As part of our Post Covid-19 'getting back to birding' programme we have designed another special tour, this time to the highlands of Scotland. We have booked a large 10 bedroom private house occupying an idyllic location on the edge of Grantown-on-Spey in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, with full en-suite facilities and is a perfect base for us to do some early winter birding and explore the highlands and bird-rich coast. We will also be celebrating Zoothera's 10th anniversary each evening with a series of lectures and talks, along with a cocktail evening (collar & tie not required!), a whisky tasting evening, and other special celebratory themed meals. It promises to be a right hoot! Our Scottish house party also provides the perfect opportunity to bring your non-birding partner as we are close to Grantown-on-Spey and can shuttle anyone to Aviemore or other areas for spa days or other highland experiences.
But back to the birding. Early winter can provide a feast of memorable encounters and each day will offer a different experience. Within easy drives of our house we can venture out into one of the truly wild places left in Britain - the Scottish highlands. November is a great time to come to the highlands and this early winter period is such an exciting time. The days may be short but there’s so much to see and the Moray coast is a big attraction with thousands of seaduck in huge rafts stretched along the coastline. Long-tailed ducks and Common Scoter are numerous, Velvet Scoter can usually be found without too much trouble and there’s often a King Eider present plus chances of a Surf Scoter as well. There are huge goose roosts with tens of thousands of Pink-foots coming into Findhorn Bay to roost daily and very often rarer geese in amongst them, with a strong supporting cast of wintering waders providing quite a spectacle. Divers and Slavonian Grebes can also be found and there are good numbers of Greater Scaup in certain spots and we can easily fill two full days with coastal birding at different locations on the Moray Coast and the Black Isle. Add to this a few pods of Bottle-nosed Dolphins too.
As for Speyside and the Cairngorms, Crested Tits are easy at this time of year and come to feeders so they don’t take much finding and good close views can be had. Meanwhile chances of Parrot, Scottish & Common Crossbills vary from year to year depending on the cone crops, but we will be in the right forests and with a bit of perseverance we should be able to find them. Capercaillies are getting scarcer each year and we'll do our best to find one in the more remoter sections of Scots Pine forest and this will be a key target during our time here. On the higher moorland Red Grouse are abundant and we have a reliable location for a Black Grouse lek which can be watched from the vehicle and doesn’t require a silly o’clock start time! 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 and Snow Buntings should be relatively easy to find with flocks building up of Icelandic migrants. There's also usually flocks of winter thrushes and most years there are good numbers of Bohemian Waxwing present too. Raptors are a big attraction here and we should be able to find both Golden and White-tailed Eagles locally along with Peregrine, Merlin, Hen Harrier and Goshawk. White-tailed eagles breed in Strathspey and they often stay around to winter in the Strath and can turn up anywhere, but there are some good glens just outside the National Park where our chances would be good. But we will also have a good day out over on the west coast around the Gruinard Bay area which has a higher density of White-tailed Eagles, good chances of Great Northern, Black-throated and Red-throated Divers, as well as giving us a really good chance to see Otter, combined with some fabulous scenery which is different to Strathspey.
And we just want to reiterate the lengths we have gone to, to provide this rather last-minute birding trip following the awful events of the previous months. We are utilising a really large house and not a hotel, just to be on the safe side. We have our own cook to prepare a delicious range of meals every day with a variety of spirits, beers and wines included with evening meals. There's no length we won't go to, to ensure your safety. We believe this tour, considering the circumstances, gives us the ultimate in freedom with minimum restrictions! If you have any concerns or questions, please let us know - but we've got this! After months and months of not travelling, this tour will see us rekindle the 'bird tour spirit' where we will get to see some great British birds in a stunning setting and is just the tonic we need after a difficult year! There's also a series of evening events, themed dinner, cocktails, whiskey tasting sessions and more! So why not join Zoothera's 10th Anniversary bash in the highlands? Let's go birding!