Hundreds of visitors flock to the Cairngorms National Park every year hoping to spot some of the spectacular, rare wildlife that make a home here. The Park, for instance, boasts more breeding farmland waders than the whole of Wales, eight per cent of the UK’s total capercaillie population and 25 per cent of the UK’s entire threatened species.
While you may be lucky to see some of the locals, like a pine marten, osprey or red squirrel, while you’re out and about, there’s no doubt that hiring a wildlife guide increases your chances significantly of catching a glimpse of these animals. As Speyside Wildlife guide Duncan Macdonald says: “Wildlife doesn’t follow a timetable, so it’s often a case of being in the right place at the right time.”
Guides can help you be in the right place at the right time.
- Know all the best places to spot the wildlife you want to see, whatever the weather; knowledge they are not necessarily going to share with the wider public. They also know the location of ‘secret’ hides in the Park, which are particularly well frequented by wildlife and their young, where very close views are possible.
- Can ensure you stay the right side of the law and follow best practice guidelines. For example, it’s a criminal offence to disturb a bird’s nest or take any eggs into your possession (see The Wildlife & Countryside Act here).
- have access to vehicles, so can transport you quickly around the Park so you see as much wildlife as possible in a day
- do dusk/night wildlife experiences, when many nocturnal animals, like the pine marten, come to life.
- tailor the trip to your needs and to the species you particularly want to see or, if you’d prefer, they can suggest and come up with an itinerary including a range of Cairngorms species, like this rare crested tit:
- can teach you how to identify different bird calls, show you how to use fieldcraft and how to read animal tracks and signs.
- are also on hand at certain sites within the Park. For example, you’ll find RSPB staff at Loch Garten visitor centre standing by to answer questions and helping visitors hand feed birds. Another good site to visit where experts are sometimes on hand is the RSPB site at Insh Marshes, a haven for waders like lapwing, curlew and snipe which can be viewed from a comfortable viewing area with stunning views over the Monadhliath mountains.
Fun Facts About Wildlife
Wildlife guides are full of weird and wonderful facts about wildlife. For instance, did you know that:
- Ptarmigans have several cunning tricks for surviving their cold arctic climate, such as feathers on their legs and feet.
- Dotterel are tame and unsuspecting. In fact, the term “dotterel” became to mean “old fool” in some European countries.
- Badgers are part of the family ‘Mustelidae’. This is the same family as otters, ferret, polecats, weasels and wolverine. They don’t hibernate during the winter, but they go into a deep sleep called torpor. During torpor, their body temperature and heart beat goes down. Badgers sleep for a day or two, wake up to eat, and sleep some more.
- All British-bred ospreys move south to Africa after the breeding season, with most wintering in Senegal and the Gambia. In Britain collectors exterminated ospreys in the early years of the 20th century, and the birds didn’t return to breed until 1954.
- The Latin name for curlew means ‘new moon’, referring to the curved bill.
- A group of lapwing are called a ‘deceit’ as a result of them feigning broken wings to lead predators from their nest. Chaucer and Shakespeare have both made reference to this behaviour in their writings.
- A ‘dor’ beetle is also known as a ‘dumbledore dung beetle’, coming from the old English word dor which means slow and stupid.
- Pine marten are a fantastically adaptable predator and will make use of whatever food happens to be abundant – that’s why they happily live alongside us because they know humans are a wasteful species and they benefit from our wheelie bin contents! They have semi-retractable claws so they can easily both climb trees and run fast on the ground.
- An ant hill is like an air conditioning unit; the worker ants are constantly adjusting the temperature by opening and closing holes in their home in order to keep the Queen comfortable so she lays lots of eggs.
If you enjoyed this article, then why not check out these wildlife companies which can arrange a wildlife guide for your trip to the Cairngorms:
Also, be sure not to miss the Cairngorms Nature BIG Weekend on 10-12th May. For a list of its many varied events, see here.
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