A friend of mine recently asked me to define the word “regular”. I gave him an answer which pleased him .He then asked me with a twinkle in his eye if the word might apply to blogs! I got the hint and decided to post about my February trip to Scotland.
I love Scotland for many reasons but the beautiful scenery and varied wildlife are two of the best. My last trip had been in August 2010. The main reason for my trip was to photograph ptarmigan and black grouse. I decided that February would be a good time as the snow should still be on the tops and ptarmigan in snow should make for stunning photos. February should also see the beginning of the courtship display by the male black grouse.
As I drove up from Holyhead showers of sleet were frequent and the air was much colder than the balmy 8 degrees in Connemara when I left earlier that morning. My first stop in Scotland was with fellow artist and friend Colin Woolf who lives in West Lothian.He and his wife Jo show me great hospitality every time I drop by and we spent many an hour looking at his latest art and photos. Jo did her best to introduce me to their cat who is called Purdey but cats being cats she just pretended that I was not there!
The following day saw me head up towards Tayside where I spent the following five days driving around the beautiful countryside photographing and sketching. Scotland had plenty of snow prior to my arrival and I began to realise that I might have a bit of difficulty getting up on some of the tops seeing that I was not experienced with hiking in snow. I decided to locate some lekking sites first and following Colin’s tipoff I came across seven males early the following morning on the lek. Leks are traditional areas where the birds congregate to partake in courtship displays to try to win a female.Females are called greyhens. I was delighted to see that they were displaying magnificently , hissing, bubbling and throwing shapes at one another.Two cocks even were trying to fight with a fence between them. I think one of the birds was a young cock and he enjoyed taunting the older one knowing that he couldn’t really do anything about it! The birds did not engage in any serious fighting as there were no hens about due to it being in the early stage of lekking.
They kept up their strutting until nine o clock and then flew off in different directions generally heading towards young pine plantations or birches.It was very exciting seeing all of this action and I got some valuable sketching time using my spotting scope.The sun brought out the most fantastic colours in the birds when it did shine.I enjoyed this spectacle for four mornings and I gained valuable grouse behaviour information. I enjoyed several mornings observing them and spent a few evenings watching them feeding in birches. It is astonishing to see these big birds balancing on small branches as they reach for the succulent buds.
My next port of call was the Cairnwell mountain at Glenshee ski fields. This is a good spot to see ptarmigan. When I arrived I was shocked to see the mountainsides black with skiers! They were having a great season with all the snow. People do not bother the ptarmigan here and shortly afterwards weighed down with cameras and clothes I slowly plodded uphill. I had only gone a short distance when I realised that this would be considerably harder than my August 2010 walk. The snow made walking difficult as it was quite icy.I was glad that I had bought two walking sticks. I was keeping an eye out for snow buntings on the way up but did not see any. It was cloudy and coooold. I finally made the summit and sat down to have a well deserved cup of tea when the cloud descended on me and I had to beat a hasty retreat downhill. This is where the fun began. I think that I spent as much time descending on my backside as on my feet! I really should have had crampons on my boots. The camera took a few knocks but I finally made it to the car with only my pride hurt…all that way up just to come straight down again! I did get a photo of what I believe were ptarmigan footprints though. The mountains are dangerous places when white outs occur and I was glad that I erred on the side of caution as the top was now completely fogged out.
I could write much more but will let the photos tell the story. My week saw very little good photographic light, much of the time been grey and cloudy , no rain thankfully.
The ptarmigan photographs will have to wait until next time!