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A Highland winter

Trip reviews | Posted on April 17, 2015
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Mountain Hare

At the beginning of March I was in the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland co-leading our annual Highland winter trip with Neil McIntye for Natures Images. I think this was our sixth year in doing so and it has become a permanent fixture in our calendar. I have been travelling to Scotland for many years now, when I was younger I kind of took these trips for granted but as I get older you really start to appreciate your time in this wonderful part of the UK. We had many targets for this trip and were successful in finding most. The way we organised the trip for the guests was to split the group into smaller numbers with Neil taking half to his local Red Squirrel feeding site. I then took the rest of the group up into the hills in search of one the most beautiful animals the Mountain Hare.Mountain Hare resting
Mountain Hares are stunning animals throughout the year but they really do take some beating during the winter. Most turn white in the winter which acts as the perfect camouflage which they need to avoid their main predator the Golden Eagle. I went up looking for the Hares on most of the days of the trip. At first the weather was mild and there was not alot of snow lying on the ground but as the week progressed the winter conditions had returned and they was a good dusting of the white stuff. On most of the days we bumped into this lovely male which had not turned into his winter coat. It is not unusual to find a hare like this as it really is in their genes. He just doesn’t turn. He was a great character though and he allowed us some really close views.

Mountain Hare 2Mountain Hare resting 1Mountain Hare resting 3

Mountain Hare resting 6The following day we went back up and heavy snow had fallen through the night. I thought it would be hard to spot the hares but they are creatures of habit and usually rest in the same forms each day. He was in his usual place but you could hardly see him because of the snow that had built up around him.Mountain Hare resting 5
It was good timing as just after we took some images he decided to get up and go for a wander. So he shook off all the snow and the shot was lost.Mountain Hare shaking

Mountain Hare 1

We came across some other Hares during our time here too. A female was usually in close attendance to our brown male. She was a little bit more nervous but if you took your time you could get close to her too. It was great to have a different Hare to work with and a real bonus that her winter fur was more the norm.Mountain Hare resting 2
Mountain Hare 3Another target whilst in Scotland was Red Deer. The Alvie estate is a great location for this iconic highland Deer and Graham the resident stalker has been feeding the deer during the winter months for many years. As a result the Deer have become unbelievably tame and it is so hard to believe that you are actually photographing wild Deer. I have wanted to go to Alvie for many years but I really wanted to capture the Deer in the winter conditions. On the days that we went up the conditions were perfect. Thanks to Graham too for letting us go at such short notice.Red Deer and Snow 5
This was my first time at Alvie or so I thought as I actually spent a week at the bothy near to where Graham feeds the deer back in the early nineties. Graham remembered and knows my friend John that I went with, small world. It won’t be my last time either because it is such a great experience and you can get some good shots. It helps when it is actually snowing and boy did it snow on this day.

Red Deer and Snow 9Red Deer and Snow 3

Red Deer and Snow 11Red Deer and Snow 10At first there were just some light flurries but as the afternoon wore on the snow got heavier. The deer were eventually covered in snow too and they made great shots as they headed down through the trees to where the food was put out. I can count on one hand the chances of photographing subjects in these conditions as it is son rare to be in the right place at the right time.Red Deer and Snow 2
Red Deer and Snow 8Red Deer and Snow 1The great thing about Alvie is you are not stuck in a rigid position so you can move freely and also change lenses. This is great at producing a range of different shots from tight heads shots and also incorporating the environment of the Deer.

Red Deer and Snow 4Red Deer and Snow 6
Red Deer and Snow 7Red Deer and SnowIt was going to be hard to beat Alvie but the other subjects we covered were Crested Tits, Red Grouse and Ptarmigan. Crested Tits are a real speciality of the Spey Valley and is high on everyone’s target list.Crested Tit 1
Crested TitCrested Tit 2Red GrouseRed Grouse 1Ptarmigan are not easy birds as it is a relatively long walk into the deep corries of the Cairngorms where these beautiful birds can be found during the winter. The effort is worth it though just to see this bird. They can be remarkably tame at times and allow a close approach.Ptarmigan Male running
Ptarmigan MaleAs the week went on the weather turned mild again and as quickly as the snow arrived it had disappeared again. I still went back up to the mountain hares though for one last time as I wanted to capture the brown male again. He was in his usual spot and it was great capture some different images of him and his female which was still close by.Mountain Hare shaking wet fur
Mountain Hare resting 4Well that is a selection from my recent trip into the highlands and I will no doubt be back again next winter. The winter theme continues as I am just heading off to Finland for another of my annual trips to hopefully photograph Boreal Owls and Black grouse. I want to try for Brown Bears in the snow as well as they are just coming out of hibernation. I will post some images on my return.


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