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Where UK winter arrives first

Tim Scoones Tim Scoones | 17:30 UK time, Friday, 20 November 2009

Remember how Autumnwatch began? We were celebrating the end of summer at a cider orchard in Herefordshire. The team felt a stark contrast with this week's location, around Aviemore in Scotland. Travelling nearly 600 miles north helped, but seeing snow-capped mountains made it feel like winter had arrived.

We were keen to find mountain species and arctic specialists that change their plumage or pelt to match their changing environment. The most well known of these are the mountain hare and ptarmigan. Both of these species turn white in winter months to aid camouflage. Winter fur and feathers tend also to offer more insulation.


What are they trying to keep a low profile against? The Highlands of Scotland are one of the best places in the UK to spot golden eagles. The Findhorn valley, near Inverness, is known locally as 'eagle alley'. It used to see their persecution but now can be a great site to watch juvenile birds (up to four years old) gliding in the wind and possibly hunting. With a 2m wingspan, these magnificent birds are a great spectacle for anyone. Twitcher, naturalist or someone with no interest in wildlife - you have to be impressed by these stunningly graceful birds.

All of these species are predominantly seen during ever decreasing daylight hours. But one distinctive Highland resident is a nocturnal specialist that comes out to feed at dusk. The pine marten is a mustalid (like the badger, stoat, weasel and polecat) whose appearance differs thanks to a yellowy bib.

They have semi-retractable claws (like cats) and are very much at home on the forest floor or running amongst the branches. They feed on a wide selection of foods - small mammals, birds, amphibians and berries. But in the Cairngorm area they are also partial to a bit of black pudding, jam, peanut butter and bread. Probably not to everybody's taste, but the Glenmore Café's resident pine marten couldn't get enough of it.

Tim Scoones is Executive Producer, Autumnwatch


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