Trying not to become a creature of habit, I wanted to see something different to what I normally photograph at this time of year, so returned to the Scottish Highlands for a week in early May. Unlike in Winter, I would be targeting species that aren't around during the colder months, though should I encounter anything I normally see, I certainly wouldn't refuse a shot.
Setting off early on a Monday morning, I avoided the rush-hour traffic and decided to take a brief detour from the usual route, to explore Langholm Moor, an area where in recent years projects involving the interaction of hen harriers and red grouse have been conducted to understand what might be a solution to the issue of harriers preying upon the grouse. Obviously I was after the hen harriers, and despite arriving in torrential rain, the clouds lifted and I saw at least two males hunting over the moors. Too distant for photos sadly. The area reminded me of World's End in North Wales, which is a tad closer to home for me!
Continuing my drive up north, I aimed for some more moors, and watched the red grouse (mainly males) pecking at the heather. I assume most of the females are now on eggs. The loch was pretty choppy so I couldn't see any divers on it. It was pretty quiet, so I cut across to the A9 again, and went for a look down Findhorn Valley. It's an area where I have often seen birds of prey, and indeed this time, I spotted a few buzzards around, plus a distant red kite. But just as the skies had finally cleared, the breeze dropped down to a more pleasant speed, I saw something soaring up over the ridge up the slopes from me. A golden eagle.
The following morning was blustery, though the sun was still shining. A trip to RSPB Ruthven provided views of the Slavonian grebes, but just as one started to edge closer to me, a greylag goose dropped in, landed between the grebe and me, and sat there honking until the grebe had gone away again. Stupid goose. I was not happy. Andy was free from lunch, so I returned to Inverness to meet up and we headed out for the afternoon together, to see a few sites he'd recommended.
RSPB Tollie red kites feeding station was first on the agenda, where we watched just a handful of kites come down for the food put out. Unlike Gigrin, the kites here have to be quick to get the food, laid out on a table, or the local gulls get in there first and steal it!
The dolphins lie in wait for the salmon, as they come into the shallows of the firth, and set a trap effectively, so the fish virtually swim into them. You do get to see the dolphins occasionally accelerate to catch some, and it's quite dramatic as they make the surface froth with their speed and power. Once caught, the fish need to be in a precise angle to be swallowed, so you do see them being spat out and eaten again.
We spent the middle of the week visiting the various sites at varying times. The dolphins were breaching more on one morning visit, but the light was behind them and the wind so strong, it was an effort to stand up, let alone keep the lens steadily pointing at the same spot on the churning sea. Still, I got a lucky break when one breached and I was alert enough to get a shot.
No need, as my phone started buzzing again. Andy was on the line and they'd found a group of six dotterel on the top. Time to get my legs working again and get my sorry excuse of a body up the mountain. To be fair, the rest had worked and I was soon up top, and within moments of getting there, clocked the dotterel. Initially, they were wary of us, so we sat still and had a bite to eat. Then the dotterel became intrigued by us, and approached. Fantastic.
The weekend had arrived and this meant two became three, with Lyndsey joining us on our days out. Visiting the dolphins yielded a close sighting of a guillemot fishing in the shallows.