A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Scottish Highlands - Day 1 (8th April 2015)

Having booked a few days off work, me and Alex headed up to Scotland during the Easter break to try and catch up with some of the Scottish specialities that can be found in the Highlands. With Crested Tit, Capercaillie and Ptarmigan all lifers for myself, I was keen to get up there and experience the wonders of the Scottish forests myself.

Stopping off at an excellent B&B in Cumbernauld on Tuesday night, this stopover broke up the mammoth journey considerably, and it was just over a 2 hour drive to the first site of the incredible Findhorn Valley. One of his favourite places, Alex was keen to target Golden Eagle here, and we travelled through the rugged terrain with our eyes peeled for any signs of large eagles taking advantage of the brilliant spring sunshine.
Findhorn Valley, Scotland
Findhorn Valley
A pair of Wheatear darting around the pebbles by the side of the huge river were the first of the year, although it was too early for our visit to coincide with the return of the areas Ring Ouzels. We spent an hours wait enjoying up to 3 Mountain Hares scampering along the opposite mountain slopes, their brilliant white winter coats giving away their location, whilst a pair of Peregrines treated us to their acrobatic movements high above. Several Buzzards mewed playfully in the breeze, and before long an eagle was spotted by the small crowd of birders gathered, soaring in the opposite valley. Despite the distance, it was unmistakeable as a majestic Golden Eagle, several white patches on the wing visible even from far away.

We admired the bird through the scope, powering through the air until it disappeared out of view behind a ridge. Content with our sightings, we headed back in the direction of Aviemore to the next site of Boat of Garten, hoping to connect with one of the Crested Tits that had been frequenting the feeders in the weeks prior, stopping only to admire a Red Squirrel on route.
Winter Mountain Hare, Scotland
A (very!) record shot of the winter plumaged Mountain Hare across the valley
Parking in the small car park and taking the short walk to the feeders, I was disappointed at the sheer lack of bird life amongst the trees, just a few Goldcrests, a pair of Great and Coal Tits and a single Chaffinch bobbing in the branches overhead. A considerable wait later and nothing had ventured to the feeders, the prospect of encountering any Crested Tits becoming increasingly bleak. The large pool opposite distracted us with several waders and ducks, although no Slavonian Grebes were present, a species that previously bred on the flash until recently.

With no luck at Boat of Garten, we headed over to the RSPB Osprey viewpoint at Loch Garten to see if any were showing there. Unfortunately, they hadn’t been seen for a few days, so instead we went to check on the newly returned Osprey on the popular nest from the viewing station, before taking a walk down the road to listen out for the trilling call of Crested Tits – sadly to no avail.

Calling it a day with these seemingly elusive birds, we stopped off for a tasty bite to eat of battered chicken at Papa Rocks in Aviemore before heading over to the Rothiemurchus Estate for the Speyside Mammal Hide experience in an attempt to catch up with the beautiful Pine Martens that are a regular feature at the hide and are guaranteed to pull in the crowds.

Joining our guide at the meeting location along with the other 10 people booked in for the visit, we quietly walked up the gravel track to the hide as dusk approached, a fantastic male Woodcock roding overhead right on cue - apparently a regular sight during the nightly walks.

Inside the cosy and heated hide, our guide gave us a brief talk about the Pine Martens that frequented the site, and after explaining that both a male and female visit the feeding station, with at least one Pine Marten being seen every single night since the winter, we became increasingly optimistic and hopeful that our luck would be in.

Sure enough, after half an hour or so waiting in the hide, the call went up that a Pine Marten had been spotted! The female quickly scampered past us below the window and proceeded to head round to the other side of the small mammal seed area, giving great views before turning round and heading to the main feeding platform at the front. Effortlessly clambering up the post, we could all admire her chocolate and cream coloured coat as she tucked in to the peanuts laid out for her, completely oblivious and unconcerned at her many admirers watching from the darkness of the hide.
Pine Marten, Scotland
Pine Marten, Scotland
After giving a good show for all those assembled for a lengthy amount of time, she artfully climbed the branch running up to the adjacent tree and on to the trunk where an egg had been lodged as a treat. Clasping it in her jaws, she hurriedly bounded down and off in to the darkness, her prize firmly secured. Before long, she was back for the second egg, again giving excellent and prolonged views for everyone watching – really an amazing experience and I couldn’t have asked for more for my first ever Pine Marten sightings!
Pine Marten, Scotland
Pine Marten, Scotland
About to take the egg!
After disappearing with her treasure, we didn’t have to wait long for the smaller male to appear. He too came around the back of the hide (apparently this is the first time the guide has known them do that) and gave fantastic views feeding on the platform munching on the peanuts, before bounding off in to the undergrowth after a good ten minutes or so.
Pine Marten, Scotland
With a supporting cast of a badger (only my second ever) and small mammals including a vole and some Wood Mice, this was an unforgettable experience and one I’d highly recommend as a must for anyone going to the Highlands! Definitely one of the highlights of my trip!  
Badger, Scotland
Badger, Scotland
Badger, Scotland

To book, visit the Speyside Wildlife website.

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