Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Highlights from the Highlands Part 1

Back in May this year, we spent two weeks exploring the Highlands of Scotland.

The Lairig Ghru (A spectacular example of a glacial valley)

We took the Caledonian Sleeper train up to Inverness overnight so initially spent some time on the Black Isle and made our first point of call; Chanonry Point. Famous for its acrobatic and crowd pleasing bottle-nosed dolphins, we had good fortune in spotting the resident pod immediately on arrival. You have to keep an eye on the tide here though, as whilst being engrossed in dolphin watching it creeps up very quickly and will soon be lapping at your feet. Other sightings included whimbrel on the golf course and a steady movement of sandwich and common and arctic terns moving up the Moray Firth.

Bottle-nosed dolphins

We then took the Farr road down to Aviemore, for good views of red grouse and a frustratingly brief golden eagle plus some surprisingly high numbers of red kites.

Next up was Speyside and the Cairngorms, where we called in at all the key wildlife sites and discovered a few new places of interest. First up was Abernethy Forest and RSPB Loch Garten, where we enjoyed seeing the usual suspects of red squirrels and the celebrity ospreys from the visitor centre. The walk to Loch Malachie proved productive for redstarts and spotted flycatchers although it took alot of effort to find our only crested tit of the trip here.

Crested tit in Abernethy Forest

Red squirrel

On one day we took the funicular railway up Cairngorm which was still receiving fresh snowfalls at this time of year. We enjoyed watching ring ouzels and real ptarmigans from the Ptarmigan restaurant at the top over a tasty lunch. I also climbed Carn Ban Mor another day in search of freshly arrived dotterel and was rewarded with a flock of at least 20 birds. Ptarmigan were also present and I found some interesting mosses and lichens deep into the cairngorm plateau.

Dotterel habitat

Female dotterel

Male dotterel

Male Ptarmigan

It was on the way back from Carn Ban Mor and travelling through remote Glen Feshie however, that we came across the mega find of that day; a female capercaille crossing the road!

Female Capercaillie

We also spent a day at the Highland Wildlife Park, where there was as much wildlife outside the fences as inside them.

Lapwing nesting inside the bog at the Highland Wildlife Park

Oystercatcher on nest in the Highland Wildlife Park

Eurasian lynx in the Highland Wildlife Park (Hopefully soon to be on to outside the fence list)

The Speyside Wildlife Hide on the Rothiemurchus estate was also visited, which has now become something of a tradition for me when in Aviemore. A young female pine marten and three badgers showed well.



Pine marten
We also discovered an excellent new site near Grantown-on-Spey for mountain hare.

Mountain hares changing into summer coats

Mountain hare