Trip Report - The Cairngorms Wildlife Expedition 2019 by Indy Kiemel Greene
Updated: Dec 18, 2019
THE CAIRNGORMS WINTER WILDLIFE EXPEDITION - November 2019
Between Monday the 25th and Friday the 29th of November I embarked on a TRULY unforgettable adventure with Nature Scotland. For the duration of the week I was helping out on this guided tour exploring the Cairngorms National Park.
We stayed at the amazing Grant Arms Hotel for the week which has a very cosy Wildlife Club room in the same building. With a gripping recent sightings list and a massive library.
The week began with a trip to a local village called Forres where we saw a humongous flock of Waxwings! Fresh off the sea from Scandinavia, these birds were enjoying the masses of berries in the village. 170 was the estimated size of the flock.
After soaking up all that Waxyness we moved on and found ourselves at Burghead Bay which is a massive sheltered bay on the east coast. There we saw over 150 Long Tailed Duck, over 400 Common Scoter and mixed in with them were 11 Velvet Scoter which was a life tick for many of us. Also multiple Red-Throated and Great Northern Diver, Razorbill, Slavonian Grebe, 800+ Eider Duck and even a Grey Seal. For the rest of the day we drove around stopping at various places, seeing huge amounts of waders and Pink Footed Geese and a stunning pair of Red Grouse who popped up just meters away from the van topped off day one nicely!
On Wednesday we went to RSPB Loch Garten which has to be one of my favourite places we visited. At Loch Garten we met some of the very friendly locals in the form of Coal Tits! We brought some bird food with us and they were literally climbing all over us to get to it! But then the star of the show arrived. The Little Highland Gem which sounds like a very good drink doesn't it!? The Crested Tit had arrived. And not just one. 3 were calling all around us! The Cairngorms is the one and only place you can see Cresies in the UK so we were very privileged to get such amazing views! We also managed to get some great views of one the cutest animals out there. The Red Squirrel!
On Thursday we drove to Strathdern Valley where we had a glorious 2-3 hour walk up the mountain tracks. We walked through a small Pine forest where we saw a small flock of Crossbills and a brief Dipper in the river. We walked up higher and higher until we got exactly what we came for. We had some breathtaking views of Golden Eagles, Red Grouse but the star of the show was when we turned around to walk back down when John Miles spotted a Mountain Hare just meters away from us. It was absolutely unreal and I don't think many of us knew what was going on. Definitely one of my best ever Nature experiences yet!
The week had absolutely flown by by the time we got to Friday so we spent it well by going up to Cairngorm Mountain. Before we even got out of the van we had already seen the local Snow Buntings that were just casually chilling out in the car park. After that Bunting Bonanza we started to climb up Cairngorm Mountain which was absolutely covered in clouds. But eventually we managed to climb way above the clouds and the views were absolutely astounding. We could see for miles, looking over the many other mountain tops. The entire group was very silent as we were just taking it all in. Plus everywhere was covered in snow so that made it ten times more beautiful.
We couldn't find any but we were lucky enough to at least hear a Ptarmigan on the mountain but at this time of year they are extremely camouflaged and fit in perfectly with the landscape around them.
Many, many snow angels later we walked, well, slid back down the mountain.
It was an amazing way to wrap up an amazing week with some amazing people and some amazing wildlife. Did I mention it was amazing!
Massive thank you to Ewan Miles from Nature Scotland for having me on this INCREDIBLE trip.