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

Saturday, July 31, 2021

July 2021, in this area, with the exception of a few cloudy or showery days at the end, was largely warm occasionally hot, and dry and sunny throughout with generally very light winds, making it near perfect for wildlife watching.

With tourism almost fully re-opened, national travel restrictions lifted, and all of my favourite wildlife-watching sites now accessible,  it turned out to be a very successful month for wildlife sightings, and although the days are shortening slightly now, this far north there are still around 18 hours (4am-10pm) of usable daylight.

Full-day (7-8 hours) safari bird species day lists dropped a little, down into the 40's or 30's, as some of our wader species moved away from their upland breeding territories to the coasts, and bird-wise things have definitely quietened down , as just about every species seems to have successfully raised and fledged youngsters now, and some will be preparing to leave the area soon...

Mammal day lists varied between 3 and 8, depending on the length of day, and variety of habitats visited...with early starts generally producing more and closer sightings, with again, many species seen with youngsters..

With plenty of sunshine and warmth and the occasional showers, more heather starting to turn a beautiful vivid purple, and the wild flowers and butterflies at their most abundant, the Cairngorms National Park really was a beautiful and unspoilt place to be this month, and my safari clients certainly seemed to enjoy themselves.....

An atmospheric early morning scene at a local loch

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

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

Osprey, Goldeneye and DipperWe also enjoyed some good views of Ring Ouzel, Slavonian Grebe Red-Throated Diver and Black-Throated Diver early in the monththough they became less frequent later ona few reasonable , if unreliable, sightings of Crested Tit and Crossbill,  and unusually, we had a couple of decent Golden Eagle sightings late in the month...Sadly, but typically at this time of year, we failed to see Capercaillie or Black Grouse at all this month....

Mammal species seen regularly included:

Red SquirrelRabbitBrown HareRoe DeerRed Deer, Reindeer and feral Mountain Goat, with just a couple of sightings of Mountain Hare and one brief glimpse each of Bank Vole and Stoat....

July 2021 bird sightings in more detail:

On the lochs...

A picturesque local loch

Osprey in fishing mode

Perched adult Osprey

Osprey family

Our local Ospreys stole the show again this month, these attractive and impressive raptors were often voted as 'Bird of the day' by my safari clients, with the adult birds seen fishing, delivering fish  and feeding and encouraging the fast growing 'scaly' looking , orange-eyed youngsters to take their 'maiden flights', and by late-month they had indeed fledged and could be seen perched in adjacent trees and flying for the first time.. I can therefore highly recommend July as THE month for Osprey watching and photography in this area...

Slavonian (Horned )Grebe

The male of our local pair of Slavonian Grebes was seen regularly in the first half of the month, and for a while I was hopeful that the female may be re-nesting secretively in a secluded part of the loch, but unfortunately, there was no sign of either adult (or any youngsters) later in the month, suggesting that they had perhaps given up breeding attempts for this year, and had departed for the coast, not great news for a very rare and declining species in the UK...

Black-Throated Diver and Red-Throated Diver in same photo - A very rare occurrence!!

Red-Throated Diver

Black-Throated Diver by Di Halliday

Divers (Loons), being very rare in summer south of hereand looking resplendent in their dapper summer plumage are always popular with my safari clients, and we were fortunate enough to get some good views of both Red-Throated and Black-Throated through most of the the month on their favoured local lochs, both species with their rapidly growing youngster, which is great news.  It should be noted however, that they are rarely seen close to the lochside, can be difficult to find in 'choppy' conditions, and are easily disturbed by non wildlife-friendly tourists dog-walking, swimming , fishing and boating etc, so the less windy days and early morning starts in search of them, ahead of the holidaymakers, usually gave us our closest views, and sightings became noticeably less frequent as the month progressed, as some presumably moved out to the coast where they will spend the autumn and winter... 


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 most local lochs - yes, they really are a duck that nests up a tree! - and we got to see many families of these very attractive little ducks this month...

Up on the moors....

