NEW – Cairngorms National Park Wildlife Identification

NEW – Cairngorms National Park Wildlife Identification

A new course, delivered by Speyside Wildlife is starting in March 2017, funded by Cairngorms LEADER. If you’ve always wanted to know what the bird calls are that you hear whilst walking through the Caledonian Pine Forest, or to feel confident that you can tell the difference between a buzzard and an eagle as you scan the hills, then this is the course for you. It can lead to a fulfilling career sharing this knowledge with others, either as a wildlife tour guide, a ranger, or simply as an accommodation provider who would like to add value to your guests’ experiences whilst they are staying with you. Over the 12-month course participants will be required to attend five study weekends and a final exam in April 2018. In addition, in their own time, they will progress and practice their skills learnt, producing their own Field Notebook for assessment. By the end of the course, the participants should be able to correctly identify the major birds and mammals seen and heard in the Cairngorms National Park; know what species are likely to occur in which habitats and at what time of year. They will also have a basic appreciation of what wildlife guiding entails. What will I learn? How to identify the main wildlife found in the Cairngorms National Park by both sight and sound and have the confidence to show people these iconic species. You will get to know the best places to find different things, what to look for and will be able to identify what you see. In particular: be able to ID the main species of...
Ice Bound with Darren Rees part 2 (click here for more…..)

Ice Bound with Darren Rees part 2 (click here for more…..)

“During my residency, my time at the British Antarctic Survey base at Rothera was my most productive. The Royal Navy was tasked with pumping fuel for the forthcoming winter and to assist with survey work for improvements to the harbour area. This warranted an extended stay for HMS Protector and crew and I spent three full days on land at Rothera making the most of the landscape and its wild residents. In particular I enjoyed very close proximity to Antarctic Fur Seals, Antarctic (Blue-eyed) Shags, Adelie Penguins and especially the charismatic Southern Elephant Seals that were loafing around the buildings. These made great models as they were used to people walking around and were keen to exploit the relative shelter afforded by the buildings. Studying Elephant Seals close up might not be to everyone’s liking as the experience was a full-on sensory overload. Breaking wind, belching and roaring, they sounded like orcs having an altercation at a steam engine rally. The aromas were rich and pungent and luckily I didn’t paint with scratch-n-sniff materials. The landscape was equally as breath-taking and was irresistible to an artist with paint. After several days on the move aboard Protector, this was the first time I could sit and paint giant icebergs directly with no fear of the perspective or background moving.” This year Darren will be guiding our Speyside Wildlife guests overseas to Yellowstone, South Africa, Nova Scotia and New Mexico, as well as touring the Scottish North Coast 500 route. Award-winning artist and Speyside Wildlife guide Darren Rees received the coveted ‘Artist in Residency’ honour from the Friends of The Scott...
The New British List – does it affect you?! with Roy Atkins (click here for more…..)

The New British List – does it affect you?! with Roy Atkins (click here for more…..)

The British Ornithologists’ Union (BOU) have just announced that from January 2018 they are going to adopt the International Ornithological Congress (IOC) List as the basis for the bird species on the British List! “Oh, my goodness!!”  I hear you shout, “that is astonishing!” ……Or maybe just… “they’re doing what?” Let me explain… The ‘British List’ is kept by the BOU and they decide what species have been recorded in Britain and therefore what is on the official list. BUT – as you may be aware – there is enormous debate about whether some birds are species or sub-species. For example – is there just one very variable species of crossbill in Britain, or are there three? How many species of chiffchaff have occurred in Britain? (at present, it is two.) Up until now, the BOU listened to scientists who put forward papers suggesting their reasoning for why they feel there are three species of crossbill, or several species of gull that all look just like Herring Gull, but each country made its own decisions. Often the Dutch would announce that they are splitting some species or another and we in the UK would say, “Hmmmm, we should give this a few years’ consideration and debate,” before we too would follow suit several years later.   Well, all that changes from January 2018! Now the BOU is going to follow the IOC. They have a world list of species and the BOU is to use that list from now on. Does this sound boring? Surely not! – this affects your British List! If you keep a British List – what do you base...
Ice Bound with Darren Rees (click here for more…..)

Ice Bound with Darren Rees (click here for more…..)

