Finally getting back to the Highlands via an early morning Beaver watching session on the Tay river system. It was an absolute joy to see these creatures in their natural habitat on an early morning watching session. The highlight being when the adult male slapped his substantial tail on the surface of the water as a warning to other members of the family that danger maybe around. What a joy after an absence of 400 years they were finally re- established here in Scotland. A flying jewel in the form of a Kingfisher was an added bonus.
It had taken several aborted attempts to undertake an organised tour at the Grant Arms, so it finally happened in mid October 2021. For some clients this was their fourth attempt to travel with Greenspaces so patience had certainly been a virtue in their case.
A mini tour for a returning single client took us up to Lossiemouth Harbour where 14 Purple Sandpipers were the birds of the day, these and good numbers of Rock Pipits made the challenge of a north westerly wind worthwhile a couple of Red Throated Divers one still exhibiting its summer plumage were a bonus as they fished just off the breakwater.
Having been acutely aware of the challenges facing our Auk species it was disconcerting to see so many Gulliemots and Razorbills so close inshore. But these were superceded by large numbers of mainly juvenile Gannets fishing at varying distances from the stony coastline. At odd points we would see the occasional Long Tailed Duck flyby but they were certainly not back in any great numbers yet.
"Kestrels, Sparrowhawk, Red Kites, and a Peregrine just toying with the attention of 18 Ravens"
Once the tour had properly got started a solitary Black Throated Diver plus many ‘Red Throats’ all with their classic snooty look in varying degrees of plumage were also seen some quite close in, others a little further out.
Probably one of the coastal highlights was the sight of 2000 plus Eiders all in their circular, syncronised feeding frenzy just off Hopeman harbour. This small beach never ceases to amaze as the receding tideline brought a mix of waders in, featuring a lone Sanderling, some Ringed Plover and a couple of Knot.
Inland after many failed attempts at a variety of sites, and using the temptation of a few sunflower hearts we finally connected up with a couple of ‘Cresties’ but does what followed really happen, we also had three Crossbills in a Scots pine just above our heads at exactly the same time. Does it ever get better than this, even my guests were convinced I had organised them.
Saving a decent day for Strathdearn proved fruitful as Kestrels, Sparrowhawk, Red Kites, and a Peregrine just toying with the attention of 18 Ravens, many Buzzards and a single ‘Goldie’ made it all worthwhile, with the constant cacophony of roaring Red Deer from several hilltops.
Clients were taken down to Glenfeshie to show them just how the Cairngorm Hills should really look, with many years of careful management on the Wildlands Estate bringing great returns. Deer had been managed and native deciduous species were making a welcome return higher up the slopes. This is one small corner of the Cairngorms Connect partnership that is bearing fruit.
Udale Bay on the Black Isle never ever disappoints, so showing the clients the variation from high tide to two hours post high tide. With luck, patience and several pairs of eyes a total of 36 species were seen here with a winter plumaged Slavonian Grebe and nine species of wader the highlights all getting the close attentions of an omnipresent female Peregrine. A trio of Barnacle Geese had joined the mass of Pink Footed Geese.
A little further down the coast we connected up with the now familiar overwintering Scaup flock with the males resplendent with their silvery backs.
With a short drive being made around Cromarty to show the guests the incredible history of this small but significant place on the Scottish coastline.
But the icing on the cake according to client questionnaires was seeing six Badgers and the young female Pine Marten at the evening hide watch for all of them these were mammalian ‘lifers’. What made it even better was the ability to move about in the hide as we were a private booking in our bubble thus giving so much more freedom.
Continuing the Mammal theme a visit was made to Spey dam on the return journey southward, wow what an area managed to catch up with three species of deer – Fallow, Red and Sika with Roe Deer being seen further en route in Perthshire thus making it a four deer day.
The weather had been on the variable side but it never stopped us doing anything, with rain showers being seen out in the cover of various hides. We even had the first snow of the Winter on the Mountain tops - always a delight to see. Throughout our week the first winter thrushes were starting to arrive mainly Redwings but an alarming absence of Fieldfares at this stage of the autumn, no Bramblings had been reported in the locality as we departed either.
So for the guests it was a commendable and surprising list of 91 bird species with my personal notes taking it to 102 but with a pretty good list of mammals too, we even managed to identify a few local fungi too.
It was a pleasure to be back and see familiar faces and share information as well as having a good laugh with Mike Dilger and his guests, long may it continue.
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