One of the species to photograph on my list this year was Red Squirrels.
Living in North Wales I had a few options locally. Anglesey has a good population of reds and no greys and is only an hour away from home.
I also had the option of heading for Formby Point near Liverpool where Red squirrels are easy to see and approach without too much effort.
However having a few days free and a the need for an adventure I decided to make the trip to the Scottish Highlands and the heart of Red. Squirrel country in the Cairngorm National Park.
On short trips like this when you need pictures in a short space of time it’s good to use local guides or experts to show you the best places to visit without wasting hours or days searching.
On this occasion I decided to enlist the help of Neil Macintyre a man who growing up in the highlands has a special place in his heart for the Red Squirrel.
Deep in the pine ancient pine woods Neil has a hide set up where he can sit comfortably within close proximity of numerous squirrels who visit on a daily basis for a few hazel nut rewards.
The hide is also open to keen photographers allowing the chance to get some intimate views of otherwise shy animals.
Getting close to the Squirrels is however only half the story. They are very active little blighters and some perseverance is necessary along with some knowledge of Squirrels behaviour to get some half decent shots.
After two mornings of photography I left with a handful of images I was happy with and look forward to a return visit in the near future.
I am lucky enough to live on the edge of a very special woodland nature reserve. Coed Felinryd and Ceunant Llenrych. The woods date back almost 10,00 years to the last ice age and are some of the best remaining Atlantic Oak woodlands also known as temperate rainforests in Europe. Drenched with river spray and high rainfall (over 200 days per year) the humidity is high.
A walk through these woods is along steep narrow slippery tracks. I seldom meet anyone else along the way. Although becoming more popular over the last few years the woods are still far enough off the beaten track to attract too many visitors.
First discovered in Wales in 2005 in Ceunant Llenrych and otherwise only known from two sites in the highlands of Scotland and a handful of sites in Ireland ‘Blackberries in Custard’ or Pyrenula hibernica is a internationally rare species of lichen. Confined to the most undisturbed woodland and the smooth bark of Hazel in Wales.
The anticipation in the search for this lichen always leaves me breathless although this could also be down to the steep slopes of the ravine. The reality of the find however can leave you disappointed. I most cases it can look like a small patch of snot on a branch, it can take some time to find a good sample in perfect condition worthy of a photograph.
The first real covering of snow since I moved to Wales fell today.the weather forecast didn’t mention it.
I was not rally prepared for it. I had ran out of fire wood, and a few basics. The nearest shop of any kind is roughly about 5 miles away and the road out of the village is very steep unforgiving slope.
Lat month for some reason I decided to sell the landrover with the intention of upgrading to a more recent model. For some reason I can’t remember why once it had gone I did nothing to replace it.
So now I find myself having a pleasant day making the most of working at home.
The first half hour of any day when there is snow is a game of footie with Chester. Which if it doesn’t kill me at least gets the adrenalin going.
I am lucky enough to have a small corner of the paddock where each year in late winter to early spring I can find a few Scarlet Elfcups. Each time I see them I can’t resist taking another photograph although I have hundreds already. They look particularly striking in the snow.
There are two species in Britain which could be confused with each other. I don’t like common names when dealing with fungi it’s a little hit and miss but Scarlet Elfcups (Sarcoscypha austriaca) and Ruby Elfcups ( S.Coccinea) are so similar it is only by microscopic examination that you can be totally confident of a positive identification. From past examinations I am confident that I have S. austriaca but sometimes it doesn’t really matter, sometimes it is just about the beauty rather than the science.
For some reason I find it very difficult to get good pictures of Blackbirds. I find them much more cautious than most garden birds. This one was more intent on finding a morsal of food I in the snow than taking too much notice of me.
There are a few lone stems of Teasel left standing in the garden. The Goldfinch have been feeding on the seed heads throughout the late summer and autumn. It only takes a few seeds to be dropped on the dead heads to encourage them to perch for a few pictures.
One could not rally spend time in the garden in the snow without a picture or two of a Robin. In return for a mealworms or two the Robin is more than happy to co-operate.
On a recent trip to Southwest Scotland I had the opportunity to photograph one of my favorite birds the Kingfisher.
A friend has set up a hide on the bank of a river near the coast where a number of birds visit each day giving me the chance for some great photo’s. I must admit it was a pretty uncomfortable hide. Being close to the coast at high tide each day the hide was submerged under water which meant the inside was always cold,wet and very muddy.
However once a Kingfisher arrived you soon forgot the conditions.
This lovely female was the first to arrive. The male and female can be told apart by the orange color under the bill on the female where as the male has a black or dark bill.
This male made a nice composition on a nearby sign.
After five or six hours in the hide the light began to fade and I was quite pleased to be able to get out and stretch my legs.
Here are a few of the images I managed during the day.
One of the most difficult birds to photograph at the feeders is the Blue Tit. They seldom perch for long and are so quick by the time you have pressed the shutter on the camera they have moved.
One tip I have learnt is to focus your lens on the branch you expect them to land on and keep your eye in the viewfinder. A quick reaction is the only way. Take your eye off the ball and you will miss it.
Blue Tits as all birds need to be in good condition by the start of the breeding season. The energy and nutrients the extra food at the feeders provide during the winter help keep the birds in good condition so they are able to provide enough food for their offspring.
Here are a few images I have managed to take over the last few weeks.