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, March 31, 2022

March 2022,  in stark contrast to last month, saw us enjoy some very pleasant spring-like weather in this area.  With high pressure largely dominating, the month was generally very dry, with  lots of sunshine ,  blue skies , light winds and frosts overnight - pretty much perfect for wildlife-watching. The only exception being a mini arctic blast at the very end of the month that gave us a few days of snow and frosts.

It should be noted  that temperatures can vary from  -6c to +16c in the same day at this time of year, so I would recommend bringing a good selection of clothing if you are planning a future March visit as the weather is often very changeable.

The warm, sunny weather really got the birds active, and it was great to hear the ever-increasing dawn chorus, with lots more bird species heard singing for the first time this year , Woodpeckers drumming, Snowdrops and Crocuses in flower, the first Frogs and Toads emerging,  and a few more brave insects on the wing, ...welcome signs that winter is turning into spring...

The days are really lengthening noticeably now, with up to 12 hours of usable daylight, and dawn (for the Black Grouse) is still a relatively sociable 6 am, with dusk at around 7 pm.

Full-day local safari bird lists usually top-out in the 30's or 40's at this time of year, helped by the returning waders and first early spring migrants, though a trip to the nearby (one hour by car ) Moray Coast can boost this total considerably, whilst mammal day lists  can vary between 3 and 8 species, depending on the time of our start and number of habitats visited, with early starts usually proving to be most productive.

Late winter in the Spey Valley - viewed from Cairngorm Mountain

To give you an idea of what you may realistically hope to see if you are considering a future March visit, I hope the following more detailed information, illustrated with photos taken at sites in and around the Cairngorms National Park by myself, my friends or my safari clients this month  and in previous March's will help....clicking on the picture enlarges it to full-screen. 

I was away visiting relatives for the third week of the month, and out of action due to illness for the 4th week, so my report may be a little shorter than usual, and may include some photos from previous March's for illustration purposes....

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

Black Grouse (dawn or soon after only) , Red Grouse,  Dipper, and Goldeneye we also had several decent views of soaring Golden Eagle  and White-Tailed Eagle,  and a few brief sightings of Crossbills, and Crested Tits,  and from the third week, our first local views this year of Red-Throated Diver, Black-Throated Diver and Golden Plover - all coming into their splendid summer breeding plumage - and at the very end of the month, our first Ospreys, Slavonian Grebes and Ring Ouzels joined the ever-increasing numbers of other Summer visiting birds , such as Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Curlew.

Sadly though, my 'year-tick' Capercaillie sighting still escapes me, despite my best efforts....

Mammal species seen regularly included:

Red Deer, Roe Deer, Rabbit, Brown Hare, Mountain Hare (still mostly white), Red Squirrel, and Feral Mountain Goat (with young), whilst both types of Seal were seen at the nearby Moray coast.

Nice morning light in an ancient Caledonian forest

March 2022 bird sightings in more detail:

Up on the moors....

A local upland heather moorland

Lekking Black Grouse

Aggression levels increasing....

Black Grouse are not an easy species to see in most of the UK now, having suffered an 80% decline in numbers over the last 20 years, with their range contracting northwards. They are birds of remote upland moors, preferably with forests and a grassy 'lekking' patch nearby, a very specific combination of habitats that is not so common nowadays. Fortunately, the Scottish Highlands still has a decent number of active  'lek' sites, where the cock birds gather to 'strut their stuff', and dawn (about 6 am in March) on my safaris in the first five months of the year is usually spent enjoying this memorable experience. 'Performances' were noticeably better on calm, frosty mornings.... but please be aware that to avoid disturbance, we have to view from a respectful (and legal) distance, that sightings are not guaranteed, and the birds can fail to show , sometimes without any obvious reason,  or if disturbed by a predator or wandering sheep, cattle , horses.... or inconsiderate birders/photographers...... 

Female Red Grouse by Ron Mitchell

Male Red Grouse by Ron Mitchell

Still on the upland heather moorlands, many of our our local Red Grouse have most definitely already paired-up, and the cock birds, with red 'eyebrows' aglow,  now seem to be concentrating more on defending their territory and partner from rival birds, often posturing aggressively from the higher parts of the moor whilst cackling loudly, and the 'disappearance' of some of the hen birds late in the month suggests that a few may already be on nests...

In the forests...

