I have recently returned from 10 days in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland. The aim of the trip was to spend more time working in winter with some of the iconic species that make their home in the Cairngorms, some of which can now only be found in the United Kingdom in this and other areas of Scotland. With the past two winters being particularly good for winter conditions, I had high hopes that this year would provide more of the same but, as you will see, things did not go exactly to plan…
The first animal I worked with was Crested Tit at a feeding station that Neil McIntyre had been running throughout the winter.
With the weather warming, the Cresties were less inclined to visit the feeders than during the colder weather that is more typical of this time of year. Eventually they obliged and would pause just long enough on the surrounding perches to allow images to be made of them.
Of the three species of animal in the United Kingdom that have a white winter pelage, Mountain Hare and Ptarmigan can relatively easily be found in Scotland. Mountain Hares can sometimes be approached quite closely as they hunker down in the snow and rely on their white winter coats for camouflage. The only slight problem this year was the lack of snow that made most of the Hares incredibly twitchy, negating the ability to make a close approach as they disappeared over the horizon at the first sight of a camera lens. Eventually, I found a few Hares that would, with great patience, allow a close enough approach to make images of them.
Ptarmigan are the only species of bird in the United Kingdom whose feathers moult from brown to white in winter. A bird of rocky mountains, the two hour walk alone up into the Northern Corries on Cairngorm Mountain carrying 60lbs of camera and personal gear was not to be undertaken lightly (or twice if it could be avoided). On the plus side, on the day I decided to venture into the Corries at least four Mountain Rescue Teams were in the area practising their winter mountaineering skills. At least help would be close at hand should it be needed.
Away from the Mountain Rescue Teams, I found a pair of accommodating Ptarmigan.
Another member of the Grouse family, the Red Grouse does not moult into a white winter pelage. Easier to find on the lower lying moors, Red Grouse are not as accommodating as Ptarmigan and a little more difficult to approach.
Having spent several days alone in the mountains and on the moors, it was time for an easy morning photographing Red Squirrels at the feeding stations that Neil McIntyre runs near to his home in the Caledonian Forest. Whilst I had spent a morning last year with Neil in the snow, for once I was grateful that there was no snow as it afforded me the opportunity to make some different images of the Red Squirrels.
New to this year, Neil has been feeding his local Red Squirrels in an area of woodland where they can be photographed in heather. This site offers the best location I have found to photograph Red Squirrels.
The final animal I had hoped to find and photograph was a very special bird that it is high on many photographers wish lists of target subjects, the Capercaillie. Having been aware for several years of a location where a “rogue” male Capercaillie could be found, I had tried and failed on two previous trips to find him. This time I had already tried several times to find him and was starting to think that I was going to be unlucky again. After photographing the Red Squirrels, I decided to try again and finally I found him. For now, I have only posted one image of him.