A Scottish Spring and Early Summer in the Cairngorms
Updated: Jun 13
Day guiding through mid May to early June in the Cairngorms National Park has shown a nice variety of bird and wildlife species. Our late summer migrants have now arrived in Speyside and many of our early breeding birds now have young.
I will begin with mentioning one of my favourite spring migrants to the area and quite a localised visitor too, the handsome Wood Warbler. This is a gorgeous looking warbler with a lovely green plumage and a lemon yellow throat and breast; this species appearing much brighter compared to the similar Willow Warbler! The Wood Warbler has a call to match its appeal, it sounds just like a spinning coin. A species of birch woodland, some of the guests were lucky enough to get superb views of this scarce woodland specialist as they listened to its distinctive and far carrying, silvery song.
One of our latest spring migrants to arrive in the Cairngorms has to be the beautiful and cryptically-camouflaged Spotted Flycatcher; a lovely pale brown bird, that perches upright and dashes out to catch flys, later returning to the same perch. These were noted at various pine forest locations in the last month. Unfortunately, like the Wood Warbler these birds are now scarce and in decline, not as common as they once were; they are always a treat to see whenever we walk through a pine woodland.
Another delightful migrant, occasionally seen when guiding last month was the stunning Redstart, found in similar woodland habitat to the Spotted Flycatcher, this bird is a dapper species with a lovely black throat, blue-grey back and of course a red tail - which gives the species its name. It has a habit of quivering its tail when perched; certainly a spring migrant that will brighten up any woodland walk!
Continuing with the spring migration, another classic spring migrant encountered recently is of course the Cuckoo which has a call instantly recognisable. More often heard than seen it was a species regularly heard on many of our day guides. Sometimes one would be seen shooting past over the moor and we would get a glimpse of its distinctive shape, its long pointed wings and long tail, in flight resembling a Sparrowhawk. Sometimes if we were lucky, we would see two birds together as one would greet another. You know Spring is here when you hear the Cuckoo call!
At the beginning of June on the moors guests were delighted to see both Red Grouse and Curlew chicks. Lovely watching the fluffy, small chicks following their parents around, the young like miniature versions of the adult birds. Other young seen included Goldeneye ducklings and Little Grebe and Oystercatcher chicks. It was also nice to see the young of passerines (songbirds) being fed by their adult parents; these included juvenile Mistle Thrushes in the pine woods but also Stonechats out on the moors.
As well as birds, mammals too were regularly seen throughout the last month. Many of the guests had the chance to see the iconic Mountain Hare. At this time of year they were not completely white like they are in the winter months; instead their coat is either a grey brown colour or a mixture of grey brown and white. They are attractive creatures and a wonderful sight to see out on the hills.
Another special mammal to the Scottish highlands is of course the Red Squirrel. At this time of year, their fur is shorter and the ear tufts are less pronounced. Guests encountered these delightful creatures at various sites in the National Park. They were often seen in Pine forest habitats and at feeding stations.