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, November 30, 2021

November 2021 was generally much milder than average in this area, though with mainly south-westerly winds bringing a succession of Atlantic lows our way, the weather was frequently showery and often a bit breezy, with unusually, hardly a frost or any snow..... until the final week, when winter finally arrived, with Storm Arwen bringing gales and our first proper covering of the white stuff ...

Though the days are shortening noticeably now, with only around 8-9 hours of usable daylight (7am-4pm approx), a further influx of winter-visiting birds from further north, helped to boost local full-day bird day-lists into the 30's , or more if you include a trip to the nearby Moray coast,  whilst mammal day-lists varied between 3 and 6 species, depending on the time of our start, and variety of habitats visited, with early starts usually proving to be more productive.

An Eagle's eye view of a local upland glen - photo courtesy of 'James' Wildlife World' 

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

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

Crested Tit,  Red Grouse,  Dipper,  Golden Eagle, and White-Tailed Eagle. 
Black Grouse were occasionally seen at or soon after dawn at traditional lek sites, though they were a little unreliable, but sadly, Crossbills were frustratingly elusive again, and (not unusually) we failed to see any Capercaillie...

Mammal species seen regularly included:

Red SquirrelRed DeerReindeerRoe DeerMountain GoatRabbit and (now mostly white) Mountain Hare..... a few early morning sightings of Brown Hare, a couple of brief glimpses of Bank Vole,  and we also enjoyed great close-up views of Atlantic Salmon spawning in the upper reaches of our local rivers...

November 2021 bird sightings in more detail:

Up in the glens...

Late autumn in a favourite local upland glen

Golden Eagle

Young White-Tailed Eagle - photo courtesy of 'James' Wildlife World' 

As I have mentioned in previous years, and with no apologies for repeating myself... November is in my opinion, THE month for raptor sightings in this area, and so it proved again this year, with my favourite local upland glens and moors providing my safari clients and I with pleasingly regular sightings, and even the odd (very rare)  photo opportunity, of the iconic and much coveted Golden Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle, with these huge, awesome and majestic 'Kings of the skies' providing great entertainment, numerous memorable 'life-ticks' for my safari clients,  and putting big smiles on many faces....

Common Buzzard - Photo courtesy of  'James' Wildlife World'

Red Kite

Should the Eagles fail to show, the regular 'raptor back-up cast' of KestrelSparrowhawkPeregrineBuzzard , Red Kite, and the chance of even the occasional MerlinHen Harrier and Goshawk often provide good entertainment by way of consolation though....

Up on the moors....

Late autumn on a local upland heather moorland

Female Red Grouse

Female Red Grouse close-up by Jan Shields

Male Red Grouse

Male Red Grouse close-up by Jan Shields

Red Grouse, being birds of very specific upland heather moorland habitat, are absent from much of the UK these days . Thankfully though, we have no shortage of them in this area, and sightings were pretty reliable. It was interesting to note that a few of the cock birds (identifiable by their darker plumage and red 'eyebrows') are already starting to get a bit  more 'showy' and aggressive, with a few seen seemingly staking their claim to prime territory, often while uttering their characteristic cackling "go-bak, go-bak" calls.. 

Displaying Black Grouse by Jan Shields

On the more remote upland moors, Black Grouse are always popular with my safari clients, probably because of their relative rarity, and sadly, declining numbers over much of the UK.
However, we are fortunate to still have decent numbers in Highland Scotland, and our dawn (8am approx) visits to their traditional local moorland 'lek' sites produced some good sightings of up to 7 cock birds displaying, though it should be noted that we also had a few mornings when the birds failed to show, and that the period between January and late May is far more reliable...

In the forests...

Caledonian pine forest

Crested Tit

Crested Tit

Winter is usually by far the best time of year to see Crested Tits, as the weather turns colder and snowier, with the easy pickings on offer at my Caledonian forest feeding stations, especially soon after dawn, seemingly proving to be very enticing. With only around 1500  birds in the UK, and their distribution very localised, it was a great feeling to show off these true 'Speyside specialities' to my safari clients, especially those who were seeing them for the very first time, however, probably due to the unseasonably mild weather, sightings were not as reliable as usual....

Hand-feeding a Coal Tit

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

Female Crossbill by Steve Nicklin

Still in the Caledonian pine forests, rather frustratingly, Crossbills continued to be a bit of a 'bogey-bird', with (yet again) sightings mainly restricted to snatched glimpses of calling birds flying around the tree tops, us only identifying them by their characteristic "jip-jip" calls...with the exception of one female bird that perched for just a few seconds on the 22nd....

On the rivers...

Late autumn at the River Spey


Our local Dippers are definitely becoming more aggressive now, with much displaying, dawn singing and chasing each other around being witnessed as they presumably seek to establish winter and breeding territories, and it still makes my safari clients and I shiver every time we see them disappear under the icy water in search of food - they sure are hardy little critters!

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, and I don't recall us having a decent photo opportunity this month....

On the lochs...

Loch Garten by Jan Shields

Whooper Swans

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

Up in the mountains....

