I visited Balliefurth for the first time in 1998 and now hardly a month goes by without me seeing Ann and Alistair at the farm. Balliefurth is an environment of superlatives, whether looked at from a landscape or wildlife viewpoint and, like the wildlife, I am drawn back to it time and time again.
What is perhaps surprising is that Balliefurth is a real working commercial farm, not a hobby farm or a nature reserve. Yet it's wildlife rivals that of any 'protected' area in Scotland and some of it can be seen from the Speyside Way which runs through the middle of the farm.
During the spring, the farm is alive with the sound of birds such as Skylark, Meadow pipit, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Snipe and Redshank and it forms part of a group of local farms that hold the highest number of breeding farmland waders in mainland Great Britain. As the spring progresses, the grassland flowers come into their own and a fantastic array of butterflies and moths can be found around the farm.
Once the harvest begins in late summer, the freshly mown fields are alive with birds. Areas of sacrificial crops, heavy with seed begin to attract finches and buntings that are in decline in other parts of the country. A walk down to the River Spey might reveal a dipper, a leaping salmon, a family of Goldeneye ducks or if you are lucky a fly-by Osprey or family of otters at the confluence of the River Dulnain.
The first frosts of autumn bring in ducks and geese and later on flocks of ghostly white Icelandic Whooper swans. As the weather gets colder, the small seed-eating birds come to the sacrificial crops in increasing numbers. The sight of over 3000 birds in one field is breathtaking, with rare or scarce birds such as Bramblings and Twite recorded in impressive numbers (up to 200 and 1200 respectively in January 2003).
With such large numbers of small birds present, they attract a fantastic array of aerial predators keen to sample the Balliefurth menu! I have had some of my best ever views of hunting Hen harrier, Sparrowhawk, Merlin, Peregrine, Buzzard and Kestrel by just sitting quietly on the Speyside way and watching the action unfold.
A winter's walk through the woods might reveal a Crested Tit, Bullfinch, a Scottish Wildcat or even a Scottish Crossbill, but that's for another day…..
Dr Peter Cosgrove
Cairngorms Biodiversity Officer