Thursday, June 07, 2007

Aviemore: Upland and Moorland

If the Aviemore area is famous for the remnant Caledonian Forest, it's actually the mountains that dominate the visual environment. I'm not a hill walker - don't mind wandering along and seeing what's about, but slogging up a slope just to get to the top doesn't really do it for me. That said, this year I did venture onto the hills. A bit.

If you are interested in animals, rather than just strictly wildlife I would recommend joining one of the reindeer feeding trips run by the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. Kids seem to have a great time, but even for adults the chance to learn something about these animals and do a bit of hand feeding is worth it. In May they are calving, and this year we went up the day after they had brought over the mums and calves from Glenlivet, so it was real chocolate box stuff.

The first impression is how small they are. This handsome chap here is feeding an adult, but as you can see I'm squatting and it's standing. The other thing you notice is the way they click when they walk - a tendon snaps with each step, enabling them to walk in single file during blizzards, listening for the deer in front. The strange thing this year was the mallard pair that came in a feeding time (and contrived to sneak onto most of my photographs!). This was at some real height up Cairngorm, and a long way from what I would have thought was usable water, but there they were.

From there we decided to go up Cairngorm the easy way - on the funicular railway.

It's pleasant enough, and there's a nice cafe at the top (The Ptarmigan Restaurant), but to protect the fragile environment you can't walk out onto the mountain at the top - just onto some viewing platforms.

As it was snowing a little when we first arrived (wind like a knife), we started with a hot chocolate. I'd been told you could see ptarmigan form the Ptarmigan and sure enough after about 10 mins a male launched himself skywards into the wind. After flying nowhere for about 30 seconds he dropped down again, and a scan with the binoculars revealed 4 or 5 birds, although none were too close.

On the way back down a woman on the other side of the railcar said "What's that bird", and I turned just in time to catch a glimpse of a ring ouzel perched on a rock by the track (and a path).

The next couple of mornings saw me up there early to try and find it. It wasn't hard as they were nesting and feeding chicks, right next to the path. They have a reputation for being easily disturbed s0 I didn't' really try and get too close to the nest, but I did get some nice views of the birds.

At one point I think there were two males calling, although I could only see this one doing a blackbird-like warning pose on the funicular tracks.

They were quite smart and always found a way of sneaking to the nest unseen, at least until they got a bit more used to me. The nest was tucked under a clump of dead heather. You can see how close it is to the path in the foreground, but to be honest I don't think too many people walk up that track, as most walkers seem to use other routes.

You can just see a bird leaving the nest on this shot.

I had planned to walk up to the Ptarmigan to look for the ptarmigan, but the time and/or weather combined to make this a trip for next year.

We tried a walk up Carn Ben Mhor (I agreed as it is reputedly good for dotterel) but sadly the weather did for us. The summit completely disappeared in cloud and rain.

Still we did see this butterwort (mainly because our heads were down to keep the rain out of our eyes!), and what I think was a lousewort.

Further down towards Glen Feshie itself we detoured to the rather lovely cascades, which Holly seemed to enjoy more than the rest of us.

I have never had good views of black grouse on the lek, so one morning I was up at 3 am to head off to Glenlivet for the dawn, which swept across the hillside. A glorious morning from the hide, although the lek is a fair way off, but with a 60x scope I enjoyed a couple of hours watching the grouse, mountain hare, roe and red deer and ravens. There are places it is easier to get near them, but increasingly they are being disturbed by careless birdwatchers, so for now this was fine for me. I wish I'd taken my pocket camera though, as I could have got some digiscoped record shots at least, rather than 2 black dots!

By 7.30 I was heading home for breakfast, pausing only to capture this meadow pipit enjoying the morning sun.

Before finally getting breakfast I called in at one last spot, to see one of my truly favourite birds. But that's a story about freshwater for next time.

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