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

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

August 2021 had a slightly autumnal feel about it in this area, with temperatures well down on last month and a lot less sun, though it was generally dry, it was often very cloudy, occasionally showery, and a little breezy at times, so a layered approach to clothing and a waterproof cagoule on stand-by is recommended..

The days are noticeably shortening now as autumn approaches, but we still have 14-15 hours of usable daylight this far north, with dawn at around 5:30am and dusk at around 8:30pm...

With many of our summer visiting bird species departing here for their wintering areas from mid month, it was inevitable that local full-day bird lists would reduce down into the 30's , though this could be increased considerably if you included a visit to the Moray coast.

Mammal day lists varied between 3 and 7 species, with earlier starts generally proving more successful, especially for the shyer, more crepuscular species.

August is often a good month for Butterflies, dragonflies and day-flying moths in this area - weather permitting - and a good variety of species were seen on the calmer, sunnier days, though sightings tailed-off noticeably later in the month...

The Highland scenery is extremely picturesque now, with the heather at it's beautiful purple best, one or two ferns turning coppery gold, a few leaves beginning to morph into their autumn hues, lots of varieties of fungus appearing, the wild Blaeberries ripe for picking, and the Rowan trees now fully laden with bright red or orange berries.

Sunrise at one of my favourite local lochs

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are considering a future August 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 August'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, Goldeneye and Dipper.
We also enjoyed some good views of Ring OuzelRed-Throated Diver and Black-Throated Diver early in the monththough they became less frequent later ona few brief sightings of Crested Tit and Crossbill,  and we also started to see young birds of prey on the wing with their parents, including a few sightings of  Golden Eagle ...
Sadly, but not unusually, we failed to see Capercaillie or Black Grouse at all this month....

Mammal species seen regularly included:

Red squirrel, Roe Deer, Reindeer, Red Deer, Rabbit, Brown Hare, and feral Mountain Goat, with just a couple of quick glimpses of Stoat, and Sika Deer, and on the 19th, lovely early morning views of an Otter fishing a local loch....

August 2021 bird sightings in more detail:

On the lochs...

Late summer on a local loch

Osprey family

Osprey about to land

Osprey with fish

Osprey 'Mum' keeping an eye on her youngsters

Juvenile Ospreys by Chris Stamper

Osprey by Chris Stamper

Osprey was most frequently voted as 'bird of the day' by my safari clients this month, especially by those seeing them for the first time, not too surprising I guess, when you consider that these impressively large and attractively marked raptors can also provide additional "wow" factor when seen plunge-diving, eating or carrying fish!... and although the parent birds appeared to have departed by about the 28th, the now fully independent youngsters could occasionally be seen near favourite nest sites right up to the end of the month, though they too, will very soon be heading off south to warmer climes....

Red-Throated Diver

Black-Throated Diver

Still on the lochs, as I reported previously, Red-Throated Diver and Black-Throated Diver both bred successfully locally this summer, and although sightings reduced a little and became less predictable as the juveniles became more mobile and less reliant on their parents, we still saw them reasonably regularly until late in the month, when they presumably departed for the coast, where they will moult into their much less interesting grey and white winter plumage, and stay until next spring....


Our local Goldeneyes seem to have no problems breeding in this area, the only place in the UK where they do so, and it was good to see them still in family groups on local lochs and rivers, often all diving for food together, throughout the month..

Up on the moors....

The purple heather at it's beautiful best on a local moorland

Nice Red Grouse 'habitat' shot by Chris Stamper

Female Red Grouse

Red Grouse 'portrait' by Chris Stamper

Red Grouse, still in family groups, continued to show well on our local heather moorlands, and similarly to the last couple of years,  with brood sizes being smaller than normal and the youngsters slow to reach adult size, we had the bonus of the start of the shooting season being delayed , or even shooting being cancelled altogether on some estates...

We also had a couple of sightings of Hen Harrier on local moorlands this month, always a treat....

On the rivers...

The River Spey

Feeding Dipper by Chris Stamper

Dipper by Chris Stamper

On the local rivers, sightings of Dippers were a little 'random', as the adults presumably showed the youngsters around their territory, and with more rocks showing in the low-water levels, they could be very tricky to spot, so I would recommend familiarizing yourself with their distinctive 'zit zit' calls to give you more chance of seeing them...

Goosander family

We also saw several large family groups of Goosanders on local rivers this month.

In the forests...

An atmospheric early-morning scene in a local ancient Caledonian forest

Crested Tit by Gaurang Purohit (photo from August 2020)

Crested Tits now appear to have joined the recently-formed 'mixed winter flocks' of  many different bird species 'working' through our local Caledonian pine forests... so... to see the 'Wee Cresties' you first have to  find one of these roving flocks , then listen out for their distinctive chuckling trill , then try and pick them out as they move in annoyingly flitty style through the branches - not an easy task! , but, satisfyingly for myself as a guide, we managed it on a couple of occasions, with some of my safari clients obtaining a difficult and much sought after 'life-tick'... and on the cooler mornings there were even a few reports of one or two visiting peanut feeders for the first time since late winter.......

Juvenile Crossbill

Still in the forests - stand by for the usual 'cut and paste'!! - Crossbill sightings were (again!) usually of the rather frustrating 'fly-over' variety, with them only being identified by their characteristic 'jip' 'jip' calls as they flew overhead between different areas of the forests...however, on the 26th, we finally got lucky, when a juvenile bird perched briefly, allowing scope views and a couple of photos - at last!!

Male Capercaillie by Simon Sheffield

Interestingly, a chat with some visiting walkers/wildlife watchers led to them showing me a photo of a possible 'rogue' male Capercaillie, seen 'lekking' at 4pm one afternoon early this month in a local forest, which then proceeded to chase them down the track in a very aggressive manner! I will be investigating shortly.....

