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  • Writer's pictureAilie Brown

The Twelve Species of Speyside

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

Twelve Bramblings perching, Eleven Snow Buntings flocking, Ten Red Deer prancing, Nine Red Squirrels leaping, Eight Black Grouse grazing, Seven Swans a-swimming, Six Geese a-gaggling, Five Goldcrests, Four calling Crossbills, Three Mountain Hares, Two Crested Tits, And a Ptarmigan in a rock cove!

Twelve Bramblings perching
Twelve Bramblings perching (Jane Hope)

Twelve Bramblings perching, if you are so lucky you may encounter these colourful finches. Flocking together with Chaffinches, it can sometimes be tricky to tell them apart. Bramblings have a lovely white rump and a bright orange breast with a bit of black on the end of the beak. A true sign of winter, these migrants find their way to Speyside in search of nuts and berries, flying over from Scandinavia.

Eleven Snow Buntings flocking
Eleven Snow Buntings flocking (Jane Hope)

Eleven Snow Buntings flocking, whether looking for scraps in ski carparks or flying in flocks over the ridges and gullies, these delightful little mountain birds can be seen in larger flocks over the winter. We are lucky enough to have a small breeding population in Scotland in the highest of mountain tops, however in the winter, the residents’ birds are joined by many more individuals from Iceland. Known for their confidence, they pose very well for photographs!

Ten Red deer prancing
Ten Red Deer prancing (Pauline Greenhalgh)

Ten Red Deer prancing, through the snow, over the hills they go, prancing all the way. With rutting season over, Red Deer are looking majestic in backgrounds of snow. In the highlands, mixed herds of males and females of Red Deer are commonly found, avoiding the freezing temperatures and the deep snow on the hilltops, they can be seen in the lower parts of hills and through our glens, digging for grasses, Bilberry bushes and Heather.

Nine Red Squirrels leaping
Nine Red Squirrels leaping (Jane Hope)

Nine Red Squirrels leaping and bounding and bouncing and being adorable! I absolutely love these little joyous creatures. Their tufts of hair on their ears are prominent and obvious in the winter. Red Squirrels have more of a grey winter coat over their back during the winter months. Look out for their little footprints in the snow, in between trees.

Eight Black Grouse grazing
Eight Black Grouse grazing ( Jane Hope)

Eight Black Grouse grazing! In order to see eight Black Grouse in one place, you would have to be patient and polite during their lekking display in the Spring. These beautiful grouse can sometimes be seen grazing on berries, Birch catkins and buds. With a thick coverage of snow, Black Grouse move to the trees.

Seven swans a-swimming
Seven swans a-swimming *flying (Roy Cowley)

Seven Swans a-swimming, shyer and slightly more slender, Whooper Swans inhabit quieter lochs in the Highlands during their winter visit to Scotland. What a wonderful noise they make while flying over, ‘Whoop whoop!’ they can be seen flying or swimming in small groups.

Six Geese a-gaggling
Six Geese a-gaggling (Ian Hainsworth)

Six Geese a-gaggling, whether it be Greylag or Pink-footed Geese, gaggles of geese gather in fields and wetlands in Speyside. They land in little groups and have a gossip.

Five Goldcrest
Five Goldcrest (Mark Denman)

Five Goldcrests, not unlikely at all! These chatty little ping-pong shaped birds are gregarious and social. Traveling in large family groups during the spring, wintertime is not much different. Individuals joining flocks of other small birds, they travel in search of food and safety. Roosting in large groups to keep warm, these pocket-sized gems are a sight to see, and if you have really good hearing, you may hear their high-pitched calls from the tops of pine trees.

Four calling Crossbills
Four calling Crossbills (Simon Eaves)

Four calling Crossbills, while other songbirds are quietly awaiting the arrival of Spring, Crossbills are in preparation of their early breeding season. Not too long after the New Year, you may hear male Crossbills starting to sing. Family groups of Crossbills travel through Pine forests, feeding on Pinecones. They have a ‘chirp chirp chirp’ call as they fly over.

Three mountain Hares
Three Mountain Hares (Jane Hope)

Three Mountain Hares, our marvellous Mountain Hares are the highest occurring mammal. With their snowy winter coats on, they are masters of disguise. Zig zagging up the tops of mountains, these Hares can be seen with a keen eye. When the weather is bad, they hunker down in little coves against boulders.

Two Crested Tits
Two Crested Tits (Jane Hope)

Two Crested Tits, a terrific species of the Caledonian Forests in the Cairngorms, these charismatic little Tits travels alongside other birds during the winter. Although they tend to be mostly insectivorous, when the snow is thick and they need energy, you can find them visiting feeders. Their little laughing call gives them away before you see them. Two Crested Tits is a sure sight, as they birds, not only are social, but they will also breed with the same individual in the subsequent breeding years.

A Ptarmigan in a rock cove
A Ptarmigan in a rock cove (Simon Eaves)

And a Ptarmigan in a rock cove, these specialist mountain birds are the only birds in the UK that turn white in the winter. Designed to endure the harshest of winters Scotland endures, these plump Grouse blend into their environment during snowy conditions, dig for heather shoots to feed on and create little dug outs in the snow for protection. These wonderful birds are a Speyside special to see.

On our Guided Days Out over the winter, yule certainly find at least one Guide a-guiding, looking for the 'Twelve Species of Christmas'. If they are feeling festive, they may even sing it for you!

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