Wednesday 26th April - Sunday 30th April 2017
Sorry this tour is now FULL
Spring is a wonderful time in the Highlands, with the harsh of grip of winter abating you can begin to feel the warmth of the early spring sunshine. The sense of relief of the birds and animals is almost palpable as they start to busy themselves for the breeding season.
The Mountain Hares are now in their transition and their pelage is a beautiful mottled and textured mix of white and browns. I love to photograph them at this time of the year, not only are they more relaxed and receptive to an approach, but they look fabulous with the contrast of their fur against the dark backgrounds. Saying that at this time of the year snow showers are never far away, and it’s not unusual to have a late fall of snow well into May.
The high corries of the Cairngorms are alive to the croaking of the hardiest of all birds, the Ptarmigan. Although most of them with be into their spring moult it’s still possible to find individuals still in their pure while finery. This is by far the best time of the year to photograph Ptarmigan. Most have paired up and the cock birds are busy establishing territories. This leads to lots of noise and interaction between males. They chase each other around the corries and at times will fight just like black grouse, and to capture this behaviour is the Holy Grail to any Ptarmigan photographers!
Access to the mountain is by a well maintained path and the walk in takes about an hour. You will need to have a reasonable level of fitness to tackle the ascent and decent.
The delightful and delicate Snow Bunting does actually breed in the Cairngorms but only in very small numbers. Most of the birds seen around the U.K. are migrants from more northerly and colder climates. If we’re lucky we will take the opportunity to photograph these confiding wee birds. The Ring Ouzel is another specialist that arrives in the Cairngorms around this time, and if we see one we will not pass it by without pointing a camera in its direction! Image Red Grouse always surprise me in the areas they inhabit, and often during the colder winter months they can be found at higher altitudes than Ptarmigan, though why they would choose to be that high up is a mystery to me! On this tour most of the opportunities to photograph grouse will be taken from the comfort of the 4X4 ‘mobile hide!’
Black grouse are the real stars of a ‘Highland Spring’ and feature high on the list of ‘must do’ wildlife photography experiences. And an experience it is. To photograph black grouse involves a stupidly early start to the day, a drive across the eastern Cairngorms and a very short walk to the hide, followed by a couple of hours of sitting in a hide on a wild and exposed moorland. Am I selling this to you? Any photographer of wildlife knows that to capture the ultimate image you have to be in the right place at the right time, and this location is the best spot to photograph black grouse in the U.K. if not Europe!
It’s so good in fact, I’ve decided to give you two mornings in the hide. I’ve done this because no sessions are the same and on the second day, you’ll be fully prepared and primed to capture the action as and when it happens.
Now only the cute stuff, Crested Tits and Red Squirrels are two of the Highlands' most iconic species. I have two different private sites for them and a half day will be spent at each, and if due to poor weather we are unable to visit the Ptarmigan, we could either repeat this day or if the group decides they’d like to spend another day with the mountain hares, then I’m happy.
These are the species we will be concentrating on as our main photographic subjects.
Mountain Hare, Ptarmigan, Red Squirrels, Red Grouse, Crested Tit.
These are species that I see on occasion and we would not pass up the opportunity to photograph them if circumstances allow.
Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle, Ring Ouzel, Snow Bunting, Crossbill, Meadow Pipit, Slavonian Grebe, Red Kite, Buzzard, Otter, Stoat.
Five action packed Photography Days
Five nights accommodation - Dinner Bed & Breakfast - Grant Arms Hotel
(Additional nights accommodation are available, please ask for details.)
Lunch, refreshments and snacks
Travel: All Travel from your hotel to and from the sites & locations in a comfortable 4X4 fitted with full winter tyres.
Arrival/Departure Airport/Railway pick-up/Drop off
Guiding/Tuition: The full attention of the guide, patient and courteous help and advice when and where it’s required.
Giving back to nature: Five Caledonian pine trees will be planted in our ‘Trees for Life’ corporate grove on your behalf; this is as part of our ‘Giving back to nature’ policy.
Fun & Humour: Photographing wildlife should be an enjoyable experience. Although we’re serious about helping to obtain the best possible images, this will be done in a fun and relaxed way.
What’s Not Included?