The Cairngorm Mountains

The weather was rarely suitable for taking any walks up into the hills this month, so I didn't venture up, but from previous experience, I would expect the Ptarmigan to be in their almost entirely white winter plumage now, which can make them less difficult to spot amongst the rocks, at least until the snow comes, anyway.

Snow Buntings - photo from November 2019

With the unseasonably mild weather meaning no snow at low levels, no Snow Buntings were seen at the usually reliable sites, but I would expect this to change soon as winter arrives, as they are often driven down from the mountain tops by the snow and cold, and  their numbers are likely to be swelled by visitors from Scandinavia...so I am always sure to have a bag of wild bird seed on board, as they can sometimes be tempted to come and feed at quite close range....

Winter-visiting birds continued to flood into our area this month: 

Fieldfares - Photo courtesy of  'James' Wildlife World'



Whooper SwansGrey Geese (Greylag , Pink-Footed and a few Barnacle and White-Fronted), and winter thrushes, first the Redwings, in particularly good numbers, then the  Fieldfares, along with good numbers of Bramblings.. and even a few Waxwings were reported in Moray....though I am still yet to see one....

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

The elusive Eyebrowed Thrush lingered for the first few days of the month, a small flock of White-Fronted Geese were reported on and off all month, as was the Cattle Egret, and there were also reports of a Little Egret, a Yellow-Browed warbler, a Hawfinch,  a few very late Ring Ouzels and Swallows and at the end of the month a few Waxwings....

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

Collared Dove

Male Blackbird

Female Bullfinch

Male Bullfinch

Long-Tailed Tit

Red-Legged Partridges by Jan Shields

Great Spotted Woodpecker by Steve Nicklin

SiskinPhoto courtesy of  'James' Wildlife World'

Adventures 'out of area': 

The moray Coast

Teal (foreground) and Wigeon (background)


Knots by Bob Smith

Sanderlings by Bob Smith

Velvet Scoter

Rock Pipit by Bob Smith

Purple Sandpiper by Steve Nicklin

King Eider (top centre) by Steve Nicklin

Tree Sparrow by bob Smith

Long-Tailed Ducks by Bob Smith

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, Snow Geese, and also a splendid adult male King Eider.....

November 2021 mammal sightings in more detail:

Mountain Hare by Bob Smith

Mountain Hare close-up by Steve Nicklin

Mountain Hares , being very rare in the UK, and now they are turning 'winter white' are often voted as 'mammal of the day' by my safari clients  at this time of year, and we were fortunate enough to see them in their upland habitats on a number of occasions, ...please be aware though, that most of our views are at long distance through a scope, and a fair bit of rough uphill walking may be required for photography purposes

Red Deer stag

Still in the uplands, although the annual autumn 'rut' is now over and apparently already forgotten by the participants!, it was still a treat to see the magnificent fully antlered Red Deer stags, seemingly now all friends again and concentrating on feeding and chilling out after the demands of October....

Feral Mountain Goat - Photo from November 2020

Feral Mountain Goats always prove to be popular with my safari clients, and they were seen on most visits to their upland habitat, though they generally kept their distance, so photo opportunities were a bit limited..

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel - photo courtesy of 'James' Wildlife World' 

In the Caledonian forests, Red Squirrels  always prove to be popular with my safari clients , and who am I to disagree? Being rare in the UK outside of Highland Scotland, attractive, charismatic and cute, they certainly tick a lot of boxes, and thankfully, with a bit of patience, they can usually be relied upon to put in an appearance at  feeding stations in the winter months (they love peanuts!)....though we also get the odd random sighting whilst on forest walks too...

Roe Deer

Roe Deer, although much more common UK-wide than Red Deer , can often be overlooked due to their crepuscular nature and nervous disposition... but several were seen, usually at dawn or dusk, but also during the day in less-disturbed places... 

Brown Hares, similarly to the Roe Deer, can also be very nervous and  'crepuscular' in nature, and most of our best sightings happen in the first hour of daylight, though sightings were very few and far between this month...

Carrot time for Murdo!!

Murdo extreme close-up! - photo courtesy of 'James' Wildlife World' 

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:

Mid October-early December is usually the time of year to see our Atlantic Salmon spawning.

Spawning Atlantic Salmon by Bob Smith

Atlantic Salmon close-up - photo courtesy of 'James' Wildlife World'

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, for much of the month it all fell into place and we enjoyed some decent views, though it could be tricky if the rivers rose too high....


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 seven (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, and from abroad.

At the time of writing, due to COVID distancing rules, and as restrictions have only relatively recently been lifted, we are still operating at reduced capacity, and are still trying not to mix unconnected groups, so we are currently recommending 'exclusive' safaris, 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

Late autumn colours at Glen Tromie


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.

Dusk at a local upland loch


Although I only had a handful of safari bookings this month (November is always 'quiet'), I still managed to get out wildlife watching with friends or by myself on plenty of occasions, and by cherry-picking the best days weather-wise, some good times were enjoyed,  plenty of local speciality wildlife and winter visiting birds seen, and a few decent photos were achieved - perhaps suggesting that it may actually be well worth considering a visit at this time of year....


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........