Ptarmigan round two

May 10, 2014  •  1 Comment

Earlier in the year I had a failed attempt at ptarmigan which was a big disappointment as it was a bird I dearly wanted to see and photograph. Three months later I have returned to the  Scottish highlands for five days. Although for a short break with my wife her friend and her husband, so definitely not a photography holiday the camera was always going to be packed. After almost an Eleven  hour drive we had arrived   . Once checked in to our accomodation, showered and changed we went for some food and alcohol. I received a text message from Marcus Conway who had very kindly offered to take me up the mountain where he had recently seen quite a few pairs of Ptarmigan very recently so we arranged a 6.30am start. 

The following morning Graham and I followed Marcus to the mountain, parked up, dressed up and started the long hard climb. After an hour of  strenuous walking we arrived at the place where Marcus had previously seen pairs holding territory. The whole area was searched with binoculars to no avail so we carried on searching as we went finally coming to where the snow was still quite thick covering the mountain and the end of the territories being held, at this point Marcus said to me that I must be the Jonah as we couldn't locate any. feeling slightly deflated again and already aching from the steep climb I stood to catch my breath when I noticed a male bird perfectly camouflaged less than 12 feet from me, we very slowly backed up four or five metres so I could take out my camera. The bird was lying flat amongst the large boulders so not easy to get a good shot but at least I had finally got something. As I edged around more I saw the female just a few feet away beside him, the terrain was difficult and I lost my footing (which is quite unusual for me) and the sudden movement spooked the birds and they flew 20 m away. After this point we did locate quite a few more bird although it was not easy to get into a good position to get shots we get some fabulous views of these stunning looking birds. The day started cold and slightly breezy and obviously the higher we ascended the colder and windier it got. I had hoped to go a bit higher up to the plateau looking for Dotterel, another bird which is on my want list but the wind started to get very strong and gusty so we decided against it. During our walk back it was at times difficult to keep your footing due to the ever strengthening winds and we were both glad to finally reach the car to get our body temperatures back to normal.


a trip to the Findhorn. Valley was on the agenda for today and once again plenty of wildlife was seen, highlights included close views of mountain hare and a pair of ring ouzel, three large herds of red deer with at least 60 in each. The views from the very top were breathtaking!


today was spent walking through one of the many pine forests in the highlands with bilberry and Heather understory.  Within minutes of getting out of the car we had spotted a cuckoo although very little else. After walking for about 45 minutes Graham came too find me as we had separated by a few hundred metres, I could see him waving frantically and when I caught up with him he told me he had seen a male capercaillie which had actually seen him before he had seen it and had chased after him. We slowly made our way back in to the the area which he had marked with a few pine tree twigs, there about 20 metres in Front of me was this fabulous bird stood on the high ground watching us. Quickly I put my 500 mm lens on my camera and attached it to my tripod. I know for certain a 50mm lens would have been adequate as these birds will defend their territory to anyone that encroaches it and I did not want to stress the bird so stayed a reasonable distance back. The bird did at times come towards us forcing us further back and then would happily stop to feed on some fallen pine branches, eating the none too tasty looking needles. I took lots of photos but once again due to the thick ground cover clean shots were not easy. As I was with a friend who has no interest in photography, coupled with the fact that I didn't want the bird stressed we left it to carry on  feeding. The bird was quite tatty looking and had bare patches with many feathers missing around both sides of his face and a noticeable bald patch on the back of his head, all of which looked quite  painful and red. This was another one of those memorable days I will never forget.

CapercaillieCapercaillieHighlands Scotland,

Day 4

today the forecast was reasonably dry although heavy showers were a strong possibility and the following day we were to expect rain, so this would be our last chance to get out and about.  Another walk up the mountain was planned only this time higher hoping to see Dotterel, the walk up to the top took two hours, although I did stop a few times to photograph the Ptarmigan I came across. Today they were far less edgy and the males would stand on a boulder watching over his female as she fed, I managed plenty of full frame images this time so a fantastic result! and I finally had some images I am very pleased with.  Once at the very top I did not manage to locate any Dotterels but the view from the top to the next valley was outstanding and that alone was well worth the walk..


Ian White(non-registered)
Sounds like a great trip Steve with some amazing photos, especially the Capercaillie.
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