June is now in full swing and hopefully the summer weather will follow soon!
Luckily for our three guests from Cullen, the sun burst through the dense clouds and all the glorious wildlife in Speyside sprang into action!
We had an amazing day walking through a variety of habitats, and spotted some spectacular flora and fauna, as well as taking in the beautiful scenery Scotland has to offer.
Along our 2 hour walk, we spotted Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Curlew and Sandpiper to name a few, as well as Skylarks filling the sky with their joyous singing.
As well as wildlife of the feathered variety, we also spotted Roe Deer, a very curious Rabbit and even the footprints of a secretive Otter.
Part of our walk ventured onto the Speyside Way; the route of the old Speyside Line railway built by the Strathspey Railway Company between Craigellachie and Boat of Garten, commencing in the mid 1840s. So it’s safe to say that our tours combine Natural History with local history!
When the sun came out, so did the butterflies. We spotted Green Veined White butterflies flitting through the fragrant Bog Myrtle and bursts of Red Campion among the pathways and woodland.
So thank you to our guests from Cullen, who won a voucher in an auction for Scottish Autism, for coming on a tour with us. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
If you would like to join us on one of our tours, please get in touch here.
Here at Wild Alba Tours, we knew we worked in a very special place, with spectacular views of the stars at night. Now it is official!!! Tomintoul & Glenlivet was recently awarded International Dark Skies Park status.
If you are coming up to the area to see the stars, why not come out with us earlier in the day so you can make the most of the area? Our guides would be delighted to take you for a tour and might even be able to suggest some good star viewing points.
Local resident and photographer Olly Hopkinson captured these excellent photographs of the Northern lights recently. He would be delighted to help you take photos of the northern light should they be visible while you are up visiting.
The European otter is an important part of the ecological systems and are an apex predator sitting at the top of the food chain.
The Latin name for the European otter is Lutra lutra pronounced “lootra lootra”!
They are a protected species under schedule 5/6 of the Wildlife & Country Act 1981.
They communicate with whistles, chattering’s and hisses.
They are member of the mustelid family which includes badger, polecat, weasels and pine martin and is a semi aquatic member of that family.
Otters were close to extinction in the late 1950’s due to organochlorines and pesticides being deposited into our water systems. This affected the reproduction system of the otter and the population took a crash during this time.
They reach lengths of 1.3 meters and can weigh 12 kilos.
They are able to breed at any time during the year, but Spring is common depending on food availability and have 1-5 cubs (usually 3) which are born blind. Light grey in colour and weigh around 40 grams.
Otters can travel over large areas. Some are known to use 20 kilometres or more of river habitat.
Otters deposit faeces (known as spraints, with a characteristic sweet musky odour) in prominent places around their ranges. These serve to mark an otter’s range, defending its territory but also helping neighbours keep in social contact with one another. Females with cubs reduce sprainting to avoid detection.
Fish, especially eels and salmonids are eaten, and crayfish at certain times of the year. Coastal otters in Shetland eat bottom-living species such as eelpout, rockling and butterfish. Otters occasionally take water birds such as coots, moorhens and ducks. In the spring, frogs are an important food item.
Our native otter, the European otter can be found in every county of the UK with Kent being the last county to see the otter establish themselves.
The oldest recorded otter was a captive animal that reached 19 years of age and lived at the New Forest Wildlife Park in Hampshire. It was called Alpha.
The collective name for a group of otters is a “romp” and in sea otters it is known as a “raft”.
Our native otter reach 12kg but the heaviest was recorded at 23kg back in the 19th century being almost 6 feet in length.
The whiskers on the otter are called “vibrissae” and are used to sense movement in water to hunt prey.
Otters are not natural swimmers and at around 3 months of age the mother will drag them out of the natal holt and dunk them into the river. They will often cling to the back of mum and mimic her movements whilst being taught life skills.
Otters can only hold their breath for a few minutes – 3 to 4 is not uncommon.
All European otters have a distinguishing cream moustache which can be used to identify individual animals.
Why not join us sometime soon on one of our wildlife tous. Book here
There is nowhere like the Braes of Glenlivet. The river Livet runs down the Ladder Hills into the valley. Rolling hills of purple heather and tumble-down crofts provide a very memorable days walking and wildlife spotting.
Parking the car at Allanreid we start our gentle climb up the valley with the Bochel (the shepherd hill) behind and Carn na Bruar (hill of the waters divides) ahead. The area is on the Crown Estate Scotland and is way marked as part of a series of low level walks. The track starts by going through fields of hardy sheep. Crossing a bridge, we soon rise onto the grouse moor and hear the mournful cry of Curlew.
It takes about an hour to walk up to the Suie Bothy. The path follows the side of the river Livet as it winds its way down the valley. The hills are perfect breading habitats for Lapwing, Curlew and Oyster catcher which are seen and heard all the time during our outing.
The Braes was once a popular whisky smuggling route and many illicit stills where located in the hidden glens and hills. As you walk you can imagine how it would have been very hard to police this rough countryside and the excisemen would have had to be very cunning to catch anyone.
