Highland Diary

Islay Geese

A photography trip to the Isle of Islay at this time of year has become almost an annual pilgrimage. With a good weather forecast for the week, we booked the ferry. Last year we were unable to get over until the second week in April by which time many of the geese were  leaving. We daily observed skeins heading north and the flocks feeding in the fields were greatly reduced by the end of our week. This year at the end of February there were plenty of geese to be seen. Over the years the geese have become much more wary and difficult to photograph from a vehicle. Undoubtedly this is as a result...

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Celtic Rainforest Lichens

The 'Celtic Rainforest' is a name given to a rare temperate woodland habitat  restricted to the high rainfall areas that fringe the seaboard of Western Europe. Here in the north-west Highlands the growth of epiphytic lichens, bryophytes and ferns cover the trunks and branches of most trees growing within the semi-natural oak and hazel woodlands. The quiet days of winter are a good time to focus on lichens that are often at their most colourful in the damp and humid conditions.

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Wildlife Camera Trapping

Wildlife Camera Trapping

  During the course of the last couple of years I have been updating and refining my remote camera photography technique. There are an increasing number of triggering systems on the market. It is now quite feasible to leave a camera set up for weeks on end for it to be triggered into life day or night by anything breaking the beam. For myself I have stuck with Cognysis, an American firm, making robust and reliable triggering systems. Their Range IR infrared triggering system has been augmented by the next generation the Sabre, a pocket sized trigger which uses a LIDAR (light radar) sensor...

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Getting close to Golden Eagles

  Getting close enough to reliably get pictures of wild Golden Eagles is something that requires more than a little effort on the part of the photographer. Chance encounters out on the open hill are unpredictable and usually distant. More often than not you end up with a view of a bird against the sky gaining height and soaring out of sight over the top of the nearest hill. Last autumn I was approached by another wildlife photographer who was working on a project photographing Golden Eagles. I agreed to assist him in his quest. I took him to see a number of eyries where I had photographed...

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Limestone Country

At the end of May we made a trip over the border into England to see some of the rare plants that are to be found on the mountain limestone in Upper Teesedale and further south to Silverdale on the north Lancashire coast. The wind that constantly sweeps over the northern Pennines made macro work something of a challenge. However the plants themselves did not disappoint. Spring Gentians were the stars. They positively glowed in the short cropped turf.  A black bumblebee feeding on Mountain Pansy caused a bit of head scratching. With the books out at home it keyed out as a rare black form of the Heath...

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Photographing Grebes in Spring

I have always had a soft spot for grebes, I have early memories as a boy on summer evenings punting around an ornamental lake in Derbyshire helping my father erect photographic hides beside the nests of Great-crested and Little Grebes. Back then other grebe species were considered rarities and only ever occurred in the midlands of England in their rather dowdy winter plumage. It is at this time of year in their summer plumage that grebes really shine. Here in the Highlands Little Grebes appear to be much more numerous and widespread than when I moved north in the late 1960’s. Slavonian Grebes,...

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Late Season Wanderings

    Late season wanderings, over the past month or so my photography has had a rather scattergun approach. Following on the heels of the heavy thrush migration that came through the Highlands in October, 2016 has proved to be a ‘Waxwing year’. Flocks numbering hundreds of birds have arrived in the north and east of Scotland. Despite the waxings relatively confiding nature I find it frustratingly difficult to get decent pictures of the feeding birds. As is their way the birds descend on mass to gorge on berries for a very brief time before returning to the uppermost branches...

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Autumn Harvest

  Autumn Harvest, despite a relatively late spring and a sunless summer there has been a bumper Rowan berry crop. After a series of poor berry years, this autumn throughout the Highlands the Rowans were weighed down with bright red fruit. This year the autumn thrush migration was not going to pass us by as it had done for the last couple of years. Towards the middle of the month small flocks of migrating Redwings with a few Blackbirds in tow appeared. A week later the Fieldfares arrived in force aided by the easterly winds that persisted in the UK for most of October. Flocks of up to a thousand...

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The last of the summer

  The last of the summer - Small flocks of wading birds returning to our shores are a sure sign that summer is almost gone. After what seems a like an all too brief sojourn in the far north by late July many waders have bred and are already making their way south. A few adults return still with the vestiges of their often showy breeding plumage but more often it is the young of the year making their first journey south that we see along our northern shores. Unable to build up such large fat reserves as the adults they have more need to stop off to feed on the journey south. Many have...

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Humpback Whale feeding on the Aberdeen-shire coast

Humpback Whale feeding on the Aberdeen-shire coast - Last weekend I had an interesting encounter with the Aberdeenshire Humpback Whale feeding on sprats below Hackley Head on the Sands of Forvie National Nature Reserve. Over the course of  three and a half hours that I was able to watch the whale it became apparent that it had a definite feeding strategy. It would come close inshore below the cliffs and spend time cruising around stirring up  the sand and sediment before setting off out to sea in a wide arc of 500 metres or so. Presumably this was to drive the fish shoals inshore to its previously...

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