Highland Diary

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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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

    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 of a nearby tree for the next...

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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 strong...

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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 probably never encountered...

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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 prepared killing zone. In the murk close against...

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Tiree in June

I had visited Tiree a couple of times before on day trips on the ferry from Oban and  had quickly found that a few hours stop off on the island was just not enough time to get pictures of the Red-shanked Carder Bumblebee that I wanted. In Scotland its distribution is restricted to Tiree and the neighbouring Isle of Coll. Otherwise it is only found on the South Wales coast and in the southern counties of England where it is in decline. This year we decided to rent a cottage on the island. Bumblebees aside the island’s birds did not disappoint. What was lacking in the range of species present...

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Revisiting the past

    Since the advent of digital photography I suppose like many other wildlife photographers I am always looking to improve upon pictures shot in the past on film. The advantages that modern equipment offers both in quality and reach means that pretty much anything shot digitally today is going to be far superior to previous efforts on film. Rather oddly this past month the opportunities arose to photograph a number of birds in Scotland that I last encountered on a trip to Eastern Europe in 1975. Red-backed Shrike is now all but lost as a breeding species in the UK however...

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Blackcock Lek

Photographing Black Grouse on their nuptial display lek is something that requires a bit of extra effort and discomfort on the part of the photographer. The males arrive on the lek well before dawn so there is always a risk of disturbing the birds if you mistime your appearance at the hide in the early hours. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that it’s probably best to go in to the hide the night before and sleep there.  Last month under a full moon the noisy neighbours kicked off at 3.30 am a full hour and an half earlier than I would normally have expected any birds on the lek....

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