Midsummer on a local heather moorland

Nice image of a Red Grouse in the purple heather by Charlie Williams

Male Red Grouse by Di Halliday

Adult female and young Red Grouse

Red Grouse are always popular with my safari parties, as being a bird of largely uninhabited upland heather moorlands, most of my clients do not have them close to home. We, however, are fortunate to have lots of suitable habitat in this area, and although they were sometimes elusive, we often enjoyed good close up views of families of up to 5 of these very characterful and beautifully marked birds, though with the 'glorious 12th' rapidly approaching... I suspect they may not be quite so obliging next month...

Hen Harrier by Charlie Williams

We also managed great views of a hunting female/juvenile Hen Harrier on the 21st of the month...

On the rivers...

The beautiful upper reaches of a local river by Charlie Williams

Young Dipper


Dipper sightings were a bit 'random' this month, with the birds seemingly quite mobile up and down the very low level rivers. On some days, despite our best efforts,  we saw none, and on other days we saw one or more on each river we visited! Which just goes to show that although local knowledge and experience are important, nothing is ever guaranteed, and sometimes you need a bit of luck too......

Goosander family

Large families of Goosanders were also seen on local rivers on a few occasions...

In the forests...

Ancient Caledonian forest

Crested Tit by Rob Ellett (photo from July 2020)

Crested Tits were seen occasionally on our walks through Caledonian pine forests, usually in family parties, though there didn't appear to be any 'pattern' to our sightings, and I must stress again, that they can be very elusive in the spring and summer months, and knowing their distinctive rippling trills is a huge advantage in helping you to see these very 'flitty' little local specialities....which are incredibly difficult to see or photograph outside of the winter months, and away from feeding stations by the way...

Young Crossbill by Rod Watson (photo from July 2019)

It was a similar story with Crossbills too, with all of our sightings being of the rather frustrating 'fly-over' variety, with them only being identified by their characteristic 'jip' 'jip' calls as they flew between different parts of the forests, and despite my best efforts, sadly we failed to see a single perched bird this month...


In the birch woods....

A few walks in local birch woods early in the month failed to produce any sightings of Pied Flycatcher or Wood Warbler, though there were plenty of Willow warblers, and various Tits and Finches and a few Spotted Flycatchers, but it was hard work to get decent views or photos, with the trees now in full leaf....

Up in the glens...

Midsummer in a local upland glen

Soaring Golden Eagle (photo from July 2015)

Eagles are probably hardest to see in mid-summer (in this area at least), as the birds are still concentrating on fledging their young, and have so many hours of daylight in which to hunt, and sadly, but true to form, we only managed a couple of distant Golden Eagle sightings this month, both late on, ......but if previous years are anything to go by, things should improve soon as the youngsters take to the wing for the first time....

Red Kite

Common Buzzard

Other birds of prey seen reasonably regularly on my safaris this month included OspreyCommon BuzzardKestrelPeregrineSparrowhawk and Red Kite, and we also managed one sighting of a Goshawk, and one of a Hen Harrier, strangelyboth on the 21st...

Up in the mountains....

Low cloud in the Cairngorm Mountains

Snow Bunting by Brendan Meyerink (photo from July 2019)

Dotterel (photo from July 2016)

Female Ptarmigan with young (photo from July 2019)

July is 'last chance saloon' for seeing all 3 of our mountain top species ( Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting and Dotterel) in one trip, as the Dotterel often depart in early August , but being pretty busy with safaris, and it being so warm,  I didn't attempt a mountain top walk myself...so I have included some photos from previous years, to show what is possible ....

Young male Ring Ouzel

At slightly lower levels, but still above 1'500ft, Ring Ouzels were seen in upland habitats near their nesting and feeding areas, at least early in the month anyway, especially near the wetter areas with most worms, but became noticeably more elusive as the month progressed as they and their young began to roam even further afield, and it appeared that some may well have already vacated this area and headed south for warmer climes by the end of the month....

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

A Mediterranean Gull, and a Lady Amherst's Pheasant. 

