Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Scottish Highlands: Part One.

The morning's weather in Aberdeen matched our mood, despite being about to spend a few days in the Scottish Highlands, we were badly missing Shetland and the company we'd shared on it, and somehow the pouring rain greeting us back to the mainland felt apt. The drive to Aviemore should have been simple enough, except we opted to ignore pricey diesel around the town in the hope we'd find some en route cheaper... we didn't, and had to find a garage via Ian's SatNav, as the range on the car was rapidly running out!

As we did last year, we aimed for Lochindorb initially, in the hope of perhaps encountering the red grouse on the moors. Unlike last year though, the weather was still gloomy when we arrived, and aside from distant flocks of geese on the loch, not much else was even making a sound. Driving past the wooded area near the hall, we saw a spotted flycatcher perched on a fence, but I failed to get anywhere near it, and was promptly eaten by midges!

Thankfully on the drive back to the main road, we did see a family group of red grouse, and they didn't flee when we parked the car up to take some shots. The light was rather strange, and although it appeared gloomy at the time, the colours of the birds and vegetation were not lost.

After checking into our B&B, we popped into Rothiemurchus Fishery to discuss the time we needed to be there for the following morning, and if the ospreys had been performing for other visitors. Apparently the BBC had been filming there and had had some success, so we left in hope.

A brief drive up to the top of the Cairngorms yielded a view of mist and more rain, and no sign of the ring ouzels apparently around. After seeing some on Clee Hill a while back, I wasn't too bothered, and it's not really Ian's cup of tea anyway. Birds of prey are, so we aimed for a local public nest site of ospreys, near a loch not far from Aviemore, and as before, found the light to be in the wrong place for any decent shots!

With Ian's back playing up, I was left on my own in a graveyard, though I wasn't upset, as I'd already clocked a family of spotted flycatchers dotted about the area. There were 4 fledglings, being systematically fed by the parents. It was just a case of getting close enough, and the headstones provided a little cover to use, for approaching them.

I managed some shots of them alone on the graves, but the shot I really wanted was of them being fed. Luckily, a group of 3 youngsters landed near me on a headstone, and the parent birds flew in to feed them every few minutes, providing me with good chances for that shot.

Eventually, the birds flew off into the woodland nearby, and I turned my attention to the ospreys once more. The light improved a little, but as is often the case, as soon as it did, the osprey took off, and disappeared off along the nearby river!

Waking up early on holiday isn't a good thing, and it's made worse when the alarm clock gets the time wrong (iPhones!!) and you get up an hour earlier than necessary! By 5am though, we were sat in the hide looking out across the surface of the fishery loch, waiting patiently and in hope of the sight of an osprey.

Problem with getting there so early is of course the lack of light, so while you're hoping ospreys come in to fish, you want them to do so as late as possible, to be in the best light available. That morning was very dull, with almost nothing to photograph. After a few hours, an osprey came down, caught a fish and flew off, but it was at an angle I couldn't point my camera at properly, and was flying away from us anyway. And that was that for the morning. Disappointing.

The benefit of getting up early though, is that even after sitting watching for ospreys for about 5 hours before breakfast, you have the whole day left after, to do other things. So we did. Heading north to the coast, we stopped at Spey Bay. I suspect on a calm, sunny day, it would be a fantastic spot to explore, but on a grey windy one it wasn't welcoming. There were plenty of birds, but mostly distant, including terns and mergansers, but the light was terrible and everything grey.

I tried to take some shots of swallows catching flies on the estuary waters, and had a play with the fancy focus modes on my 7D, which do make things a bit easier for such difficult shots, but ultimately even if I did get anything sharp, there were no colours in the image, so I doubt any will be aired.

Instead we aimed for some friends of Ian's, who had moved up to the area, and watched the RAF fly over their place, enjoying a warm cup of tea and some cookies.

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