Highland Diary

Pine Marten photography

For over thirty years pine martens have been regular visitors to our garden. For 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...

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Photographing River Minnows

Late spring and early summer is the breeding season for the  Common or River Minnow (Phoxinus phoxinus). At this time shoals of minnows move into shallow water to spawn. When in breeding condition male minnows change considerably in appearance, they darken in colour, the base of their fins and throats become red, tubercles form on the top of their heads and the flanks of the dominant males flash with iridescent green and gold coloured scales. A photographic opportunity presented itself when a shoal of a thousand or more fish gathered over a gravel bed in the local burn. Unable to justify underwater...

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Photographing Tawny Owls

  For a number of years a pair of Tawny Owls have bred in a nest box situated in a large oak tree close to the garden fence. This year with restrictions on travel due to the coronavirus pandemic lockdown photographing the owls seemed like an ideal project. For a couple of weeks I monitored the site with a trail camera until I was sure that the birds were well established and feeding young. I then set up a trigger with the beam aimed vertically just less than a metre in front the box on the flight path of the birds. As the tree was growing on quite a steep bank I was able to place...

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Nature’s Half Acre

Nearly seventy years ago my parents took me to the cinema to see three early colour wildlife films made by the Walt Disney studio. Two of them I can't remember a thing about but the other was a short film entitled 'Nature's Half Acre'. It told the story of the wildlife inhabiting half an acre of scrubby woodland somewhere in the Eastern United States. The coronavirus pandemic has placed restrictions on all our movements. Right now access to half an acre of nature is something to cherish. Living where I do in the sparsely populated Scottish Highlands I consider myself fortunate have to access a slightly...

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Sea Eagles and Otters

The dark days of winter in the Western Highlands can be an unproductive time for a wildlife photographer. After a couple of months of extremely dull and wet weather it was a pleasant change to be able to head out for a couple of days to enjoy the return of the sun. Even though my local west coast sea lochs lack the numbers of birds one finds further east around the Moray Firth there are still photographic opportunities to be encountered. At this time of year a trip along the shoreline regularly produces good sightings of both Eurasian Otters and Sea Eagles. Otters, particularly the females with...

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A Return to Gibraltar Point

August can be a quiet time for wildlife photography in the Highlands. With the breeding season over many birds are already on their way south and many insects and plants have had their day. With the weather forecast predicting a succession of Atlantic fronts moving through the north of Scotland for much of August we decided to head south to find better weather. The East of England looked to be a good bet for waders on early passage migration. The prospect of catching up with some Spoonbills was perhaps the main attraction. Following a number of sporadic breeding attempts in the 1990's in 2010 four...

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Tree Bumblebees and Saxon Wasps, new colonists in the Highlands

Tree bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum Late one afternoon in early July I wandered out of the house for some exercise. As I made my way up the road I casually observed the insects gathering nectar and pollen from the brambles  growing along the roadside.  I noted several butterfly species along with half a dozen species of bumble and cuckoo bees. My attention was drawn to a very distinctive bumblebee with a bright orange thorax and white tipped black abdomen which I recognised as a Tree bumblebee, a new species to the Highlands. Tree bumblebees have recently extended their range across Europe...

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Returning to Orkney

It was interesting to see how much had changed since we last visited the Orkney Isles in 2005. The roads are certainly a lot busier now, particularly around the neolithic sites of Skara Brae and Brodgar. Bird numbers too have changed. I don't recall seeing any feral Greylag geese during our last visit. Now there must be thousands resident, with many of the pairs having large broods of goslings in tow. The number of breeding waders compared to those on the Scottish mainland appear to be holding up well, particularly so the Curlews and Redshank in the southern isles. Unfortunately the same cannot...

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Around Morecambe Bay

    The area around Morecambe Bay in North-west England offers a range of photo opportunities that are a complete contrast to habitats and species that we experience here in the Highlands. As at many other wetland reserves in England the RSPB's Leighton Moss enables close encounters with species such as Avocet, Bittern and Marsh Harrier. When I started out as a photographer nearly fifty years ago all were so rare here in the UK that you had to travel abroad to stand a chance of photographing them. The reserve gets very busy during the day but early in the morning and late in the evening...

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April 2019

My photographic efforts over the past month have produced a rather eclectic set of images. I started off by heading up to Wester Ross to see an American duck, a Blue-winged Teal that had taken up residence on a small lochan. As with many species that have come from the other side of the Atlantic it was much more confiding than European birds of a similar ilk. I arrived early hoping to get some pictures before the inevitable arrival of hoards of birders that the news of such a rarity attracts these days. I had an hour and a half parked up on the side of the lochan using my vehicle as a hide. The duck...

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