Whenever I holiday in the Scottish Highlands I tend to stay at the same self-catering cottage in Tomatin – a great central location halfway between Inverness and Aviemore & close to the mountain hares. However, it was unavailable for my end of March week and after spending hours trawling through the internet looking for a reasonably priced cottage within my catchment area I finally came across a 2 bed house at Upper Finlarig, up the hill from Dulnain Bridge which was a good price and from the description sounded perfect (red squirrels in the garden being the other big selling point!) There was the owner’s house plus 2 cottages surrounded by farm land with a field opposite the garden which comprised both short and long grass, a couple of larch trees, a burn and more trees a bit further away.
From the front and up the hill there was a stunning view over to the Cairngorm Mountain range.
I wasn’t disappointed! As I arrived a brown hare ran across the road in front of me and the garden was full of little birds (and pheasants) crowding round the feeders – coal tits, blue tits, great tits, dunnock, house sparrow, wren, blackbirds, greenfinch, siskin and robins.
With the exception of the Sunday morning when I had a well-deserved lie-in, I was up by 6.30 every morning. Initially I’d go out and wander about to see what was in the surrounding fields. On those mornings I saw displaying lapwings, partridge, curlew, buzzards, oystercatchers, roe deer and brown hares although I couldn’t get close to the latter. The little birds were chasing each other around, full of the joys of spring. Really quite idyllic!
However… it soon transpired that I didn’t need to leave the comfort of the kitchen or garden to enjoy the wildlife. Two red squirrels, one male, one female, visited the feeders or sat in the trees next to the garden. Most mornings one or two roe deer could be spotted grazing at the back of the field and there were at least four brown hares spending a fair amount of time in the field too. When I’m at home in Glasgow I eat my breakfast looking out onto my back garden enjoying the goldfinch, house sparrows and blue tits that frequent my feeders, it is a lovely way to start the day – for me watching wildlife is my version of mindfulness as it lets my brain shut down temporarily as I enjoy the natural world. Therefore being in this cottage, looking out the window at all the wildlife on view was heaven. It would take me ages to eat my breakfast as I had to keep throwing it down to dash outside again with my camera! And it made leaving for the day very difficult! A nice problem to have though…
Initially I was a little concerned that it would be tricky to achieve nice images of the squirrels as they did tend to go to the feeder and rarely stopped anywhere else in the garden, even when I scattered both shelled and unshelled hazelnuts in photogenic locations.
However, on my first morning one sat in the large pine tree at the side of the garden, just as the sun hit the branch which was great.
Later in the week I noticed that they were partial to the seeds of the larch tree flowers. Not always easy to photograph as there were a lot of little branches, but they are beautiful trees and on one morning a squirrel sat on a visible branch for ages munching the seeds providing me with some of my favourite photographs from the week. It’s lovely to see red squirrels eating food they’ve sourced, not the nuts I’ve provided (they did get through/cache a lot of hazelnuts too though!) What a joy to look out the window in the morning and see red squirrels!
I think though that the highlight for me were the brown hares. As regular readers of my blog/social media followers will be aware I love hares, and it’s not just the mountain variety! I think they are beautiful creatures. It was a real thrill to see them in the field outside the cottage, and even more so that they often ran past the end of the garden, regularly pausing for a few seconds.
I honestly never expected to be quite so close without use of a hide of some sort. Much as mountain hares have a special place in my heart, I do confess that I like the ears of the brown hares best – they are so much longer! The only downside, from a photographic perspective, was that the area of field close to the cottage had a lot of earth piles and wasn’t nearly as neat and clean as the surrounding fields, so they aren’t the best images from that perspective, but nonetheless, it’s not all about photographs and I really loved seeing them every day. There was some chasing and a tiny little bit of boxing.
Another bird it was great to see in the field were a couple of curlews. Their calls were audible throughout the day, a gorgeous sound. One of them did still seem to be moulting though.
Not to be outdone, the little birds would perch and sing too. The robin sat in the larch or pine tree in the mornings singing and would display to other robins. Both a wren and a dunnock liked to sit on the fence posts and sing their little hearts out too. Fab!
This really was my idea of wildlife heaven – 30 species seen over the course of the week in the garden and surrounding fields and that’s lumping all types of gulls together as one. We even had a red kite fly over one day.
- Coal Tit
- Blue Tit
- Great Tit
- House Sparrow
- Pied Wagtail
- Mistle Thrush
- Red Kite
- Gulls (black-headed mostly)
- Brown Hare
- Roe Deer
- Red Squirrel
- Great Spotted Woodpecker
If/when I eventually get to move to the Highlands this is exactly what I’d love – only animal missing, and I’m pretty sure they will be in the local woods were pine marten.
It was a brilliant end to a fabulous seven weeks in the Highlands and a wrench to leave on the Saturday. I’ll share a couple of other things I did during the week (Troup Head for example) in a future blog.