Autumn in Speyside

16th to 23rd October 2023

Tour Report

After having a couple of days in the Fort William area, finally completing a day on the wish list by going on the Jacobite steam train out to Mallaig. It clearly holds a special place in many people’s affections judging by the passengers and numbers watching it cross the Glenfinnian viaduct.

 A great day spent on the Ardnamurchan peninsula followed after crossing via the Corran ferry, sightings of Common and Grey seals, Great Northern Divers and a mass of beech mast feeding Chaffinches made the typical four seasons in one day trip most worthwhile


All of the above was the warm up for guests arriving for what would be the first of two planned tours for autumn 2022 in Speyside, it would be great to welcome back returning clients along with a couple of newbies.
After a hearty breakfast we set off to Loch Garten for one of our key species, Crested Tit we were not disappointed with probably six or seven individuals being seen outnumbering the Coal Tits on this occasion. Onward up to Cairngorm where shortly after being locked in the carpark and finding the main carpark in a state of both repair and disrepair, distant views of Reindeer and a flyby Merlin made our morning. A very pleasant walk around Dell Wood close to Nethy Bridge revealed its treasures in the form of many Fungi of various families and a mix of birds, quite clearly many Redwings were starting to arrive.  

The Moray coast is always one of my favourite areas with Spey Bay and a host of other local sites in that area giving a great day list of 64 species – Whooper Swan, Purple Sandpiper, Snipe, Bullfinch and a solitary Corn Bunting were my personal highlights along with a view of the recently completed property overlooking Loch Oire truly stunning.

A day with a difference followed as a visit to Spey dam via a long diversion to Dalwhinnie followed, good sightings of Red and Sika deer against a dramatic Scottish landscape were the reward, with a bonus sighting of a White wagtail, our evening was spent in the Badger hide at Insirach, a total of nine of the 11 stripeys arrived but sadly no Pine Martens much to the disappointment of our new guests. The non- Nature highlight of the day involved a visit to the public toilet block in Kingussie , with 50p in the slot a mainly female human conga formed to gain access through the non- closing barrier, we did make a further donation as these public toilets are a lifeblood for the highland tourism trade. Boy did we laugh as a group ! 

A slightly later start on the following morning took us up to Findhorn Bay for the high tide roost which was enjoyed from the comfort of the hide whilst the rain fell in intermittent waves outside. It certainly didn’t stop the birds as skein after skein of Pinkies took off to feed in the local stubble fields, stars of the show were the wonderful Golden Plovers that managed to get some of the flickers of sun that came through in late morning. Many other species of waders and good numbers of Pintail were at the bottom end of the bay. 

As the cloud lifted, we took a walk around the shingle spit and back into the bay before the reward of coffee and cake back at the van quenched our appetites and thirst. A quick pop into the Findhorn community shop at the request of one of our guests was a most interesting diversion from the wildlife watching. Due to the weather showing no signs of a change an early finish was called to proceedings for the day.

An earlier start on the following morning took us up to Lochindorb with great views of Red Grouse and a red squirrel in the plantation, today was our Strathdearn day looking for raptors. A little bit windy but hopefully this would aid and assist those of a hooked beak persuasion. Red Kites, Buzzards, Kestrels and a Sparrowhawk were soon added to the list but a small group of Ravens hassling and ultimately driving a Golden Eagle straight over our heads was undoubtedly the highlight of the day. This day proved to be bit of a bioblitz day with rutting Red Deer, spawning Salmon in the river, a frog, Ruby Tiger moth caterpillar, a Peacock butterfly, Brown Hare and a return visit to see Badgers and finally a Pine Marten

For the last day of the tour Black Isle was selected, with close overhead views of a Red Kite, we made our way to Cromarty with a visit to the Cheese shop we finally made it to Udale bay where the mist descended in waves over the bay like an ethereal shroud. Many birds were seen, of many species, waders, ducks with the most unusual sighting of a Ruddy Shelduck being the most notable.

So quite a week, typical mix of October weather set against the backdrop of some of the most spectacular Autumn colour of my 10 year period of Speyside visits, a fun quiz (yet again ending in a tie and going to a tiebreak) A lot of laughs, with a grand total of 95 bird species seen, 25 species of fungi, and various other parts of the plant and animal kingdom being seen on account of our climatically challenged weather systems.

Thankyou guests for your contributions it was a special week.

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