the rivers...

The River Spey

Young Dipper

Adult Dipper with food for the youngsters

Dippers usually feature reasonably frequently on my safaris this month, with our local rivers often producing decent close-up views of the fast-growing families of these characterful and endearing little birds, that always prove to be popular with my clients, many of whom do not have them on or near their local patch, as they are generally restricted to upland areas in the north and west of the UK.

In the forests...

Local ancient Caledonian forest

Crested Tit by Bob Smith (photo from June 2016)

Crested Tit (finally!!!) became a little less difficult to see on our Caledonian forest walks, though they could still not be described as 'easy', as the recently-fledged youngsters learned to forage for food with their parents in family groups, but please be aware that they are extremely 'flitty', rarely sitting still, often only alerting us to their presence in the Caledonian pine forests with their distinctive rippling trills.... and you need to be able to hear and recognise this to have a decent chance....don't worry, I will use the app on my ipad and mobile phone to train you up!!

Male Crossbill

The same could definitely be said of Crossbills, usually one of the more tricky species to see well regularly due to their unpredictable 'irruptive' behaviour,  but by listening out for their trademark 'jip jip' calls and for falling pine cones....although most of our sighting were of the frustrating fly-over variety, we actually got lucky and managed decent sightings on a couple of occasions this month, and even had one rare photo opportunity!!

In the birch woods....

Local birch woodland

Wood Warbler by Bob Smith (photo from June 2018)

Male Pied Flycatcher (photo from June 2016)

Although Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher are more usually found in the ancient Atlantic oak woods on the west coast of the UK, we are usually fortunate to get a few in our local birch woods from May-August, and with a bit of persistence, and by using our ears to follow their distinctive calls and songs, we managed to get a few decent views early in the month, though sadly, sightings seemed to decrease through the month, and I've yet to see evidence that they actually stayed to breed here this year...

Up in the glens...

A local upland glen

Golden Eagle by Liz Rodgers (photo from June 2019)

White-Tailed Eagle (photo from June 2015)

Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle are iconic 'Scottish' birds which always seems to be on visiting birders 'wish-lists', and we are fortunate to have a number of suitable upland glens nearby, however.... it should be noted that, with most females still on eggs, or with very young chicks, and 20+ hours of daylight available for the males and sub-adults to use for hunting, the chances of us just happening to be in the right place at the right time to see them are fairly low during  spring and summer  (when compared to the autumn/winter months) and generally raptor sightings in this area were pretty hard to come by this month...though we did have a decent if brief and very distant view of 2 Golden Eagles dueling with a Red Kite on the 24th.

Red Kite by Steve Nicklin (photo from June 2020)

Short-Eared Owl

Other birds of prey seen reasonably regularly on my safaris this month included OspreyCommon BuzzardKestrelRed Kite and Peregrine, with just one view of a Short-Eared Owl on the 30th...

Up in the mountains....

The Cairngorm Mountains

The view down towards Aviemore from the Cairngorm summit cairn

Male Ptarmigan (photo from June 2016)

Dotterel (photo from June 2016)

Snow Bunting (photo from June 2015)

June is probably the best month to have a chance of seeing all 3 of our mountain top bird species - PtarmiganDotterel and Snow Bunting -  It should be noted though, that the Cairngorm Funicular railway is still out of action and is undergoing major repairs , meaning no Ranger-led Guided walks from the top, which instead, means a long and gruelling walk up from the car park, and I only managed one trek, on which I saw several Ring Ouzels and Wheatears, but sadly 'dipped-out' on  Ptarmigan And Dotterel....weirdly, despite all the May rain, it was incredibly dry up there and possibly lacking in suitable food, but I thought I would include a few photos from previous June sightings, to give you an idea of what is possible ...