A herd of deer lower on the hillside stop there grazing then run for the hill tops and of into the distance. We cross the bridge at the Kymah Burn, and stop at the Suie Bothy for lunch. I have brought a selection of local meats (Rannoch Scottish smoked venison, Inverawe Smoked Argyll Ham & Salar Oak Roasted Flaky Salmon) This is a perfect lunch stop, complete with a bench for two facing down Glenlivet. We stopped to enjoy the solitude in warm sunshine, entertained by wheeling lapwings, their sharp cries loud over the sound of the burn.
After our short lunchbreak we turned and head back out of the valley. We can see the rain coming in as we walk down stream. A rainbow appears to our left and soon we are pulling out our waterproof jackets. The rain passes as quickly as it came. Jackets are packed away with this being the first of a frequent ritual during the walk back to the car as we enjoy the changeable Scottish weather.
Back at the car we look at our list of sightings during our three hours. Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Buzzard, Kestral, Stonechat, Meadow Pipet, Wheatear, Heron, Red Grouse, Dunnock, Dipper, Sand Martin, Swallow, Common Gull, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Rook, Raven, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch and Red Deer.
Book your wildlife tour here.
Here are his thoughts on the summer season tours
It has been a great first summer season for us here at Wild Alba. We have welcomed many guests from all over the world on our wildlife tours. People have travelled from the U.S.A, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Italy, France, Holland, India, Belgium and the UK to experience the living landscape of the Cairngorms and Speyside.
It is amazing to hear their stories about wildlife from where they live and how we are all experiencing incredible change. It was interesting to see how long it took for the name of Donald Trump to be brought up by our American friends or Brexit from our European neighbours. We have greatly enjoyed there company on our safaris and walking tours. I have personally shared a dram or two on our whisky tours and told the stories of illicit stills in the Glenlivet hills. We have learnt a lot from each other and will use these experiences to develop our tours for next year.
Here are a few more photographs of our guests and we look forward to welcoming them again on our wildlife nature tours.
We will be running a number of tours over the Autumn, Winter & Spring so book now here
Our Ranger Jackie will be doing an exciting Red Deer rut tour in the Cairngorms National Park this Autumn.
An unforgettable experience and one of nature’s most incredible moments in the wildlife calendar is the autumn red deer rut. Come and join Glenesk Wildlife this October and not only will you experience the sight and sound of red deer rutting but you will be wholly captivated from the moment you meet your guide Jackie by her incredible knowledge of these beautiful, majestic creatures.
The tour will begin at Tarfside car park in Glenesk where you will be met by your guide. You will be taken by 4×4 to a known spot where you will look and listen for the red deer stags. You will continue to drive and walk, looking out and listening for the stags’ bellow echoing around the hills. During the evening, you will be introduced to a Highland working pony (commonly known as Garrons), these ponies are still used on the estate to transport deer off the hill during the stalking season. You will eventually end up at Glenesk Bothy for a welcome hot drink and delicious cake where you will have a fun and interactive chat about deer. There will be some interesting props and facts including deer behaviour, ecology and management.
For more information or to book:
or telephone 01356 624566 (9.00 – 5.00 weekdays only)
In 2018 we have started doing wildlife tours looking at the living landscape of the Cairngorms and Speyside. With our passion for all things outdoors and a wee dram we have found that the combination of wildlife walking and whisky to be truly intoxicating.
Spending a few hours in the rugged countryside around Glenlivet talking about the illicit stills and the smuggling of whisky does make one rather thirsty. So, come along with us and see what we can show you and who knows you might even spot a Red Deer, Curlew or even an Golden Eagle.
We would love it if you could join us.
Check out whisky tours here
The Pine Marten is a very elusive animal. It spends it time climbing trees in search of its favourite food of eggs, insects, birds or small rodents. It also loves fruit and has been known to visit bird tables. Bilberries can make up to 30% of a Pine Marten’s summer diet resulting in its droppings turning blue in colour.
Recent research has indicated that pine martens also prey on grey squirrels which are larger, move less quickly and are on the ground more often than red squirrels. Analyses is incomplete, but this could be good news for the endangered red squirrel, and many trees that are frequently harmed by grey squirrels stripping their bark. We are lucky here in the Cairngorms as the grey squirrel has not yet managed to get this far north.
Pine martens have a distinctive bouncing run when on the ground moving front feet and rear feet together. They may stop and stand upright on their haunches to get a better view.
Pine Martens in Scotland where almost extinct in the nineteenth century due to farmers and gamekeepers trapping them. Their fur was also highly valued, so they were captured and killed for export across to Europe. The destruction of many of Scotland’s forests and natural habitats are another reason why Scotland’s Pine Martens have become rare today.
The fantastic news for Pine Martens in Scotland today is they are now on the increase and are seen more often in many areas, and in 1988 it was made illegal to kill Pine Martens. Successful re-planting of these many forest and the conservation efforts of land owners and many other groups have also helped increase the amount of Pine Martens in Scotland today
So, if you are out on a wildlife tour there is now a much better chance of seeing these magnificent animals.
