Osprey – the ultimate fisherman….

I had booked a two day weekend with Jo and Gordon up at Rothymurchis in Aviemore to photograph ducks and leaping trout. Actually thats a lie – it was to photograph Ospreys but the trout and the ducks were intent on photo-bombing many of my shots taken.

I travelled up to Edinburgh on the Thursday and stayed overnight before travelling to Aviemore on the Friday afternoon. After a quick meet and greet with the other guys on the trip and our guides for the weekend it was an early night as we had a 4.00 am meet up the next morning at the Fishery. I must admit this trip was filling me with some trepidation. I had seen so many great photographs taken at Rothy’ and I was a bit concerned I would come back home with lots of out of focus pictures. I had heard the stories about how quick these birds plummet on to the trout and then they are off… not sure I felt I would be able to do these magnificent birds justice.

The first morning we met up in darkness and proceeded to the hides. Which hide we would use depended upon wind direction but we settled in to No4 and waited. The light was non existent so ISO was set at very very high and I was unsure how the D4 would cope with high ISO’s. In fairness any shots taken in this light would just be taken as a record and not for quality of photograph. Having said that IF a bird had come up with two trout in its talons I would not have been worried about quality too much lol. Needless to say that didn’t happen. Early on the only visits were from ducks and a resident heron… What was interesting though was the number of trout that were leaping from the water, probably due to low oxygen levels…


We did get an early dive, not in brilliant light, but the lead up to the dive was a real adrenalin rush. We were using a spotter who was relaying by walkie talkie the position and behaviour of any birds overhead and around the fields etc. The birds tend to circle getting lower and lower before tipping their shoulder and plummeting to the Locken/Pond… You have to be very quick to lock on and then track and let off rapid shots to freeze the action..


There is quite a bit of weight in these fish and coming from under the water in the dive great effort is required by the Osprey to get airborne agin – a great reason to have a wingspan of approaching 5 foot!

The wind actually changed direct so when the air was clear we moved over to Hide 2 and this was a great decision as the dives we had and the exit route for the birds was spectacular…. here are some more photographs.



We finished that session at around 9.30 and everyone was buzzing. We had FOUR dives in the last twenty minutes.  This was incredible action considering it had been quiet for many hours previous as birds were calling, being chased off by the dominant bird, and aborting dive after dive…

We returned in the evening and the action continued. Bad light and rain was not kind to us but the birds continued to dive and we had two fantastic pieces of action before packing up at around 8.00 because of the light and rain.


The Sunday morning was strange as all the torrential rain eased as we entered to hide at 4.30 and within an hour or so we were being bathed in bright sunlight. Good news you would have thought but NO !! It was too bright and this would burn out all of the white on the underside of the birds. So we had to photograph in -2 exposure and lower…

Though the action was slower we still had three great dives – one ended up with no fish so the bird regrouped and came in again and had a successful dive.


Would I recommend this trip? Yes I would in fact I loved it so much I have already booked for another in 2015. I stated in a homely bed and breakfast just 2 minutes from the fishery which was ideal. The Cairngorm Hotel does superb food ( and beer) in Aviemore. It was a great trip from start to finish. I already know what shots I will be trying to acquire next year, what mistakes I made this year, and hope the birds return safely for more of the same in 2015! I would also like to do the Ospreys on Perch next year, with Pete Cairns so will add a couple of extra days to the visit, maybe take in some Dolphins as well near Inverness.


Someone just asked about the hides so here is my view on them…. Superb !!! They are just a 5 minute walk ( if that). They seat 5 comfortably, have great viewing, and loads of room behind the seats for gear etc. There are 4 hides so depending upon wind direction depends upon where you will be placed. All thats missing in these hides is a kettle and your slippers lol


Pine Martens in the Scottish Highlands …

After an overnight stay in Glasgow I met up with Danny at the Corran Ferry. It was then just a 30 minute drive around the coast and then inland to the hidden valley where we would stay for the next 3 nights to photograph Pine Martens. We arrived around 1.00pm…

We were staying in a very small cottage ( when I say we the party consisted on Danny Green and three guests including myself). The cottage was pretty basic and consisted on a kitchen, 2 bedrooms and a bathroom. There is literally nothing else around here other than a log felling facility over the other side of the valley.


