Wildlife Explorers 2012

Well what a week it was. Despite the soggy summer suffered by the rest of the UK our week-long search of highland wildlife enjoyed ‘mostly’ excellent weather. We were joined by families from the midlands of England and northern Germany as we set out to discover the wildlife riches of this stunningly beautiful part of Britain. As you will see below everyone has contributed some wonderful words and pictures to this blog. Personal memories from two of our participants can be found at the end of this article.

We began our explorations by heading north. to break our journey we stopped at a lovely loch side location to have wonderful close-up views of our first Osprey of the trip.

This Osprey picture was taken using a compact digital camera through a telescope.

We continued on to the shoreline of the Moray Firth. At Chanonry Point, the UK premier land-based dolphin watching location we were entranced by the sight of at least five Bottlenose Dolphins close. At times they seemed so close you could almost reach out and touch them and you could certainly hear them spouting as they came up for air after cruising underwater in pursuit of Salmon.

A mother and calf Bottlenose Dolphin salmon fishing at Chanonry Point.

There was plenty more coastal wildlife to enjoy here, including three species of tern, Gannets and Atlantic Grey Seal. On the return journey home we were overflown by a Red Kite.

Day two dawned brightly and decided to stay local and explore Kindrogan and its surrounds. We were not to be disappointed. Before heading out we delved into the night’s catch of moths and discovered a few gems amongst the more expected fare.

This Garden Tiger caught the eye of all our wildlife explorers.

The sunshine had encouraged out a few butterflies and Ringlets were everywhere, but our star prize was undoubtedly a Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary. At the top of the hill we uncovered a few Viviparous Lizards which the youngsters were able to hold in their hands.

Oneof the Lizards we found whilst exploring Kindrogan hill.

At the top we feasted delicious blaeberries. In other parts of the UK they are known as Bilberry. Whatever the name the result is the same. A taste sensation and a vivid blue tongue!

On our descent we stopped at a secret hillside pond, here we found freshly emerged Golden-ringed Dragonflies, the exuvia of Common Hawkers and Emerald and Large Red Damselflies. The big surprise was a Great Diving Beetle larva that was found wandering through the damp moss outside the pond. We then enjoyed and endured one of the funniest moments of our week as one of our party, (they shall remain nameless to protect the innocent) had the misfortune to stand on an ant’s nest. We now know the true meaning of having “ants in your pants”!

Back at Base Richie and Kieran put our explorers through their paces on the low and high ropes. There was much competition between the parents and their children as they vied for supremacy on the various rope structures.

Stephanie triumphs in the rope challenge!

Taking advantage of a good weather forecast monday saw us heading for the high tops of Glenshee and an assault on one of Scotland 284 Munros. As we climbed up the slopes of Glas Maol a Roe deer bounded away from us. Very soon we were watching Mountain Hares and lots of Grey Mountain Moths.

Mountain Hares on the slopes of Glas Maol

We reached our lunch spot as showery weather threatened, but it did give us some special views of the surrounding mountain-scape. We made our approach to the summit, a large plateau and here we found our main bird quarry. the archetypal denizen of the high tops, the Ptarmigan. These super-hardy grouse survive the winter in the harshest of environments. They see so few people that they are relatively easy to approach. In the same area we saw an astonishing number of Mountain Hares and a flock of post-breeding Golden Plover. However the weather had finally caught up with us but not before we had successfully bagged our first Munro of the week.

Showers approach the summit of Glas Maol but not before we conquer our Munro

On tuesday 31st July brilliant sunshine greeted the dawn. A perfect day to go searching for eagles. We were headed for Glen Lyon. Billed as the loveliest and longest glen in Scotland. But we had a job to do first. The previous night we had set our camera traps in a bid to capture Pine Marten on camera. We were thrilled with the result, not 1 but 3 Pine Martens feeding together at our specially baited spot. Below you can see a video grab picture showing the images we captured.

The Wildlife Explorers capture a family group of Pine Martens on the trail cameras.

On route to Glen Lyon we stopped in Fortigall to pay homage ot the oldest living thing in Europe The Fortingall Yew which is reputed to be some 6000 years old. We then headed in to the Glen and stopped at a lovely picnic site for elevenses where we found our first Scotch Argus butterflies of the week and zooming Common Hawker dragonflies. Further along the Glen we worked hard to find the eagles but at last one appeared and flew along a ridge over a large group of Red Deer stags before disappearing from view. A nearby side glen produced vibrant Dark-Green Fritillaries and freshly emerged damselflies and a couple of unexpected Black Grouse flying across the glen.

Enjoying the river at Glen Lyon

On our return we prepared some Longworth Mammal Traps and then later that night we staked out the Pine Marten site and were rewarded with prolonged views of the bushy-tailed mustelids, as well as a hybrid wildcat and a nervy Fallow Deer.

Wednesday dawned soggy. We had set the moth traps overnight and the cloud cover had ensured the temperature stayed up above 12 degrees celsius, providing a bumper crop of moths and caddis fly, including many Gold Spangle moths.

This Gold Spangle moth was just one of many after a successful nights moth trapping.

After breakfast we checked out our small mammal traps. Conditions overnight had been ideal and so it was no surprise that we had a good number of animals to  sort through and everyone who wanted to had the opportunity to extract a Field Vole, Bank Vole or Wood Mouse. The fearless Sophia being particularly keen to learn how to handle the animals safely.

Just one of the many Wood Mice we had captured overnight.

Later that evening we went in search of Otters, we failed on that score but on our return we almost ran over a very pure looking Wildcat kitten. We stopped and retraced our steps. It was suckling with its ‘less than pure’ mother so it was definitely a hybrid but exciting nonetheless!

By thursday the rain clouds had cleared and another lovely day dawned. everyone elected to head for the high tops and so it was that we headed for the mighty ‘Shiehallion’, a Munro with a history, it being the place where scientists worked out the mass of the earth. We were more interested in getting to the top, but not before enjoying a few butterflies and dragonflies on the lower slopes.

This was one of many Golden-ringed dragonflies we discovered as we began our climb.

We eventually made it to the top and enjoyed breathtaking views out over the highlands. In the distance we could see famous peaks such as Ben More and Ben Lawers and of course the highest peak in the UK Ben Nevis. We descended and returned to Kindrogan. We had conquered our second Munro of the week and been privileged to witness some of the special wildlife that only the highlands of the Scotland can deliver.

What James Simpson aged 13 said about his Wildlife Explorers week at Kindrogan.

“I had a really great time on this wildlife course and the tutors were excellent. We saw some brilliant wildlife!… my highlights on this course were the Scottish Wildcat kitten hybrid and the Pine Martens that visited the log pile and of course watching dolphins. … Thanks again to Richard and Jeff for sharing their knowledge of wildlife and giving us a fantastic time.

What Stephanie Simpson (Mum of James) said about her Wildlife Explorers week at Kindrogan.

Superb location with magnificent scenery all around. Pime Martens making nightly appearances…We walked two Munros…we were rewarded with Ptarmigan and Golden Plover. The tutors know the area so well so we had plenty of sightings of deer and rarer wildlife.

Kindrogan is well worth the long journey as you are guaranteed to see abundant wildlife in a spectacular location.

Thanks to the FSC, Jeff and Rich for such a wonderful time.



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