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Jack's Week Full of Wildlife

Cairngorms Connect Deer Stalker Jack Ward reflects on an unbelievably special week of wildlife sightings during his work across the Cairngorms Connect Partnership area. 

"As a stalker, I spend a lot of time trudging around in rain, wind and clag. A lot of miles are covered, usually through deep heather and peat hags, at all hours of the day and night. Therefore I feel that the exciting wildlife I am lucky enough to see is hard earned!


However, there are times when your luck is well and truly in. It’s only Thursday, and I am thinking back on my wildlife encounters of the past four days and I can barely believe it. The Cairngorms Connect landscape is full of some of the most impressive wildlife in the UK and arguably in Europe.

 

GoldenEagle_STBPGolden Eagle, credit: Scotland the Big Picture


An early morning start, 3am to be precise, is not particularly enviable, but the drive to work produced a Hedgehog snuffling on the forest road. A well known mammal, but one that is not regularly seen. Once out in the further reaches of the reserve, I was treated to great views of a resting Peregrine at first light, shortly followed by a Golden Eagle watching the landscape from a creag.

 

Hoopoe_Mike Langman_RSPBIllustration of a Hoopoe by Mike Langman for the RSPB


After good views of a Roe Doe and her yearling kid, a trip back along the forest edge produced a real surprise. The slow looping wingbeats flashed with black and white chequers as a Hoopoe moved from Scot's Pine to Scot’s Pine. My first ever view of this European bird in the UK!


Another day, another early morning watching Deer move through the open habitats, when buoyant wings carried a beautiful female Marsh Harrier into view. I was able to watch it cruise low over the vegetation before it floated away.

 

LongEaredOwl_RSPB_Ben Andrew

Long-Eared Owl peaking through the branches, credit: Ben Andrew RSPB


My first Spotted Flycatchers of the year zipped in the canopy of the broadleaves and, as Redstarts were singing in the leaves, I spotted an Owl with my thermal imager. It’s not unusual to find Tawny Owls in the woods, but a daylight view is always a treat. As I searched with my naked eyes I was totally thrilled to meet the orange gaze of not a Tawny but a Long-Eared Owl! Only 5 metres away, watching me intently, it stood tall and thin against the birch trunk. A species first for me, and a species I have tried and failed many times to see. This was a real pick of the bunch!


I fully expected my wildlife luck to have been exhausted by now, but another early morning produced a Peregrine flying through the morning mist and whilst watching Red Hinds and last years calves moving through the rising cloud, a Kestrel flitted above, hunting over the high ground.

 

16.05.24_ Adder_JackWFemale Adder in the sunshine photographed by Jack Ward


On the walk back down, the sun, now warm on the peatland, produced another exciting find. A huge female Adder, spread flat on the warm earth. A really beautiful reptile. I was able to get great views as she was content to sit on her sun bed whilst I sneaked a photo.


Almost back at my vehicle, my eye was caught by the broad wings of an adult White-Tailed Eagle rising on the day’s new thermals. What was most incredible was how normal this sight has become in our landscape.


Less than a week at work and the Cairngorms Connect partnership area has already produced one of my best wildlife weeks ever! Roll on Friday … "

 

– Words by Jack Ward

 

If you'd like to find out more about Jack's work as Cairngorms Connect Deer Stalker by watching our film "A Deer Stalker's Story"

 

Feature Photo: Cameron, Deer Stalker on RSPB Scotland Abernethy, at first light photographed by fellow Deer Stalker Jack Ward

 

 

 

 

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