After a frustratingly delayed flight, we arrived at Inverness airport where we were met by Sally and Duncan, our Speyside Wildlife guides for this holiday. On our drive to Aviemore we saw some spectacular lightning, some rather heavy rain and hail, and even some snow. We wondered if this was hint of things to come. As we got closer to Strathspey, the sun appeared and the weather allowed a walk after we had checked in.
As the weather forecast wasn’t too bad, we decided to spend the first morning in the mountains. We started by having an early walk before breakfast to see if we could find some Cappercaille and Black Grouse but could find neither. We did however have a great view of a Ring Ouzel near the car park.
After breakfast we took the funicular railway as far as we could and then walked up to the top of the mountains. To our surprise, we saw a Dotterel right next to the path and then second one appeared. We watched them as they mated before they disappeared, going in opposite directions. What a treat. We reached the summit and took numerous photos before the weather suddenly changed for the worse. We quickly descended but not before we enjoyed having a Snow Bunting sing to us from the top of the weather station aerial. After lunch, we spent a leisurely afternoon at Avielochan watching a Slavonian Grebe before going on to Loch Insh to see Ospreys on their nest.
In the evening we went to a wildlife hide where we watched badgers and mice but, sadly, no pine martens.
For the next few days the weather was fairly dismal but that didn’t stop us. We had great views of a Dipper from Old Spey Bridge and the rain stopped long enough for us to have a nice walk along the river.
After stopping for lunch at Lochindorb, we continued on to the Finhorn Valley. The rain had stopped and the light on the hillside was magical. We saw some feral goats in their shaggy coats as well as red deer on the top of the hills.
The next day we set off in the rain to Craigellachie National Nature Reserve where we found Wood Warblers and a Pied Flycatcher. After drying out back at the hotel, we went on to RSPB Abernethy. We stopped on the way by the ‘Orchid Field’ to admire the Butterfly and Heath Spotted Orchids and somebody noticed what was eventually identified as a Small-White Orchid. We continued on through the Abernethy Forest to Forest Lodge where we stopped to go for a walk. The Scots Pines were covered in lichen and looked wonderful. It was still raining and we finally admitted defeat when we reach a place where the path was covered by water.
It was a long drive north to Scrabster to catch the ferry to Orkney and we stopped on the way for some birding and coffee. We had dinner on the ferry but the choppy conditions made it difficult to move about without feeling sea-sick. I felt better when I went up on deck to breathe the fresh sea air and to be distracted by watching the birds.
We stayed at the Standing Stones hotel which, as the name suggests, has views of the Standing Stones across the lake. Contrary to the forecast, the weather wasn’t too bad and we took the ferry to Raasay where we stopped at the Midhowe Broch and had a very good day with lots of birds to be seen. My favourite was a lovely Golden Plover.
The next day we had very bad weather so we focused on the many prehistoric sites. We visited the Stones of Stenness and then the Ring of Brodgar where we saw a stoat. We then moved on to Maes Howe where a guide told us its history. Lunch was taken at Skara Brae and then we moved on to the Hill of Borwick to look for Primrose Scotia but didn’t find any. We did see some Puffins though.
The precision engineering of the Maeshowe cairn, the majesty of both the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brognar and the domesticity of Skara Brae, to say nothing of the antiquity of the sites (predating Stonehenge by several centuries) will long remain in the memory. Our cultural activities received a deserved reward when a pair of Twite appeared in one of the stone circles and it was amusing to see that the houses of Skara Brae were still habitable at least to eponymous sparrows.Tony C (RSPB Guildford Summer Newsletter)
The following day we caught the ferry to Lyness on the Island of Hoy where we watched lots of Eiders and some Red-Throated Divers. We stopped for a walk up to the Dwarfie Stane and, much to our excitement, Sally spotted a White-tailed Sea Eagle circling above. These are not common on Orkney. We had lunch and then a walk on the beach at Rackwick where we had good close views of an Artic Skua.
We finished the day in Kirkwall visiting the cathedral and having a wander round the town.
The next morning we woke to beautiful sunshine and went in search of otters. We stopped at the Churchill barrier causeways, where Duncan explained their history, and then went on to the beautiful Italian Chapel.
We stopped at the beach beside Echna Loch for lunch and there we had some great views of otters in the pool on the other side of the road.
That was the end of our stay in Orkney and we drove back to Stromness where we had some time to wander round while waiting for the ferry back to the mainland. The weather was better for our return journey and the fog lifted just in time to allow a view of the Old Man of Hoy as the boat passed by. We also saw Puffins and a Storm Petrel flying alongside the ferry.
Before breakfast on our last morning in Aviemore, we tried for the final time to find some Crested Tits. This time we were lucky.
Despite the sometimes dismal weather, we all had a great time and Duncan and Sally were very good guides.
We all nominated our favourite species and places we had seen on the holiday and here are the results:
Dotterel – 4, Short-eared Owl – 2, Black-throated Diver – 4, Storm Petrel, Hen Harrier – 3, Diving Gannets, White-tailed Sea Eagle flying into the clouds and then revealing itself again – 2, Fulmar, Otter, Snow Bunting on the weather station aerial at the top of Cairngorm just before the snow started falling…yes this was a week in June! Ptarmigan – 2, Bog Myrtle – 2, Ring Ouzel, Puffin, Arctic Skua
Top of Cairngorm – 4, The Dwarfie Stane on Hoy, Corrie na Kiste in the early morning, Findhorn Valley, Lochindorb, Italian Chapel – 2, Abernethy Forest in the rain, Loch Insh, Craigellachie in the rain, Rousay, The stretch of road on Hoy between the sad grave of Betty Corrigall and the Dwarfie Stane, Old Spey Bridge at Grantown-on Spey – 2, Old Man of Hoy, Rackwick Bay on Hoy – 2
There were many magic moments and it was difficult to choose just one each but the sunset at the Standing Stones must be mentioned as well as the walk up to the summit in the Cairngorms and the close views of the Dotterels on the way up.