Our Guided Days Out, through April and early May, have been truly fantastic; with a nice mixture of both Scottish specialities showing well and the arrival of many common spring migrants. Early to mid-April, Crested Tits were continuing to perform well at various woodland sites in the Speyside area; their distinctive high-pitched trill alerting us to their presence. This species is always a delight to see and definitely on most guest’s ‘wanted list’! Another woodland species regularly seen whilst in search of ‘Cresties’ was Great Spotted Woodpeckers; their drumming sound uttered regularly. It was also a pleasure to hear the male Siskins displaying in the forests, one of Scotland’s most common breeding birds. Their lovely bright yellow and green plumage, a special sight to see.
Out on the moors it was a common occurrence to hear the ‘go back, go back’ call of the iconic Red Grouse, a species in good numbers at certain locations here in Speyside. Another bird encountered occasionally in the last month has been the agile, swift and tiny Merlin. Like the Red Grouse, it is a moorland species but much less regularly encountered, and some of our guests were lucky to see this dashing falcon, usually pursuing its prey - the Meadow Pipit, which is common in this habitat.
Out on one of the main lochs in the area, a major highlight in the last month was the arrival of Black-throated Divers. These are handsome birds with beautiful markings, a rare breeding bird in the highlands. Many of our guests had excellent views of two birds, but on one day, five were recorded, all on one loch! Also seen on the edge of the lochs, were the arrival of Common Sandpipers, a lovely small wading bird with a distinctive shrilling call. These birds are summer migrants to Scotland, returning in April. Another great bird seen throughout the last month on only certain lochs were the stunningly attractive and very rare, Slavonian Grebe, known as ‘Slavs’ to the birder. These birds spend the winter months out to sea but return in the spring to their breeding sites on inland lochs. Many of our guests were fortunate to connect with this species recently.
It was good to witness the return of the handsome Osprey to various local sites. A raptor that was extinct for a while in the UK, it is great to see this species doing so well here in the Highlands; guests had superb views of a breeding pair at a nest site and it was exciting to watch their behaviour with one bird sitting on the nest while its partner would be away fishing but return later with its catch.
Out in the glens we managed to get excellent views of many of the raptor species of the area including some very special ones. Golden Eagles were observed regularly at one location, and it was great to watch displaying birds soaring majestically over the mountains. Also seen occasionally was the even larger and rarer White-tailed Eagle - looking like a flying barn door passing overhead. Other raptor species included the more numerous Red Kite and abundant Common Buzzard.
I must end on my favourite species of the last month, the iconic and splendid Black Grouse. What better way to start a spring morning than to be hearing the bubbling and spitting calls of this amazing species and watching the jousting behaviour of males at their lek site from a distance. These birds were seen well throughout April and early May and we often enjoyed the splendid sight of lekking males early in the morning, before the day had even started!