Award-winning artist and Speyside Wildlife guide Darren Rees received the coveted ‘Artist in Residency’ honour from the Friends of The Scott Polar Research Institute in 2015, so he travelled with the Royal Navy on HMS Protector from the Falkland Islands to the Antarctic Peninsula. His new book Ice Bound documents his journey with a collection of sketches, watercolours and acrylic paintings executed in situ. Darren’s new exhibition is at the Polar Museum, Cambridge from 18 January to 25 February 2017. Over seventy of the original artworks and small sketchbooks from Ice Bound, showing more of his methods, encounters and experiences in the far south are on show. (All artworks are for sale.) “As a bird nut, it goes without saying that I’ve always wanted to witness the large penguin colonies of the far south. With my role as a Speyside Wildlife guide, I’ve been lucky enough to see penguins in the wild in the Galapagos and South Africa – wonderful occasions for sure, but these have been small groups of a dozen or so birds. My time as artist in residence started in the Falkland Islands, where there are spectacular numbers of penguins and I had opportunities to visit three colonies. The first was close to Port Stanley, at Gypsy Cove, where there were hundreds of Magellanic Penguins hunkered amongst the grass tussocks on the low cliff slopes. Hundreds more were strewn across the perfect white sand beach below, so there was no shortage of interesting models as I sketched and painted. It was also my first full day in the field – I had arrived the day before...
As Fit as a Bird! With Roy Atkins (click to read more…..)

As Fit as a Bird! With Roy Atkins (click to read more…..)

Well it is the New Year and many people will have started with a New Year’s Resolution.  For many this may be to lose weight or exercise more.  Here’s a rather crazy and fun idea that might just inspire you …. get ‘Fit as a Bird’!! (Disclaimer: We confirm that none of the below ridiculous exercises have been clinically proven to help with fitness or weight loss, but will hopefully cause some hilarity!) Flap your arms as if you are trying to take off. Do this vigorously for ten seconds then have a rest for ten then do it again – repeat several times until your arms feel like they might drop off or you succeed and actually take off!  I reckon this will be good for all your arm muscles and your chest muscles too – birds have huge chest muscles attached to a large plate-like sternum so it must be good! Pretend you are a Sanderling – go down to the beach and follow the waves in and out. You have to keep from getting your feet wet by dashing back and forth up and down the beach – or use your imagination and do it in the living room if you feel shy Get flexible by pretending to be a heron looking for fish – lots of high steps and careful balancing, then lean right down and study the water (or carpet) carefully stretching those tendons at the back of the legs and stretching the back. You could even pretend to be a Reddish Egret and dash about while flapping out one arm then the other...
New Year Birding  by Roy Atkins (click to read more…)

New Year Birding by Roy Atkins (click to read more…)

Do you keep a year list?  I keep one most years and its great fun, making me go out birding when perhaps I might not have done otherwise – which is surely a good thing.  It makes me search out birds I have seen before but might not otherwise go to look for and makes the New Year particularly exciting – everything is new for the list!! There is always that buzz of excitement on New Year’s Day wondering what the first bird of the year will be.  I love it when I hear a Tawny Owl after midnight so my first bird of the year is something more exciting than a Wood Pigeon or House Sparrow. Rules are simple – any bird you see, or hear goes on the list as long as you are 100% certain of its identity and it is not in a cage or a wildlfowl collection.  It starts on January 1 and finishes on December 31 – and that’s about it! I add a little fun by setting myself the target of 200 species.  I remember reading about ‘year listing’ in a magazine which suggested a 250 target!  The author said 250 was easy – really!  I don’t think so, unless you want to end up twitching rarities all autumn, 200 is challenge enough making a plausible target for which you still have to make an effort.  You might need a trip to Scotland, a trip to Norfolk or Fair Isle to get there but that is the point, isn’t it – getting you out birding. There is a bit of planning to...
25 Highlights from our 25th Anniversary Year! Part Three

25 Highlights from our 25th Anniversary Year! Part Three

Racoon family, British Columbia by Steve Batt Our third and final instalment – many thanks, once again, to all of you who have so generously shared your amazing photographs with us. 17. For all the guests on our holiday in Sri Lanka, led by Dr Charles Anderson and Nilantha Kodithuwakku – ably assisted by Darren – the highlights included Sloth Bear, Sperm Whale, Asian Elephant, Spinner Dolphins. Darren was also very taken by a sighting of Painted Snipe!   18. A wonderful birding holiday in Texas, led by Darren, resulted in sightings of more than 280 birds, so it’s not surprising that more than 20 were nominated as the species of the trip. This list included Aplomado Falcon, Painted Bunting, Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Green Jay, Prothonotary Warbler, Least Bittern, King Rail, Common Nighthawk, Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Altimira Oriole, Racoon and Black Tern!   19. Our guests on our Summer Mammals week, led by Craig Round and Duncan Macdonald, had great sightings of Pine Marten, Roe Deer, Mountain Hare, Minke Whale, Red Fox and Red Squirrel, plus Short-eared Owl, Sooty Shearwater, Gannet and Oystercatcher.   20.  Roy Atkins, Lucas Marti and Miguel Castelino led our return trip to the Pantanal in Brazil and had a fantastic time, with multiple sightings of Jaguar and many magic moments with Tapirs, Giant Otters, Caiman, Macaws and a multitude of birds!   21. Our holidays in Orkney offer our guests fabulous birding, plus visits to ancient archeological sites at a time of year when the days are still long and rare migrants are seen. This year Simon Pawsey, Duncan Macdonald and our guests particularly enjoyed excellent views of Short-eared Owl (Cattie faces) from the High Moor Road and...
25 Highlights from our 25th Anniversary Year! Part Two