A local Caledonian pine forest

Crested Tit by Jan Shields - photo from March 2020

Crested Tit by Jan Shields - photo from March 2020

Crested Tits were occasionally seen at and around my favourite feeding stations , at least early in the month anyway, but sadly they often failed to show and when they did, they didn't stay for long and rarely called, suggesting perhaps, that they are now concentrating on breeding rather than feeding.....but if you can familiarise yourself with their distinctive calls and song, you always have a chance of seeing them whilst walking in suitable habitat....

It is well worth noting that the colder winter months (October-Feb) are actually the best time of year for seeing the 'wee Cresties', as these characterful little birds can be frustratingly secretive, unobtrusive and almost silent during the breeding season, with sightings being much more difficult to obtain between March and September....

Male Crossbill

Female Crossbill by Steve Nicklin

Possible male Parrot Crossbill

Still in the Caledonian forests, and similarly to Jan and Feb, we actually did ok for Crossbill sightings again this month, with some decent views...mainly because the period between December and March is breeding season for them, which means that this is your best chance to see them perched in treetops, often singing to defend a territory and attract a mate....whereas they can be pretty tricky to see for the rest of the year..

As I mentioned earlier, I have still yet to get even a glimpse of a Capercaillie this year, despite many hours spent walking quietly round suitable forest areas....In all of my previous 19 years living here, I have always seen one by now....

Please note that Capercaillie numbers would still appear to be declining alarmingly,  and I would only rate our chances of seeing one my safaris as "very slim" at best,  and now we are into 'lekking' season, I will be 'responsible'  by staying out of 'sensitive' areas at dawn through April and May to allow this now very rare and elusive bird to (hopefully) lek and  breed in peace....

Up in the glens...

A favourite local upland glen

A soaring Golden Eagle

White-Tailed Eagle

As I have mentioned many times before, the shorter days of the winter months (Oct-Feb) give us our best chance of seeing Golden Eagles and White-Tailed Eagles, as when the days lengthen and breeding season commences, the frequency of sightings definitely reduces, but despite the adult females presumably nesting by now,  we were still fortunate enough to enjoy a few decent  sightings of these majestic birds hunting in my favourite upland glens.

Common Buzzard

Red Kite

Goshawk by Steve Nicklin

It was a similar story with the other birds of prey, but raptors in general were still fairly well represented this month, with KestrelSparrowhawkCommon Buzzard, and Red Kite  all being seen regularly, Goshawk and Peregrine sighted a couple of times and the first returning Ospreys have been reported locally in the last few days of the month....

On the lochs...

A favourite local loch

A distant view of Red-Throated Divers

Black-Throated Diver

Slavonian Grebe

At the end of March, it is always great to see the return inland of some of our rarest and in my opinion, most beautiful local speciality birds, namely Red-Throated Diver,  Black-Throated Diver and Slavonian Grebe. 

Scotland is at the south-westerly edge of the world-wide breeding range for these very sought-after species, and the only place in the UK to see them in summer plumage, and I am always very happy (and relieved) to see them back on their favoured waters....

Male Goldeneye by Steve Nicklin

Of course, we must not forget our resident breeding Goldeneye population , and we were fortunate enough to see them regularly this month, with many of the males now performing their unique and spectacular 'head-banging' mating display!

On the rivers...

A local river


Dipper with nesting material by Steve Nicklin

were seen frequently on local rivers this month, and they seemed to have procreation on their minds, as I am now (presumably) only seeing  male birds, and they appear to be delivering nesting material to their mates, and defending territory near their favourite nest sites of old bridges....

On farmland....

Typical local farmland

Newly returned Oystercatchers



Lots of waders were seen returning to their spring/summer breeding grounds, with increasing numbers of OystercatcherLapwingGolden Plover and Curlew all being noted.....

Up in the mountains....

The Cairngorm Mountains 

Snow Buntings

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting by Ron Mitchell

Snow Buntings can often be seen in and around the Cairngorms Ski Centre car park in the winter months, and that was the case on a few occasions early this month, with up to 12 of these attractive and characterful little birds being seen. Their confiding nature means that you can sometimes creep reasonably close for photos too, especially if you put some wild bird seed out to attract and distract them....Though it should be noted that, as soon as the snowline recedes higher up the mountain , as it did from mid month, the birds stop visiting the car park area....

With the Cairngorm Funicular Railway still closed for major repairs, and the days still quite short , I didn't venture up into the mountain-tops myself this month, but for future reference, a few Ptarmigan , still totally white, can sometimes be seen, up around the 'snow-line', usually sheltering in corries or on the leeward sides of ridges, out of the cold wind...

