Today was absolutely one of my wildlife highlights so far this year! My Dad and I were up at 7:30am, in the Scottish Highlands for noon and watching 17 Ptarmigan up a mountain in the early afternoon! Despite living in Scotland and making regular trips up north over the last 3 years in particular, I’d never actually managed to see one; although frustratingly I’d heard them!!
Ptarmigan are very shy birds which change their plumage to suit the season: white in winter and brown/ greyish with a white tummy in summer. Both options provide perfect camouflage in their mountain surroundings so they are incredibly difficult to spot. Even if they are a few meters away from you they can still be almost impossible to see them unless they stand up or move.
On this occasion we were fortunate that David Walsh had spotted some in the area a few days previously, so we returned to the area with increased hope of finding them again. As they are very difficult to spot our best hope of finding them would be to listen for their croaking kind of call which lasts a few seconds, stops, then repeats again.
We arrived at the Glencoe car park just after noon, met up with David and after a trip up a ski lift and a 45 minute walk we heard the distinctive croaking. After taking a few minutes to get our bearings and agree exactly where the noise had come from we set off further up the mountain to a rocky outcrop next to a waterfall. Finally, after scanning the area with our binoculars it was David who finally saw one! We composed ourselves and worked out the best route to get a look at the bird and take some photos. We split up and after a few minutes more birds appeared from between the rocks and started climbing further up the hill. One bird, became, 4, then 7, then 13 and finally 17 – split between two main groups!! The birds were clearly a mix of adults and younger birds which was so good to see.
The views the birds gave us during the 45 min or so we followed them were absolutely unbelievable as they were regularly on the move and ‘posing’ for photos non-stop: every so often the birds would stop, stand on a rock, then call!
Not many people get the opportunity to see so many birds together, let alone have them obligingly standing up on a rock calling with perfect backdrop for a photo! The weather also remained kind to us, with only some very occasional slight drizzle.
To end this amazing day, we spotted Ptarmigan poo and a common frog which had the colouration perfect for blending into its environment. The rocks are greyish and so was the frog!
This is a day I KNOW I will remember and look back on for a long, long time.
Thanks for reading!
Links to the people involved in making my day below:
Twitter – @DavidWalsh22
Twitter – @Kevandiso