"Next time we'll fly up" was what (Wildlife) Kate and I said to Andy and Lyndsey Howard as we bid farewell to them both, and considered the eight hour drive back to the Midlands after a few days spent in and around Inverness.
But what a wonderful break we had enjoyed, packed with wildlife, fun and photography of course, all set against the Scottish Highlands.
Followers of this blog will have picked up on my love of Scotland and its wildlife, and with this being the third trip north of the border of the year, it's becoming a bit of an obsession, and every time I have to leave, I find myself searching for legitimate reasons for returning. In February this year, I had returned yet again without any pictures of ptarmigan, though thanks to Andy, I had a day's worth of memories (and images) of mountain hares.
So this trip I was hoping we could get up a mountain to see the ptarmigan, though the initial forecast didn't look promising. We'd have to wait and see.
To make the most of the few days we could spare up there, we travelled up on a Tuesday evening, kipped over at a Travelodge and then met up with Andy mid-morning. Not wishing to waste any time, we followed him to a site in some woods in the Highlands where he has established a small feeding station, attracting crested tits. Amusingly, as we walked through the woods to the site, crested tits called out from the trees nearby, as if they were following him! Perhaps he's the Pied Piper Of Cresties?
Then it was back to Andy and Lyndsey's lovely house for dinner and a good old natter. Lyndsey sadly had to work during the week, but we met her that evening, and she would be free for the weekend at least. Andy was keen for us to see some of the footage of badgers they had captured, including some superb action during the day. Needless to say, this whet Kate's appetite and before we set off the next day, we wandered down to the area to rig up another Bushnell camera trap.
With dangerously strong winds forecast for the mountains, Andy suggested we head to the lower slopes in search of mountain hares. In February we had enjoyed amazingly close views of some accommodating mountain hares as they went about their business in the snow. This time, the hares would be in different colours, with it being Autumn, and the milder weather meant we'd have no snow this time. On the walk up, Kate spotted a dipper on one of the streams, which was hopping around between the rocks, finding plenty to eat. Pausing to scan the area, both Kate and Andy quickly located hares dotted around the area, making me question my eyesight, as I failed to see any!
Literally moments after taking in the amazing views, both Andy and Neil were pointing out small, moving white blobs in the distance. Ptarmigan! Dumping some of the gear, scrambling up and over a slope, approaching slowly and deliberately, soon I was lying in range of some shots of this special game bird.
Despite being armed with 500mm lenses, both Andy and Neil set about capturing superb images of it... so of course I had to try too, with some success.
The last day was supposed to be spent driving home, but we'd already decided to try for the cresties one last time. Before heading there, Kate and Andy collected the Bushnell cameras from the badgers and squirrel sites. A whoop of delight from them both caught my attention as I was making a coffee. At the squirrel site, during a night clip was a pine marten!! Fantastic.