Highland Garden – red letter day

With recent snows in the Highlands I was presented with a dilemma of where to go and what to shoot. However having tried to reduce my carbon footprint, as well as combat ever increasing fuel costs, I decided to stay local. Very local in fact – my garden.

Having spent the morning photographing Pied Wagtails, Linnet and Meadow Pipit in the and around the garden I popped inside for a nice warm brew. Almost immediately a most unexpected bird landed on one of our fenceposts. A quick look thought the binoculars (ever present on the kitchen table) and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Sat on the edge of our garden was a stunning male Merlin!

So I’ve decided to spend more time locally – within 2 miles in fact. Who knows what I will discover next?

If you would like to follow a microblog on our garden birds please feel free to join us on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/groups/277751905622959/

Scottish Nature Photographer of the Year 2011

Well the quiet Highland peace changed last week when I received a totally unexpected call  from the good folks at the Scottish Nature Photography Awards  telling me that I had won the wildlife category of the competition with a portrait of a “Cheeky Otter” from Mull.

I was absolutely delighted, when I was then told this had been unanimously selected by the judges as the overall winner and I was Scottish Nature Photographer of the Year for 2011! The news has finally started to sink in and I am really looking forward to the year ahead.

Scottish Nature Photograph of the Year - winning image "Cheeky Otter"

Here’s what the judges said.

Scottish Wildlife Category

Neil McIntyre, one of the judges, said: “With a huge increase in entries from the first year (double in fact) plus the high standard, it was a tough long job to pick the winning pictures.

“It was going to take something extra special to stand out from so many great shots. However, the winning image of the Otter was a unanimous winner. This iconic, elusive animal was captured brilliantly by Marcus Conway, showing great character and capturing a perfect moment in time. You just can’t help but smile when you look at this picture and wish you had been there – a sure sign of a winning image.”

1st place & Scottish Nature Photographer of the Year 2011
Marcus said: “Scotland is a wonderful place to watch and photograph nature and I am overjoyed to have won this prestigious award.

“I had been on Mull for two weeks enjoying the wealth of wildlife on the island and tracking Otters. I had spotted a family of Otters feeding along the shoreline and decided to set up in the rocks to try to get a group shot. What happened next took me by surprise. The female Otter came onto the exact same rocks I had chosen, enabling me to get this intimate portrait shot as she scented the air. Moments later she was too close to focus on as she continued along the rocks just feet away.

“It was a wonderful encounter with one of Scotland’s finest mammals and to have been made Scottish Nature Photographer of the Year has made the moment even more special.”

I will of course post more in due course about this fabulous award. for now you can find more information on the main competition website

Life at the Top

I have no regret in every winter announcing that Ptarmigan are my favourite subject. There is something about the fact that whatever happens in life they will never come to you – there is no easy way to see them. You always have to go them; their environment, their altitude and most of all suffer their conditions.

This winter has been exceptional compared to recent years. Exceptionally mild, with little snow, but also exceptionally windy. So whilst the conditions at low levels and in the forests seem benign up on the tops access has been more unpleasant than in recent years.

Still we managed a 100% success rate with all three of our winter workshop groups getting up close and personal to these hardcore grouse. To be fair one group were stuck in the cloud base with the Ptarmigan. but not be put off all managed frame filling shots.

So having said how much I like them – well its the challenge in getting into their environment – here’s the reason I love them so much. They are just so rewarding. Spending time in their company and they accept you as part of their day and soon enough go about there business, which sometimes isn’t a lot, but there is something unbeatable about being on the tops just us and the Ptarmigan.

Up on high

This winter as been the most unpredictable and in many the hardest for photography for some year. Mild weather has restricted activity at the feeding stations whilst wet and more often very windy weather has limited opportunities to get up the hill.

Of course the birds are still here its just a bit harder to find them or rely on them to be in the regular places they would haunt during colder periods.

So far so good on the winter workshops and we have had some fun days – sometimes challenging, but always rewarding.

With a cold spell on the way we are hoping for some cold, snowy and hopefully less windy weather.



Greater Yellowlegs

Day after day of severe winds and heavy rain has limited activity to some extent, but news of a Greater Yellowlegs at Loch Fleet proved too tempting to resist. Being a self confessed wader nut meant I was up there at the first opportunity – even the tiling was put on hold!

Following on from the Greater Sand Plover this represented the second excellent wader in the Highlands this year. Fully aware Tringa type waders are a bit skittish at the best of times I wasn’t expecting too much. Immediately it was clear that this was not true to form and was very confiding.

The bird was favouring a small area of flood water and continued to feed and behave normally with a procession of dog walkers, interested locals and birders coming and going. I decided to set up in the pool itself – despite being ill prepared for lying in frozen water – and wait for the wader to approach me. After about two hours I had one of the most memorable shoots of the year as this graceful North American wader approached to within three of four feet and promptly fell asleep!

In all I watched the Greater Yellowlegs at a a range of 10 – 20 feet for about three hours at which point I was just too cold to lie in the mud and cow pats any longer!

A fine finish to the year.

Killing them with kindness

Shortly after moving house, just over a year ago, we set up a range of feeders and waited with anticipation for the first birds to arrive. Months passed and as we neared the point of giving up a pair of Greenfinch turned up at the sunflower seed. Over the next few months numbers built and the finches were joined by over 20 Tree Sparrow, Yellowhammer, Siskin and Goldfinch.

In July we noticed the first sign that things weren’t right when one or two Greenfinches stayed around the feeders when we went out to refill. The worst fears were confirmed when it became clear that the Greenfinches showed the signs of the dreaded avian pox. We took the feeders down and sought more advice. Here are some things you can do should you notice diseased birds.

Report the information to the RSPB http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/helpingbirds/health/sickbirds/avianpox.aspx

  1. Regularly disinfect feeders
  2. Clean bird baths daily
  3. Move the location of your feeders and bird table

After a month without feeders we started putting food out again two months ago and we now have more – healthy – birds than ever.

A strange addiction

For the past year or so I have been wondering why I keep photographing Red Grouse. I was looking into my key-wording and I must have nearly 2000 images of these smashing, but somewhat in my opinion comical, birds and so to the  other day when the light was bringing out the reds, pinks and oranges on the moor, I thought to myself I know I will go and check out some new habitat that looks good fro Grouse. It was then that I questioned myself and thought “why surely its time for something else”.

It wasn’t and off I went to get some more Red Grouse shots. What can I say? Maybe I just wanted my regular fix of quizzical grouse behaviour. Either way I took some shots and returned home happy. Sometimes its just that simple.

Winter is on the way

This week has seen the first snowfall in the Highlands and the peaks are looking stunning with their snowy caps above golden autumnal forests. We’re busy restocking the feeders and looking forward to photographing Crested Tits in the snow again this winter. If you would like to join us please check out our winter photography workshops.