Sadly there wasn't time to get a newsletter out for December '17 so I thought I'd sneak this in for the start of the new year. This issue is mostly about my Winter Wildlife Course in Scotland. I hope you enjoy it.
As usual, click the images for larger versions. Note that text links will open in a new window.
I have to admit the main thrust of this newsletter will be the photography trip to Scotland. Now while I don't want this to turn into another review of Andy Howard's course (which can be found here), the bulk of content will be around the days spent out photographing wildlife whilst on the course.
So we set off from home on the 600 mile trip up to Inverness, stopping off at Whitby and Edinburgh on the way, in order to break up the journey.
Of course we were heading off on the tail of Storm Caroline, so we packed and prepped the car accordingly, not knowing what to expect when we got to Scotland. Not that the car wasn't already loaded with sufficient gear for the trip, mostly outdoor clothing and camera gear.
Speaking of which, I'd packed 2 lenses, 1 teleconverter, and two camera bodies, not to mention spare memory cards, battery chargers and the like. Oh, and a laptop.
Thankfully Scotland is more prepared for inclement weather than we are here in England, and the major (and not so major) roads were clear and free of snow. I have to say we only really hit snow about an hour out of Edinburgh heading up the A9, and it was like driving through a winter wonderland.
We arrived at the B&B in Inverness safely, and were given a warm welcome by Eileen. This was going to be a great place to stay for the coming week. (Do check out Eileen's B&B if heading up that way - we wanted for nothing while we stayed there and were made to feel very at home.)
As the evening drew in, we met Pat and Heather, the other two ladies who would be on the course with me. I have to say as the week drew on we got on really well and had a great time.
Day one: Squirrels
So, Monday was day one of the course, and today we were going to head out to Andy's red squirrel hide. More snow had fallen overnight, but with the rising temperatures it wouldn't be long before its melting was noticed.
However, pulling back the curtains in our room at the B&B and seeing the fresh snowfall, this thought was far from my mind.
At the squirrel hide we spent a full day photographing a number of the red fluff balls doing various things: feeding, climbing, posing and jumping.
Of course the money shot of the day for me was getting a decent shot of one of the squirrels jumping off of a log to a feeder. Out of all the squirrels to do this jump, the fellow who I got the shot of was the only one to flick his tail as he leapt, in doing so kicking up the snow on the log as he jumped. This made the shot (see below) more dramatic.
Day two: Ptarmigan
Tuesday saw us head to Cairngorm to photograph ptarmigan. This was going to be a challenge, essentially looking for a white bird against the white of the snow.
We took the funicular to the top of the mountain, grabbed a hot drink in the cafe there, kitted up and headed out into the snow.
It was -12 degrees at the top, but thanks to some sensible clothing and long walks, it wasn't long before I was quite warm. Huge thanks to Keela clothing for their excellent smock and jacket!
We spent some time heading further up the mountain looking for the birds, and after an hour and a half, it was while we headed back down that Andy spotted a couple of birds to our left. A bit of a crawl through the snow later (on my hands and knees with a full camera bag on my back; I felt like a tortoise!), we were in position to photograph these wonderful birds.
The thing is with ptarmigans, they can move pretty quickly on snow, so if they start to get away from you, you need to move as quick in order to keep up. Sadly weighted down with camera gear in snow this isn't easy, so you need to get ahead of them to slow their path to higher ground.
After some time we had about six birds to choose from. I got some shots I am very pleased with. See below.
Day 3: Mountain Hares
This is Andy's specialist area, so we knew this was going to be good day.
Arriving at our location, we got out of the car into a bright and sunny landscape. Five minutes after setting off on foot to the hares, this changed... see video below.
Andy soon located a hare for us to photograph, and observing good fieldcraft skills as to not disturb the creature, we started to move towards it slowly, taking photos along the way.
This was great fun, crawling through the snow with cameras, mindful of not upsetting the hare, getting a number of wonderful shots of it.
See the photo alongside this text to see where we started from in terms of distance from the hare, to the photos below as to how close we got to it. It was an amazing experience.
Day 4: Snow buntings and red deer
It was back to Cairngorm to photograph snow buntings in the morning. Thankfully this didn't require any amount of walking as they can be found alongside the car park. To be fair I didn't know much about these birds, but I managed to get at least one decent shot of a snow bunting in the snow, so I was happy.
But the day was all abut the red deer. I'd been looking forward to this since I booked up to be on this course, and the fact that I was now going to have an opportunity to photograph red deer stags in the snow was an amazing prospect.
Andy took us up to one of the estates, where we met a gamekeeper and headed with him further up the hills. Stopping off at a location where the deer are fed each day, they were called and about 20 stags appeared coming over the brow of the hill, down through the pine trees.
Talk about a magical experience, I will never forget this! (Those who know me and the challenge I've had photographing deer this autumn past will know how much this meant to me.)
I lost track of time when we were there, snapping away and being in my element: there were so many stags to choose from. Also it was a great experience just watching them and being so close to them in this environment.
Ultimately I got 'the' shot of a stag on its own, in the snow. This alone was worth the whole trip up here. See that photo below.
Day 5: Crested tits
The last day, and we headed out to photograph crested tits, an unknown for me as we don't see these in England. Part of me wondered what the fuss was about, but that soon faded as not long into the shoot I could see what was so appealing about these little birds.
That crest making them look like they have a mohawk hairstyle is key to making them stand out from other birds their size.
The location coupled with Andy's tuition (and 600mm lens!) meant I took some pretty damn fine shots which can be seen below. Oh, and I had a new respect for these little birds and could now see what all the fuss was about.
With day five done, the course was over, and with a heavy heart (and very full memory cards) we left Scotland the day after, looking forward to return sometime in summer 2018.
A collection of shots from these few days can be found in this gallery. Do take a look.
Stuff coming up in 2018
This new year should be quite exciting as I'm looking to run some beginner courses for people new to the photography world. I am currently planning and coming up with content for some of these courses so watch this space and/or my Twitter feed for more information.
More stuff for sale
I'm looking at getting a range of greetings cards produced that will be sold though this website.
I'm looking to progress my pet photography. This will be 'candid' and not studio based.
That's it for now. Thanks for reading and a happy new year to you all.