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

Thursday, September 30, 2021

September 2021 was largely, a strangely calm month weather-wise in this area. Early autumn usually sees our weather dominated by Atlantic lows and the accompanying wind and rain,  but that was not the case this year,  instead, we enjoyed generally very light winds, lots of cloud and early-morning mist , the occasional bit of sun, and just the odd drizzly day, meaning it was pretty decent for wildlife-watching.

Temperatures ranged considerably,  with 20c reached on a few of the sunnier days, but it is considerably cooler at dawn and dusk now though, and it actually felt quite chilly on some of the windier days, and the first frosts are surely not too far away...

The days are shortening noticeably now though, with only around 12 hours (7am-7pm) of usable daylight , but by way of consolation, the heather is still a lovely purple in places, many trees are full of colourful berries, and some of the leaves and ferns are now morphing into their attractive autumnal hues.....

With just about all the summer visiting bird species gone by mid-month, and the first of the winter visiting bird species only just arriving, full-day (6-7 hours) local safari bird lists dropped down to their lowest levels of the year (in the 30's), though this could be upped considerably by a trip to the nearby Moray coast, whilst mammal day lists varied between 3 and 7 species, depending on the time of our start and the number of different habitats visited, with early starts usually proving to be more fruitful...

Early autumn in a local upland glen

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

I was away visiting relatives for the last week of the month, so my report will be a little shorter than usual. 

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

Osprey and Black-Throated Diver, (both very early in the month only)
DipperRed GrouseGoosander and Goldeneye, we also had several good sightings of Golden Eagle , a few decent views of Crested Tit, and just a couple of glimpses of Crossbill.
Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting were both reported on local mountain tops, and a few intrepid birders visited the summit of Ben Macdui in the first half of the month to enjoy views of an elusive Snowy Owl!!

Sadly, but typically, Black Grouse or Capercaillie were not seen at all this month, though this is not unusual away from late winter/springtime....

Mammal species seen regularly included:

Red SquirrelRed DeerReindeerRoe DeerMountain Goat  and Rabbit......with just a couple of glimpses of Brown Hare and Stoat...it should be noted that Mountain Hares are still really tricky to see in September, but should become a little easier as they morph into their white coats next month....

September 2021 bird sightings in more detail:

Up in the glens...

A favourite local upland glen

Golden Eagle (7ft wingspan) with Raven (4ft wingspan)

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagles are more commonly seen on my safaris during the shorter days of late autumn and winter, when they have less hours of daylight in which to hunt, and all of the family are actively flying - it takes several months from hatching before the young can fly competently - but we actually had a pretty good 'strike-rate' on my safaris this month, with a favourite upland glen giving us decent sightings on a good number of occasions, even a few brief photo opportunities, and more importantly lots of my clients a much sought-after 'life-tick' of an iconic Highland speciality....and although we didn't see any White-Tailed Eagles this month,  I would expect some sightings of them next month as the Atlantic Salmon should start to spawn in the shallow upper reaches of our rivers soon...

Peregrine Falcon

Red Kite

Common Buzzard

In fact, raptors in general were noticeably more active than in recent months with us also regularly seeing Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Common Buzzard and Red Kite ...and on the 1st of the month a rare daytime sighting of a Barn Owl....

On the lochs...

A scenic local loch

Osprey by Chris Williams

Juvenile Osprey with fish

A few of our local juvenile Ospreys lingered around their now redundant nest sites and local lochs and rivers for the first week of the month, giving us our last chance to admire these attractive and impressive raptors and their fishing skills, though it should be noted that seeing them was a bit 'hit and miss'....and we won't see them any more now, until they return in the spring. It always amazes me to think that these young birds will attempt to undertake a 5,000 odd mile migration alone and unassisted by their parents at the age of just 3 months!!

Black-Throated Diver with youngster

Summer plumage Black-Throated Diver

Our local pair of Black-Throated Divers just about made it onto this month's report, with a sighting of one of the adults and their almost fully grown youngster on the 1st of the month, though we didn't see any lingering Red-Throated Divers or Slavonian Grebes.

An artistic image of a Goldeneye by Russel Lee

Goldeneyes were seen regularly though, occasionally in large family groups, .though it should be noted that the males are still in their brown-grey 'eclipse' plumage which is very similar to that of the females and youngsters...you will have to wait a while to enjoy them in their dapper breeding plumage...

Up on the moors....

Autumn on a local upland heather moorland

Male Red Grouse by Chris Williams

Female Red Grouse by Chris Williams

Super Red Grouse close-up by Chris Williams

Red Grouse were seen regularly on our local upland moors,  mostly still in family groups, and they continued to entertain my safari clients with their often very confiding nature (as long as you stay in your vehicle) and 'cackling' calls, and similarly to last year, with seemingly little or no shooting going on in this area this autumn, they were actually easier than usual to see... long may it continue.....

Most of the birds of prey that we see in the glens, can sometimes be seen hunting over the moors too, as well as the occasional MerlinHen Harrier and Short-Eared Owl.

Although we failed to see any Black Grouse this month, my records for previous years suggest that we may have more chance at dawn in the months to come as the frosts often inspire them to appear...

On the rivers...

