Crested Tits inhabit the native Scots Pine trees Photo: Nigel Sprowell
The Scottish Highlands are one of the last truly wild places to be found in the United Kingdom. Ideally placed to explore the region, the imposing Grant Arms Hotel is home to The Birdwatching and Wildlife Club which provides its own Club room with a wildlife information centre, a bookshop and a natural history library. It also has a large lecture theatre which hosts evening talks from a range of guest speakers.
From this comfortable hotel we will venture out each day to a different part of the region seeking out the very special birds and mammals to be found there. Early spring is an ideal time to go birding there as most of the summer visitors will have arrived but there should also be some lingering winter birds as well. With just one base for the week, and with most locations within easy striking distance, this tour will offer a relaxed introduction to the natural wonders of Scotland.
Day 1: The tour begins this afternoon at the Grant Arms Hotel, Grantown-on-Spey.
Days 2–6: We’ll spend our time exploring the rich and varied habitats to be found within a day’s travel of our comfortable base. There will be no fixed itinerary – instead we’ll respond to the weather and reports of local sightings. Loch Garten is, of course, one destination we’ll visit at least once with hopes of seeing its famous Ospreys. The dense woodland that surrounds the loch is where we’ll look for dainty Crested Tit, Redpoll, Treecreeper, Siskin, Tree Pipit, and Scottish Crossbill. In recent years Parrot Crossbill has also become established here and we’ll need to spend time separating them. These woods are also the haunt of a giant – the majestic Capercaillie. However for all their size, they are extremely shy and secretive, and catching sight of one is far from easy. Much more obvious will be Red Squirrels bounding through the branches. There will be Goldeneye and Red-breasted Mergansers out on the loch and, if we are lucky, we may find a pair of stunning Slavonian Grebes or Red-throated Divers. As dusk falls we will certainly hear, and hopefully see, Woodcock performing their distinctive roding and we may be able to visit a hide in the hope of seeing an elusive Pine Marten or a badger.
The Cairngorms National Park create an impressive backdrop to our time on Speyside. Formed 400 million years ago it is one of the most spectacular parts of Britain and the largest landmass over 3000 feet, covering an area of over 200 square miles. We’ll visit the national park’s car park where we expect to see Snow Buntings foraging, as well as hopefully a sighting of Mountain Hare on the lower slopes. On nearby local moorlands Red Grouse will explode from our feet but stealth and care will be needed to catch sight of the much rarer and elegant Black Grouse or a smart Ring Ouzel.
The nearby Moray Firth will also be well worth a visit. About 40 minutes’ drive from our base we stand a good chance of finding Bottle-nosed Dolphins, and Common and Grey Seals just offshore. There could be a few remaining winter seaduck such as Scaup, Common or Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck mingling with the local Common Eider, and the open sea is a popular fishing location for the local Ospreys. Otters are also found along this coastline.
Findhorn Valley is known as the Valley of the Raptors – and for good reason. During our time here we could encounter Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Merlin, Common Buzzard and even a ghostly Hen Harrier. The river running along the valley floor is home to Dipper, Common Sandpiper, Common Tern, and Grey Wagtail.
Another day could be spent on the Black Isle, north of Inverness. Here Red Kites abound, and the coastal stretches are another great place to look for sea mammals, as well as Gannets and the odd Arctic Skua. In Munlochy Bay we’ll seek out local residents such as Curlew, Shelduck, Oystercatcher, and Redshank. More seabirds can be found at Troup Head. Here can be found the only mainland Gannet colony in Scotland, and they share the cliff faces with Fulmars, Shags, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins.
Although we are based in the east of Scotland, the west coast is not too far away and we may take one day to travel across the country. One special bird here will be White-tailed Eagle and with several pairs now established a sighting of at least one is very probable. We could also find Great Northern and Black-throated Divers during the day, and the delightful Black Guillemot will also be a highlight.
Day 7: The tour ends this morning after breakfast.
Updated: 29 November 2020