Please be aware though, that several (7+) miles  of strenuous hill-walking is required, so a good level of physical fitness is needed, and some basic survival/navigation skills preferable, as well as suitably friendly weather, 

Adult male Ring Ouzel with a beakful of worms for his young

Young Ring Ouzel

At slightly lower levels, but generally still above 1,500ft/450m,  Ring Ouzels can often be seen in their upland and mountainside habitat, especially early in the day, though when compared to April and May they are now  harder to find, as most will no longer be singing or calling, and sightings are mainly restricted to adult birds collecting beakfuls of worms to take to their newly fledged youngsters.

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


Cuckoo, Lesser Whitethroat, Marsh Harrier,  and Red-Backed Shrike... 

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

Common Sandpiper

Collared Doves

Male Blackbird

Sky Lark

Female Bullfinch

Male Bullfinch

Grey Wagtail


Adventures 'out of area': 

Being quite busy with safaris, I didn't have too many opportunities to venture far this month...

Moray coast birds:

Spey Bay

Shag and Razorbills

Black Guillemots

Male Eider

A day-trip to the ruggedly beautiful eastern end of the Moray coast on the 7th gave good views of Black Guillemot, Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Shag, Eider, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Gannet, Rock Pipit and Rock Dove....

The iconic Scottish Thistles are now in bloom

June 2021 mammal sightings in more detail:

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrels often feature on my safari clients 'wish-lists', not surprising I suppose as they are sadly largely absent from most of the UK now, and just happen to be very attractive, entertaining and endearing little animals that can usually (with a little patience) be relied upon to appear at forest feeding stations for a free meal, though we often get more 'natural' random sightings whilst on forest walks and drives too...

Red Deer hinds with cute youngster (photo from June 2018)

Red Deer

Roe Deer (photo from June 2019)

My clients always love to 
see Deer too, and early starts and a variety of different habitats on the itinerary can give us the chance of seeing up to four different species, though it is usually the local speciality Red Deer and (re-introduced) Reindeer that prove to be the most popular....and although common and widespread, Roe Deer,  due to their crepuscular and nervous nature,  are still quite rare and enjoyable sightings for many people....we also occasionally see Sika Deer on one of the local estates...

Feral Mountain Goats (photo from June 2019)

Feral Mountain Goats  are rare across much of the UK, being a living remnant from the crofting age, and largely confined to remote upland areas, but we managed to see them on several times this month, with this year's young now almost as big as their parents..

Brown Hare by Bob Smith (photo from June 2016)

Brown Hare sightings were a little less frequent this month, probably because they can be quite crepuscular, and we were not out and about quite as early as in April and May, but we still had a few decent views in quieter locations...

Mountain Hare

Mountain Hare sightings too, were largely restricted to early mornings, and it doesn't help that their mottled blue-grey, brown and white coats provide great camouflage against the lichen-covered rocks in their upland habitat..

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

Other wildlife:

Small Copper

Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary

Butterflies featured more frequently on the warmer, sunnier days, with Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary joining Red Admiral, Peacock Small CopperCommon Blue and Orange Tip among others, ...and a splendid range of wild flowers were enjoyed, including several types of Orchids....

Common Spotted Orchid


The BIG news is that all tourism/hospitality/activities in Scotland have re-opened, and that I have now completed a couple of (thankfully!) pretty busy and extremely enjoyable full months of safaris with clients with no major issues arising.

With all national travel restrictions lifted too, Scotland is 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 been anti-COVID vaccinated.

I check myself regularly with the NHS Test and Trace COVID-19 Rapid Antigen kits, and have always tested negative.

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 until 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.

Colourful wild lupins alongside the River Spey


Well, that was certainly another excellent month of wildlife watching, with a splendid selection of wildlife seen , and mostly in good weather. It was certainly great to see the breeding success of some of our rarer bird species ,  utter an "ahhh" at the cute fledglings of so many more common birds,  and enjoy the feelgood factor of just spending time out and about in the beautiful Cairngorms National Park among all the lovely wild flowers and spectacular scenery....  but... the real highlight for me was sharing it with other like-minded people, seeing their smiles and hearing the occasional "wow" as they saw something special.....


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:

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........