THE HORSE OF THE WOODS

Abernethy Forest, Cairngorms National Park, October 2016

If you ask any wildlife photographer or nature enthusiast the one species of bird they would most like to see when visiting the Cairngorms National Park, I am pretty sure their answer would be the Capercaillie. But what are the chances of seeing this near mythical British bird, confined to such a tiny expanse of Ancient Caledonian pine forest. I must admit as we made the long journey north from Hampshire my hopes were high but the reality pretty slim. October especially not renowned for being the best month for seeing these turkey sized grouse.

But as with most things in life success is brought by not what you know but by who you know. I had been lucky enough via the accommodation we had booked for the week to have been put in touch with an expert in such species in the nearby vicinity. And so it came to pass on the Wednesday morning half way through our week’s stay we left at first light winding our ways slowly along rough forest tracks heading deeper and deeper into the heart of Abernethy forest in the hope of finding the Horse of the Woods the Capercaillie. The initial plan was to find some lekking Blackcock whilst always maintaining the lookout for our main target the Caper. After 10 miles of so of slow decent we arrived on the fringes of open moorland. Both our first and second lek sights proved abandoned and our guide was beginning to show a few signs of worry.

We caught a glimpse briefly of a cock Caper, as we the light started to lift among the trees, a distant view amongst the forest floor. But enough of a view to confirm a sighting and lifer.

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Onward we drove back through the forest and to another area of open moorland. Speeding out of the vehicle we were beckon with all hast to a rise overlooking a distant lek and sure enough there on small bluff 8-9 Blackcock performed there lekking display.

With one target in the back we head towards home, the clock had passed half 8, our 2-hour trip out nearly up, so our guide was hoping we might encounter the biggest of all grouse on the route back. Luckily, we did, and an encounter I think I will always remember, stopping the car as if we had been in a crash our expert pointed out a thick black neck peering up from the woodland floor a good 50 yards from the forest track. To the untrained eye it just appeared like the trick of the light, but with carefully consideration the form of a young male Capercaillie stared back at us in the early autumn sunshine. I twisted myself into some positions I didn’t think were possible as I tried my best to get some shots from the window of the car. Luckily this young male was happy to sit prone for 15 minutes or so allowing plenty of photos before launching his massive bulk off to continue its day.

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A truly unforgettable encounter in a truly magical setting, all credit to our mornings guide, who without his knowledge, passion and dedication to this area and species we wouldn’t have gone away with a memory like this!

EAGLE & OTTER FOR LUNCH

Isle of Mull, April 2017

Wildlife photography is very much all about committing huge amounts of time in the pursuit of a picture that is truly memorable. This could be hours; weeks even months spent waiting for something to happen. But the result of a few seconds of luck is often worth all of the involvement.

Occasion’s when events unfold before you on an off chance like this don't come around very often, even less so for me when I have a camera in my hand. So to come across a juvenile White-tailed Eagle perched on the side of a loch just meters from the road seemed like the wildlife spotting gods were looking favourably on me. What unfolded after this was truly astonishing and an event that I think will probably be my greatest wildlife encounter ever.

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Totally immersed in snapping away at the young Eagle I hadn’t taken in the Otter feeding on its catch just feet away to the left of the Eagle, and it wasn’t until the Eagle took to the wing and started dive bombing something on the shoreline that I realised exactly what was going on. Enjoying a rather tasty looking brunch the Otter was merrily minding his own business when out of nowhere an 8ft behemoth swooped down to try and scavenge its catch. Unlike the school bullies stealing the weedy kids lunch the Otter just flicked his head matrix style out of the way avoiding the huge open talons that hurried towards it and carried on without a care in the world.

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3 Unsuccessful attempts later the Eagle gave it up as a bad job and flew off to harass something else, Leaving the other 7 or 8 people and myself buzzing from witnessing such an awesome spectacle of nature. Whilst the Otter enjoyed the remainders of its fish! The Isle of Mull delivering for me yet again!

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