Up in the glens...

Late summer in a picturesque local upland glen 

Red Kite by Chris Stamper

Common  Buzzard by Chris Stamper

Great photo by Chris Stamper showing the huge size difference between Common Buzzard and Golden Eagle

Sub-adult Golden Eagle by Chris Stamper

Birds of prey are always popular with my safari clients, and sightings definitely increased this month, and although we only managed a couple of distant views of Golden Eagle, our visits to favourite local glens also produced regular encounters with KestrelCommon Buzzard,  Red KiteSparrowhawk and Peregrine Falcon, often in family groups,  as the youngsters learned to fly and hunt.....

Up in the mountains....

The Pass of Ryvoan as seen from Cairngorm Mountain

Being really busy with safaris this month, I didn't have time for a walk up to the tops in search of  Ptarmigan, Dotterel and Snow Bunting, though some birding friends had a walk up early in the month, but only managed to see Snow Bunting, plus a few Wheatears....

At slightly lower levels, but still above 1'500ft, juvenile 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 by the second week, and had appeared to have departed by the middle of the month....

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

Spotted Flycatcher by Chris Stamper

Spotted Flycatcher, Bullfinch, Whinchat,  Scaup....

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


Red-Legged Partridges

Little Grebes

Willow Warbler by Chris Stamper

Song Thrush by Chris Stamper

Young Grey Wagtail by Chris Stamper

Adventures 'out of area': 

Being really busy with safaris, I didn't have many opportunities to venture far this month...though I noticed some interesting reports of sightings of passage waders and seabirds from local coastal sea watchers...

August 2021 mammal sightings in more detail:

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

We are fortunate to have Red Squirrels in our local forests, a species sadly absent from most of the UK now, due largely to invasion by the introduced Grey Squirrel (and the Squirrel pox virus they carry), so they are always popular with my safari clients - often getting voted as 'mammal of the day', and forest walks and visits to my favourite Caledonian pine forest feeding stations produced lots of good sightings, often with decent photographic opportunities...though we did have a few days when none showed at all...

Red Deer stags

A frequent winner of my safari clients 'mammal of the day' award - often with tough competition from Red Squirrel and Murdo - is the iconic 'monarch of the glen' - the Red Deer, and although they can be seen in more places all round the UK these days, it is still great to see them in their 'proper' home environment of upland glens and mountainsides....and although they are mainly still in their large same-sex groups at the moment, that will be sure to change in a few weeks time....

Feral Mountain Goats

Still up in the glens,we also have feral Mountain Goats, interesting animals that come in a wide variety of colours from white, through grey and brown to black, or any combination of some or all of these colours, and many of my safari clients saw them in the wild for the first time whilst out on safari with me this month...

A typically 'wary' Roe Deer

Roe Deer are actually fairly common throughout most of the UK, but due to their crepuscular nature, most of my safari clients rarely see them, and they are easily disturbed by human noise and activity...but July and August is their 'rutting' time, and early starts, and quiet drives and walks round secluded areas gave us a few decent views this month..

Being largely nocturnal, and with their summer coat perfectly matching their upland surroundings,  Mountain Hares can prove very difficult to see in the summer , and so it proved this month, with just a couple of brief glimpses on early-morning visits to local mountains and upland moorlands...

Brown Hare

Thankfully, our local Brown Hares were a little more obliging, especially early in the morning, though they rarely stick around once they become aware of us watching them, so it's rare to get a decent photo opportunity...


Whilst up on the edge of the Cairngorm Mountains, we sometimes get to see the (reintroduced) free-roaming Reindeer , although it is usually from a fair distance, but on the 1st of the month, we enjoyed an unusually close encounter with one....

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:

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 Tortoiseshell by Lisa Bates

Dark Green Fritillary

Scotch Argus by Chris Stamper

August is the last decent month for butterfly sightings in this area, and we were fortunate enough to get decent sightings of species such as Small Tortoiseshell, Dark Green Fritillary and the local speciality Scotch Argus on the sunniest, calmest days......

Leaping Atlantic Salmon (photo from August 2019)

The Atlantic Salmon are now making their way further up our local rivers, and visits to popular local falls and 'leaps' can give great views - and for those with LOTS of patience, even the odd photo opportunity, as these amazing creatures attempted to fight the powerful flows and often steep ascents, to return upstream to their birthplace breeding grounds to reproduce...a highly recommended wildlife experience....


The BIG news is that all tourism/hospitality/activities in Scotland are open , are now largely free of restrictions, and that I have now completed four (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, and as restrictions have only recently been lifted, we are still operating at reduced capacity, and are still continuing not 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 am running 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 I am comfortable that 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.

The Cairngorm Mountains seen from Loch Morlich beach


So, although maybe not a favourite month for the hard-core birder, 'twitcher' or photographer to visit, August in the Cairngorms National Park would still appear to have quite a lot to offer the more casual beginner or 'improver' nature-watcher, or maybe those with a young family looking for a less intense or 'taster' wildlife safari experience, with no need for a really early start, in arguably, one of the more scenic months of the year.

Looking back through my notes and photos for this month, I reckon that our sightings were actually very decent for the time of year, with some of the summer species lingering in this area a little longer than normal, and more importantly, my safari clients certainly seemed to enjoy themselves...

This was also the first month for a long time that actually felt almost 'normal', with almost all restrictions lifted,  lots of bookings from first-time 'staycationers' and welcome returns from some of my valued regulars helping me some way along the long road to financial recovery.

Thanks everyone!


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....




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........