The Pine Martens apparently visited the garden of the cottage so we did not have far to travel each day – literally just fall out of bed and grab the camera gear. In fact we had only arrived at the cottage a few minutes before one of the Pine Martens made an appearance at the end of the garden. I guess they must know Danny’s voice ( or smell his ciggies) by now. So without further ado we grabbed the camera gear and set up – no real need for hides here though they were provided if required. This was a very very wet afternoon and evening. In fact it wasnt very long before I discovered that my Paramo jacket was NOT waterproof. By the time we eventually finished the photography and went indoors for some food ( around 9.30) A couple of large Pizza and chips and I was almost feeling human again.


I had taken about 1000 pics, my gear was drenched and I was absolutely waterlogged. The drying facillities were a few radiators, and drip dry. I wish I had brought a second jacket with me as there was no way this Paramo was going to dry out before the morning….


So up at 5.30 next morning, and basically straight out and setting up again in the garden ready for the first visit of the day… The Paramo had not dried so it was on with the wet jacket. Hopefully we would get some sun to dry things out a bit… One of the problems with the small cottage is that Danny was sleeping in the kitchen so no chance to get a cuppa or a bite until he surfaced. Now there is snoring ( I am told I do) and there is mega snoring – like the wife – and then there is Danny snoring! If you are lying in bed, eyes shut and listening you could almost imagine you are in the Serengety surrounded by a herd of Wildebeest… If there were an Olympic medal for snoring then just give it to Danny lol


Weather on the Saturday and the Sunday was much better. No rain, cloudy so poor light most of the time but we were greeted by a number of visits. We were lucky that we were being visited by the mother and her kittens. The kits were great fun – very enquisitive and very playful. Afternoons the light was much better and up here you can easily photograph on high ISO until 9.00 or 9.30…


Danny made sure that the perches were changed frequently to get some great and varied shots and kept some enticement for the Pine Martens ( namely jam and peanut butter) going. The format of this trip is the same for each day, though you can walk down the road and there is a great little river, where you can get some good butterfly photographs. The Scotch Argus was about when we were there, the conditions ideal for them.


The final morning of the trip we were up at 5.00 as the light and sunshine was superb. As I was woken and stumbled in to the bathroom I glanced out of the window to be greeted by a young Pine Marten strolling past the window… We were all out in the garden and all managed some great shots. The garden is also visited by lots of Chaffinch, Siskin and the odd Robin or two. Even a Banded Pupa Wasp made a visit … though I think I could have done without the latter. Again there were perches set up so that in quiet monents you could grab some nice bird pictures…

It terms of what equipment you need up here…

I worked mainly with a 200-400mm F4 Nikon, and occasionally used a 500mm. I took a 70-200mm up as well but didnt use it. Take lots of cards and spare batteries. There is electricity here so you can recharge batteries. The “must haves” are a waterproof coat, head net, and midge repellant. If you have a camera that works well with high ISO then its a real bonus..


It was really a shame that this trip ended so quickly. Everyone had a great trip and managed to get some great photographs. I would recommend this trip to anyone who wants to add the Pine Marten to their portfolio. I suppose I should mention the Midges – they are a real pain up here and a head net and gloves are essential. If you are venturing to this West side of the Highlands dont forget the Smidge, Jungle or Ever so Soft as you WILL need it. Photographing through one of the head nets is not ideal but given that choice or being bitten all over, I will take the head net ;-)

Fair Isle Puffins….

