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

Sunday, October 31, 2021

October 2021 was very changeable weather-wise in this area, but overall, it is fair to say that it became generally more autumnal as the month progressed and the last week was quire wet and windy. Although no extreme weather was experienced, it should be noted that sun, wind, rain, sleet and even a few light snow showers all occurred, sometimes in the same day, so any prospective visitors would be wise to pack a good variety of clothing.

Temperature ranged widely from a balmy +15c to a chilly -2c, and the few bright and sunny days saw us get our first proper frosts of this autumn, while the 21st saw our first snowfall linger on the mountain tops.

Though the days are certainly shortening now, we still have around 10 hours (7am-5pm approx) of usable daylight, and the Highland scenery is still ablaze with glorious autumn colours, with most of the leaves still clinging on, the ferns a picture in copper, and many of our berry trees still fully laden.

The autumn rains have restored the local rivers to their normal levels, allowing the Atlantic salmon to finally reach their spawning grounds in the upper reaches.

October is a really great month to witness visible bird migration in action, with large flocks of Geese, Swans, and Thrush species often witnessed flying noisily overhead, and this influx of winter visitors from colder areas further north, helped full-day safari bird lists increase up into the 40's, (or more if you include a trip to the Moray Coast), whilst mammal day-lists varied between 3 and 7 depending on the start time and number of venues visited, with early starts, as usual, proving to be best.

A light dusting of snow on the Cairngorm Mountains

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

I was away on a re-arranged (from last October) birding trip on the Scillies for the middle third of the month, so my report will be a little shorter than usual. 

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

Red Grouse, Crested Tit and Dipper, we also had several good sightings of Golden Eagle , a couple of White-Tailed Eagle,  a few fleeting glimpses of Crossbills, and several decent post-dawn views of displaying  Black Grouse....

Newly-arrived winter visiting birds were represented by Whooper Swans, several species of 'grey' Geese, and from the second week onwards, good numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares,  and a few Bramblings were reported locally at the end of the month...

A good variety of sea ducks, geese, waders and wildfowl were seen at the Moray Coast.

Mammal species seen regularly included:

Red SquirrelRed Deer (rutting), ReindeerRoe DeerMountain Goat , Brown Hare and Rabbit......with  just a couple of distant sightings of Mountain Hare and a few of Bank Vole at forest feeding stations.

The last week of the month also saw us enjoy views of Atlantic Salmon starting to spawn in the upper reaches of our local rivers....

October 2021 bird sightings in more detail:

Up in the glens...

Autumn in a local upland glen

A perched Golden Eagle - A marvelous and very rare sight!

Golden Eagle

White-Tailed Eagle by Steve Nicklin

Golden Eagle is truly an iconic bird of the Scottish Highlands, and one that always seems to be on the 'wish-list' of my safari clients, and our regular visits to my favourite upland glens paid off on a good number of occasions this month, with some pleasingly frequent and often decent sightings of these hugely impressive creatures, sometimes hunting ,  often in aerial combat with other raptors or Ravens, or sometimes just soaring around....and, presumably lured in by the spawning Salmon, we also saw White-Tailed Eagle more frequently than normal...

Common Buzzard

Red Kite

In fact, if you are a bird of prey fan, it is worth noting that autumn and early winter is usually our best time of year for raptor sightings, and this month we also recorded views of  Peregrine,  Sparrowhawk,  and numerous KestrelsRed Kites and Common Buzzards...

Up on the moors....

Early morning on a local upland heather moorland

Red Grouse

Red Grouse, still largely in family groups were generally very obliging, and by using my vehicle as a 'mobile hide', we often achieved excellent close-up views and photo opportunities.. and later in the month, a few of the more 'frisky' cock birds appeared to be getting a little aggressive and territorial in their behaviour....

Displaying Black Grouse

Visits to Black Grouse leks were a little less predictable however, with results varying from none showing at all on most occasions, to 10 displaying males on one memorable morning...with seemingly no reliable pattern emerging yet..

In the forests...

Caledonian Forest

Crested Tit

Crested Tits, having been typically 'uncooperative' and elusive through the summer months, started to become more regular visitors to forest feeding stations, especially soon after dawn on the colder days, and we were fortunate enough to enjoy many excellent and often extremely close views of this true 'local speciality' on a number of occasions, as well as a couple of more random sightings of them in mixed winter flocks on our forest walks...

Coal Tit by Paul Nelson

A bonus by-product of regular winter feeding is sometimes (especially on colder days) being able to feed the incredibly confiding Coal Tits and (sometimes) Great Tits and Robins by hand, an experience much enjoyed by my safari clients of all ages...

Juvenile Crossbill

Male Crossbill

Still in the forests, Crossbills, sadly, but rather typically, were generally somewhat less obliging , with our views once again being restricted to snatched glimpses of birds flying overhead...identified only by their distinctive 'jip- jip' calls....an annoyingly familiar tale...up until the 27th of the month, when a family group finally perched long enough for a photo opportunity!

On the rivers...

The River Nethy


Dipper is a bird absent from large areas of central, southern and eastern Britain, preferring clear, fast-flowing upland rivers over murky, slow-flowing lowland waterways. Fortunately, if you position yourself on a bridge,  they can be a fairly common sighting in this area, often seen swimming and diving to feed, or perching prominently on a rock, and always prove popular with my safari clients ,


With a similar UK distribution to Dipper, Goosander can be tricky to see in much of Britain, but we often see family groups of them in this area, though they can be very wary of humans.

On the lochs...

Autumn at Loch Garten

Whooper Swans

With the summer-visiting water birds all gone now, our resident Goldeneyes, are now joined by winter-visiting Whooper Swans and Geese, alongside the more common species.....

