All posts in Highland Diary


Troup Head Gannets

The high cliffs of Troup Head on the north coast of Aberdeenshire provide a spectacular setting to photograph Scotland’s largest mainland gannet colony. There are also thousands of kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills, along with other species, including puffins breeding on the high sea cliffs. Most of the auks and Kittiwakes are well out of range for close-ups even with a long lens. The gannets however are much more accessible. Since first visiting Troup Head for the first time more than ten years ago gannet numbers have increased greatly. In places birds are now nesting much closer to the top of the cliffs.

Since our visit during the third week of May an outbreak of a new virulent strain avian influenza has been identified and is taking a heavy toll in seabird colonies throughout Scotland. Gannets and Great Skuas are species that are being particularly hard hit. Troup Head is among the sites where the disease has been identified. Thinking back we did see a dead gannet among the breeding birds but did think too much of it at the time. Given their very long breeding season and the close proximity of nesting birds long term outlook for Scotland’s Gannets could be devastating.

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Loch Lochy Birdlife

Living close by the shore of Loch Lochy we are able to keep a close eye on the comings and goings of the birdlife the bay below the house. During spells of dry weather the water level of the loch drops exposing an extensive area of sand and gravel at the mouth of a burn. Throughout the day a variety of waterfowl and shorebirds stop off to feed and rest. Some are migrants stopping off briefly on their passage north up the Great Glen. Common sandpipers nest fairly close by but most of the others breed further away from the loch shore. Greenshanks commute in from their breeding territory from 10km or more away up in the hills. For ten days or so in early May a pair were coming to feed around the mouth of the burn. Photographing them was relatively easy as the quickly became tolerant of our presence in the garden and other human traffic around the bay.


Autumn Moths

Unlike most insects a few species of moths are active during the colder months of autumn and early winter. Even up here in the Highlands of Scotland some like the Mottled Umber fly through into the early spring of the following year. Others such as the December moth and the Autumnals which breed in late autumn are on the wing for a much shorter period. As a group the Autumnals are difficult to identify without a microscopic examination of their genitalia. The Autumnal moth pictured, based on visual markings, is probably a November moth. For a number of years when photographing fairly static macro subjects such as moths and lower plants I have used a stacked image technique blending a stack of twenty or so images to produce a final image that is sharp focus throughout. In the past getting a stack using a focus slide was a fairly laborious process. On Canon’s latest mirrorless cameras the stacking process is largely automated producing a stack of anything up to one hundred images with a single press of the shutter. In practice a stack of fifteen to twenty images is plenty to get moths fully in focus.

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Pine Marten photography

For over thirty years pine martens have been regular visitors to our garden. In all that time they have remained stubbornly nocturnal only appearing irregularly in daylight in high summer, usually to raid the squirrel feeders. The current marten clan is made up of two males, brothers that came as kits in 2018, and two females, one of which may be a sibling of the two brothers. Both the females have very similar unmarked bibs making them difficult to tell apart. One female has two kits, probably males and the other a single kit, possibly a female. Over the years I have used many different photographic setups. In an effort to get pictures of the martens climbing I recently baited a site next to the squirrel feeders low in the crown an oak. By monitoring the tree with trail camera it was possible to work out the routes through the branches that the martens were regularly taking. These days I tend to use a camera trap to get my marten pictures. I have a lidar beam trigger that can be set to fire with pinpoint accuracy taking a lot of the guesswork out of getting the animal in frame and in sharp focus. The trigger can be set to catch action that would be hard to anticipate were one sitting out at night in semi-darkness with a camera waiting for martens that might turn up at anytime.

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Image copyright David Whitaker Highland Wildlife Photography