Getting to Fair Isle…
This holiday I took was held on Fair Isle and involved flights from Birmingham to Aberdeen, Aberdeen to Sumburgh and then Sumburgh to Fair Isle. I’m sure this was a logistical nighmare for the organisers as its a bit hit/miss getting over to Fair Isle by the small plane, and avoiding the small ferry that also goes a couple of times a week… The plane takes just 30 minutes to get over but the ferry… well between two and a half and three hours depending upon weather conditions. It can be rough seas in that part of the world… and if its too rough they just won’t sail. This is not a ferry like a Stena Line ferry, this is a smallish boat similar to a fishing boat ( similar to some of the Farne Islands boats) so sea-sick tablets are probably advisable.
An overnight stay at Sumburgh, in the Meadowvale (part of the Sumburgh Hotel) was pleasant but the trip over to Fair Isle from Tingwall Airport was anything but… A 9.30 departure was thwarted by an aborted flight 5 minutes in air due to fog, the weather closed in over Fair Isle and we were left waiting back at the airport until mid-afternoon for another attempt. The weather in Sumburgh was glorious, but in Fair Isle it was cloudy and foggy… so frustrating. Eventually we had another “scramble” to the plane in the afternoon only for that flight to be aborted half way down the runway due to an electrical problem in the plane. We began to wonder if we would ever get over by plane – there were a few worried faces that we may have to stay over another night and get the Ferry ;-( Well the outcome is that we eventually got 7 of us over that afternoon – eventually – and the other two followed the following day by the ferry. Well done to those two for managing that ferry crossing – it was pretty rough ;-)

There is only one place to stay on Fair Isle – literally I think. Thats the Bird Observation Centre. This is a superb base, featuring great accomodation, superb food, lovely people, and fantastic views over the cliffs and harbour. If I had to pick any fault it would be that the rooms were cold, heating is conserved over there, no heated towel rails on in the rooms etc, so any wet clothes struggled to dry – even in the boot room. Thankfully we had a virtually rain free week.
So what about the photography?

Day 1-6 on the Island…

This is truly a haven for Puffins and other seabirds. I had been to the Farne Islands the weekend before – seen my first Puffin – and came away thinking that was really great. But Fair Isle blew Farne out of the water. In fairness Farne is great for inflight Puffin shots as you can track them coming in from Sea whereas in Fair Isle they just pop in over the cliff unexpectedly. Its also great for Shags as well… sure you know what I mean ;-) But that’s where the comparison ends…

The Puffin colonies on Fair Isle are situated in amongst the Thrift, and for those un-initiated the Thrift are small pink flowers that give the setting an almost magical feel in the photographs, beautiful mush…. In Farne you are stuck behind rope and cant get anywhere near the puffins but in Fair Isle … well you can just carefully position your self in the burrow vicinity just being careful not to block a route for the Puffin from cliff to burrow. Puffin welfare ALWAYS comes first. The puffins are very very inquisitive, have amusing and beautifu behaviours and interactions not just with other Puffins but also the photographers. Unlike Farne where the incoming Puffins are harrassed by the gulls here on Fair Isle they are mainly uninteruppted other than a Skua that may patrol up and down the cliffs looking for an easy meal – and they are after the Puffin and not its catch.


We focussed on two main cliff areas – one over the harbour and to the right which was great for afternoon and evening shots and had the towering Sheep Rock as a back-drop, and then another route over to the left past the harbour which was superb for those early morning to mid-morning shots.

The first couple of days were spent very much being shown around – where the best positions were to photograph, what would be desired equipment and settings, and how the Puffins may behave. After that it was very much a case of having the choice to go off with one or both of them or strike out alone and see how you get on.


_DSC8320The days began with breakfast at 8.30, off out by 9.30 and then back for lunch at 1.00 ( or you could stay out if you preferred and take a packed lunch). After lunch it was out again by 2.30 and back for evening meal at 6.00 sharp. Then later out from 7.30 until late for an evening session. It stays reasonably light out here until 10.30 ish and rarely seems to get “dark”. The food is abslutely first class, and the staff more than willing to accomodate any special dietary requests. The food, and in particular the puddings were that good that some people went back for second helpings, and someone in particular had a very sweet tooth lol ( especially for Sticky Toffee Pudding)…


This is probably one of the best, if not the best, venue for Puffins and its such a unique and beautiful setting. The pink Thrift gives every shot a different feel. Its great for portrait, in flight, behaviour, and quirky Puffin shots. You cant fail to come away with cards full of superb shots. The people we were with were always on hand to offer advice, point out “different” shots, so this can be a place for the novice or the more advanced photographer.


