April, Highlands of Scotland

Common Lizard: During the month of April I was invited to work and live up in the Highland of Scotland carrying out a wide variety of ornithological surveys, this was a real privilege as I got to work on some great sites carrying out some specialised bird surveys with some great people.

I spent the first couple of weeks in Tain and and a week in Aviemore.
The survey work was awesome, I worked on several wind farms and carried out Brown and Shepherd breeding upland bird surveys to name a few.
The survey work was fun, but hard work, early mornings followed by long uphill walks in bad weather, I have never felt so unfit in my life!!!

Peregrine Falcon: I spent a lot of my free time at the very lovely Tarbet Ness, this is located at the end of the peninsular and is a well know site to go and see the resident Bottlenose Dolphin's.

Razorbill: Although I visited Tarbet Ness several times I never saw any dolphin's but I did see plenty of great birds.
Gannet: On a typically scottish windy day I saw several dozen Gannet get blown in close to the cliffs and over the sea.
Fulmar: The cliffs had good numbers of Fulmar hanging and gliding on the win.
Yellowhammer: In the car park someone has kindly put up a couple of bird feeders and it's well worth winding the car window down, waiting and watching the Yellowhammer come for a feed, these birds are simply stunning and brighten up any wet, windy scottish day.

Black-throated Diver: I discovered a little gem of a reserve, it wasn't really that huge, basically it's just a bird hide but it was great and a place I visited a number of times.
Dalchork Bird Hide is famous for Osprey and Black-throated Diver and it didn't disappoint -  I saw both of these cracking birds here.
This was also the first place and subsequently the first time I had seen Black-throated Diver in full super, spanking, summer plumage, a spectacular bird.

And not one but two, and all from the bird hide.

Pheasant: Post survey, and after a long tough walk up a steep hill. Then sitting in the rain and wind for six hours this Pheasant and I hads a lot in common.

Drenched to the bone.
Despite the poor weather conditions and how we both felt the bird was very inquisitive and approached me several times.

 I was happy to share my sandwich with him.
Crossbill: I also found another lovely little reserve just outside of Tain near Skelbo called Loch Fleet.
This great reserve has a wide range of habitat from Scots Pine to pristine sandy beach and tidal loch.

It was one of the few places I saw Crossbill.

Scottish Crossbill are notoriously tricky birds to ID,  with 3 crossbill species and some cross breeding the only positive way to ID is via sonography.
Hooded Crow: The reserve is located at the end of a golf course which turned out to be a really good place to see Hooded Crow foraging on the fairway.
Siskin: The Scots Pine were full of typical woodland species.
Ringed Plover: Down on the shore was a good place to see Dolphin, typically I didn't see any, but I was happy to see Ringed Plover.
This little chap was foraging on the tideline, he didn't seem to mind as I lay down on the damp sand and snapped away.
However I did get some funny looks from a passers by!

Slavonian Grebe: One of the best places to see slav grebes in the highlands has to be RSPB's Loch Ruthven reserve located south-west of Inverness.
Although I was hoping for better views and much better pics, I did have seven individuals on the loch which was a real treat.
Bottlenose Dolphin's: After not seeing any dolphin at Tarbet Ness or outside the cottage I was staying in I decided to take a trip to a more reliable site, Chanonry Point.
Chanonry Point is on the Black Isle near Inverness and if you arrive an hour before high tide you should get lucky.

I certainly did as I saw an adult teaching a baby to hunt and it was incredible, they came within feet of where I was standing.
The dolphin population in the Moray Firth area is very special as they are the most northerly resident Bottlenose Dolphins in the world with over 130 animals currently recorded.

Badger: One of the highlights of the trip was spending an evening in Speyside Wildlife Hides at Rothiemurchus.
I got lucky as I had the hide to myself which usually costs over £200!!! I only paid 20 quid.
I was met at the end of a private drive by John Walters he was the wildlife guide who accompanies you to the hide.

John was a lovely bloke, very friendly, approachable and he knew his stuff.
Pine Marten: First to arrive was a trio of Badger's, they came in after around 15 minutes wait and started to hover up the scattered peanuts John put out.
I had to wait a little longer for the main show to start and the Pine Martens to arrive but once they did it was well worth the wait.

I saw two individuals who put on a great show, the first one didn't mess about and came straight for the egg John put out on the feeding table, the Pine Marten gently picked it up in its mouth and carried it away and cashed presumably to eat at a later date.
These special, secretive Scottish mammals are gorgeous and in the Speyside Wildlife Hide you can get really up close and personal with them.
This was a mammal tick for me as I hadn't seen one before.
 If you want to see some incredible views of nocturnal mammals and see a badger climb a tree then click the link below and book a visit.

