Fifteen year old Alex Bayley was last year’s winner of the Cairngorms Young Nature Presenter competition. Earlier this year he and his family took up his prize of wildlife holiday in the Cairngorms National Park. Here’s his account of this trip and the wildlife he saw.

The search is now for this year’s winner of Cairngorms Young Nature Presenter. To find out more click here.

Cairngorms Young Nature Presenter - Winner’s visit

Having won the Young Nature Presenter competition, I set off with my family in April for my prize - a four day wildlife watching holiday in the Cairngorms National Park, in the Scottish Highlands run by Speyside Wildlife! 

We were met by Duncan, our guide and he told us that the following day we were going to meet up with Iolo Williams, an inspirational Welsh naturalist and wildlife TV presenter from BBC Springwatch; James Shooter, a great wildlife photographer and cameraman; and Stuart Benn from the RSPB Scotland.

Alex and Iolo at RSPB Scotland Insh Marshes

Day  1

After a lovely meal and a great night’s sleep in our new surroundings, we met Iolo, James and Stuart, and headed straight out to Glen Feshie. 

Our first port of call was a black grouse lek and there were 9 males lekking!  Usually they only lek for a few hours after dawn so it was unusual but fantastic to see them that wee bit later.

The females were nowhere to be seen, they would probably be feeding in the surrounding heather, not necessarily taking much notice of the males! Their curved bluish-black tail feathers were spread revealing their bright white undertails.

We carried on our journey deep into the heart of Glen Feshie. A couple of buzzards mewed from overhead but then a golden eagle sailed over a distant crag. With the scopes trained on it, we were able to see it clearly as it circled high above the mountain.

I did a piece to camera about Goldeneye that nest in Loch Insh woods, in tree holes or man-made nest boxes that have been put up to help them.  Whilst filming, a red throated diver flew across the water behind us calling as it did so.

Later in the evening we went to a pine marten hide, here peanuts and an egg were put out to attract pine martens as well as badgers.

It was great to have close views of it right in front us. We also saw a couple of badgers and a few wood mice which made a very nice addition to the evening.

 Day 2 

We set off to Fort George in search of a King eider which had been reported but unfortunately the weather was not right for them.

However we did, much to my sister’s delight, come across a pod of 4 bottle nosed dolphins. They weren’t particularly active and looked decidedly sleepy, regularly breaking the surface of the water, sometimes turning onto their backs in the water. 

Day 3

We set off to the Findhorn Valley and passed Loch Insh on the way, where ospreys nest each year. Duncan spotted the female on the nest! Then our excitement went up another notch as the male osprey glided into view, landed on the female and started mating! This was great news for two reasons: firstly the nest had blown down in the winter, so dedicated RSPB volunteers had built a new nest and it had been accepted by the ospreys. Secondly both of the ospreys had survived their migration from Spain or Africa. As if it couldn’t get any better, one of the ospreys flew right over our heads – it was a fantastic moment!

Having seen the ospreys we set off to the Findhorn Valley, it is known to be particularly good for raptors and mountain hares. We had only been walking about 5 minutes, when, above a small pine plantation Duncan spotted a male goshawk which started displaying, it would gain height and then drop like a stone, pulling out of its dive at the last minute, spreading its wings so that it soared up into the dark sky. It is honestly one of the most magical displays that I have ever seen.                                                                                                                                        

We carried on up the valley to search for the mountain hares, a greyish/whitish blob that I had glanced over previously, dismissing it as a stone, started lolloping down the mountain side. With the binoculars and scope on it you could really admire its beauty, the contrast between the white and light brown as it was changing from its winter coat to its summer coat. Our guide Duncan was particularly sharp at spotting them and quick at setting up his scope so we could see them really clearly.  It was incredible to be able to see and get so close to a mountain hare.

Day 4

Capercaillie was one of the birds that I was hoping to see although all we found were some droppings.  Heading down the track back to the car we also came across a pine marten’s scat - it has quite a nice sweet smell which is why is used to be nicknamed the sweet mart.

Duncan then took us to a great little cake shop called the Potting Shed as they had feeders outside to attract red squirrels. When we arrived there was one on the feeder, it was great to see as they had eluded us for the whole of the trip – eating cake whilst watching a red squirrel is a great combination!

My trip to the Cairngorms has been invaluable, I have learnt so much about the vast amount of wildlife that the Cairngorms holds and the endangered species that it treasures such as capercaillie and pine marten. I have met fantastic conservationists and presenters like Stuart and Iolo who have both done a huge amount for conservation and I feel very fortunate to have been able to meet them! Duncan was such an amazing guide and made the trip very special. I would like to thank the whole of the Speyside Wildlife team for such an unforgettable holiday. I loved presenting Cairngorms Nature 2017 and I strongly recommend that you enter for Cairngorms Young Nature Presenter 2018 and who knows, you may be the winner!

A full account of Alex’s time in Cairngorms National Park can be read on his blog here.

The Caringorms Young Nature Presenter 2018 is currently open for entries. Find out more about the competition and how to enter here