When you may feel Puffin’d out there are possibilities to photograph the Oystercatcher, or the Wheatear, or the Terns, Fulmars, and Gannets. Its truly a photographers dream. You have to be a bit careful when walking about the island as the Skua’s at this time of the year are quite aggressive in protecting their chicks/territories and are more than happy to dive bomb and give you a hard slap on the back of the head with their feet/claws. The Terns on the other hand are just prone to attcking your head with their beaks and … well… crapping all over you.


The Puffins on the other hand are totally non aggressive and more likely to give you a big sloppy kiss. Hmnn now just because I enticed Puffins with waving small flowers at them does not mean anything else – honest!


Its also possible to spend time with the Ringing Team of the observatory, and see what they may have caught in their mist nets overnight ( we were lucky enough to see they ring a Whin Chat and a Blyth Reed Warbler).

So shown above and below are just a few photographs selected from the thousands taken, and probably thousands deleted as well. Any holiday like this is quite often made great or poor by the other “company” on the trip. This was superb! Everyone got on with everyone else, everyone was willing to offer help and advice when needed.



Latest Pics from the “Secret Garden” – Wren, Dragonflies and Damselflies..

Another morning of fun down in the garden. The Greater Spotted Woodpeckers didn’t show so it was a bit of Macro work today…

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The print Wren was feeding chicks today – the chicks so far in the shrubs it was impossible to get pictures. But here are some of the Wren singing…

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The garden is an Aladdins Cave for any wildlife enthusiast…


Mooching About…

Mooching about and whiling away a couple of hours….

When I was last down in the garden the rain had put a real dampener on the Wren watching ( I got drenched last weekend), and that continued through this last week. With the rain and the bad light I figured there would be no point going back to the wrens during the week and the young would be unlikely to fledge in that weather. However.. I was wrong and according to Elizabeth they fledged on the Wednesday. Oh well there is always next year…

So as “Wren Watch” went out of the window today, and all I had with me was the trusty 200-400mm I decided just to mooch about the garden and see what was going on…

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The flowers and the warm weather today meant the dragon flies and flowers were both out in abundance… The 200-400mm lens is not an ideal lens for Macro photography but you have to manage with what’s available…

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I had been hoping to see Nuthatch for months now, with Elizabeth saying they sometimes come to the feeders. Today was my lucky day – speaking to the next door neighbour I was informed that they had fledglings recently and were busy feeding them in her garden. Would they be drawn into the large trees in Elizabeth’s garden?… I was in luck and one kindly even came to the feeing station for me ;-)

I also noticed a couple of young Greater Spotted Woodpeckers in the same tree but they were too high and too far away for me to get a photograph. I staked them out for an hour with camera at the ready, even spotted a Green Woodpecker in the distance, but no luck for me. Maybe next time…

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The damsels were very prolific down by the river but sooooo hard to photograph. These shots barely do the insects justice – they are such fun to watch… Patience is a virtue with these but you really need the right camera and lens to get decent photographs…

So a couple of hours whiled away nicely… who knows whats in store for my next visit…

“Jenny” Wren tending to its nest and young…

Down in the “Garden” I have for many months now been privileged to hear the wren singing away to its heart content. But I was pleased to recently be told that there is a wren’s nest up on the raised patio area behind a piece of wood. As they have now started feeding I was able to sit very quietly, about 10 feet away, camera and tripod at the ready to try and get some photographs.

