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Scotland re-visited

February 23, 2015  •  2 Comments

Well that time of year had arrived again and a winter trip to Scotland was once again on the agenda, this time however Rob and I took pity on a Bristolian that had never ventured further North than Gloucestershire, so we decided to let Ian White tag along to allow him to see a bit more of Great Britain (and of course help with the fuel costs) :-)

We hired an estate car for the journey as we would be taking a lot of equipment with us. Rob and I considerately packed the car and left plenty of boot space for Ian and late Saturday afternoon we made our way to Bristol. On arrival we were met by Ian who obviously thougt we had hired a mini bus, the bag he was carrying was almost four feet high but then he went back for a full camera bag and two lens boxes, one for the 300mm2.8 and one for a 300-800 zoom!....I started to wonder if I had forgotten to let him know we were staying at a Premier Inn as I was sure he must have packed a tent in that bag, of course he hadn't but he did have a stove, kettle, 5 litres of water and a gallon of petrol. After a scale down of his equipment (I think he took a packet of fags and some tea bags out) we were on our way.

After driving through the night we arrived in Aviemore during the hours of darkness with a very clear run and very little traffic on the roads.

We decided to head for Loch Garten and try for a few Crested tit shots. As the light started to come up Ian offered us a cup of fresh tea and got out of the car to brew up. We waited while he set up the picnic table and eagerly awaited the sound of the boiling kettle, as the temperature was quite low and we were all tired we began to think he wasn't so daft after all, however our first thoughts were right as the cooker wouldn't work.

Still very thirsty from the empty promise and lack of tea we soldiered on and spent a few difficult hours trying to photograph the cresties in the car park. The light was not very good and the visits from the birds were few and far between so we headed to the Premier Inn feeling a little disappointed although this was probably due to tiredness and the lack of TEA!

Day 2

Today we headed to the mountains guided by Marcus Conway (ebirder) in an attempt to photograph Ptarmigan in the snow. Conditions were quite good with only a light wind and the cloud had lifted above the mountains by the time we reached the car park. This year we only walked for twenty minutes or so before we connected with a few birds. Marcus did a great job of putting us amongst the birds but he still hasn't managed to control the weather for us and the light was not particularly kind to us although we did all manage some shots, all in all a successful day!

Day 3

Rob and I wanted to photograph Red squirrels so we arranged a morning session with Neil McIntyre, Ian came along with us to test out the robustness of the Nikon converters.

We stood in a line waiting in the cold morning for the Squirrels to come in and Ian had gone almost 10 minutes without a cup of tea! as he fiddled around with the flask (fortunately the cooker still didn't work) he somehow managed to drop his 1.4tc. Now the slope we were stood on was very steep and about 10m below us a road was cut throughout he hillside before the hill continued down to the river Spey. Ian's converter rolled down gathering speed and dropped with force to the road below where it bounced and continued downhill, quite a comical if not a very professional sight with him in hot pursuit! The Nikon TC was retrieved and remarkably unscathed.

The squirrels did eventually come in (probably after they had finished laughing at this 6 feet plus guy trying to run after a runaway piece of metal and glass) and once again we had some very nice shots. Theses squirrels are easily found in the forests around Aviemore but as time is usually an issue Neil's site is well worth a visit. We spent the afternoon photographing the Crested tits which was a lifetimes ambition for Ian and surprisingly no dramas!

Red squirrelRed squirrelAviemore, Scotland

Day 4 

We set this day aside to see if we could photograph a Capercaillie but after 5 hours of walking and searching only one was spotted and that was as it flew from a tree away from Rob never to be seen again. We set of in the afternoon to check out a hillside for Mountain hares as that would be the following days target. Within 15 or so minutes we had located three so we were all feeling confident for the morning.

Day 5

An early start with the hares and all three of us soon had a Hare in front of us, they stood out like sore thumbs in their white coats against the heather now that all the snow had virtually gone. Lots of the hares were low down but as there was still some snow on the tops we made our way upwards to try for a few shots. As the hours past by we had a few snow flurries which was quite nice as these hardy mammals just hunkered down and waited for the snow to stop. Its an amazing feeling being so close to these animals knowing that they are completely at ease with your presence despite only being a couple of metres away.

Mountain hareMountain hareA climb to the top to catch them in the snow

Day 6

Our last full day was spent trying for Ptarmigan again. A check of the mountain forecast revealed 30-35mph gusts at over 800m with a wind chill factor of -17' C but clear visibility. This time, 4 days later the snow was very thin on the ground and unfortunately the birds had moved to a much higher altitude, this meant it was going to be colder, windier and more cloud than we had hoped for. We spent another gruelling day on the mountain this time concentrating on a pair of birds we had located rather than the flocks we had seen on our previous visit. The male chased away any other male that came anywhere near, they both made their way higher with us in pursuit. We managed quite a few shots but once again the light was not too good although we did get a few blue sky moments and some nice images were taken.

Day 7

Always the worst day although its always nice to get back home!  (until I saw the amount of snow the highlands were due to get).


Jack Barnes(non-registered)
Lovely blog mate, sounds like you had a great trip! The bits about Ians bag and him chasing the tc down the hill did make me laugh!
Ian White(non-registered)
Sums it up perfectly mate, right down to my tea drinking habit!!!
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