dannygreenphotography Blog

 

6th February 2012

Highland Winter ............

Ptarmigan

I have just spent a couple of weeks in the Cairngorm National Park. The first week was a personal trip and then the second week I was running a Natures Images workshop together with Mark Sisson and Neil McIntyre. I was hoping for snow but there wasn't much around at lower altitudes but there was a fair amount on the mountains and into the northern corries. It was quite strange watching the news and seeing that snow had fallen in Tunisia but not in the central highlands. Anyway the lack of snow made it much easier to get up into the northern corries in search of the beautiful Ptarmigan.

Ptarmigan

The weather was superb for photographing the Ptarmigan as high pressure was over Scotland for most of the two weeks and the days were clear and crisp. Ptarmigan can be difficult to find in bad conditions as they tend the stay low and sit out the high winds but when the weather is calm they are much easier to see and photograph as the males give the game away by calling and displaying to attract the females. They are also in their pure white winter plumage at this time of the year.

Ptarmigan

Ptarmigan

I have been to these northern corries many times in the past to get images of this lovely northern grouse and I have had mixed results but this trip was very rewarding as they were very busy in defending their territories. The snow wasn't so deep either which made life a lot easier in getting around. This male was beginning to moult into his spring plumage which was nice to get a different range.

Ptarmigan

As you climb down to lower elevations the Ptarmigan is replaced by Red Grouse and because of the fine weather these birds were beginning their spring courtship too. Like the Ptarmigan the male Grouse call and do short display flights to attract the females. This gives you a fair chance to capturing them in flight and with this shot a just pre-focused and waited for him to burst into flight, the wind was in the right direction too which helps.

Red Grouse

Red Grouse

Red Grouse

The female Red Grouse are beautiful at this time of the year too and the trick to photographing Grouse is to find a relaxed female and then the males are reluctant to leave her. Snow Buntings are another bird to find in these mountain passes and the Cairngorm region supports a small breeding population. This hardy passerine can be found around the car parks to the ski centres during the winter and they can be very confiding.

Snow Bunting

The second part of the week was spent photographing around Neil's excellent feeding stations for Red Squirrels and Crested Tits. We visited two feeding stations for the Squirrels one of them I have been before but his second one is new. This is a fantastic location with the Squirrels posing in some lovely settings and in my opinion is the best site I have been to. The Red's look beautiful at this time of the year with their winter coats and lovely ear-tufts.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

I was also looking forward to visiting the Crested Tit feeding station as this is one of my favourite birds and I don't have too much coverage of this species. This is another excellent location with 6 individuals visiting throughout the day and it is also good for Coal Tits. I tried to use many different perches but this first one was my favourite and in fact it is one my favourite shots I have taken over the past few years.

Crested Tit

The feeding station is in an open area and is great for light all day long. This is important for photographing these species as they are so fast and you have to take a lot of images just to get a few sharp ones. I tried to use the light to back light them too which is great when they erect their crest.

Crested Tit

Crested Tit

Crested Tit

Crested Tit

When they land on the perch you only have a few seconds to grab a couple of shots but every now and then one perches for a little longer. This next shot was a case in point and as this male perched on top of this pine sapling he started to trill so I just took a short burst of frames. I never saw him do this behaviour but he kept flicking out his wings which is part of his courtship display as his mate was feeding on the peanut feeder.

Crested Tit

Coal Tit

We had a great group of people on this trip and it was great fun too. One Guy that I always like to join me on these trips is Ian Haskell as he really is a top photographer that really thinks out of the box and he always gets me working on images that I usually don't do. He convinced us to do some long exposure stuff on an Icy river and the results were just amazing. It is a great technique that I have done with Ian before but this time the results were beyond what I could imagine.

Ice and Water

Ice and Water

Ice and Water

Ice and Water

Ice and Water

Ice and Water

We also went out at night to do some long exposure landscapes and one of the best locations was Loch Morlich. Ice had covered the lake for a couple of days but then strong winds had broken up the ice and blown it into the loch shore. This ice made a great foreground especially as we painted it with a head torch. Whilst we were photographing this scene what can only be described as a small meteorite went over our heads and hit the ice on the loch. It was an unbelievable experience and a bit scary too as I have never witnessed anything like it, you certainly wouldn't want to be hit by one.

Ice and Stars 

This sheet ice was also great in daylight as well and I managed to entice the local Mallards with some bread which made a great image with a wide angle lens.

Mallard

Mallard

I am going to Yellowstone this week and I am hoping we encounter some snow there, although with the way the winter has gone so far I would probably stand more chance of the white stuff in Florida.

Mallard

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