Eagles, Otters, Ptarmigan and Bottlenose Dolphins are all possible as part of two easy-going back to back Scottish tours as can be seen by what we encountered a month ago.
We began in Inverness and drove west along the Great Glen seeing some good wildlife as we went including many Common/Harbour Seals, Red Deer and Great Northern Divers. Once on Mull we settled into our hotel for a full week's stay. After dinner on a couple of evenings there was a fabulous moonrise over the Sound of Mull.
Eagles were frequent throughout our stay with sightings of two Golden and 16 White-tailed Eagles on our first full day on the island including six of the latter species in the air together. This surely is the 'White-tailed Eagle Capital' of Scotland! However, the best views of this fabulous raptor were reserved for a boat trip we took a couple of days later when we saw four different birds take fish from the surface of the sea at fairly close range. Other noted raptors during the tour included Peregrine, lots of Common Buzzards and seven sightings of Hen Harrier in a single afternoon.
On another day we visited the beautiful island of Iona where we heard Corncrakes calling but unfortunately could not see one of these elusive little blighters! However , while we were there, some clients did spend a little time in the abbey while others wildlife watched at their leisure. Our third boat trip took us to the Treshnish Isles including Staffa to see the columnar basalt cliffs and Fingal's Cave. We also went ashore on Lunga where Atlantic Puffins and Razorbills
were frequent and we also had Kittiwakes, Common Guillemots, European Shags and Great Skua among our sightings. In all the Mull trip produced 98 species of birds, Otters and other mammals plus plenty of flower species.
So after a fabulous week we headed back across Scotland to Inverness, dropped off a three of the group, picked up one new client and headed to Grantown-on-Spey to begin a full week based at the lovely Grant Arms Hotel for wildlife watching mostly among the magnificent Cairngorms National Park.
Red Grouse were frequent on the moorlands and on two or three occasions we managed to see Black Grouse. One of the big challenges was to find Ptarmigan for the group and we achieved this by taking the funicular railway up to the Ptarmigan restaurant. It was a cold day with occasional light snow flurries but after searching from the viewing platform unsuccessfully for some time, we headed inside for a warming cup of coffee, managed to get a table by the window and even before we had finished our drinks, a male Ptarmigan did a display flight right in front of us. A little later it flew down and began feeding so we managed to get excellent views
before it flew off again. Back at the Cairngorm car park we could see a group of 50+ Reindeer and after photographing and viewing some of these, we headed down to the shores of Loch Morlich for our picnic lunch with fine views across the loch to the Cairngorm range. There were a few good birds seen here too.
The one member of the grouse family that we did not try for was the rare and rapidly declining Capercaillie. Some authorities suggest that it could become extinct in Britain again, perhaps within the next 5 - 10 years so I would urge all wildlife enthusiasts and photographers to avoid adding their potential disturbance to this magnificent bird. This is a pressure that just might be the one that pushes the species over the edge and into extinction! Sure, take walks along roads or tracks in the right habitat but please do not head off into the heather or trees where you might flush one from a nest.
We did make a couple of visits to the coastal areas. One outing took us along to Troup Head, an RSPB reserve, where there is the only Scottish east coast Gannetry on the mainland. There were plenty of birds to be seen here and in other locations.
On our 'Black Isle day' we noted Common Eiders, Long-tailed Ducks, Greater Scaup and 3 members of the Auk family. At Udale Bay there were a few lingering winter visitors including Pink-footed Geese but perhaps the best wildlife
sighting was of two Bottlenose Dolphins seen from the usual Chanonry Point. Raptors on the Black Isle included Red Kite but these were better seen during a visit to Strathdearn (also known as the Upper Findhorn Valley) where we also noted Golden Eagles, Peregrines, Merlin, Common Kestrel and Common Buzzards. A second visit here on our final half day of the tour also had us looking at White-throated Dipper and a male Hen Harrier as well as a White-tailed Eagle being mobbed by a Northern Goshawk!
Comments received after the tours included "Thank you for such a wonderful holiday ….. the quality and quantity of birds is first class" and "Thank you especially for your thoughtfulness and kindness …."
Mine are all easy going tours so why not join me in 2019. My tours for next year are already on my web site and as well as the two back to back Scotland trips Mull and the Highlands, I shall be returning to 3 different parts of France. Corsica for residents and spring migration, the Vercors for birds and flowers including up to 35 species of wild orchids, and a new tour combining the bird-rich Camargue with the Pyrenees where we should encounter birds and mammals set among magnificent scenery.