Now is prime summertime in the Cairngorms and Scottish Highlands and our Guided Days Out throughout July have been fantastic. Most young birds have now fledged and soon the autumn migration for many species will begin.
I will start with mentioning a classic species of farmland habitat, the Yellowhammer. This iconic farmland species is well loved; a stunningly attractive bird with the breeding male being a bright vivid yellow. It has a distinctive call, sounding like ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’. Our guests were pleased to see a cock bird perched, showing well in full song. Unfortunately this is a species of conservation concern as they have declined due to habitat loss.
A special species seen on the edge of woodlands recently, was the scarce and shy Tree Pipit, much less common and harder to find than the very similar Meadow Pipit; lucky guests were treated to excellent views of this bird. They are subtly different in appearance to the much more numerous Meadow Pipit; Tree Pipit having a stronger, thicker bill and with finer flank streaks. They are a special sought after species by birders; unlike the Meadow Pipit they are not resident in the UK but are summer migrants and soon will start their migration back to Africa.
Out on the water’s edge the lovely Sedge Warbler was seen by some guests. It would appear creeping out of reeds showing its stripy face and white throat; they are summer migrants to reed beds and scrubby habitats in the UK. It will not be long before they start to migrate in number back to their wintering grounds in Africa. This species has a call very like the Reed Warbler; a scarce bird in Scotland.
Out on the flooded fields it was great to see several Snipe recently, probing the ground for food with their very long straight bill, always a pleasure to see. They are a cryptically camouflaged wader with nice creamy coloured stripes running along their back and have a cream coloured central stripe running along the top of their head. This plumage allows them to blend in well with grassy vegetation. In the UK this is a breeding species of upland habitats; so well camouflaged they can sometimes be tricky to spot. Earlier in the year it was exciting to hear their distinctive ‘drumming’, as birds were seen displaying on their breeding grounds.
Another species of interest to mention is the Hooded Crow. Many guests from England will not be familiar with this bird as it doesn’t occur there very often. They look distinctly different from the similar Carrion Crow that is common and widespread throughout England. ‘Hoodies’ are obvious as they have a clear mixed grey and black plumage unlike the all black plumage of the Carrion Crow. Hooded Crows are range restricted even in Scotland; being more commonly seen in the north-west.
Out towards the coast it was great to see a few Common Terns and like some of the other birds mentioned, this too is a migrant. They arrive in the spring to breed in the UK before returning to West Africa in the autumn. It is possible to confuse this species with the similar looking Arctic Tern, although Common Terns have a black tip to the bill, a shorter tail and are much darker in the wing.
A fairly regular species seen in a variety of habitats, often when day guiding, is the handsome Lesser Redpoll. Breeding males are a dashing small finch, being a lovely raspberry red colour on the breast with a clear red cap above the bill. They make an obvious buzzy call when flying overhead; often one becomes aware of their presence by this loud distinctive call. Sometimes the birds settle to perch and then guests get a great view of this beautiful bird.