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  • Writer's pictureAilie Brown

Our Cairngorms National Park

When booking a Guided Day Out with us, you may not know what itinerary to choose, a popular choice is ‘Our Cairngorms National Park’. It’s a great way to get to know the area and what we have to offer; nice views of our landscapes, our iconic Scottish species or maybe something special to Speyside.

Last week, one of our other guides and myself decided to make the most of a nice sunny, mild morning, we ventured out into Speyside and followed our birdy senses to some of our favourite spots. That’s what ‘Our Cairngorms’ means. It’s places that are special to us, places we want to share with guests, and places we think may produce some lovely wildlife and views. It often depends on the weather and the time of year, and what the guests would like to see. We take this all into consideration and give you an experience of what really makes Our Cairngorm National Park so special.

Guides outside a van using scopes to look at a heather moorland.
Scoping out a Heather moorland (Ailie Brown)

We started out our day travelling to a misty moorland, chilly with only a light breeze, we stopped at a viewpoint to watch the sun hit the surrounding hills and the mist slowly disperse. Scanning the tops of hills for raptors, we heard Raven croaking in the distance. Moving further into the moors, we spotted a group of Black Grouse sitting on top of a small hill, we quickly pulled over and grabbed our binoculars. Only a fleeting sight, as they had disappeared before we could set up our scopes. What had sent them flying we wondered. As we scanned the neighbouring dips in the moors, hoping for a glimpse of them, a raptor with low slow wing beats moved in the distance. There it is! A White-tailed Eagle soared over the landscape and gave us some beautiful views of its huge wingspan before slowly dropping out of sight. Moving on again, we paused in a vast open space, surrounded by heather. We could hear numerous Red Grouse calling back and forth. We waited a while, and the action began. Males flying back and forth chasing each other with females choosing to feed on the heather, ignoring the displaying males, showing off their lovely bright red eyebrows. Really beginning to feel like spring. The moorland really showed us some wonderful wildlife this morning, but we decided to find another location.

Two male grouse in heather.
Male Grouse showing off their lovely red wattles (Ailie Brown)

Another location and another habitat. A remote a wide valley. The Juniper bushes give a lovely patch work of green, a shallow river tumbling lightly over pebbles and the sides of the valleys draped in conifers. With the sun on our backs, we scanned the fields, looking for the first Curlews or Lapwings of the season. None just yet, however a group of Greylag Geese potter around in fields below. Above we see a Buzzard circling, after a few minutes we notice another, then another. There were at least six buzzards in the air at the same time, making their distinctive ‘mewing’ call. Interacting with each other, they seemed to be just having a bit of fun, diving and swooping into each other. We could hear bird song behind us. Robins are really taking advantage of being the first ones on the stage. We had filled our flasks, so we had a deserved cup of coffee while enjoying the sights and sounds of the valley.

a view of a valley and a van while bird watching.
A sweeping valley in the sunshine (Ailie Brown)

On to our next destination. We decided on visiting a forest, being such a mild and sunny day, there’s bound to bit of activity we thought. Instead of viewing from the van, we took a short stroll into a wonderful ancient Caledonian Pine Forest. Only a few minutes into our walk we heard Crossbills singing, their song is almost disjointed, varying in tones and pitch. Wonderful! A bit further into the forest we paused, a small flock of birds could be heard moving closer. Lots of different calls, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Tree Creeper….. there it was, Crested Tit! A very distinctive call. They weren’t planning to stop for long, however they foraged in the trees above us for a few moments, giving us a nice chance to watch them. Their group seemed loose and less numerous than during the past few months, perhaps some individuals are sourcing their territories already. Time to wander back to the van. A faint and light call could be heard, stopping to check it out we saw a party of Bullfinches feeding on some Heather seeds, balancing very well on the thin stocks.

A guide using binoculars to watch birds in the pine forest.
Kate watching the elusive Crested Tit (Ailie Brown)

As the daylight was more than halfway done, we choose one last place to visit. We arrived at a small lochan nestled in a small woodland, beautiful sunlight hitting the water, with a slight wind creating nice ripples. A little hive of activity. A raft of Tufted Ducks showed off their diving skills with a few Golden eye blending in. We didn’t have to move far from the van, in fact, there was a hide if we wanted to take a seat, but the weather was so lovely, we decided to stand outside. Using our scopes, we scanned the further side of the water, a Little Grebe quietly went about its business, some Mallards were sifting through the reeds. A crash landing of some Teal disturbed the Little Grebe. Above, a Heron loudly announced how agitated he was with a fellow Heron landing in his tree. What a day! It’s such a great feeling going home after a full day out looking for wildlife. The unexpected excitement of large raptors, the sounds of singing birds, the views and relaxing in nature. It was a successful day.

Tufted Duck and Teal enjoying the sunshine on a Highland loch
Tufted Duck and Teal enjoying the sunshine on a Highland loch (Ailie Brown)

Our Cairngorms National Park, Guided Day Out, involves visiting different habitats and looking for a variety of species. It can be completely tailored to what you want to see, or if you would like us to plan the day, we happily find the most special nooks and crannies to explore.

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