The Scottish Highlands on three occasions in 2020

February, August and October 2020

February 2020

Well who would have known, hindsight and all that. I remember going up to Scotland and hearing the first whispers in the news about a virus in China that was rather unusual. Quite strange, for the mark it eventually made on the World but particularly Great Britain.

So heading up to Grantown many of the usual sites were visited and it was bit of a wader and waterfowl spectacular. Along the Moray Coast big numbers of waders at Nairn, a site I had often overlooked in the past. Here Bar Tailed Godwits, Redshank, Dunlin, Sanderling and a large flock of Scaup offshore with a couple of striking Gooseanders in the harbour.


In the Lossiemouth area colossal numbers of five species of Gull and big numbers of Teal and Wigeon accompanying them. This really is a great spot to get the flask of soup out and just enjoy the spectacle and the sounds of Nature.
Further along the coast at Burghead Harbour it was a moment to savour as the late afternoon sun made a perfect backdrop and shimmering reflections in the confines of the boats and harbour walls just set off the resplendent plumage of Long Tailed Ducks in all their finery. They must really be one of the great sights of winter birding. There were a few Eiders to be viewed at close quarters, on their own exquisite, but a very close second to the Long Tails.  

One site not birding related is the Baxters shop alongside the factory at Fochabers well worth the visit from humble beginnings to a multi million pound company exporting all over the world and by appointment to the Queen. I can heartily recommend their Coconut and zesty Lime pickle.
Out on the Ladder Hills on the Glenlivet Estate with a local guide we were on the trails of the local Mountain Hares, after learning to read the tracks and signs we eventually saw many individuals always from a safe distance. Coming down into the Valley we encountered Brown Hares and some rabbits so it was a real Lagomorph Day.

A trip into the Abernethy Forest brought all of the usual and expected species with a few special moments spent in the company of the local Red Squirrels, they are certainly guaranteed to put a smile on every face.
The only downside to this trip was Heather burning on a hillside above Dalnain, one evening in a force 5 wind and it was clearly out of control. I did take a moment to call the local police, as it turned out this particular estate had received a warning over their conduct on previous occasions. It is something that the Scottish Government are reviewing as I write this article. I hasten to add I was not the only one on the phone that evening many local people were clearly disturbed by what was going on hillsides above them.

August 2020

With Lockdown easing and the hotel looking to get going once again it was the least I could do to go and deliver some talks to help get them back on their feet again.
With it being a working holiday, a bit of culture/ history was woven into this trip starting on the way up North. Wow what a statement the two sites of Bannockburn and the city of Stirling make. Bannockburn with its rich history around the ancient Scottish king Robert The Bruce and Stirling with its magnificent castle sat astride the impressive ridge and its graveyards, yes a bit macabre but nonetheless informative and deeply moving with many previously untold tales of people and their influence in the public domain.
With the release of restrictions there had been bit of an exodus of ‘holidaymakers’ to various parts of the highlands with inpromptu camps and camper vans tucked into the smallest of areas, I hasten to add mounds of Litter had been just left behind thus giving the local authorities unnecessary work to do. Take Your Litter Home!

A days timed visit to the Highland Wildlife Park at Kingussie is always a delight with various captive breeding programmes underway, of particular interest are the Scottish Wildcats with a view to releasing them back into the wild.
Arctic Foxes, Wolves, Polar Bears, Wolverine, Snow Leopards, European Bison are amongst the species to be seen giving great photographic opportunities. 

Onwards up into the highlands the Slavonian Grebes were completing the fledging of their three chicks at a secret location only accessible by permit, close by there was an opportunity to catch up with damsels and dragons with Black Darters in profusion. Bird of the Holiday was a stunning Male Merlin sat on a rock very close to the road up on Dava Moor.

Further up on the Black Isle it was peak season for Bottle Nosed Dolphin watching at Chanonry Point with great views even if it was a little bit crowded. It was also a chance to catch up with an old mate Charlie Phillips from WDC. At Spey Bay good numbers of waders were now passing through with a group of seven Black tailed Godwits the highlight. It was at this location during a coffee break that an Osprey came into view hunting in the river mouth, it was after several unsuccessful plunges that it finally came up with some kind of flatfish about 20 cms in length. What incredible creatures they are and just how would it pick out a well hidden prey off the river bottom, amazing. The only downside of this leg of the trip was the enforced closure to visitors of the Glenmorangie Whisky distillery. This was offset by a trip up to the falls of Shin to see the salmon a leaping, one of natures true wonders and heavily featured in Autumnwatch this year.

As an extension to the highlands a few days were spent on the west coast around Loch Maree, Gairloch, Inverewe it really is scenery to die for. Heather clad hills, shimmering lochs, white sandy beaches, leafy glens and a myriad of paths and walkways. Throw in a newly distilled Gin ( Badachro ), some quality seafood, lots of wildlife ( Sea Eagles, Otters, Seals, Skuas, Gannets, Porpoises ) and you have utopia that is Scotland with a good dollop of Scottish sunshine.  

October 2020


What should have been a tour for clients deferred to 2021 became a trip to deliver some talks at the hotel, with an overnight stop at Perth then taking the highland route through Glenshee, Braemar, Balmoral and Ballater, this broke up the monotony of the A9. Soon found out this was a great wildlife watching route with Red Deer, Mountain Hares, Red Squirrels ( far too many dead on the road for my liking) and a couple of Golden Eagles sighted.

Up on the Black Isle the Pink Feet were back in their thousands, big numbers of Scaup, a count of over 300 Curlew and a hunting Peregrine. Another walk around Cromarty this time in glorious sunshine, it really is a wonderful little place with the Sutors Café always on the route. The Redwings and Fieldfares were also starting to come in in big numbers.

Some time was spent along the shore of the Beauly firth on a number of days trying to track down the local otter population. Eventually one was tracked down although photographs were taken, a slip on the seashore saw myself, camera and lens take an unexpected early bath. The camera sadly had taken its last ever photograph, intensive care did not recover it. A few finch flocks were observed mainly Green and Chaffinch but odd Bramblings were seen.

Heavy frosts, early snow flurries and brilliant sunshine gave all four seasons in one week. A diversion to Dumfries on the return journey to spend a couple of days with the Barnacle geese of the Solway was just brilliant. They were everywhere coming here from Svalbard for the winter mixing in with thousands of other waterfowl. Up to 600 Pintail were seen together at RSPB Mearsehead with a late afternoon Starling murmuration coming into the reedbeds with a Sparrowhawk in hot pursuit. Wildlife and Nature just never ceases to amaze me and is truly the antidote to the relentless misery that is Covid.

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