Sunday, 9 February 2020


Braeriach plateau from Ben Macdui on Thursday
Catching up on my blog from the last few days. A grand spell of fine, settled weather with some welcome sunshine. It's always a joy to get an high pressure system over The Highlands in winter. We've not had that many this season!


The best day of the week. Light winds, wall to wall sun and temperatures above freezing on the high Cairngorm summits. Despite the 'warmer' temperatures there was still icy conditions on the lower paths aswell as high up on The Cairngorm plateau, all day long. Even in Februray the sun still needs time to make a big impact on melting.

The Reindeer enjoying some sunshine
I took a wander over to Ben Macdui via Coire an Lochain. There seemed to be a few fairwether wildlife photographers heading out, presumerbly to photograph the ptarmigan. There was a beautiful wee temperature inversion in the morning, this soon melted away to leave blue skies. Paths were icy at lower elevations and from about 800m there is now good snow cover.

Temperature inversion

Improved snow cover

Icy conditions
Up on the plateau there is excellent snow cover, surprisingly. The Cairngorm plateau has been bare of snow for a big chunk of the season. I would say you can even get a ski tour in, if you take your old skis :) .

The Lairig Ghru from the Cairngorm-Ben Macdui plateau
Bod an Deamhain and a distant Beinn a' Ghlo
I headed away from the crowds and over to that finest of views in the entire Cairngorms, The Loch A'an Basin. It's a fine, easy stroll following the Feithe Buidhe which gently trickles across the high plateau before suddenly plunging down into the basin. 'Easy' in good weather and snow conditions of course. The burn is almost buried in snow but water is still running underneath the snow pack. I always arrive here around mid day, it's a great spot for lunch.
Loch A'an with the slabs buried under snow
Now I have wandered around the Cairngorms for may a year and have seen some amazing wildlife. Ptarmigan, Dotterel and Snow Bunting of course. I've seen some beautiful and amazing wildlife. On two separate occasions I have spotted the very rare Purple Sanpiper in summer (there are only 1 or 2 breeding pairs in the mountains) the second time she was with her newly fledged chick. But never have I seen the elusive, rare, almost mythical Snowy Owl. Of course this Arctic Owl doesn't belong here in the UK but apparently there is one on the Cairngorm plateau and some lucky folk have had the privilage to spot it. So with this in mind I wandered around into some obscure locations  between the Feithe Buidhe and Ben Macdui. The answer is no, I never saw it! There's always another time.

The NW slopes of Ben Macdui's North top, no Snowy Owl
By the time I reached the summit of Ben Macdui it was deserted. Everyone had headed down so I lingered a while and had a notion to spend the night out, just bivvying, on the top. But that idea soon vanished with the thought of spending about 13 hours in my bivvy bag with nothing to read.

Ben Macdui's summit

Rime iced rocks and The Lairig Ghru

Cairn Toul - Braeriach plateau
The best view is not from the trig point on Macdui. Get the map out and walk a few minutes to see one of the finest sights in The Cairngorms (after Loch A'an of course).

Views SW

Nice light and clouds
Heading back across the plateau towards dusk was just beautiful. The full moon was up as the sun was setting. It was magical walking across crisp, icy snow with nightfall approaching. There were a couple of folk in Coire Domhain snow holing. Would have been a great night for it. There was an Aurora Amber alert for the Northern Lights. Anyone know if they were visible?
I didn't require a head torch on the way down, the moon was so bright.
Coire Domhain at dusk

A bright, full moon over Cairn Gorm

Moonlight descent


Ptarmigan in croaking mode
Another beautiful clear skies morning across The Cairngorms. The winds were up thus morning. 50, gusting 60mph towards the end of the day. It was hard going walking into the strong blast. Temperatures had dropped with freezing levels around 1000m. A day for the coire and checking out the ptarmigan.
Windy clouds

More cloud out to the NW

Less windy here
Once into the coire there was some respite from the winds. Now we have reasonable snow cover the ptarmigan are a bit more camouflaged. With these higher winds they will usually come into sheltered areas. It's nice to now see the numbers are up again. I stayed with a group of around 10 birds today. They were quite happy feeding from some heathery places poking out from the snow. They must know we have a big dump of snow heading our way over the next few days. I was down lying in the snow for over an hour with this wee group. One reason you should always have plenty of warm, waterproof clothing for winter wildlife photography.




In the sun



Whooper Swans
Storm Ciara on it's way, not quite arrived yet. It was extremely windy in the high Cairngorms though with winds of 60mph+. So we settled for a low level, relaxing walk with some wonderful wildlife along the way. Just an hours easy walking from the middle of Aviemore and you get to see some beautiful countryside. A stroll along the Speyside Way then off track and down to a lovely unnamed loch, one of those 'hidden gems' that seem to be the latest buzz words.


Great birdlife habitat

Blue Tit

Long Tailed Tit (hiding)

Whooper Swan
During our meander by the lochside we spotted Whooper Swan, Long Tailed Tit, Goldcrest and Goldeneye. Back home before the clouds rolled in.

The next few days should get lots of snow into the mountains. Gales and heavy snowfall forecasted from today and all next week. Looks like we will get a bumper snow cover. Finally!

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