And towards the end of the month there was another report of the elusive Snowy Owl on Ben Macdui....

Winter-visiting birds seen in our area this month included: 

Whooper Swans

Pink-Footed Geese


Brambling by Ron Mitchell

Whooper SwansGrey Geese (Greylag , Pink-Footed and a few Barnacle)RedwingsFieldfares, Bramblings , Redpolls,  and a few Waxwings...though these are all likely to depart this area soon....

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

A Hawfinch, a Nuthatch, a Green Woodpecker, and the previously mentioned Snowy Owl....all very rare in this area.....

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

Coal Tit by Steve Nicklin

Female Siskin by Steve Nicklin

Male Chaffinch by Steve Nicklin

Adventures 'out of area': 

The ruggedly beautiful Moray coast

A pair of Goosander

Purple Sandpiper

Male Wigeon

Greater Black-Backed Gull


Male Long-Tailed Duck

Iceland Gull by Steve Nicklin

Glaucous Gull by Steve Nicklin

Ringed Plover by Steve Nicklin

Hooded Crow

The Moray coast is only about a one hour drive north of Aviemore, and a couple of 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 Sandpiper, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Curlew,  Common ScoterVelvet Scoter Long-Tailed Ducks, Eiders, Red-Throated Diver, and Slavonian Grebe, with the chance of scarce birds such as Tree Sparrow, and rarities such as Snow Geese, rare Scoters, rare Gulls, and King Eider.....

March 2022 mammal sightings in more detail:

Mountain Hare

March is the last month to see our local Mountain Hares in their beautiful all-white winter coats, though a  few are usually starting to morph into their spring blue/grey colours by now, and a few may have grey-brown faces, but they still usually get voted as 'mammal of the day', with many of my safari clients in previous years delighted to see them, often for the first time, and if their upland habitats remain relatively snow-free , they can actually be reasonably easy for me to find, and can often be quite confiding, occasionally allowing a reasonably close approach for photography....

It should be noted though, that most of our views are at range through my telescope, and that a closer view usually involves some considerable amount of rough uphill walking, often on snow.

Red Deer stag

Red Deer are obviously an iconic Highlands animal, often featuring on the wish-list of my safari clients, and visits to suitable upland areas usually result in us getting to see them, often in large same-sex herds,  though again, it should be noted, that most of our views are from a fair distance and that many of the stags have now shed their old antlers, and are growing new sets,  and are therefore not quite as impressive as they look in autumn.

Feral Mountain Goats

Still up in the glens, our local feral Mountain Goats can sometimes be seen too, and at this time of year, they often have very cute , fast-growing youngsters with them, that always prove popular with my safari clients.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrels are pretty reliable visitors to the quieter forest feeding stations, especially during the colder weather, and I saw them regularly on my adventures this month,  and I also had some nice random sightings in more natural settings too...

Roe Deer

Roe Deer, despite being common and widespread throughout the UK, due to their crepuscular nature and slightly nervous disposition, can actually be surprisingly difficult to see. However, if you are out and about early or late in the day in suitably quiet areas, you always have a chance...

Brown Hares too, are a bit shy and nervous, and although I did see a few early in the morning on quiet local farmland this month, sadly, they didn't stick around long enough for me to grab any photos...

Carrot time for Murdo

Hairy 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:

Common Toad

Frogs and Toads were seen for the first time this year, as well as the first few brave Butterflies and Bees....

Daffodils thriving, despite the snow....


The BIG news is that all tourism/hospitality/activities in Scotland are open , are now largely free of restrictions except for the wearing of a mask recommendation,  and that I have now completed eleven (thankfully!) increasingly 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, as COVID infection levels are still high, and as restrictions have only recently been relaxed, we are still operating at reduced capacity, and are still trying not to mix unconnected groups unless this is unavoidable, 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


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 intend to provide my wildlife safaris subject to the following conditions/changes:

1) Parties will generally be limited to pre-booked small, preferably connected groups - so no mixing of unconnected parties unless 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 asked to consider wearing 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.

A picturesque local loch


Well, looking back through my photos for the month certainly put a smile on my face, as despite only having a handful of safari bookings, and missing much of the second half, I reckon we did pretty well for wildlife sightings. A good selection of local specialities, plenty of lingering winter visitors and at the end of the month, the first newly arrived spring visitors were all seen, and combined with the generally pleasant weather, this made for some very successful and enjoyable outings.


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....



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 currently valid at any time, with no expiry date........