Insurance, Drinks in the hotel, Items not stated on this page
Tuesday 25th - Arrival Day
Arrive in Inverness or Aviemore. You will be picked up from you point of arrival either the airport, rail or bus station and transported to your first night's accommodation. A pre-dinner chat about the forthcoming week and what it has in store.
Today we will be paying a visit to my absolute favourite species of all; the mountain hare. Our aim of this day is to capture as many styles of images as possible, everyone loves a portrait image so in addition to this we will also try to capture some behavioural and in-situ habitat images. The walk up the hill takes approximately half an hour and we will be spending time lying and crawling across uneven at times wet ground. Trust me the effort will be worth it, nothing beats sitting on a hillside with a glorious view and a compliant and relaxed mountain hare for company!
To photograph ptarmigan takes a bit of effort, the walk up the mountain takes about an hour and is taken at a nice steady pace, there is a good path but we may have to traverse over some patches of snow, don't worry though there's nothing too steep. Once in the Ptarmigan hot-spot we will sit down and take time to soak up the stunning surroundings, all this with the soundtrack of croaking ptarmigan to keep us entertained.
Once again the goal is to capture as many different styles of images as is possible, we will take great care in choosing our backgrounds, as this will make a huge difference to the quality of your images. Guidance will also be given on optimum camera settings if we have the possibility of shooting some high-key images of a ptarmigan against snow.
Black & Red Grouse
I'm sorry to inform you that to photograph black grouse requires us to be in the hides pre-dawn, and this entails an early start but trust me it's well worth it. Nothing can prepare you for your first encounter with black grouse at a lek, the noise, atmosphere and drama not to mention the stunning position and landscape. This is one of the ultimate wildlife experiences out-there.
The birds arrive just as dawn creeps in so for the first hours or so photography is futile. Eventually the lek will be illuminated and the action will be coming thick and fast, and if we're lucky and the female grouse (grey hens) drop in to check out the male grouse, all hell breaks loose and this is the time to capture the males strutting their stuff! In 2015 on this date we were gifted with a beautiful dusting of snow which added a magical element to not only the experience but the images. You never know it may happen again!
After leaving the lek at about nine o'clock we'll grab some breakfast at a nearby eatery then concentrate on Red Grouse until mid-afternoon, and by then you'll be ready to relax in the hotel and review your images. Don't forget though it's another early start tomorrow so make sure you get an early night.
No two visits to a lek are the same, that's why I've given you a second session. Also after reviewing your images from the previous session you will have learned from yesterday’s mistakes and you'll be fully prepared for what this morning’s action has in store. I find photographing black grouse one of the most rewarding types of photography, not only because of the effort involved but the birds themselves are truly stunning and being in their presence is a privilege. Hopefully you'll feel the same.
Depending on how tired the group feel the afternoon has been left open. Some of you may want to carry on and some may want to catch up on some sleep, and a decision will be made on the day to what we do in the afternoon, with various options being available.
Red Squirrels & Crested Tits
Today will be split up into two sessions, the morning will be spent photographing Red Squirrels and the afternoon will be at my Crested Tit site.
The aim of the session with the squirrels is to try for something a wee bit different, flying squirrels, back-lit, slow shutter speeds to capture the feeling of movement, and if you like, some classic mega-cute portrait images too?
The Crested tit site was specially selected for its outlook and aspect. It is set in a semi-mature and fairly open Caledonian pine wood. The open aspect is enough to let in light but not discourage the Cresties. These cheeky wee characters are great fun to photograph, not only are they stunning to look at they also are feisty and gregarious. As we will be spending the afternoon here we will mainly concentrating on back-lit images, although once again we can do classic portrait stuff too.
The tour ends at 4pm - if you would like to or need to stay an additional night, please let me know this can be arranged an additional cost. For guests travelling by air or sleeper train you will be driven to the airport or railway station.
Sunday Afternoon - End of Tour.
Minimum clients required: 2
Maximum number of clients: 3
All Travel from your arrival in Inverness/Aviemore is included.
Cost Per Person £1199
A £299 deposit will be required at the time of booking. The balance will be due six weeks before the first day.
You will need to have a reasonable level of fitness for this tour, if you have any questions or concerns relating to this please feel free to call me.
Please note that photographing wildlife in the Cairngorms is very much dependant on the weather, this may cause the itinerary to be changed at short notice. In the rare event of having a prolonged period of bad weather alternative species will be offered, as there's always something around worth photographing in the Highlands!