Tuesday 18 June 2024

First Winter In The Scottish Highlands

It's almost the end of June already, and I've not even posted about the winter adventures in the Highlands yet. I guess being busy running Mull-based workshops does somewhat limit what I can post on here.

The winter, my first as a resident of the Scottish Highlands, was (from a wildlife perspective) enjoyable. Admittedly, work was slow because a lot of my potential clients still thought I was based on Mull, so the fact that I'm not, is slowly filtering through the channels to folk.

But I did run a few winter workshops, and the wildlife was in the main, wonderful.

The crested tits were definitely the stars of the show, with at least six individuals visiting the feeders we (Andy Howard and I) kept stocked over the winter months. They were visiting from October right through to the end of March, which was great for workshops but also for me, to get a fix of seeing and photographing them. I love these little birds.


The mountain hares were also pretty good, which is promising after years of their numbers dwindling to almost none. 


The weather up there was challenging at times, with several wild storms rolling through.

The main issue I had over the winter was my back. I pulled something in it, when reaching across the back seats of the car to pull at a shopping bag that had snagged on a seatbelt socket, and then made the problem a whole lot worse when I slipped on ice, and landed on my backside coming down from the crested tits site in the snow.

For a week or so I was relying on ibuprofen to be able to stand up, so you can imagine how much fun that was when trying to run workshops on the sides of hills in foul weather.

Thankfully a local chiropractor was able to twist and crack me back into shape over a few appointments, and touch wood, things seem to be ok at the moment.

A subject that didn't yield any workshops this past winter was red deer. It's a shame because I know of a few sites here in the Highlands where the scenery is jaw-dropping without a deer in the frame, so has the potential for some amazing images when they do oblige. I visited one of the locations just for my own enjoyment.

The red squirrel site is still developing, and should be good for heather later in the year. We think that our endeavours to attract pine martens to visiting the woods actually affected our sessions with the squirrels, as they'd taken advantage of some of the food we'd put out for the martens, and cached it. Hence they weren't as busy around the site as normal. Lesson learnt! 


Grouse numbers seemed to fluctuate on the moors. Some days they seemed to be everywhere; other days it was a struggle to find any. 


I didn't manage to get over to see the snow buntings this winter, but I did spend a few days with friends in a woodland retreat, where we were treated by the local badgers that visited most evenings. The weather could have been kinder for them, but they were wonderful to watch each evening.

A subject that did catch my eye was long-tailed ducks. There must have been thousands of them around the coasts here, with even one setting up shop in the university ponds! They're such stunning looking ducks, and quite small in size when compared to the usual mallards seen at such locations.

Ever since I became a professional wildlife photographer and guide, I've been unable to indulge in that infamous time-wasting hobby of looking for goshawks. Mainly because when they were showing in the Midlands, I would be up here working. And by the time they were showing up here, I had returned south again.

But this winter I was able to go out in search of some, and managed some success. 


I still yearn to find a plucking post and set something up to watch them as some others have managed, but for the first winter, this was good enough.

As for living in the Highlands instead of Mull, it's growing on me daily. I now have red squirrels visiting my garden most days, and I spotted a weasel scurrying round the wood stores recently. Then this week I got a glimpse of a pine marten scampering past the end of my driveway, so there's lots of potential here, just at home. Add to this, ospreys, red kites and eagles in the hills not far away, and I'm more than happy here.

Next post will be from my springtime adventures on Mull, where I still enjoy a lot of work.

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