Britain it is not often perceived as a picturesque environment but my recent visit to the Cairngorms, Scotland have shown me it is a vast wilderness budding in wildlife and an amazing opportunity for photographers and nature enthusiasts. An environment so diverse is a true setting for wildlife photographers to thrive. The combination ofinspiring landscapes, extraordinary wildlife and exceptional photographers reallymade this trip for me not only professionally but personally. As an aspiring Wildlife Photographer this trip to Scotland was not only an insight to my dream job but an opportunity to learn new things and see species many would only hope to see in their lifetime. Unlike the rest of the group i knew what to expect from the traditional highland weather but the opportunity to capture the wildlife in the snow was such a fresh take on what we do, and throughout the freezing crawls through the drifts I could not imagine one of us who would not do it all again.
I jeopardised my black grouse shoot by changing my slots twice from active lecs to tumble weeds in the snow, but in turn I changed these and got my favourite photographs of the mountain hare and ptarmigen. The week for me consisted on getting to get up close and personal with a wide range of wildlife I have never seen before especially the Capercallie ”Cornelious” which I can safely say the whole group can agree with. The Scottish native pinewoods are a rare and vulnerable habitat home to the endangered Capercallie Tetrao urogallus, a huge woodland grouse is found the majority of the time feeding on the ground. Males are notorious for there defensive behaviour over territory which is how my group came to find this beautiful bird. Walking through the woodlands for wildlife we heard the distinctive call and then out of no where a turkey size blur flew down towards us showing territorial behaviour but came to enjoy the company following around me in particular and allowing itself to be photographed. To ensure not to jeopardise the natural behaviour of the bird we did not stay for long but it is an experience I will never forget.
My favourite part of the whole trip was working for my images even harder then usual, bitter weather, waiting, loosing the feeling in my hands but coming home and having images I am proud of, that and the amount of laughs I have had throughout the week with new and old friends getting to know each other a lot better through the enjoyment of a cramped mini bus. Not always in our field does waiting patiently in the cold pay off such as Charlotte and I’s experience with the red squirrel who we waited for for three hours and never returned, but this trip was not just about the images we got but the experience of being a wildlife photographer, enjoying freezing nights in the hide, laughing at each other falling in the snow, being so annoyed that nothing turned up but still smiling and getting every single one of us wanting to go again.
The Mountain hare Lepus timidus is smaller and a more compact shape then brown hares but vary geographically due to habitat and altitude confined in Scotland. Their coat changes from brown to white during october to January to become inconspicuous in winterwhich I captured as they faced the treacherous terrain, wading in snow and sheltering under the heather. Photographing these hares were the highlight of the trip, crawling through the snow, stalking behind the snow drifts and getting within touching distance of a hare made my images even more meaningful to me and a tick off my bucket list. The body structure helps these mammals flourish here, with long feet and larger hind legs each step is propelled forwards for a faster speed against predators and a soft surface run over the snowy landscape.
During the summer months the Ptarmigan Lagopus mutus plumage is grey, brown and black with white bellies and wings and in winterturns totally white except tail and eyepatch to disguise itself as it breeds in the highest areas of scotland on the arctic like landscape. Just off the summit of Ben Rhinnes we came across a mating pair, unlike the mountain hare this high altitude does not provide heather and shelter but the thick snow sheet covering the mountain is ideal with camouflage, when apart the female would wait for her partner to return or call out for him during intense snow drifts.
Distinctive russet red fur and tufted ears the Red squirrel Sciurus vulgaris is native to Britain and distributed widely but the future isuncertain due to the introduction of the American grey squirrel as it expands its range. These allusive animals spend the majority of there time in tree canopies building large nests called dreys often in forks of trees, often seen solitary but expand there range when looking for mates and are known to share dreys to keep warm during the cold winter months. During my trip I wanted to seize the opportunity to capture a wild portrait of these adorable creatures as they perch on the trees, a not so promising start with only one sighting perched around a bird feeder it was not the natural scene I had hoped for so separating from the group I waited two extra hours and managed to nab this shot as he poked his head round a tree to look for signs of danger before scampering off in search of more food.
A main part of my trip included attempting to capture the lekking display of a Black grouse Tetrao tetrix as they form in a traditional site with there lyre shaped tail fanned out and raised showing there white under tail feathers. Identified through there red wattle over each eye the males like most birds have a more vibrant plumage to attract the females. I slept in a hide overnight during a cold blizzard but no lek happened the following morning. Many species across Scotland are in a decline due to the loss of the heather moorland including the Black and Red grouse Lagopus lagopus often recognised from traditional Scottish Whiskey bottles. Its plump body and short tail covered in reddish brown feathers except the pale surrounding its feet travel little in there lives unless in search of a mate. These scarce birds were particularly hard to find, known for living in vast amounts of heather we found a few individuals when driving around the edges of heather meadows.
Scotland is in my blood and soul so it really felt like home trudging through the white covered highlands in search of wildlife, it gave me a taster of what wildlife photography entails and safe to say I’m hooked even deeper then i was before. My images reflect my passion for wildlife and I cannot wait to be back to improve on all my images and this time capture the famous Black Grouse.