Sunday 15 May 2022

April Workshops, Scares And A Bat

April saw the workshop season for me really take hold, with much of the month out with clients searching for the wildlife encounters they'd dreamed of. Of course, this isn't a Disney film, so reality deals a different hand each day, but the majority of days out saw rewards for my punters.

Otters are very much the favoured subject for workshops and after the struggles in March, this month was very much back to normal, and we enjoyed some cracking encounters.

What was very refreshing for me though, as a birds of prey fanboy, was the amount of workshops booked to look for them. After posting my images of the hen harriers skydancing and hunting in March, a new client contacted me asking if he could make a late booking to try to see them, as he'd traveled around the UK hoping for a decent image of a male hen harrier, but had sadly had no success.

He was in luck, and was left speechless after the first hour of the workshop, when we had a male quartering a meadow in front of us for nearly 45 minutes! Day two of his workshop saw him nail the shot of his dreams and left him lost for words again. We also enjoyed fantastic views of an otter later, and a sighting of a great northern diver whet his appetite for another workshop later in the month.

I'm lucky in this business to have some good friends who share the same obsession and career, and one of them, Andy Marshall, contacted me asking for my help. He'd promised a young lad that he'd run a workshop on Mull to show him the wildlife there, but a bout of illness was preventing Andy from traveling to Mull. Could I squeeze in a workshop to help out? They were in luck, and I had a day available during the week that the family were here.

If a certain Danish lager company did workshops, this would certainly be up there. We started the day seeing a short-eared owl, and then continued it with a sensational otter encounter, and proceeded to see both species of eagles plus hen harriers. It was a golden day, and the smile on the young client's face (and his mum's) was priceless!

At one point, after we'd taken some decent images of the otter we were tracking, I suggested we get well ahead and lie beside the shore. The wind was favourable and I hoped we'd get a close encounter. As it was so close, I asked his mum to hold back, and just the two of us lay down, with him right on the water's edge.

Luck was on our side and the otter approached, through the seaweed where we could get shots, before swimming right past us, almost at touching distance. I whispered to him to simply put the camera down slightly, and just watch the otter go by, which he did, barely able to control his grin. And unbeknown to us, his mum videoed the encounter on her phone. Fantastic.

Around the time of my birthday saw Kate arrive for a week. She's visited us before and loves it here. That week saw a return to Iona for me, which was a first for her and understandably she thought it was just stunning. Another sunny day spent sitting on or strolling round the beaches of the small island.

My birthday itself was rather eventful. Kate enjoys an early morning jog with her dog, Wren. I was still in bed when my phone began to buzz. It was Kate and she was really panicking. Wren had possibly been bitten by an adder and had taken a bad turn. Within minutes I'd driven down to collect them, before contacting the local vet and hurtled them over the hills to have Wren checked out. Not a bite, in fact nothing wrong with her at all, from what they could tell, thankfully.

Aside from unusual birthday "treats", we enjoyed a brilliant encounter with an otter. It was actually hilarious at one point, as the otter was hunting around a large boulder on the shore, and we couldn't see it at times. I kept glancing at Kate to see if she had a view, and spotted the otter sitting on a rock behind her, munching on a small crab, and she'd not realised it. I almost burst out laughing.

After that, we crept round the shore, Kate sitting half in a rockpool and me lying right on the water's edge, and enjoyed a cracking few moments as the otter popped up through the seaweed and munched on some prey.

Probably the most unusual moment came when we were driving back home one day, early evening and spotted a bat flying in the daylight. It turned out to be a Daubenton's bat, and because we had our "smaller" lenses on, we could grab some shots as it flew around and attempted to perch on trees and walls.

Thankfully the combination of the R5 and 100-500mm lens worked well and I managed some flight shots.

I always find these weeks when friends visit seem to fly by so quickly, and this was the case with Kate. She left with some fantastic images of some of the wildlife, such as the great northern divers and even some of the garden birds, like the vibrant siskins that are visiting the feeders at the moment.

The end of the month saw a couple of challenging workshops with otters, where we struggled to see anything on one day, frustratingly. A reminder that as good as Mull is, it's not a zoo, and the wildlife doesn't always put on a show.

It also saw an unusual sighting of ospreys here in the north of the island, and I managed not only to see the pair diving and catching a fish, but also seeing off a passing white-tailed eagle!

After one of the disappointing workshops, as one client was staying on the island for a while, I offered him another chance, just to come out with me for a day (on a rare day off) to see if we could break his curse with seeing otters. Initially we targeted great northern divers, and with flat, calm water on one of the lochs, the images were stunning.

Then his curse was lifted, we encountered an otter, enjoyed some fantastic views and he got the shots he'd hoped for.

Like the end of April, May promised to be very busy for workshops, which is a theme right through to late summer. And I'm very glad of that too, after the last couple of years.