Cairngorm National Park

Filed in Articles, Workshops on Feb.29, 2016

I’ve just returned from several days in the truly inspiring Cairngorm national park in Scotland. A vast area of mountains that covers an area of 4,528 km (1,748 sq mi). The Cairngorm Mountains are a spectacular landscape with snow capped peaks and breathtaking scenery

My base throughout my time there was the lovely stone built Grant Arms Hotel, nicknamed the “UK’s Wildlife Hotel” which offers modern comforts whilst retaining a traditional character. The staff, food and service there was second to none.  Once I arrived I settled into my room and had a nice cup of tea to relax after the lengthy journey there from my Staffordshire home.

The following day I was up, hot water from the kettle to do my porridge, bags packed and out before dawn. There was really no set pattern as such and I was weather dependant to see where I could get each day saying the weather wasn’t against me.

That first morning I went to a site that offers a great opportunity to see Crested Tits. These beautiful little birds only live in this part of the UK and so are very ionic to this area. With their punk style crests they use on top of their heads to communicate with each they are truly a wonderful little bird to witness. I’ve never seen these birds before this trip as they can only be found in these Scottish Caledonian forests.

Incredibly fast and jumpy though, always on the move and rarely settle in one place for long. The place I visited places food out for them during the winter months so this helped to see which general area they came too, but still it was very difficult to pinpoint where they may land. Wonderful birds though that make you smile when you see them they are so cute, tiny and yet have a really loud, piecing call.

These Scottish Caledonian forests are wonderful places for wildlife, and the following images were taken using the play of light and shadows inside of these amazing forests as the sunset. One is of a Great-spotted Woodpecker drumming and the other is a crested Tit just passing through.

Once I finished I headed back to the hotel to refuel and grab my packed lunch for the day. I then set off for the mountains in search for Mountain Hares. We’ve really struggled for snow in the Peak District over this winter period and so it was nice to see snow covering the habitat in which both the Ptarmigan and Mountain Hare lives, both species I was hoping to see and photograph.

Once among their world you have to start thinking differently and watching and looking for clues. I wasn’t use to this landscape so its takes time to work it out and look for clues and signs of life which I did. I was very lucky and got some lovely encounters.

This whole area is just stunningly beautiful and the wildlife is truly specialised once you enter their world. I had some great encounters with the Mountain Hares that day while the winter sunshine shone down on me.The following images are some of my favorite from those incredibly encounters I had with this beautiful creatures.

John will be helping to guide my Scottish Winter Wildlife photography tour next January. Staying in this amazing hotel on full broad and visiting all of the places I've visited during my time here and others. I have a few places already booked so if you'd like to join us then see this link.

The following day the aim was to see Ptarmigan in their natural environment, Id never seen these birds in my life and was really hoping Id see them. These birds are compete specialists and carve out a life in one of the toughest habitats in the world. Once we arrived at the ski lift to the summit of the Cairngrom mountain, which this whole area is named after we saw a small flock of Snow Buntings.

I managed a few images of some Snow Buntings that were flying around at the base of the mountain. Id not seen these birds before in snow only in Norfolk really so it was great to see them in their natural habitat of snow covered ground. I isolated a lone female and followed her as she flew around .

Soon after we took the lift to the top,its a short journey and once at the summit low-lying clouds covered the whole place and visibility was very difficult. So my guide,John decided it was better to go back down and then walk up and maybe try and spot these birds that way. Once back down and away from the people around the skiing area we slowly started our assent. Deep snow had recently fallen and at times it made the going tough but nothing was going to stop me as I followed John through an environment Id not been in before.

After around an hour or so we stopped on a ridge, to our front was the summit of Caringrom mountain through the clouds and we were in a valley looking upwards. The place was just stunning and pristine looking. It was then we heard the Ptarmigans call, it was a very distinctive, low pitched call, that echoed down the valley. John then spotted a pair which was almost a miracle as they are incredible to see on fresh snow. I looked through his binoculars and they they were.

I dropped off my camera bag, and made myself ready to cover the ground in front that separated me with the Ptarmigan. Staying low and with slow movements I walked forward, hoping and preying they would stay there. I briefly looked up to see the general direction I needed to be heading in but then kept my eyes on the deep snow to my front as I was carrying my big lens, tripod and second camera etc so needed to concentrate.

I could hear their calls to my front and I placed down my long lens which was attached to my tripod. I undid the handles and looked through the viewfinder really slowly and trying my hardest not to make any noise or disturb the birds. Once I looked through the viewfinder I saw a pure white male bird, he was truly stunning and I took a few images and he was fine with that.

The following image was my first ever sighting and first contact Id ever had with these birds and the image is what I saw through my viewfinder while trying to contain my breathing. He was incredibly beautiful, pure white and round like a ball just watching me, watching him at 1010 meters above sea level.

Then in the corner of my eye I saw the female just perched on the side of a large rock which was covered in wonderful lichens and colours. The following images were taken over the time I spent with this pair of Ptarmigan as they slept, fed and walked about around me as I was laying flat with the snow. A wonderful moment and I hope these images convey that special encounter I had and my first ever with this species of bird.

John will be helping to guide my Scottish Winter Wildlife photography tour next January. Staying in this amazing hotel on full broad and visiting all of the places I've visited during my time here and others. I have a few places already booked so if you'd like to join us then see this link.

It was just a incredibly experience seeing these almost invisibly birds.  Not long after we left for the journey back to my hotel and my few days in the Cairngroms had come to an end. I had tired to change my train ticket as I didn’t want to leave but was unable too.

Id not been to this area before and over the last few days had only really just scratched the surface of the place with regard to the wildlife and images I had in my head. An incredibly place and incredibly wildlife. Id like to thank the Grant Arms Hotel for their help and looking after me, the food, service and general helpfulness was brilliant.

Id like to thank John Poyner of Highland Nature, for all your help. John has been a guide in this area for 20 years and his help, guidance and general knowledge was brilliant. Without his help I wouldn’t have been able to find these subjects during my time there.

Grant Arms Hotel

I hope these images show what a truly incredibly place the Cairgroms National Park is and I’m looking forward to going back. Next year I am running my Scottish Winter Wildlife 2017 photography tour in January. Staying in this amazing hotel on full broad and visiting all of the places and others I’ve visited during my time here with the help of John who will be helping me on my trip with the guiding. I have a few places already booked so if you’d like to join us then see this link, many thanks.

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