Day 1 CAERLAVEROCK NNR - 21st Nov 2021
We've added a twist to our previous Scotland tour itinerary. So let's drive from Staffordshore in our minibusand go birding at Caerlaverock NNR on our way north! It will take us around 3.5 hours to get there, where a veritable feast of wildfowl and waders awaits us. One of the premier reserves in the British Isles, Caerlaverock NNR on the north shore of the Solway Firth hosts a stunning array of wildfowl, such as Barnacle Geese, Greenland Greater White-fronted Geese and Pink-footed Geese, as well as Whooper Swans and the full assortment of more commoner ducks amongst others. There's literally 1000's of wildfowl present here and we will visit several of the hides and viewing towers present and get some really great views of the birds here. In fact, there's the majority of the Svalbard wintering population of Barnacle Geese wintering here! Of course we are hoping for something rarer such as a Snow or Red-breasted Goose, Lesser White-fronted Goose or even a Richardson's Cackling Goose! And there's a chance of seeing Peregrine, Merlin or a Hen Harrier as well. Night in southern Scotland.
Days 2 - 6 CAERLAVEROCK NNR - LOCH LEVEN - SPEYSIDE - MORAY COAST - WEST COAST
Depending how we did yesterday evening, we might well pay a return visit to Caerlaverock NNR or we'll swing by Loch Leven on our way to Speyside, aiming to reach Grantown-on-Spey by lunchtime. We can then decide where to head to, maybe catching our first sighting of the delightful Crested Tit. Night in Grantown-on-Spey in our large, private house.
We will then explore the magnificent wilderness of Speyside over the coming days, as well as the scenicly spectacular coastline of the Moray Firth and even the west coast too. But our immediate attention will be focussed on the Caledonian forests of Abernethy, and adjacent lochs and marshes of Speyside. Crested Tits are easy at this time of year and come to feeders so they don’t take much finding and we can expect good close views of this cute passerine. We will probably spend quite a bit of time walking along quiet forest tracks and, depending on cone crops this year, could come across Parrot, Scottish and Common Crossbills and with a bit of perseverance we should be able to find them. We will make a special effort to find a Capercaillie, as they are active at this time of year, although the amount of ativity is dependant on the weather. This species has declined dramatically over recent years but we are hopeful of finding one somewhere during our time in this wonderful part of the world. Red Grouse are abundant on the moors and we have a reliable location for a good Black Grouse lek which can be watched from the vehicle. Depending upon the weather conditions Ptarmigan can sometimes be found lower down on the slopes without having to trek too far up the mountain, but this is very weather dependant. Snow Buntings should be relatively easy to find with flocks building up of Icelandic migrants and there are usually lots of winter thrushes around, and most years there's good numbers of Bohemian Waxwing also present. Also, somewhere during our exploration we'll probably bump into Hooded Crow, Great Grey Shrike, Lesser Redpoll, Brambling and even a Red Squirrel too.
Raptors are a big attraction up here and we should be able to find Golden Eagles locally along with Peregrine, Merlin, Hen Harrier and Goshawk. There are some fantastic remote Highland glens just outside the National Park where our chances of finding a White-tailed Eagle are pretty good. But we'll have a great day out along the west coast around the Gruinard Bay area, which has a high density of White-tailed Eagles, plus chances of both Iceland and Glaucous Gulls, and a wide variety of other wildlife such as 3 species of diver, and hopefully Otters, Red Deer, Sika Deer and Mountain Hares too. And the scenery is truly magnificent and a bit different to Strathspey.
Surprisingly, November is a great time of year to visit Speyside but the birding along the Moray Coast can be extremely exciting where the big attraction are the thousands of seaduck in huge rafts stretched along the coastline. Species such as Long-tailed ducks and Common Scoter are numerous, whilst Velvet Scoter can usually be found without too much trouble. There’s often a King Eider present and chances of Surf Scoter as well. There are huge goose roosts with tens of thousands of Pink-footed Geese coming into Findhorn Bay to roost daily and very often rarer geese in amongst them, with a strong supporting cast of wintering waders, Whooper Swans and others. Divers and Slavonian Grebes can also be found and there are good numbers of Greater Scaup in certain spots. We could easily fill two full days with coastal birding at different locations on the Moray Coast and the Black Isle. Other possibilities include Purple Sandpiper, Iceland and Glaucous Gulls, Little Auk, and Twite amongst others and there are usually both Common and Grey Seals offshore, and Bottle-nosed Dolphins too.
Our exact programme each day will be dependant on information received, tide times and weather conditions.
And on top of the daily excitement, we will return each evening to our huge house where our very own cook will prepare delicious meals each evening. As it is our 10th Anniversary we have arranged some evening entertainment with some talks, as well as a whiskey-tasting evening, and a few other surprises! We have chosen to run the tour this way and not use one of the 'usual' hotels just so we can maintain & manage any hygiene and social distancing measures necessary so you can simply focus on having a great time and enjoy the birding. And, as we are trying to make this as much of a holiday as possible, any non-birding partners are more than welcome and we can shuttle you to a spa day or other acitvity as required. We think we've got everything covered here! Nights in Grantown-on-Spey.
DEPARTURE: we will begin our drive back south sometime after breakfast on Day 6. Where we go depends on what birds we still need. Hopefully, there will be a rarity to try for as we head south to end the trip on a high!