Archive for Cairngorms

Super Squirrels…

Posted in European Wildlife, Photography, UK Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2013 by Neil Aldridge

© Neil Aldridge

Okay so let’s get one thing clear – these aren’t actually flying squirrels, they’re red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris). More specifically, they’re Scottish red squirrels. Most of my previous attempts to photograph these wonderfully iconic creatures have been fruitless, which makes me even happier with the resulting pictures from a recent trip to the Highlands.

© Neil Aldridge

If I’m honest, while planning this trip to Scotland I was visualising and hoping for snow…and lots of it. Yet, while neither myself nor fellow South African photographer Ben Cranke came away with the wintery images that we had prepared for (and I always try to plan my shots before a shoot), the show that the squirrels put on and the opportunities that we had to capture their antics were beyond our expectations.

© Neil Aldridge

Ben and I spent two days working a set-up in Glenfeshie (check out the Northshots website for info) in the Cairngorms National Park, moving between a hide by a drinking pool and a hide positioned on the edge of the forest. We managed to learn the habits of the squirrels pretty quickly and finally get the best jumping, drinking and feeding shots that the lighting conditions would allow. While we may have arrived in the middle of a strange mid-winter heatwave, the sun was still low in the sky and barely broke above the treeline, making me pretty glad I had the f2.8 capacity of my Canon 400mm and 70-200mm lenses. I was also quietly happy to see Ben struggling to autofocus in the low light with his much vaunted Nikon D4* (*Disclaimer: this may not have happened).

© Neil Aldridge

It’s neither a secret nor is it new news that red squirrels in the UK have been squeezed out of their natural range by non-native grey squirrels. Grey squirrels cause such damage to the UK’s native fauna and flora that they are listed in the IUCN international list of 100 most impactful invasive non-native species. They are not only larger and out-compete the native reds for resources but they also carry the parapox virus. While greys can carry the virus without being affected, reds are highly susceptible to it. Research shows that in areas where both species occur and where the virus is present, greys can displace the reds up to 20 times faster. This makes protecting red squirrel strongholds both more important and more difficult.

© Neil Aldridge

Having been won over by Glenfeshie’s super squirrels, we left the comfort of the hides behind and spent two days on the surrounding snow-capped mountains searching for ptarmigan. Check back soon to see how we got on looking for white birds in a white landscape in horizontal blizzards.

© Neil Aldridge

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Highland highlights

Posted in European Wildlife, Photography, UK Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 10, 2011 by Neil Aldridge

Scotland may be a stronghold for many of the UK’s rare and threatened species – like the golden eagle, Scottish wildcat, pine marten, crested tit and capercaillie – but the natural light can be second to none for landscape photography, particularly in spring. The changeable weather that made my attempts at photographing ospreys so frustrating were the exact conditions that made me stop again and again to break out my tripod and wide-angle lens.

The fierce winds that rocked Scotland for several days in May did make maintaining a steady camera and tripod hard work. Thankfully, a hefty 400mm f2.8 lens makes for a heavy camera bag to hang off the hook under the head mount and anchor the tripod in place. The movement in the clouds and waters as a result of the wind allowed for some atmospheric long-exposure shots, particularly at Loch Garten in the Abernethy Forest and at the picturesque 18th-century bridge in the centre of Carrbridge.

When the sun did break through the clouds it mostly bathed the slopes of the Cairngorms and dappled the forest floor in brilliant golden light. This meant that waiting for the right break in the clouds was often the name of the game. That said, waiting for a rainbow to reach across the skies or for the reflection of a mountain scene to appear in a loch is easy in such tranquil surroundings. I’m already planning my next trip and you can bet my wide-angle lens and cable-release will be going with me!

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