Monday, 1 June 2020


Fantastic t see the ptarmigan again
We've been enjoying some absolutely gorgeous weather up here in The Highlands for quite some time  now, a brilliant Spring. The weekend temperatures were some of the highest in the UK with Aviemore reaching 27 C today. I had a brilliant time back up in the Northern Corries of the Cairngorms again on Monday. My usual bike ride up from the house to Coire Cas carpark is getting  easier, despite the weight of all the hillwalking and photography gear. It's always less arduous in beautiful sunshine and no wind. Very pleasant too has there is no traffic on the access road to the ski  centre carpark from Glemore.
Coire an t-sneachda

Still big snow patches in the Goat Track & Point 5 Gully areas
I took a wander into Coire an t-Sneachda. Last time I was here it was on one of the last days before restricted access due to the Corona virus. That was a marvelous winter day out. Very different today with hot sunshine, sunlight in the coire, snow melted away and no people. I sat down in the higher reaches of the coire and filled up my depleted water bottle. Wonderful to drink the cold, refreshing water. After a quick snack I turned around and a male ptarmigan was sat looking at me only inches away on a rock at shoulder level. But by the time I lifted my camera he was away into the boulders below. Sightings of  ptarmigan have been very low in numbers for well over a year. Apparently one  reason for this is because they can go through 6-8 year cycles of high to low breeding numbers. Another theory is a virus they pick up in their gut gets transmitted and unfortunately kills numbers of birds. A familiar story to us humans.
The Fiacaill Coire Sneachda scrambling

A familiar route for me

The approach to the scramble
Walking up to the start of the scrambling on the Fiacaill a' Coire Sneachda I could hear Snow Bunting singing away on the cliffs. Always a beautiful sound in Springtime when the males are in full song. Warm rock and no wind along the arete of the Fiacaill. A good body work out combined with the 450 metre climb on the bike earlier in the morning. I was soon onto the plateau and still no breeze to speak of really. Despite the high temperatures it was very pleasant compared to Friday when we had scorching heat.
Beautiful Snow Buntings around the corries

They love the cliff tops
There were many Snow Bunting singing away once again on the edge of the cliffs that run up to the  top of Cairn Lochan. Brilliant stuff. For photographers you'll need to get high this time of year if you want to capture these wonderful wee birds. The male bunting transforms himself into a much more white plumage and can be easily identified. He's also the one doing all the singing and chirping.
The cliffs of Coire an Lochain

Lingering snow on The Great Slab in Coire an Lochain
There were only 2 people I saw all day. One guy on the summit of Cairn Lochan and a distant runner along the edge of the Northern Corries. I'm guessing the closed access road up to Coire Cas is a 'deterrent' for local folk to venture up into the Northern Cairngorms. Having said that, it is only 1 hour to walk up the road or there is a nice trail up through the forestry on a well made path that runs roughly alongside the road. I've always wandered what these mountains were like before the skiing arrived at Coire Cas in 1961. Pretty quiet I would have thought. There would have been a road as far as Glenmore then it would have been Shanks's Pony up to the corries. Coire Cas itself must have been wonderful before the skiing parathenalia too, a heaven for wildlife and green.

Ptarmigan portrait

Taking it easy

Looking fine in the sunshine
Retracing my steps I headed back East along the plateau, still with the Snow Bunting singing all the way along the cliffs. Shortly after leaving the top I spotted a male Ptarmigan! He was taking it easy on the cliff edge gazing out to the North. Looking very chilled out he wan't at all disturbed by my presence. A brilliant 30 minutes or so sitting beside him just 4 metres away. I even had my packed lunch whilst sitting looking out to the corries with him. Pure bliss. For me this is wildlife photography. A day spent in the hills looking and searching. Then quality time near your subject, watching their behaviour patterns. Of course getting some nice images is a big plus point. After lunch I left him to his peace and quiet.
Just the odd croak
Coire an t-Sneachda & Cairn Gorm

Coire Domhain snowpatch

View west from Cairn Gorm
The bright sun and clear skies faded by early afternoon with some high level cloud building up. I finished my walk by heading over Cairn Gorm summit and down Windy Ridge. On the way I was treated to even more Snow Bunting and that other wonderful Cairn Gorm bird that we have here in summer, the Dotterel. Fabulous end to the day.
Another Snow Bunting near Cairn Gorm

Moss Campion just starting to flower

Female Dotterel looking inquisitive
Well not quite over, looking forward to the brilliant ride back down the road to cool off. It's a brilliant, fast freewheel back down to Glenmore with, of course, stunning views. But there was still some last minute wildlife, even at carpark level. Finished nicely with Ring Ouzel and an inquisitive  Pied Wagtail.
Ring Ouzel

Pied Wagtail

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