LOCH GARTEN & THE CAIRNGORMS
HIGHLAND, MORAY (Aviemore), (c)
National Grid 00o00´/00o00´ N/A ha 16-35m, mainly meadows and hedges with a rugged stunning heathland coastline
summer mainly ()
Birding Site Guide
Loch Garten is perhaps the RSPB’s most celebrated reserve, this last remnant of the once mighty Caledonian forest sits on the north edge of the awesome Cairngorms National Park. The Ospreys nest video cam is the star attraction here drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
The Cairngorm mountains however are well known for a completely different thing and that is winter sports, with skiing reigning supreme. Aviemore is the hub of the sport and outdoor activities scene and makes an ideal base from which to explore the area. To reach the area is basically a case of heading north from Glasgow or Edinburgh and gaining the A9. If Aviemore is too expensive as a place to stay then there are cheaper options which include many hostels and campsites. The only words of caution being to book ahead as it can get very busy here.
The Cairngorms as a whole has a remarkable area of native Scots Pine forest, and while only a fraction of this is true ancient Caledonian forest, the sympathetic attitude here to Scots Pine as a forestry tree and as an asset to the tourist attraction capabilities of the national park is undoubtedly also a boon to wildlife.
Entering from the south at Kingussie the road follows the magical glacial valley of the river Spey, through a rugged landscape which reaches its crescendo with the towering peaks immediately east of Aviemore. Birding opportunities abound however I have found some sites more reliable than others for the specialities of the area over the years. Right next to Kingussie are the Insh Marshes Reserve which can be birded for a few hours right to Loch Insh. From here the B9152 offers better wildlife opportunities than the A9 and there are plenty of links between the two if faster travel is required on the A9 at any time.
On the B9152 just before Aviemore take a right hand turn towards Inverdruie and along here check mature pines for Crested Tit, crossbills, Siskins and Redpolls. Continue to a left turn (N) onto the B970 and bird this road for similar species but also look for Tree Pipits in more open areas. Keep an eye out for raptors at all times. Continue on this road to the right turn (E) to Loch Garten and hence Abernethy Forest. Here as well as species mentioned look for Ospreys and on the loch look for waterbirds such as Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser. At Abernethy forest there is the Osprey nest video cam.
From Aviemore head towards the ski areas for the best sites for species such as Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting, Dotterel (mainly on passage) and raptors. To get up high it is possible to use the ski chairlifts, however purists who firmly believe that such a ski resort should not have been given planning in Britain’s only true Alpine habitat may prefer as we did to walk up somewhere like Carn Ban Mor (1052m), which is reached from the road to Glenfeshie Lodge (south from Loch Insh). This mountain can be climbed in around 3 hours and it is a favourite site for Dotterel and Ptarmigans, but beware Red Grouse in winter plumage lower down.
Return to the A9 and continue N and just before the amusingly named Slochd on the edge of the national park take the righthand turn (either of 2 going E actually) to Carrbridge. At the first bridge over the Dulnain, stop and look for Dipper. If this usually reliable spot fails try other bridges along the way. The Carrbridge area is noted for it Capercaille, and with Scotland’s open access laws it is possible to roam at will searching in likely woods. Please respect peoples’ privacy however and do not approach houses or trample crops, if in doubt about Scottish access laws please consult the web or tourist information.
All of the high mountains offer a good chance of Golden Eagle but if it comes to a stake out then it may be better to head N on the A9 out of the national park a mile or so and then taking the left turning (W) along the River Findorn’s wide valley. Follow this valley to the far end about 2 miles where the road ends and becomes a track. The valley here though still wide is narrower than at A9 and steeply sided by huge mountains. Here perhaps in early morning and evenings it is possible to see raptors taking to the thermals or returning back to roost, and Golden Eagles favour this place. Midday birds are either lost in rising mist or too high for decent views. This river too is also good for Dipper and Grey Wagtail.
Black Grouse can be found early morning on the grass in front of the car park at Duthill.
Red Deer abound in the whole area and care should be taken when driving, especially at night as they cause many RTA’s.Roe Deer are also present. Otters, Pine Marten and Wild Cat are all present here in good numbers, but do not expect to see any, you may however have more look with the endearing Red Squirrels.