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

Grey Wagtail

Grey Heron

Common Sandpiper


Tufted Duck

Spotted Flycatcher

Adventures 'out of area': 

Being quite busy with safaris, I didn't have many opportunities to venture far this month...though it should be noted that July is of course the last month to visit coastal seabird colonies to see all the auk species  (Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot etc), before they head back out to sea in August...

July 2021 mammal sightings in more detail:

Red Squirrel by Will Bartle

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel was probably voted 'mammal of the day' most frequently by my safari clients this month, with many of them excited to see these charismatic and undeniably cute little animals for the first time, and bringing home to me the fact that, although I am lucky to see them regularly here, they are now very difficult to see in most of the UK, being confined mainly to the northern Scottish Highlands, with just a few small localised populations remaining in other areas...

Red Deer stags

Similarly, another iconic 'Highland speciality',  Red Deer were seen regularly in local upland glens, usually in large same-sex herds, the stags happily feeding and seemingly relaxing, and the hinds with their fast-growing young always nearby ....

Feral Mountain Goat (photo from July 2015)

Strangely, we struggled for sightings of another scarce and very localised mammal, the feral Mountain Goat this month....interesting animals,  that seem to like remote upland areas, and come in a wide variety of colours, from white, through grey and brown to black, or sometimes a mixture of all of these...so I have used a photo from a previous July...

Roe Deer

Though Roe Deer are actually quite common and widespread across the UK, their shy, nervous disposition means that they are more frequently found in quieter, less disturbed places, especially at dawn and dusk, meaning that most members of the general public rarely encounter them...but we saw them most days, especially if we made a reasonably early start...

Brown Hare by Will Bartle

The same could also be said of Brown Hares, with most of our sightings coming early in the day before too much human disturbance, and generally on the more remote and secluded areas of open farmland...

Mountain Hares too are actually pretty tricky to find, certainly outside of the winter months, especially in their 'summer camouflage' coats of mottled brown and grey,  and the few sightings that we did manage this month were brief 'random' encounters on mountainsides or high moorlands, whilst in search of the special birds of those habitats..

Carrot 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:

A very rare daytime photo of a Pine Marten by Will Bartle

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:

Scotch Argus


Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary

Common Blue

Large Tortoiseshell

Butterfly sightings are usually at their peak in July, with many common species on the wing, and towards the end of the month we also got our first sightings of the rare and very localised Scotch Argus.

Wood Ants nest

Wood Ants are at their most active in the summer months, and walks in local forests revealed several huge nests, with thousands of worker ants frenziedly collecting and delivering caterpillars, insects and even beetles many times their own size!


The BIG news is that all tourism/hospitality/activities in Scotland are open, and that I have now completed three (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.

At the time of writing, due to COVID distancing rules, we are still operating at reduced capacity, and are unable to mix unconnected groups, so all safaris currently have to be exclusive, at a small extra cost.

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.

Looking down towards Aviemore from Cairngorm Mountain


July 2021 was - thankfully - a decently busy month for safaris for me, as , although I had lots of cancellations from all my pre-booked clients from abroad who were unable/unwilling to visit, a good number of days out with a combination of first-time UK based 'staycationers' and some of my valued 'regulars' saw us have lots of fun times enjoying some splendid wildlife sightings amid the lovely scenery in the (generally) good weather.

Although the bird breeding season is almost over, July is still a pretty decent month to see a good selection of birds, animals, butterflies and other wildlife in this area, with no need for a really early start, and it's also good for a mountain-top adventure, or a trip to a seabird colony with (usually) fairly good weather, and all still with plenty of daylight hours....

I must confess though,  that I always tend to feel just a little sad at the end of every July , as I know that many of our summer visiting birds (Osprey, Divers, Ring Ouzel, Slavonian Grebe)  are soon to vacate this area and fly south to warmer climes, or out to the coast, as summer turns to early autumn next month, and we won't see them again until next spring....


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....



A lovely surprise received in the post from happy, and very thoughtful safari clients

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........