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...
Spring Arrivals

Spring Arrivals

The Spring Equinox has passed and the birds know it is spring, they have been singing with gusto in the last few weeks. At this time of year we start to wave goodbye to some species, but a whole lot more are going to make an appearance very soon. Our Spring Birds and 24/7 holidays offer a great opportunity to see many of these migrants who are either passing through or coming to breed in the Highlands. The Spring movement of birds to their breeding grounds starts with resident species who have been wintering at the coast. At night, in early February, I heard the first of the Oystercatchers heading up the river, their calling at night is a sign that winter is on the way out. Soon after that Lapwings start to make their way inland. Although in general it is the larger birds that stay on their inland, un-wooded, upland territories, there are two notable exceptions to this; the Stonechat and the Dipper. The Dipper typifies hardiness and is worthy of a blog all of its own (read it here now!) A pair of Stonechats will sometimes remain on their territory all winter, if the weather is not too cold. But some Stonechats will migrate to the coast and others will migrate all the way down to North Africa. It certainly has a few overwintering strategies up its sleeve. When we think of Spring arrivals, it tends to be those that leave in Autumn for Africa and then arrive en-masse. One bird in particular that vacates the uplands and then almost as quickly returns is the Meadow...
Cairngorms Nature Young Presenter Winner, James Miller experiences Speyside Wildlife

Cairngorms Nature Young Presenter Winner, James Miller experiences Speyside Wildlife

In 2015, 14 year old James Miller entered the Cairngorms Nature Young Presenter Competition and after shortlisting as one of 10 finalists he won through a public vote. Part of his prize was a five night stay with Speyside Wildlife at the Steading and a day out with wildlife TV presenter Iolo Williams. Since then James has started to set up his own blog and will be giving a talk at the British Bird Watching Fair with Speyside Wildlife. Here he tells more about his experiences in February 2016 with Speyside Wildlife. Day 1 After some last minute packing, my family and I drove up to Luton Airport and went through the tedious but necessary check in, security and boarding process. Eventually we hopped onto the plane with some bulky hand luggage and set off to the Cairngorms National Park, where we would be spending the next 5 days. During the flight, I was amazed by the scale of the Cairngorms mountain range, you really get a sense of it when seeing it from above! We landed at the small and pleasant airport of Inverness, where, in the relatively unpopulated arrival area, we couldn’t really miss our guide for the week – Duncan Macdonald. He greeted us enthusiastically and really made us feel welcome, before immediately whisking us off to a scenic beach for lunch and a quick scan for bird life. This wasn’t scheduled on the itinerary, but as Duncan said – ‘Why not start the experience right away? It would be a shame to waste such a lovely afternoon!’ We saw an amazing amount of species that...
Yellowstone in Autumn with Duncan Macdonald

Yellowstone in Autumn with Duncan Macdonald

“I sat there in amazement, while my companions came up, and after that, it seemed to me it was five minutes before anyone spoke. Language is inadequate to convey a just conception of the grandeur and sublimity of this masterpiece of nature’s handiwork” Artist Point – Charles Cook 1869 The trapper, quoted above, was one of the first non-aboriginal Americans to visit, what is now known as, Yellowstone National Park. What Charles Cook experienced, nearly 150 years ago, is just as relevant today. The landscapes can leave the visitor profoundly moved, as indeed I was the first time I visited with a group. Yellowstone National Park was the first of its kind in the world and is nearly double the size of the UK’s largest – our very own Cairngorms National Park. The skies are endless, above a landscape whose beauty and majesty is impossible to put into words. It lives up to its reputation and more. Of course on a Speyside Wildlife trip we do not just visit Yellowstone. Our trip begins in the lovely frontier town of Jackson Hole, on the southern limit of Grand Teton National Park, giving access to the National Elk Refuge. Here in the fall (autumn), the colours of the Aspens and Cottonwoods can be breathtaking. The Sagebrush stands out green amongst the scorched prairie, where herds of Bison and Pronghorn graze and numerous Northern Harriers quarter looking for food. Looming over this flat land are the mighty peaks of the Tetons, with Grand Teton the mightiest of them all. It is likely that whilst we are here in the fall, the mountains receive...