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...
Acrobatic Badgers and Tumbling Pine Martens at our Hide

Acrobatic Badgers and Tumbling Pine Martens at our Hide

This past year at the Speyside Wildlife hide has been very busy with both wildlife and guests. In the summer of 2015 we had three Pine Marten kits (two females and one male) born to our alpha female  and our Badgers produced four cubs (three females and a male). The animals are baited seven nights a week with food resembling as close their natural choice; all scattered around the well lit hide. We only put out enough to keep them interested but not dependent. We’ve been waiting expectantly for the newest arrivals to appear this month and two little Pine Marten kits (maybe eight weeks old) arrived at the table a couple of weeks ago. Still learning what to do with their feet, they kept tumbling off the table and branches to the delight of visiting guests! Just last Friday two wee Badger cubs appeared – there could still be more back at the sett!? Last year’s male cub would have been chased out by his parents from the sett in early February, as his mother was due to give birth again and he could have posed a threat to the new cubs. This particular male cub should have gone off by now to start his own sett, but he is still around at the moment. He is a star act and we shall miss him when he finally goes. He is a great tree climber and steals the Pine Marten’s food high up the trunk – much to our guest’s delight! You can book your place in our hide online...
Grantown Grammar School Tenner Challenge

Grantown Grammar School Tenner Challenge

Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice came crashing together in the Spring – all Grantown Grammar School S2 pupils took part in the ‘Tenner Challenge’; a competition for budding entrepreneurs. Each small group was give £10 to set up and establish a business (and maybe make a profit) in just three weeks; the deal being at the end of the three weeks the £10 had to be returned either though profit or their own pockets! Local entrepreneurs (one of which was our own Sally Dowden, along with Rebecca Reid from The Red Sock Laundry) gave weekly input and advice to the S2 pupils. There were a wide variety of enterprises planned including car washing, candle manufacturing, baking and sports instruction. After the three weeks, the pupils had to present to their peers about their entrepreneurial projects and calculate their bottom line. Some groups broke even while others were in triple figure profit! Speyside Wildlife provided prizes for the best performing group in each class....
Dipping Dippers

Dipping Dippers

As I said in the ‘Spring Arrivals’ blog Dippers are worthy of a mention of their own, so here it is! I have to say Dippers are one of my favourite birds, seemingly impervious to the cold, always busy flying up and down a river, or in the water hunting for their insect larvae prey, or sitting on a rock and singing sweetly. I am fortunate to see them regularly on the rivers in summertime, or even once near Braemar when it was minus 10 degrees and the River Dee was mainly ice – they’re hardy wee souls. Dippers are the only passerine (true perching) bird that can dive and swim underwater. Their strong feet grip onto rocks and they can use their short wings like flippers to propel themselves underwater. They can bob on the surface too looking like a miniature duck – except they’re the wrong shape! They have solid bones to help weigh them down when submerged, being heavyweights explains why they don’t tend to fly very long distances. Life on a river isn’t easy, you need to be seen and heard. Their high pitched song and call carries above the roar of the torrent. If that isn’t enough their bobbing movement draws attention to their white breast. If all that fails they have a secret weapon in their signalling arsenal –  THE EYELID! Little did you know a small flap of skin could be so obvious. Have a look closely at a Dipper and when it blinks you will see a flash of white, unusually it has feathered eyelids and these feathers are white, against...
Extremadura, Spain; fabulous birding in spring and winter

Extremadura, Spain; fabulous birding in spring and winter

Our two holidays to Extremadura during winter and spring, offer fantastic birdwatching, with quite unusual species that we don’t see in the UK. The raptors that can been seen here are amazing, three species of vulture and all five Spanish eagles; what more needs to be said. A smaller raptor worthy of mention is the Lesser Kestrel. Unusually it is a colonial nester and one that we see in the town of Trujillo on our spring trip. It is quite an identification challenge to separate the female Lesser and Common Kestrel. The Iberian Savannah of the Dehesa harbours some great species, the Azure-winged Magpie is one. You would think that a Magpie with bright blue wings would stand out, but when it flits from tree to tree in the shadows, it is surprisingly well camouflaged. It used to be thought that the birds in Iberia and those in the Far East were the same species, but genetic analysis shows that they are different. The huge gap in distribution between these two populations is quite a mystery. I have a very soft spot for the bustards that we see on these trips. If you look patiently and carefully it will appear……. it is about the size of a female Pheasant and in breeding plumage the male has a fantastic pattern on its head and neck. He inflates his neck for his breeding display. However this species is small fry in comparison with the Great Bustard. Although it has been recently reintroduced to England, the numbers there are still low. Not the case in Extremadura; Iberia is still a stronghold. There...