I’ve just finished a few days guiding for Black Isle Photography Hides Winter Tour 2017. Almost all of my work since the summer has been landscape based commissions for outdoors magazines, so I’d been looking forward to some wildlife guiding again for a while.
So far the defining this about this winter has been the lack of it. Snow has been largely non-existent in the Highlands apart from on the the highest ground. We knew this could be a bit of a disappointment for our group of 5 clients, and with this in mind it was our job to seek out the best possible light and conditions in which to photograph the target species.
A crested tit in exceptional light in the Black Isle woods
With the winds forecast to increase every day throughout the week, we started with the most difficult day first and headed up high into the Cairngorms to look for ptarmigan. The whole group did brilliantly and put in a determined effort in an environment outside of their comfort zone. A flock of around 30-40 ptarmigan was the reward, as well as being amongst the winter splendour of the mountains.
The group in ptarmigan country.
Some winter mountaineers on the ridge line
Mountain hares are always a highlight of a wildlife photography trip to the Highlands, so with the winds still looking reasonable on the hills we decided to head up high again the next day. Everyone had a superb day of photography, with the words ‘this is unbelievable’ being whispered more than a few times as memory cards were filled with hare portraits. A last-minute golden eagle was a bonus and a fiery sunset over the Beauly Firth rounded things off nicely.
Mountain hares were a highlight of the week for the whole group.
With the winds picking up we opted to stay low for the rest of the week and spend some time in the hides and forest sites on the Black Isle. Some very early starts allowed us close views of red squirrels in warm dawn light.
We had bonus views of bullfinches, buzzards and hundreds of pink-footed geese from the red squirrel hides.
In the afternoons we changed location to a different part of the forest in order to photograph crested tits. In the UK these tiny and charismatic birds are only found in the pinewoods of northern Scotland, with the Black Isle being one of their strongholds. They are an addictive species to photograph, especially in the exceptional light we were treated to on one of the evenings at the site. Good views of greater-spotted woodpeckers, ravens and bullfinches were an added bonus, and two of the group photographed red kites for the first time a few miles down the road.
It is always a pleasure to share what we have in the Highlands with others. Thanks to Erica, Helen, John, Paul and Robin for being a pleasure to guide, the Priory Hotel in Beauly for their hospitality and to James Moore at Black Isle Hides for the work as usual.
We will be running another Winter Wildlife Tour in early 2018. For bookings and information, please visit http://www.blackislehides.co.uk/
Black Isle Photography Hides runs wildlife photography tours, guiding and hide rental on the Black Isle, in the Cairngorms National Park and along the North Coast 500 route.