Our ranger Jackie tells some interesting facts on her guided wildlife tours running in the Cairngorms National Park. Here are her thoughts on the Peregrine falcon that can be seen in the great out doors around Scotland.
While out on a wildlife tour, I was fortunate to get a brief glimpse of a peregrine disappearing at speed over a ridge. Ever since I was a child I have always had a fascination with these incredible birds.
Peregrines populate large areas of every continent apart from Antarctica and they have managed to customise their hunting methods to suit almost every habitat, including in our cities.
We as humans very quickly realised how high their hunting success rate was. We also very quickly realised how trainable they are. As a result they have become one of the most popular birds for falconers throughout the world. Some peregrines have gained themselves very important jobs in our society, warding off other birds where they have become a problem, e.g. pigeons at Wimbledon, Lords cricket ground or at airports. I have also heard some have been trained to catch drones!
They really are an apex predator. So what is it that makes them so much more successful than other birds of prey?
If we start by looking at the head, a peregrine’s eyes make up more than 50% of its head; to give you a comparison our eyes make up 5% of our head. Peregrines eyes are also very clever because they can see in both monocular and binocular vision. So when a peregrine looks at something close by it uses both eyes together to create an image in the same way that we do, but the clever bit is when they look at something far away. Often you will see peregrines turning their heads sideways to look at something. This is because they are using their monocular vision, which for us would be like looking through a telescope. A peregrine can see a tennis ball from 3 kilometres away! This means an unsuspecting pigeon can be being hunted with out even realising. A peregrine will then use its next weapon, the one they are most famous for and deservedly so, because it is the fastest creature on the planet.
Peregrines have been recorded at speeds of over 200 miles an hour. What’s also amazing is their ability to get to high speeds incredibly quickly, faster than any sports car.
Being able to accelerate from 0-60mph in less than a second has its issues though. This is why peregrines have very strong dense skeletal structures and relatively short, stiff, pointy wings. The tail is wide but also short and stiff. All of these traits help it to cope with the extreme speeds, acceleration and high G forces, up to 18G, which is double what any of our best fighter pilots can deal with.
I have been fortunate to see wild peregrines hunting a few times and also been out with falconers on a few occasions in the past; watching peregrines fly while hunting is a truly incredible site. I’m not sure I can really put into words how beautifully graceful and effortless it is.
So once the peregrine has spotted and managed to catch up with its prey, it will now grab it with its talons while on the wing and then deal the fatal blow with its sharp beak. Both the feet and the beak have hidden secrets though.
The feet have a clever ratchet like system on the end of each digit that means when the 2cm talons have hold of the prey they will not let go. The other big advantage of this is that no energy is expended holding the prey. This also means peregrines can take on prey far larger than themselves.
The peregrine’s beak has a small, easily missable notch on the inside of the upper mandible that is called a tomial tooth. This is used to fit between and dislocate the vertebrae in the victim’s neck and results in almost instant death.
When it comes to parenting peregrines take it in turns to look after normally about 3-5 eggs. Once hatched the chicks mature very quickly partly due to a constant flow of food from both parents. The chicks are trying to fledge after 7-8 weeks. Once they have the hang of basic flying, together the parents teach the chicks the skills needed to hunt.
So when you are next out and about in an open area, do keep your eyes peeled for these amazingly swift, beautiful birds.
Most people will be familiar with the cuckoo (Cuculus canorus). The medium-sized bird with the familiar disyllabic call. The females laying their eggs in the nests of other birds, especially meadow pipits, dunnocks and reed warblers.
Less well known is the fact that there are bees with a similar habit to that of the cuckoo. Other than honey bees most wild bee species are solitary. They do not have a complex social structure with queens and workers. Females of these solitary bees build their own nest, fill it with pollen, and then lay an egg in it. Often a nest contains several compartments with pollen on which the bee larvae will feed.
These bees are targeted by other insects that take advantage of the available shelter and food. The females of these cuckoo bees locate a nest of a specific host bee species and lay their eggs in the nest themselves. Cuckoo bees may revisit a nest from time to check if there is enough pollen for their future offspring to feed on. If so, the eggs are deposited and the pollen that was collected by the host bee will be eaten by these cuckoo bee youngsters instead.
On one of our tours we found the cuckoo bee Nomada panzeri (Panzer’s nomad bee): a little bee that looks a bit like a wasp because it isn’t as hairy as a lot of other bees and because of its yellow and dark red markings. The presence of this bee meant that its host species was likely to be around too. Sure enough, a female of Andrena lapponica (bilberry mining bee) seen. Females of this bee build their nest in the ground and visit mainly bilberry for nectar and pollen. Pollen is collected on the pollen sacks on the hind legs and later deposited in the nest for her offspring to feed on, or the offspring of the cuckoo bee of course.
Click here for a UK bumblebee species guide.