Saturday, 11 April 2015

Scotland (Part Two)

After successfully twitching the Harlequin duck  in Aberdeen, we drove down to Blairgowrie, where we'd be staying for the rest of the trip.  Having the next three days already planned out, my preparation was perhaps in vain.  Admittedly, being as we were, near to the highlands, I should have expected it. Weather - The spite of so many dreams.  Wind speeds exceeding 45mph and heavy snow forecasts meant travelling nearly one hundred miles through the Cairngorms was rather astray from the safe side.  So no Crested Tits, instead we explored an area near Amurlee for grouse.
It wasn't too far, and the drive did produce my first Grey Partridge for nearly three years, it was however, sadly, a rather flattened individual on the road.  If only it had looked before crossing.  The number of Pheasant I saw who had met similar unfortunate ends is just ridiculous, somewhere in the region of fifty I might guess? Crazy.
 Another mile or so further and I spotted three (thankfully) very un-flattened male Black Grouse in a sheep field off to my left!  They were fairly distant, but also pretty amazing, so I felt obligated to take a few photos. As the Black grouse began to slowly disperse into the rougher grass behind the field, a Red Grouse called from, umm, somewhere.  Somewhere distant. Although I don't believe it to be the same bird, after a few minutes I did find a Red Grouse, but far, far away.
 It was an excellent start to the morning, but I had my hopes up for some better views, so we continued on towards Amulree before taking a turn off down a road I'd read to be good for Grouse.  And as it turns out, it was. We drove it six times, and saw a further three Black grouse (including two females with their stunningly intricate plumage), about eight or nine Red Grouse, a Mustelid, either Stoat or a Weasel and a Short-eared Owl! And yes, the Grouse showed a lot better.

It snowed heavily on and off, and the Grouse appeared -or rather didn't- to go into hiding.  So we drove a little further along the main Amulree road, and saw a load more Black Grouse, including a group of nine males, taking the day count up to twenty-two! Exceedingly better than I had hoped for.
 The weather picked up briefly on the drive home, so we stopped by Loch of the Lowes, and straight away had the male Osprey from the hide!  He was on the nest, but then took off with a piece of fish and disappeared behind some trees.  An absolutely incredible morning, and all before midday!
 As part of the prize for winning the Junior Scottish Nature photographer of the Year in 2014, I had a day out photographing with professional nature photographer Lorne Gill. So on the 1st we met up with him, before heading north to Braemar to photograph more Grouse.  Lorne was a nice chap, and with his excellent local knowledge it was a successful day of photography.  We had another two female Black Grouse, numerous Red Grouse, Buzzards and even a few Red-legged Partridge. The Red Grouse showed well amongst the heather, but they just wouldn't sit up on the stone walls. No matter how nicely I asked.  Still, very beautiful birds up close!

After a fantastic few hours photographing the Grouse we decided to try and look for Mountain Hare and Ptarmigan at Glenshee Ski Centre.  The night before and most of this day had been heavy snow and strong winds, so we were doubtful we'd have any luck.  It was hard work getting up the mountain, in the first ten minutes you would overheat, and just a bit further on you felt as though your ears would fall off.  The snow was above my knees at point!  We got about two-thirds of the way up, and saw quite a few Mountain Hare scampering away in the distance, but beyond that, with the wind being what it was, it seemed perhaps foolish to try any further.  Getting down thankfully was a lot easier, and between us we only fell over a few times. So concluded another great day, and my last full day in Scotland.

Our train from Glasgow on the 2nd wasn't until half-past-four, so we had an hour spare in the morning, so.... we went looking for Grouse!  I'm sorry if you were looking for variety, but, Grouse are great.  Although this time it didn't seem like they would play ball, metaphorically speaking of course.  After driving up and back once along the road near Amurlee, we'd seen only a single hen Red Grouse, and no Black.  We pulled up for a while and got out to scan the moors, and did manage to find one or two distant male Red Grouse, and in the fields Lapwing were displaying, along with Skylark and Meadow Pipit.  A Red Grouse then flew across and landed just further back down the road.  Without much hope, I decided to walk back along and see if I could see anything.  As I approached I realised where the Grouse was, on a stone wall!  The wall was about sixty foot away, and I was a little worried it would fly the moment I left the road, but I used the heather as cover and crawled a bit closer.  The Red Grouse (a male) stayed, and continued strutting along the wall, and was soon joined by a female, who had been hiding in the grass to my left.  It wasn't quite as close as I would have liked, but I was buzzed to finally get the shot I'd been after for the last three days!  And in the final few minutes I had spare before heading back down to Glasgow.
 There ends my trip to Scotland, three lifers and a few hundred images, an awesome trip, I can't wait to go back now!
 If you have read this far, I honestly, honestly applaud you.  Give yourself a pat on the back!

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