Last Saturday afternoon when the weather seemed not too overcast I decided to set up and play the waiting game to try and capture the Wren feeding… I had only been there 30 minutes before the heavens opened but I was determined to get something before I had to retreat. These two photos were the only ones I got before the rain became too unpleasant…


The picture above shows the Wren removing the faecal sack from the nest – a very attentive parent will remove many of these during the day – taking them far away from the nest to deposit and get rid…



This picture shows the Wren at the entrance to the nest – no sign of the babies at the entrance just yet.

I will return later in the week as weather improves just to check out developments..



Swans, Birds and Flutterbies…..

Another few hours spent today on the lookout for the local swans down by the river at the bottom of “The Garden”… The last few days had seen them staying well up river but today luck seemed to be on my side. No fly-pasts unfortunately but a couple of nice open wing displays…



With a few Swan shots under my belt I decided to spend a couple of hours just wandering around – butterflies being the quarry. Its still early but the Orange Tips, and Brimstone were about so with the sun going in and out all the time trying to get the butterflies to settle was really hard. The Brimstone continued to stay out of reach but I managed a few nice pics of male and female Orange Tip and their mating display…

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Alast walk around the garden and woodland resulted in a nice Blue Tit and Chaffinch shot. Lets hope warm weather at the weekend brings more life into the garden ;-) Already there are signs of baby blackbirds so it looks like being a very productive Spring…

Canada Geese in Flight…. ready for take off.

I spent a great morning down in the Secret Garden with the sole intention of trying to get the Canada Gees in flight. I have had a few attempts the other day but failed miserably due to birds taking off the wrong way, branches getting in the way of the shots and poor light. This morning though the light was good, there seemed to be a few geese about, and conditions seemed perfect.

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All was set up, camera and tripod ready, focussed on where I wanted the geese to be, and then it was just a waiting game.

They decided at first not to play ball as one exploded in to action from my left flying away but not where I had expected a run to come from..


Then a few “hoots” and the water down river erupted and they few towards me..

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BINGO !!!! Its nice when it comes together ;-)

I had also spent a pleasant half hour the other day taking a few pics of butterflies. Now you may be surprised to know I am not the worlds expert on Butterflies so I don’t know what these are BUT I spent an hour moving about the garden at pace  – which must have looked very amusing – chasing these butterflies for a shot ;-)

I have subsequently found out these are Orange Tip, Green Veined White, and Speckled Wood….

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Strangely when I had been talking to Elizabeth today she said that a Great Tit or Blue Tit had yesterday been taking pieces of string for nest building from a bag under the porch and while chasing butterflies guess what I saw…



It turned out to be a pleasant few hours by the river and in the garden…. and quite productive.

The Woodland and Garden coming to life..

Another few delightful hours spent down at Heron Cottage this morning. This time of year just seems to be so full of life, everything is green and growing and the birds and butterflies now seem to have lots on their minds. The beauty of the “Secret Garden” is that you never know what you may see, and you are never disappointed. At home the only butterflies I see are Peacock and Cabbage White but here its different…

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Here are three variety of butterfly taken in just one 20 minutes stint with the camera. Its still very early in the year for butterflies so I would expect an abundance of varieties in a couple of months time…

The nest boxes in the garden are all occupied. In fact one that I put up for Elizabeth last weekend had new occupiers just a few hours after it was fitted to the tree. These in flight photographs were taken of a box down by the rivers edge at the bottom of the garden. It was busier than Heathrow as the Blue Tit came in carrying feathers and blossom..

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I had intended to try and get some “in flight” geese and swan shots this morning but other than one fly-by I was disappointed. Even that one was taken as the bird was tailing away from me instead of towards me so that is one project for another time….


It really is a pleasure to be allowed to take pictures in this Nature Wonderland….

Secret Garden Update….

I am still going down to the garden at least 3 times a week – topping up the feeders ( the squirrels are wreaking havoc with them) and trying to attract new birds in to the woodland. As the weather has now started to warm up Spring is finally here. Different bird songs and bird visits make this a wonderful place…

Here are some pics of how its now looking much greener and colourful in the garden. Even Elizabeth was out in the back garden today ;-)





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These are a few recent pictures of what has been visiting the garden over the last couple of visits…

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