The River Spey

Dipper by Chris Williams

As is usual at this time of year, Dipper sightings were still a little 'random' early in the month, as the birds seemed to range wide and far, but later in the month we witnessed some more 'territorial' behaviour (loud singing and aggressive posturing) near to some of their favourite nesting bridges....


We occasionally saw large families of Goosanders on local rivers too, though it should be noted that they are usually very nervous and often fly off when they notice us...

In the forests...

A local ancient Caledonian forest

Crested Tit by Freddie Oxley (photo from Sept 2020)

Crested Tit is always high on my safari clients 'wish-lists', with it being a UK rarity and Speyside speciality, and it should be noted that they can be a difficult bird to see in spring and summer,  but although they are now mainly to be found in mixed flocks roaming around the Caledonian pine forests, it can sometimes be possible to get a few decent views of them at feeding stations, especially soon after first light on the colder mornings in the latter part of the month...and they should become a little more reliable in the coming weeks...

Female Crossbill by Russel lee

Male Crossbill by Russel Lee

Still in the forests, despite my best efforts, Crossbills sightings were ( yet 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 parts of the forests...though on a couple of occasions we got lucky when birds actually perched atop a pine long enough for us to view them through my scope and actually grab a few photos...

Sadly, but not unusually, given their rarity these days, we did not see any Capercaillie this month.

Up in the mountains....

Looking down to Glenmore from Cairn Gorm

Although I did not have time to venture up into the Cairngorms myself this month, a few intrepid birders and photographers managed to locate the extremely rare and elusively mobile visiting Snowy Owl near the summit of Britain's second highest mountain Ben Macdui. Well done to those that managed it - you really earned that sighting!

A few sightings of Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting were also reported from the upper areas of local mountains too.

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

Kingfisher, Nuthatch, Marsh harrier, a probable Pectoral Sandpiper, Shoveler, Mandarin, and a few late Cuckoos, Whinchats and Ring Ouzels....

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

Grey Wagtail

Young Swallows

Mute Swans

Red-Legged Partridges

Adventures 'out of area': 

Being really busy with safaris, I didn't have many opportunities to venture far this month, though I read that birders prepared to travel away from Speyside a little this month, especially to reserves on the Moray or Aberdeenshire coasts enjoyed seeing lots of passage of waders ,ShearwatersAuks and Skuas,  plenty of incoming sea ducks and wildfowl , a  good influx of 'grey' Geese from mid-month... and the first Whooper Swans later in the month...

September 2021 mammal sightings in more detail:

As I mentioned last month, with the summer visiting local speciality birds departing this area, mammals become more of a focus on my safaris, and we were fortunate to see a good variety again this month.   

Red Squirrel by Chris Williams

Red Squirrels enjoying peanuts at a forest feeding station

Despite stiff competition from 'Murdo' (see below!!), the  'mammal of the day' award was invariably won by the cute and ever popular Red Squirrel - with many of my safari clients seeing these very characterful and attractive 'Highland speciality' animals for the first time, usually at feeding stations, but occasionally on walks/drives through forests too...

Red Deer stags. Still all friends.... for now......

Although there is often little indication of it approaching, the end of September , and the first frosts, usually sees the start of the Red Deer rut, with the previously quite sociable stags beginning to 'check-out' and assemble their 'harems' of 'in season' hinds, sharpen up the tips of their antlers on rocks and trees, and partake in a little light 'sparring' with likely rivals, often accompanied by a tremendous 'roaring', which echoes round the glens... a marvelously atmospheric spectacle, which is sure to increase in intensity next month...

Still up in the glens, our Mountain Hares, though still in their browny-grey summer coats, are about to turn whiter from their feet upwards as autumn progresses, in preparation for the snow to come, though actual sightings of them were not as frequent, or as good as I would have liked... but that is not unusual outside of the winter months..

Feral Mountain Goats

Our local Feral Mountain Goats however, were a little more obliging...with plenty of decent views of large family groups being enjoyed, with many of my safari clients seeing them for the first time...

Brown Hares were seen occasionally, but as usual, most of our sightings were early in the morning, and in poor light, so I didn't manage any decent photos of them this month...

Roe Deer (photo from Sept 2018)

Although not as physically impressive as their larger Red cousins, and having a much more nervous disposition,  Roe Deer are probably more often described as cute - like Bambi even, but they always prove popular with my safari clients, and we were fortunate enough to see them on several occasions this month, especially soon after dawn, or in remote, quiet areas...

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.

Otter spraint on a bankside rock at a local loch

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:

Red Admiral

A few lingering butterflies were seen on the warmer, sunnier days, including Peacock, Red Admiral,  Small Tortoiseshell, and Painted Lady.


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 five (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

Fly Agaric


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 18th century packhorse bridge at Carrbridge


Being a bit of an 'in between month', with a limited number of bird species possible,  in all honesty it's probably not the best month for the hard-core birder, year-lister or 'twitcher' to visit, but September in the Cairngorms National Park would still appear to have plenty to offer the more casual or beginner nature-watcher or those looking for a less intense or 'taster' Highland wildlife safari experience, with the chance of a migrating 'rarity' turning up, a better likelihood of seeing birds of prey and Crested Tit than in the spring and summer, less tourists around and no early starts needed, in arguably, one of the most colourfully scenic months of the year...and similarly to last year, I will admit to being pleasantly surprised at how well we did for sightings, maybe September is actually 'growing on me' .....


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........