If you are planning a trip to Scotland and you want to see the wildlife at its best, then knowing what is happening when, will give you a head start. Below is a brief guide to what the wildlife is up to at different times of the year.
Most Safaris see Red and Roe Deer, Red and Black Grouse, Buzzard, Kestrel and a host of other smaller species but how well we see them depends on the time of the year.
January / February
Most species are coming out of the harshness of the winter. There is often heavy snow even into some of the lower valleys.
This is a good time to see Snow Buntings with a large resident flock at Glen Shee together with Ptarmigan and Mountain hare in their white winter coats. The Red Deer are pushed down into the valleys and the stags whilst having lost weight getting through the winter, still maintain their majesty!
March / April
One of this area’s top wildlife spectacles is the Black Grouse display, in early spring the males come together on their communal display areas “leks”, to fight over the right to mate with the females. Normally seeing this entails an early morning sitting in a hide for a prolonged period so as not to disturb the lek but fortunately local knowledge allows us to view a couple of sites where the birds are used to human interaction and they continue about their serious business.
The Red Deer still hold on to their antlers and the Roe Deer are just completing the growth of new antlers ready for the impending rutting season (much earlier that the Red) If the snow is still on the high ground the Ptarmigan and Mountain Hare show well against this white backdrop having moulted into their summer coats! Transversely if the snow disappears early they can show up well white against the natural heather hillside. Ospreys return to their nest sites and start the process of refurbishment and pair bonding.
May / June
This is the best time of the year to see the most species. The Red & Black Grouse are busy displaying, the waders return to the high ground displaying, and the spring migrants start to arrive and the valleys can be full of bird song, warblers, Redstarts, Tree Pipits and Ring ouzel to name but a few.
The Red Deer have shed their antlers and whilst the new ones grow fast they look like Reindeer. Ospreys should now have eggs in the nest and whilst this is a quiet time, it can be a good chance to catch the males out fishing or bringing supplies back to the partner.
July / August
This is the quietest time of the year with wildlife highlights difficult to see, however the heather starts to come into flower and by August it is at its' best, with the hills a magnificent purple. Young Ospreys should be being fed in the nest, Golden Eagle activity can be at its' busiest if we are lucky.
The Red Deer tend to move to higher ground, perhaps to escape the biting insects but also to escape the stalkers as the impending hunting season approaches. If the spring has been fine, the Red Grouse coveys are on show, though keeping their heads down for the“The Glorious Twelfth”! also the start of the hunting season.
September / October
The Red Deer are looking at their best, new antlers grown and the velvet coating shed, they are ready for the Autumn Rut. Early trips out in the rut enjoy the sounds of this enigmatic time as the stags roar out their challenges to each other. The smaller Fallow Deer mirror the Reds and the bucks have their huge spatula shaped antlers ready for the breeding season.
Black Grouse start to display again, in anticipation of next year’s breeding season. Autumn migration is well underway with flocks of geese travelling through and the Scandinavian thrushes arriving.
November / December
Mountain Hare and Ptarmigan change back into their winter coats and if there is little or no snow this gives great opportunity to spot them.
The Red Deer spend more time on the lower ground and the raptors must work harder for their food. The migrant thrushes from Scandinavia take advantage of the Mountain Ash crop, with Redwing, Fieldfare and if we’re lucky Waxwing showing well.