25 Highlights from our 25th Anniversary Year! Part Two

Humpback Whale, Nova Scotia by Darren Rees Our round up of 2016 continues! 9. Our visit to the Pyrenees with Duncan Macdonald and James Shooter in May produced sightings of 117 birds, including Scop’s Owl, Red Kite, Citril Finch, Crossbill, Crested Tit, Serin and Egyptian Vulture.     10. A perennial favourite, our holidays in Nova Scotia never fail to delight our guests with the array of birds, mammals, butterflies and plants; this year, the highlights of the trip led by Darren Rees and Simon Eaves included Humpback Whale (see featured photo at the top), Right Whale, Ovenbird and hosts of Phalaropes and Shearwaters.   11. Fair Isle is a magical place and our holiday this year, led by Craig Round, resulted in sightings of 82 stunning birds, with Fair Isle Wren, Wryneck, Barred Warbler, Great Skua and Common Snipe all receiving votes for the species of the trip.   12. We had two holidays in Romania, one led by Duncan and Bence Kokay, and the other by Julian Sykes and Attila Steiner. The species of the trip for both weeks was Euopean Brown Bear; other highlights included Pallas’s Gull, White-tailed Eagle and Pelican.   13. In July, our holiday in the Farne Islands, led by Julian Sykes, resulted in sightings of 139 species, with Temminck’s Stint, Bonaparte’s Gull and Grasshopper Warbler receiving the most votes for the species of the trip; Julian’s favourite was Roseate Tern.   14. One of our new trips this year was to Kamchatka, where Julian and the guests’ many highlights included Siberian Rubythroat, Steller’s Sea Eagle, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Northern Wheatear, Rock Sandpiper, Short-tailed Albatross, Brown Bear and Walrus. Magic moments for guests included the...
25 Highlights from our 25th Anniversary Year! Part One

25 Highlights from our 25th Anniversary Year! Part One

Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Yellowstone Spring by Duncan   What a year it’s been! From your feedback we know you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have – many thanks to our guides and guests who have shared their fabulous photos. In no particular order, here is Part One of the round-up of our amazing year of wonderful wildlife watching. 1. We started the year in Andujar with Julian Sykes, where he and our delighted guests had three sightings of Lynx, plus Iberian Green Woodpecker, Spanish Imperial Eagle and Griffon Vulture.   2. We have been taking guests to Extremadura for over 20 years and some of the best moments for Duncan Macdonald, Julian Sykes and our guests this year included sightings of Great Bustard, Black-winged Kite, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Griffon Vultures and a great view of a Long-eared Owl. As ever, the hospitality we received at the Hotel Vina Las Torres was outstanding and several guests cited the food and wines as a daily holiday highlight!   3. The aim of our Speyside 24/7 holiday is to see 24 birds and 7 mammals, but we always manage far more than that! This year’s trip, led by Craig Round, was no exception and our guests’ highlights included Pine Marten, Slavonian Grebe, Ptarmigan and Long-tailed Duck.   4. Costa Rica with Roy Atkins and local guide Paco Madrigal produced many memorable moments, including Resplendant Quetzal, Otter swimming, Osprey having a bath, Savegre National Reserve, Silky Flycatcher, Scarlet Macaw and Fiery billed Aracri.   5. Our classic signature week, Spring Birds, led by Julian Sykes, Duncan Macdonald and Simon Eaves, included a fabulous view of Osprey fishing, fantastic dolphin activity, Slavonian...
Autumn arrivals (and departures)

Autumn arrivals (and departures)

I just seen and heard my first skein of Greylag Geese flying over the house, making me think about all the movement taking place right now. The geese I saw were coming here for the winter; almost 95% of the Greylag Goose population from Iceland overwinters in Scotland! Of course, there are also the Pink-footed Geese that are starting to arrive; they breed in Greenland and Iceland. Places like the Loch of Strathbeg are great places to see tens of thousands of these geese, but simply stopping by the agricultural fields around the Moray Firth can be just as rewarding. Ready for departure – Birds moving on from the UK are the Swallows and House Martins, you can see the immature birds perched on the power lines close to houses or farms, all set to head south to much sunnier climes – our Swallows fly all the way to South Africa. Immature Swallows have shorter tail streamers than the adults, and their throats are amber, rather than red. Their fellow ‘aerial insect eaters’, the Swifts all headed south in August, they spend their winter south of the Sahara chasing after the rains which cause incredible insect abundance. Greeting the arrivals – In the Inner Moray Firth we can look forward to seeing lots of duck, particularly Wigeon. We can get upwards of 40,000 in the late Autumn; it is quite a sight and sound. These birds mainly breed in Iceland, Fennoscandia and Russia and they gradually move south as the winter progresses, so October and November are the times to come and see them. Of course some of our waders...