As well as taking photographs of wildlife, an element of my new career as a professional wildlife photographer is to use my experience, knowledge and fieldcraft to help other photographers to get great images of species around the UK. As such, I am now offering workshops and tours around the UK either alone or with my friend and fellow professional photographer, Andy Howard.
At this time of year wildlife photographers generally look north, and are hoping to photograph some of the creatures that call the Scottish Highlands, home. The main targets are mountain hares, ptarmigan, crested tits and red squirrels, with perhaps red deer and red grouse thrown in for good measure.
After many visits to the Highlands, I am well versed with where to locate all of the above, and by working in conjunction with Andy, I have access to the sites he has set up specifically for some species.
However, I can't just turn up one day and expect to take people out the next. I have to put in some preparation, which is why I travelled up to the Scottish Highlands early in January, to remind myself of the locations, the effort involved to reach some of them, the equipment needed to ensure I can take clients along with me and also to help Andy prepare some of the more specific sites so they were ready for the first clients of the winter season.
First of all we headed up to see the mountain hares, and without any snow on the ground, the white blobs around the hills were pretty easy to spot. I still needed binoculars as some of the rocks there are also white, and like the hares, don't move.
On the way back Andy bumped into a couple (Carol and Tony Dilger) he knew, who kindly invited us into their warm mobile home for a cuppa, choccie biscuits and a good natter - always welcome after a cold day on the hills. It was a lovely end to a productive day - many thanks for your hospitality!
The next couple of days were spent at the new red squirrel site, sorting out some jobs on the wooden hide Andy has installed, and then later, ensuring the feeders at the crestie site were topped up, and that the stars were still visiting.
By midweek, Andy had to take a client out, so I had the day to myself, and with the forecast of stormy conditions, I drove east to Burghead harbour in hope of seeing some winter sea ducks, that were sheltering in the harbour. I was rather surprised when I parked up on the harbour, to find the seas so stormy that the waves were crashing over the wall and the water spraying halfway down the parking area. With a risk of pebbles in the water, I retreated to a safer spot, and headed round to the area above the harbour to take some shots of the dramatic seas.
By morning there was a decent covering and we shot over to the red squirrel site, with the aim of getting some portrait images.
More snow fell overnight, and we decided to give the squirrels another go, as we all have many images of hares in the snow already, and while I have quite a few images of red squirrels in the snow too, neither Andy nor Kate did.
As we climbed out of Andy's car, the sun was already starting to sink and for some daft reason, I chose to only take my 500mm lens to the site. Cue a glorious, vibrant sunset and no lens, other than my iPhone to capture it with. Muppet.
The trees laden with snow all looked so magical, so beautiful. And with blue skies overhead and sunshine, it was a winter wonderland.
The week had flown by, but I had taken as much from it as I could, and as I bid farewell to Andy, Lyndsey and Kate (who was flying back later that day), I was already starting to look forward to the trip in February, when I would be taking clients out to see the same wildlife delights I had enjoyed all week.
Next stop, Mull. Well, it'd be a shame to drive back and not pop over...