Now is summertime in the Scottish highlands and our Guided Days Out through mid to late June have been superb. It is full on with breeding birds, busy feeding hungry chicks; lots of activity underway.
I will begin with mentioning the activities seen out on the rivers and streams. Here several iconic species of fast flowing rivers were showing nicely. The Dipper, which is a species restricted in the UK to fast flowing rivers of the uplands, was seen at several sites. Our guests were pleased to watch this aquatic songbird, observing its interesting behaviour, watching it literally go straight under the water in its search for food. It was lovely watching an adult bird return to a nest under a bridge to feed its hungry chicks. Often close by to Dippers in the same habitat is the handsome Grey Wagtail; alerted to their presence by their distinctive explosive ‘zi zi’ call, great to watch as they often sit on a rock waging its very long tail. Also noted on the rivers was the upland duck of fast flowing streams, the Goosander. It was a joy to occasionally see a trail of ducklings following their mother, all including the young, with shaggy punk-like crests. The Goosander, a great master at fishing, they are known as ‘saw bills’, a group of ducks that have specially designed serrated bills used for catching and grasping their slippery fish prey.
Keeping on the theme of water birds, a shy secretive species not often seen was observed by a few lucky guests - the Water Rail. This bird makes a distinctive squealing like a piglet and was observed creeping low down in vegetation at a site we regularly visit. This is a scarce species in the highlands and so was a thrill to see. When seen well they are very obvious as nothing else looks quite like them; a long red bill and beautiful slate grey head and breast with barred black and white feathering on the flanks.
Out in the pine forests, our guests delighted in seeing the first juvenile Redstarts of the year fledge. Unlike the parent birds the young are spotty brown, like a juvenile Robin, but like the adult Redstart, the young Redstart has that gorgeous red tail. I always get a thrill when I see a Redstart and even more so knowing young have survived and fledged. In the same habitat we watched the delightful Treecreeper climbing secretively up a tree, mouse-like in its behaviour, gleaning insects from between the cracks; then seeing an adult bird meet its chick and feed it, the young being fluffy with a shorter decurved bill.
Out in the fields a migrant wader was seen in good numbers, the Golden Plovers showed well in their beautiful breeding plumage, their black bellies standing out and their lovely spangled yellow upperparts; very pleasing that our guests could see them mixed in with the more regularly encountered Lapwings. This is a species with a pleasant, far-carrying and mournful call that sounds quite ghostly. Not far from the Golden Plover another migrant was noted although this one a songbird - the Wheatear. One of the UK’s first returning spring migrants, was seen by guests at several locations in the last month. A delightful bird with a mask on its face, looking like a bandit. The males are pale bluish grey above and the females a light brown colour; after breeding in the uplands they will return to Africa in the late autumn to spend the winter months there. Up on the Cairngorms the largest member of the crow family, the majestic Raven could be heard croaking away, it’s far-carrying call heard clearly. An impressive species of upland areas - in fact larger than a Common Buzzard. They are sometimes seen by guests on top of cliff faces where they sit upright on a crag scanning for carrion below.
We were delighted to see two rare breeding birds both with chicks in the last few weeks. The Black-throated Divers and the Slavonian Grebes were busy feeding young. Hopefully the chicks will survive to adult-hood; these species are always a highlight on our day guides.
If you would like to book a place on a Guided Day Out with an experienced wildlife guide you can check availability and book online.
See you soon! Olly Slessor