Did you know that 25% of Britain’s rare and endangered species live in the Cairngorms National Park in the heart of Scotland? Some of these species can be seen nowhere else in the UK. It is the mix of habitats across the National Park, and the scale at which these are present, that sets this area apart. Swathes of Caledonian pine forest are fringed with higher expanses of moorland; open valleys hold sparkling rivers and vast wetlands; and rugged mountains provide the backdrop to a landscape which is peppered with lochs and lochans of all sizes. Autumn is a fabulous time of year to appreciate this unique place and to spot some of the special wildlife that calls it home.
This tour is timed to appreciate the awesome colours of autumn, to hear the roar of rutting stags, to give us greater chance of observing mammals and hunting eagles, to reduce our impacts on rarer wildlife and on the more popular wildlife watching sites, and to hopefully spot some rarities or large flocks during the autumn migration.
Katie Lloyd & Tim Coleshaw
Wildlife we may see includes golden eagle, mountain hare, snow bunting, black grouse, ptarmigan, crossbill, crested tit, pine marten, red squirrel, red deer, bottlenose dolphin and otter.
(Minimum number of guests required for tour to run: 6)
Strenuous. We will be exploring on foot for part of each day and this may include some steep ascents and descents with some walks greater than 8km. Depending on the weather some walks may be damp underfoot and waterproof boots are advisable. Not suitable for people with reduced mobility.
Arrive in Aviemore. Evening meal together at the hotel, an introduction to the Cairngorms and a run through of the week to follow over drinks/coffee.
After breakfast at our hotel we’ll take the short drive to Abernethy Forest, a National Nature Reserve like no other. One of the largest nature reserves in Scotland, it encompasses one of the biggest remnants of Caledonian pinewood, alongside moorland, wetlands and mountains and all of the specialist plant and animal species you would hope to find associated with these habitats. Crested Tit and Scottish Crossbill can be spotted in the forest, as well as red squirrel and large flocks of Siskin, Goldcrest and Coal Tit.
Although predominantly a behaviour more observed in the warmer months Black Grouse can be seen lekking almost all year round so we’ll give it our best shot. On our walks and drives through the forest we’ll also keep vigilant for the very rare and elusive Capercaillie
We’ll be keeping an eye on the tide times for our visit to Black Isle and Chanonry Point in order to maximise our chances of observing the bottlenose dolphins that use this areas of the Moray Firth as an important feeding site. They can come surprisingly close to the shore and frequently perform acrobatics as they chase salmon coming in on the rising tide!
At this time of year colder weather pushes birds south from Scandinavia and we have a chance to see migrating seaduck, grebes and divers that may use these northern shores in their hundreds. At Findhorn Bay we should see common and velvet scoter as well as flocks of eider and long-tailed duck in their beautiful winter plumage.
At dusk we will visit a wildlife watching hide in Rothiemurchus, where we hope to get close-up views of some of the special nocturnal wildlife Cairngorms has to offer such as red squirrel, pine marten, badger and deer.
A trip out to Glen Feshie will give us the opportunity to experience a huge and successful rewilding experiment. Could the pinewoods of the valley one day extend north to connect with Abernethy Forest and create a vast and resilient space for wildlife in the heart of the Cairngorms?
We’ll talk a walk out into the valley of Glen Feshie, where there is always the chance of seeing golden eagle soaring on thermals while we eat our picnic lunch. Higher up in the glen and onto the moorland we’ll keep our eyes open for hunting merlin and peregrine. If the weather allows us to get higher onto the mountain slopes we may be lucky enough to spot mountain hare as it moults into its white winter coat, as well as the camouflaged ptarmigan.
One of the main highlights of being here in autumn is being able to experience the rutting behaviour of red deer, when roar of stags can be heard in the valley – a sound never to be forgotten.
After a relaxing morning checking camera traps and exploring the countryside around our hotel we will drive south to one of the most important wetlands in Europe. Insch Marshes, is well-known for its breeding rarities but autumn is when it really kicks off here! Stunning whooper swans and greylag geese arrive alongside others to feed on the open water. Goosander and goldeneye can be seen diving in smaller pools, and large numbers tufted duck gather, with wigeon grazing grassland along shorelines.
We will linger in this spectacular area until dusk in the hope of spotting a hen harrier quartering over marshland. These stunning birds use this site as a roost during the colder months.
After breakfast on Saturday we say our farewells. Lifts to Aviemore train station will be arranged in advanced.
Timings and locations of how the week will run will need to be flexible and may change due to weather or other external factors, in order to maximise our chances of encountering the wildlife we hope to.