Up in the mountains....

Autumn on Cairngorm Mountain (photo from October 2017)

Ptarmigan morphing into their white winter plumage (photo from Oct 2017)

Although I didn't have time to take any walks up into the hills myself this month, from previous experience, I would expect the Ptarmigan to be morphing into their winter-white plumage now, which can make them less difficult to spot amongst the rocks, at least until the snow comes, anyway.

The first snow on the tops, can sometimes encourage Snow Buntings down to lower levels, and I always carry a bag of mixed seed in the colder months, as they can sometimes be quite confiding once tempted in by a free feed, though we failed to see them this month.

Winter-visiting birds flooded into our area this month: Whooper SwansGrey Geese (Greylag , Pink-Footed and a few Barnacle), and winter thrushes, first the Redwings, in particularly good numbers, then the Fieldfares....and a few Bramblings... though I am still yet to see one....

Other good/scarce birds seen/reported locally this month included:

A (wind-blown) inland Common Guillemot by Steve Nicklin

A wind-blown inland Common Guillemot, a calling Yellow-Browed Warbler, a few late Ring Ouzels, Swallows, Swifts and Chiffchaffs, and amazingly, an Eyebrowed Thrush was reported and photographed in a local garden at the very end of the month...

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


Pied Wagtail

Grey Wagtail

Red-Legged Partridges


Male Chaffinch

Adventures 'out of area': 

Autumn at Lossiemouth on the Moray Coast

Redshanks and Turnstones

Slavonian Grebe

Snow Geese

Common Guillemot

The Moray coast is only about an hour drive north of Aviemore, and my trips to favourite reserves, lochs, bays and harbours gave good views of wintering birds such as Greylag Geese,  Pink-Footed GeeseBrent GeeseBarnacle GeeseWhooper SwanShovelerWigeonTeal Pintail,  Bar-Tailed GodwitKnot, Golden Plover , Grey Plover Ringed PloverPurple SandpiperRedshankOystercatcherTurnstoneCurlewCommon ScoterVelvet ScoterRed-Throated DiverLong-Tailed Ducks, Eiders, Slavonian Grebe, and towards the end of the month, 3 Snow Geese...

October 2021 mammal sightings in more detail:

A splendid Red Deer stag with his 'harem' of hinds

Red Deer hinds

'Mammal of the month' for October just has to be the Red Deer,  with their spectacular annual 'rut' providing my safari clients with some superb entertainment - the fully antlered stags 'bolving' roars echoing through the glens, as they spend much of the month  posturing , fighting off rivals and attempting to mate with as many of their 'harem' of hinds as possible - surely one of British nature's 'must-see' experiences?

Our local Mountain Hares - Britain's only native lagomorph - though still mainly in their browny-grey summer coats are gradually turning 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 during the 'milder' months..things should hopefully improve next month as things turn more wintry...

Feral Mountain Goats

Still up in the glens, Feral Mountain Goats are mainly restricted to a few remote upland areas of the UK, and we are fortunate to have them locally in a few quiet glens, so many of my safari clients get to see them for the first time while out with me, and they proved to be fairly reliable this month...

Red Squirrel

In the forests, our Red Squirrels never failed to charm and entertain, with their cute looks, acrobatic leaping from tree to tree , reliable use of peanut feeders, gathering of drey materials and chasing off of rivals, and of course, with them being largely absent from most of the UK now, many of my safari clients were seeing them for the first time....

Roe Deer

Roe Deer, although relatively common in most of the UK, can actually be quite tricky to see due to their naturally 'nervous' nature, and the fact that they can be very 'crepuscular'  - being more active at dawn and dusk...but we managed a few daytime sightings on quiet farmland and woodland edges this month..

Brown Hares, similarly to the Roe Deer, can be very nervous and  'crepuscular' in nature, and most of our best sightings happen in the first hour of daylight, and that proved to be the case again this month, though the light was too poor for decent photos...

Carrot time for Murdo means smiles all round

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:

Badgers - Viewed from a dusk hide

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:

Spawning Atlantic Salmon (photo from October 2016)

Mid October-early December is usually the time of year to see our Atlantic Salmon spawning. These remarkable and often very large fish spawn in the shallow waters in the upper reaches of our rivers, at the very spot where they themselves were hatched several years before, having originally spent 2-3 years in the river, then another 2-3 years feeding, growing and maturing out in the mid Atlantic, before undertaking a perilous journey many miles upriver, often involving avoiding poachers, anglers and predators and negotiating high falls and rapids on the way ,  an amazing migration story! However, sightings are very reliant on the rivers water levels - too little water and the Salmon cannot access the upper reaches - too much water, and they can get there... but we can't see them....fortunately, from the 24th onwards it all fell into place and we enjoyed some decent views, though after that, it was often tricky in the flooded rivers...

A late Red Admiral

A few common butterflies such as Red Admiral, Peacock and Painted Lady were noted on the warmer days early in the month, but none were seen after the first frosts....


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 six(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

Autumn colours


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.

Autumn at Insh Marshes


Well, despite the very changeable weather, but aided by the beautiful autumn colours, the influx of birds from further north and the Red Deer rut, I reckon October 2021was a very decent month for wildlife-watching in this area, with a good selection of local specialitiy birds and animals (and fish!) seen, Coal Tits and Murdo the Highland Coo hand-fed,  lots of fun times enjoyed, and lots of 'enforced staycationer' safari clients from all over the UK going home with happy memories of their holiday in the Cairngorms National park, some who are valued regulars, and many of whom were visiting for the first, and I suspect (and hope), not the last time...


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........