Scottish exploits Day1 to Day 4

February 20, 2014  •  2 Comments


Rob Cross and I set off from Devon heading for Dumfries on Wednesday evening, the weather in Devon lately has been horrendous with storm force winds and constant rain so the drive was never going to be easy but after being diverted of the M5 we found ourselves following diversion signs for a considerable amount of miles to find ourselves along with two other cars at a dead end! We are still unsure whether or not someone tampered with the signs or the workmen thought it would be funny. Eventually after driving through the centre of Wolverhampton for an hour we found our way back on to the motorway. A few hours later the road was down to one lane due to a lorry being blown on its side and blocking the two outside lanes. The next drama was as we were passing the Lake district we hit blizzard conditions, fortunately we got through this without incident and quite quickly passed so we finally got to our destination which was Alan McFadyens sparrow hawk hide in plenty of time so we slept for an hour or so in the car until the morning.

Day1…We were in the hide by 8am and awaiting the arrival of the sparrowhawks. Within about an hour a young bird was on a perch in front of us and although the light was not very good we did manage plenty of photos. The male Sparrowhawk came in later but unluckily for us he landed on the floor after missing a chaffinch and photo opportunities were not there. Considering the cold and windy and wet weather of late any shots were a bonus. It was good to see Alan again and anyone who wants a shot of one of these wild birds then this is the place to go. At the end of our session we left and made our way to the Premier Inn at Sterling.

SparrowhawkSparrowhawkAnother one from Alan Mcfadyens hide

Day 2..We left the premier inn at around 4.30am and drove to the highlands. On arrival we decided to head for Loch Garten and try for Crested tit. As we drove into the car park Coal tits and Chaffinches were beside our car straightaway , obviously expecting to be fed. We were setting up some perches when two Crested tits dropped to the ground within about 8 feet from us. By the time we had our cameras set up on tripods they had disappeared! An hour passed before they returned and Rob managed some shots, unfortunately I messed up so frustratingly I had to hope for another visit. We spent between 4 and 5 hours photographing these with quite a few more brief visits before the light had gone. We then made our way to the Pemier Inn at Inverness feeling quite happy.

Day 3….We had arranged for a day with Marcus Conway (ebirder) as our guide to try and get some photos of Mountain Hare's. The Mountain forecast  was giving snow during the night so we were hopeful of the type of shots we were after. Marcus arrived to pick us up at 7.30 am and after quick introductions we were on our way to the chosen site. On arrival Marcus gave us a quick briefing on the direction we would be heading and a how we would be approaching the Hare's. We headed up at a slow pace, the temperature was fairly low (at least it felt it to me) and started our search for the Hare's. It didn't take very long before we had seen a few some distance away and although still a long way from us they moved away even farther. We did get opportunities to photograph a couple of Hare's but the star of the day for us was one that was sat on a large snow covered boulder, we slowly approached one at a time and took some shots at 11.05am during the next two and a half hours we edged as close as we need to be and during this time the Hare had become totally at ease with our presence in fact most of the time it was asleep in front of us. We waited and waited and every now and again it would jump of the rock to feed and then hop back and again doze off. Eventually for no reason he just decided to run off and as we were talking about the fantastic experience he suddenly ran towards us just a couple of metres in front of us and stopped to watch us, we all tried for a photograph but even with a 300mm lens he was just too close,eventually he moved off again and so did we, back down towards the car. On the way we down we took some photos of another resting Hare before finally leaving the site,  three happy bunnies! (pardon the pun)

Mountain HareMountain HareTaken after heavy snow the previous night, Highlands, Scotland

Day 4….After the fantastic day with the Hare's we were very optimistic about photographing Ptarmigan on the Cairngorms. We set off dressed for the conditions and camera bags on our backs, We set a steady pace up the Mountain looking for our quarry and after about an hour we saw a few in flight some distance from us and quite a bit higher so we made our way even higher as well. The snow was very deep and on many occasions i would find myself struggling to lift my leg out as the snow was up to just below my knee. We trekked on even more and the more tired my legs got the more difficult it was to keep positive. The wind would occasionally gust blowing small particles of Ice against our faces with at times felt as sharp as glass! After about three hours we took a short break and taking the bag off my back was a great relief. When we started to move again I felt so much better for the short respite and sugar rush from the chocolate bars I had scoffed. As we were heading back I suddenly spotted a Ptarmigan running behind a boulder, it suddenly broke cover and ran upwards, I can't explain how happy we all were at this point but before we could get our cameras out it had flown! We trudged back from where we had just left as the bird had flown in this direction but after a reasonable search we realised it was not to be. We carried on walking and after a total of five and a half hours at 1050m above sea level and covering 7.2 miles we had arrived back from where we started. We went back to our accommodation that night very tired and all agreed that we had put in as much effort as was possible. On the shuttle bus to the lower car park the disappointment could be seen on all our faces and it was a reminder of how unpredictable wildlife can be, another reason to return next year (every cloud and all that!)

Day 5….We decided to have an easy day after our arduous walk on day 4 and returned for some more crested tit shots. We also went to get a few Red grouse shots although the weather wasn't perfect we were determined to make the most of our last day.

Red grouseRed grouseScottish highlands

A big thank you to Marcus Conway who's help was invaluable

http://ebirder.net


Comments

Ian White(non-registered)
Fantastic mate, it sounds like a great trip.......though I'm not sure treking through snow for 7miles sounds like my idea of fun!!!!....especially with my lens, lol.....See you soon hopefully.
Rob Cross(non-registered)
A brilliant few days Steve, an experience I won't forget in a hurry,especially that 7 mile slog!!
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