February in the Cairngorms

February in the Cairngorms has been a month of extreme lows and highs. We have had lows of -19c on the northern side of the National Park, with record temperatures of -23c in Braemar. A week later the thaw of snow began, causing the rivers to burst their banks and temperature rose to 10c. Insh Marshes has lived up to its name, with frozen lochans in the previous blog turning into a loch, bringing in the returning waders like Lapwing and Oystercatcher.

Insh Marshes after the thaw
Tawny Owl having a rest while hunting during the day (Sally N)

The temperatures have tested our wildlife and many of the birds have been highly active in the garden, using our feeders for food as the ground continued to be frozen. The Badgers have struggled to find food, active at our wildlife hide and even this Tawny Owl at Sally’s house attempted to find food during the day. The snowy scenes have made the countryside very magical to walk in, with the light hitting ice crystals of the snow and mountain tops shining at sunset.

The same scene, top – last week of February compared to the bottom – beginning of the February
Red Squirrel evidence

With snow still firmly on the ground, evidence of the animals in our woods was easy to spot. Footprints from Pine Marten on the frozen loch edge, fox prints along paths and Red Squirrel feeding areas. On a walk, I noticed a pile of discarded cones under this scots pine, a sure sign a Red Squirrel had its lunch. The Red Squirrel use their long front teeth to peel open the cone and retrieve the seed inside before nibbling the rest of the cone to its base, leaving a nice pile of chewed cones under the tree.

As the snow and ice began to freeze, the bare ground we haven’t seen since December began to appear and reveal flower shoots emerging. The ice on our lochs broke into pieces and the wind on Loch Garten created layers of ice pushed to the edges of the loch. We have had a hint of Spring with sunny days, birds beginning to sing and snowdrops carpeting the garden. As we look towards the year ahead, visit our website to find opportunities to explore the Cairngorms National park with Speyside Wildlife.