Highlights From Our Scottish Highlands Birdwatching Trips Tour June 2022

Findhorn view Oct 3

Not only amazing birds and wildlife on our tours superb scenery too!

We set off on the 8th of June, a day before the official tour began so that we could break the long drive north. Graham and Sarah and Noreen joined us on this extra day and of course we enjoyed some birds on the way north.

On the 8th of June we stopped at RSPB Leighton Moss in Lancashire and had super prolonged looks at a Great Bittern! We also watched Marsh Harriers, Avocets and Mediterranean Gulls and at the bird feeders close encounters with Bullfinch and Nuthatch all species that are absent from the Highlands.

On the 9th of June we met up with the other three participants of the tour – Jim, Tony and Colin – at Glasgow Airport. We all then headed over to Musselburgh to look for a King Eider. At the mouth of the River Esk there were plenty of Common Eider and Alan soon spotted the young drake King Eider resting amongst his cousins on a shingle island. The rarity was dozing but occasionally woke up and looked around showing off the lovely orange bill – what a fantastic bird to start the trip with. Lots more to see here with Shags, Cormorants, Goosanders, a Sandwich Tern, Gannets and Linnets.

Next, we headed north and stopped for lunch at RSPB Loch Leven where we enjoyed our food in the café overlooking the loch. So many birds here it was difficult to drag ourselves away and continue north. Eurasian Wigeon and Teal, Tufted Ducks, Lapwings and Oystercatchers, Tree Sparrows and so many Black-headed Gulls, a roe deer showed off at the loch edge too.

Reaching the Highlands the scenery got more and more impressive as mountains towered above us. We took a minor road enroute to our hotel and this allowed us to stop and watch a family of Red Grouse, Oystercatchers with chicks, Curlews, Common Sandpipers and more.

We reached The Grant Arms Hotel late afternoon and were met with a very warm welcome as always. We settled into our lovely rooms before enjoying the first of many delicious meals.

On the 10th of June we were all out early – 5.30am – and a short drive from the hotel took us to a spot where we could watch Black Grouse lekking their spectacular early morning display. The birds were rather distant but good views were enjoyed through the telescopes. Also here we saw our only Arctic or mountain hare of the trip, Curlews, Lapwings, Willow Warblers, Meadow Pipits and Stonechats as a Cuckoo called in the distance. All that excitement gave us a great appetite for a wonderful breakfast back at the hotel at 7am.

We then headed out to a beautiful valley in search of eagles but it was very windy indeed, and cold for June, so sadly very few raptors were on the wing. We kept scanning and scanning and did have some rewards, but sadly no eagles, a Goshawk showed briefly, a Peregrine cruised low overhead and we also watched Common Buzzards, Kestrel and a Sparrowhawk. Two Ospreys appeared just as we were about to leave and stayed in view for ages allowing good views of these special raptors.

Lots more to see in the stunning location despite the grim weather and we enjoyed gorgeous Golden Plover feeding with Lapwings and Curlews, a Common Tern fishing the river, where Common Sandpipers whizzed about. Lots of red deer here too along with a few roe deer.

On the 11th of June we headed north for the coast in the hope of better weather, well it stayed dry but the wind was gale force causing “soil storms” and sand storms near the coast! Hard work finding birds in these conditions, but we kept trying visiting Findhorn Bay, Roseisle and Burghead. We had a pair of Red-breasted Merganser, Black-tailed Godwits, Yellowhammers, Common Guillemots, Common Scoter, Northern Fulmar, Gannets, Rock Pipits and more. Lunch was in Forres at a great café and the park here provided super views of Goldcrest and Treecreeper.

We enjoyed superb views of Slavonian Grebes - library photo.

With no let-up in the gale force winds we headed back to Speyside and enjoyed stunning views of a pair of Slavonian Grebes with two stripe-headed young. What a thrill to watch these most beautiful and rare birds at close range feeding their chicks – one of the many highlights on this tour. At the same loch we enjoyed Goldeneye and Little Grebe.

Another loch and we were very lucky indeed to see three Red-throated Divers in their breeding plumage and even hear them calling their mournful wailing calls, wonderful.

Crested Tit and Coal Tit 1

Crested Tit and Coal Tit both inhabit the woods near The Grant Arms Hotel - library photo.

