Since turning pro, each winter now means a trip north of the border to Scotland, to take paying clients out to see some of the wonderful array of wildlife to be seen there. And each year, I seem to be spending longer up there, which is great as it means I meet new clients, and also any excuse to spend more time in Scotland, especially the Highlands isn't a bad thing.
Unlike the previous winter, there was a lot of snow around this time. Too much in some cases, and meant I had to abandon plans to take clients to see the ptarmigan. On the days when the road to the area was open, the snow was simply too deep to walk through, and often the wind at the summit was too dangerous to risk the client's safety. And from experience, I also know that the ptarmigan are very flighty in windy weather, so aren't approachable anyway. Hence my guiding this winter was with the mountain hares, red squirrels, crested tits and red grouse.
In addition to the guided workshops, I dragged myself up the hills to photograph the hares by myself, and on one day it was probably a bad idea. With howling winds, snow blowing around and a temperature of minus 17C, it was difficult to stand up on the exposed summit, and the cold made my face and hands go numb in seconds. Finding white hares against the snow is hard enough in good conditions, but these were diabolical. I eventually settled on the side of a hill that offered some shelter from the gales, and where most of the hares had relocated to. But even when I was relatively close to a hare, it was obvious to me that I wasn't going to get anything new from the experience, apart from frostbite. It's days like these that make you respect how hardy these creatures are. It was absolutely perishing up there.
Thankfully, one afternoon, the breeze dropped and the sun lit up the area at the back of the reflection pool beautifully, and my luck was in when one of the squirrels paid a visit.
When I first visited the Highlands several years ago, one of the sites I would always visit was Burghead harbour, as it was a fabulous place to see winter wildfowl. Eiders and long-tailed ducks, plus scoters occasionally. Sadly I fear the harbours all along that coast have been dredged, as these wonderful ducks no longer seem to be fishing in the harbours, and only catch food out on the open water.
With each visit, I constantly say that I must take advantage of the birds that visit the garden where I stay (Andy and Lyndsey Howard's house), so this time I did just that. Parking the car just outside their gates, I moved some of the feeders around and captured images of the less common birds visiting. I was particularly happy to see tree sparrows, which are a bird I never see at home in my garden.
As mentioned at the start, I will be running more winter wildlife workshops in the Scottish Highlands throughout next February if anyone would like to come along. Prices and details are listed on my website as usual.
Roll on spring now, and a bit of warmth...