Now it is autumn migration and our Day Guiding throughout August and early September has been excellent. There has been wonderful bird and wildlife sightings in a variety of habitats and sites.
I will begin with touching on some of the waders that can be seen at this time of year. One of my favourites is the elegant Greenshank. It is similar looking to the much more numerous Redshank, although the Greenshank is larger and a lot paler; also the bill is slightly upcurved. Greenshanks are not a common sight and can be a scarce species to see, so always a joy when one is found. The Greenshanks name derives from the colour of its legs which can indeed look greenish in the right light.
Another wader species which is again a great species to come across, is the smart Bar-tailed Godwit. It was lovely to see a stunning adult male which is a bright coppery red colour. These birds have very long bills which are slightly upturned. The similar Black-tailed Godwit has a straight bill and is a slightly larger bird. Bar-tailed Godwits are migrants arriving to our shores in August, spending the winter here before departing in the spring, heading to their breeding grounds in Siberia.
The Ruff is a wader which is uncommon on the Black Isle, our guests were lucky to observe one which was passing through on migration. Scotland is at the edge of the main migration route for this species. Unfortunately we don’t usually get the chance to see the males with their splendid fine ‘ruff’, as it is extremely rare to have them breed in the UK.
I will mention some of the most interesting duck species that were also encountered recently. A very special sea duck, newly arrived from Northern Europe is the scarce Scaup. Very similar to the much more numerous and familiar Tufted Duck, the Scaup differs in not having any tuft on the head. The female Scaup has a very obvious white band known as a ‘blaze’ around the bill. Close by to the Scaup, the Red-breasted Mergansers were observed loafing around, very similar looking to the Goosander, the Red-breasted Mergansers have a slimmer bill and both sexes have a spiky head.
I will touch on a couple of raptor species. The Red Kite is a bird of prey that needs no introduction. They are immediately recognisable with their distinctive red forked tail which separates them from all other raptor species. When seen well, the rufous body is striking, contrasting with a pale head. The Red Kite is a major conservation success story, a species once rare in the UK it is now a regular site throughout the Cairngorms and on the Black Isle.
Another attractive bird of prey which is far less common in the Cairngorm area is the Marsh Harrier. Occasionally seen at one of the regular sites on our Guided Days Out, this graceful raptor glides low over the marshland habitat. Adult female Marsh Harriers are a nice chocolatey brown colour and have a cream coloured crown so are unmistakable in flight when seen well. It is hoped that the population in time will increase in Scotland as this species is doing so well in other parts of the UK.
Walking through pine forest habitat, often the high pitched call of Britain’s smallest bird, the Goldcrest, was heard; it was rewarding to get sightings of this delightful little bird. They can be quite secretive at times and are very active and nimble, so not always easy to get a good prolonged sighting.