***Highly Recommended***


Snow Bunting: I spent my weekend hunting Ptarmigan up in the Cairngorms. It took me three trips to finally connect with them.
Cairngorm has an awful lot to offer wih plenty of Red Grouse, Snow Bunting, Ring Ouzel, Black Grouse and Dipper.
Ring Ouzel: One of the best places is the car park, simply park up and wait and you will see Ring Ouzel and Snow Bunting feeding around the car park area.
This male popped up out of nowhere while I was having my breakfast in the hire van waiting for the snow to ease before hiking up the mountain.
 Theses are cracking birds a real treat to see.
Red Grouse: Step foot on the Cairngorms and it's likely that the fisrt bird you see and hear will be the Red Grouse. 

Unfortunately these birds are in the firing line of many hunters across the UK but they are doing really well up here.

Stunning birds close up.

Snow Bunting: Another bird which was abundant on the mountain was the Snow Bunting, many of which were in close to summer plumage.
Ptarmigan: The main reason I spent £24 on the funicular railway and climbed up the side of the mountain not once, not twice but four times was to see this bird.
This is was a brand new bird for me and it was giving me the runaround. On my first trip to the top via the funicular a steward told me he had a dozen feeding right in front of the coffee shop, typically there was none when I was there.
The second and third time I walked around the mountain and although I could hear them croaking away, I couldn't locate them.

It was on my fourth and final visit when I finally managed to track them down.
Snow Bunting: There were only two Ptarmigan but both male and female showed really well before flying off and out of sight.

Crested Tit: I've seen cresties in Spain but never in the UK so I was keen to spend some time in and around RSPB's Loch Garten where they are know be showing well.
And I wasn't disappointed!!!
I must have visited the reserve at least three times and on each visit I had a single individual come to feed on the stump in the car park.
Someone had put out peanut butter which seemed to be the birds food of choice. and it came really close and showed incredibly well.
Coal Tit: The peanut butter was attracting all kinds of birds including this Coal Tit.
Greater-spotted Woodpecker: I was even treated to a hungry woodie.
Siskin: I just parked up, rolled the window down, waited then snapped away. It was easy as that.
Crested Tit: I never got views like this in Spain!!

Willow Warbler: I was lucky as I was able to carry out a number of protected species surveys including cappa surveys.

 I also wanted to photograph Red Squirrel, you can't go to the UK's Red Squirrel stronghold and not try your luck.

So I did some reserch and found a lovely little place just outside of Loch Garten in Boat of Garten.

Redstart: Park just off Desher Road, near a small secluded car park then follow the sights to a viewing area next to a feeding station and information boards.
I took a long pleasant walk through the plantation and searched for Red Squirrels.
Crested Tit: Unfortunately I didn't see any Red Squirrels at this location but I did see some cresties, male Redstart and got treated to some decent views of Willow Warbler.
Red Squirrel: If you're staying in Aviemore and want to see Red Squirrels I would highly recommend The Potting Shed Tea Rooms at Inshriach Nursery.
Great tea, great cake and the best viewing area, with close views of Red Squirrel and the best birds feeding station I have come across, anywhere!

 Crested Tit: Love cresties.
If you are looking for more info on where to see Red Squirrels in the Highlands take a look at this link, search around for the map and info.


Red Kite: You can't spend a month on the Highlands and not visit Tollies Red Kites Feeding Centre.
Tollies have a really good set up with a nice hide and places to view the Kites.
However Tollies have a big problem with Gulls, every time the volunteer goes and places meat out for the Kites a scene from Hitchcock's 'The Birds' is played out as a huge flock of Gulls flock in and gorge themselves on the free food.
This leaves little for the Red kites, I watched the volunteer place five loads of food out on the table and only two Kites swoop down and take food on two separate occasions.
Eider: Paul from Stagfire took me back to Loch Fleet and we drove down the Skelbo marine drive as he wanted to show me the resident Seals.
Not only did I see the Seals but I got pretty close to Eider and had a fly by from an Osprey.
Seals: This was part of Loch Fleet Nature Reserve that I didn't come across on my last visit and it's a great place to see these lazy looking Seals.
There were both Common and Grey Seal hauled out on a sand bank with many floating around in the loach.
They didn't seem to mind as I stood on the opposite bank snapping away.
They just slept.
Osprey: Having had a pretty rubbish experience at Loch Garten I spent a lot of time watching Osprey at Loch Insh.
This is a much better place to see these awesome birds, the loch is much smaller and the birds actually fish in the loch, unlike the Garten birds and you are much, much closer without disturbing the birds.
You can clearly see the nest from the edge of the loch and often see the birds in flight around the small island in the middle of the loch.