On the 12th June we were out early to visit the woods near the hotel and were rewarded with Crested Tit but a fast moving bird and difficult to get really good views of. The forest also held lots of Siskins, Common Crossbills flew over and we had enchanting views of red squirrels really close to us.

We headed out after breakfast to try again to see Black-throated Divers on a nearby loch, having failed to find them previously due to the gale force winds. The day started very well indeed with a spectacular male Hen Harrier hunting over an area of moorland a real wow bird. This was quickly followed by a Cuckoo and then a Short-eared Owl being mobbed by Curlews close to the track! Luckily the beautiful owl landed and allowed us fantastic views in the telescopes what a thrill to see. Well, we searched the loch again, but the wind was still so strong and the water so choppy no sign of the Black-throated Divers again! We did watch an Osprey battling the gale, Common Sandpipers, Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Red Grouse and Stonechats.

Next, we headed back to the glen to look for Golden Eagles, again, but the wind was still strong and very cold especially for June. Very few raptors were on the wing and folks were getting cold, so we headed back down the glen. Stopping at more sheltered spot Alan saw a Golden Eagle flying back up the glen towards where we had just been! The bird soon moved out of sight sadly but we all piled back in the minibus and set off in pursuit! Luckily, we soon had another brief sighting of a Golden Eagle and then, at last, prolonged views of not one but two Golden Eagles! These magnificent raptors soared over the hill side, and we watched enthralled one of the birds to see here in the Scottish Highlands.

It was great to see Spotted Flycatchers in the Highlands a species in decline across the UK - library photo.

Next, we sought shelter in a woodland where we watched both Spotted and Pied Flycatchers. A short drive took us to another loch thankfully more sheltered here and we had wonderful frame filling looks at a pair of Ospreys at their nest, fantastic birds. We also enjoyed watching Spotted Flycatcher and Goldeneye here.

Black throated Diver June 2017 2

We had spectacular views of Black-throated Divers so so close - library photo same loch same birds.

On the 13th June there was an optional early start at 5am to try for third time lucky with Black-throated Diver! Luckily the gale had finally gone, and the loch was so much calmer. And bingo! There were the divers, two stunning adults and two small young so close to the track! What beautiful birds and so lucky to see them so close, using the minibus as a mobile hide, we enjoyed stunning views of these wonderful birds. The pre-breakfast birding also produced both Black and Red Grouse, another Hen Harrier and a Cuckoo.

Ring Ouzel male May 2015

We enjoyed fantastic views of Ring Ouzel on Cairngorm Mountain - library photo.

After a wonderful breakfast we headed for the Cairngorms as now the wind had dropped we figured conditions would be better. Well it wasn’t so windy but it was so cold up there. Luckily we quickly found a cracking male Ring Ouzel near the car park that showed off so well. Lesser Redpolls also gave wonderful views here and the hot chocolate in the café went down very well indeed!

We dropped down in altitude and visited another loch where we had frame filling views of a pair of Ospreys at their nest, fantastic! Also here we watched Spotted Flycatcher and Goldeneye. We had a great café lunch overlooking a loch food always tastes better after good birds.

We then visited RSPB Loch Garten and here we were very lucky to find a Crested Tit near the carpark and we had some good views of this wonderful bird. While we watched the Crested Tit we also saw a stunning male Common Redstart and had super looks at a Treecreeper. At the RSPB hide/visitor centre we were able to watch live video footage from not only the Osprey nest here but from nearby White-tailed Eagle and Goshawk nests amazing to see all these nesting raptors.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped by the River Spey to enjoy super views of Dippers right below where we were standing along with Grey Wagtails and Common Sandpipers.

Sadly on the 14th June we headed back south, a grey drizzly morning which reflected our mood at having to leave the wonderful Scottish Highlands. We add one more species to the trip list when we stopped to watch displaying Common Snipe. We enjoyed an impressive 111 species on the official Scottish Highlands Tour and more on the pre-tour visit to RSPB Leighton Moss.

A huge thank you to all the wonderful staff at The Grant Arms Hotel, Grantown-on-Spey for making us so welcome and making our stay so perfect. A huge thank you to Graham and Sarah, Noreen, Jim, Tony and Colin for their wonderful company, so many laughs, and look forward to more adventures with them all soon!

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We look forward to enjoying fantastic birds and wildlife with you soon!

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