Archive for scotland

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

Check out more images & news at conservationphotojournalism.com

Help…I’m drowning in nostalgia!

Posted in Photography, Travel, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2012 by Neil Aldridge

A quick glance around you in the run up to new year’s eve is likely to reveal newspapers each featuring special ‘2012 in review’ supplements, a television set showing one panel show’s ‘special Christmas edition’ after another (probably all filmed sometime in August), websites showcasing their ‘pictures of the year’ and a host of blogs by photographers reviewing their achievements in the year gone by. I was tempted to wade in and join the nostalgic party but if I – someone who neither owns a television nor buys newspapers – feel somewhat overwhelmed then I’m guessing you could do without one more person jumping up and down shouting “look what I did, look what I did”, right?

I also figured that if you did come to this blog expecting a what-was-what in the world of Conservation Photojournalism in 2012, it would be a lot simpler for you to use one finger to just scroll your mouse down the page and pick out the highlights that I bothered to write at the time, thereby saving ten of my fingers the effort of revisiting old news.

In the midst of all this nostalgia, I’m really looking forward to 2013. The first few weeks of the year will be taken up with a plethora of competition submissions of various sizes and guises, the completion of my first ebook and the launch of a range of high quality photographic prints for sale via my website. In terms of destinations, I will be exploring new locations like the Galapagos Islands and returning to old favourites like the Highlands of Scotland. I also have the first of my new photo tours to Estonia in partnership with Remo Savisaar running in May. Finally, with my African wild dog book Underdogs now firmly on the shelves of shops or (hopefully) living rooms, I will be putting the finishing touches to the proposal for my new, dream project and hopefully doing the first recce trip later in the year. Stay tuned…2013 is going to be a great year!

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!

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com

Ospreys aplenty

Posted in Conservation Photography, European Wildlife, Photography, UK Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2011 by Neil Aldridge

Those of you who read my last post and followed my tweets will know that I recently set myself the challenge of bettering my previous attempts at photographing ospreys hunting. For this, I needed a reliable location where I knew ospreys would be literally queuing up to catch food for their newly-hatched chicks. There are a few locations on the continent renowned for giving photographers the chance to work close to the action but Scotland’s Rothiemurchus estate on the outskirts of Aviemore and the Cairngorms National Park certainly ticks all of the boxes.

My first sighting of an osprey hunting was actually en route to Aviemore. Having stopped at the Scottish Wildlife Trust‘s Loch of the Lowes reserve near Dunkeld to see the resident female sitting on the nest, I couldn’t have been more than a couple of miles up the road before I found the male hunting along the River Tay. He must have gone down for fish five times in the time I watched him from my car, frustrated that I couldn’t find somewhere to pull over.

My frustrations were short-lived however and at first light the next morning I found myself frantically climbing into my hide with two ospreys scoping out the offerings of the Rothiemurchus lochs from above. Unfortunately, the changeable Scottish weather meant plenty of white cloud – nightmare conditions for photographing a predominantly black-and-white bird. When the sun did break through the clouds however, the light was fantastic and I often found my eyes wandering off to admire the Cairngorms reflecting proudly in the still waters rather than watching the skies for approaching ospreys.

My time at Rothiemurchus perhaps didn’t yield exactly what I had hoped for – the high quality shot of an osprey emerging from the water with a fish in its talons – although I must say that was through no fault of Speyside Wildlife and Rothiemurchus who between them provide what must be one of the UK’s top wildlife watching opportunities. Two ospreys carried off fish and there were several other failed plunges during my time by the lochs. Only two hunts happened within view however, and both were at quite a distance in dull morning light. That said, I think I can safely say that I have met my challenge and bettered the only shots of an osprey in my portfolio.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to test your photographic skills, then I couldn’t recommend a trip to Aviemore and Rothiemurchus more highly, particularly as the site plays a vital role in sustaining a healthy and renowned local population of these special birds of prey. Ospreys were extirpated from the UK by 1916 but now, almost a century later, it’s clear they’re safely established once again thanks to the hard work of organisations like the RSPB and people like Roy Dennis.

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com

Tweet! Tweet!

Posted in Photography, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , on May 27, 2011 by Neil Aldridge

Okay, so having linked myself into LinkedIn and booked myself onto Facebook, I’ve finally made it on to Twitter and tweeted my first tweet. With trips to Scotland, Estonia and Botswana coming up and some exciting projects in the pipeline, I thought it would be a more accessible way to keep you up to date while at the same time keeping abreast of news from other sources.

I thought I’d kick off by inviting you to keep track of a little personal challenge…to see if I can better my only shots of an osprey hunting, taken unexpectedly one morning on a beach in St Lucia, South Africa, with the wrong camera.

So, if you want to know if the ospreys survived the ‘apocalyptic’ wind (to quote BBC’s Gordon Buchanan) that Scotland has recently endured, then why not….

Follow AldridgePhoto on Twitter

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com

Northern light

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

As the January gloom took hold, I decided to head north for some inspiration. You can see some of my landscape photographs from Scotland and Northern England in the gallery pages of my main website at conservationphotojournalism.com

When the sun licks the landscapes of Scotland and North Yorkshire, I’m always reminded of the opportunities that the UK has to offer photographers. It is little wonder that true masters of landscape photography like Joe Cornish photograph few other locations. I, on the other hand, am readily drawn home to the wilds of Africa where the biodiversity and therefore the opportunities are perhaps more varied. Conscious of my carbon footprint however, I am seeking out more and more opportunities within the UK and Europe when I can and getting results from expeditions like this latest trip north may be harder fought but they are just as rewarding.

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com

Too big for our skies?

Posted in Conservation, Conservation Photography, European Wildlife, Photography, UK Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2010 by Neil Aldridge

With Natural England and the RSPB carrying out yet more research, assessments and feasibility studies to see if a reintroduction of White-tailed (Sea) Eagles into Suffolk will have a detrimental impact on the livestock farming industry in the area, one would be forgiven for thinking they were readying themselves for a good old-fashioned western duel, not initiating a conservation project. The immortal threat of ‘this town ain’t big enough for the both of us’ permeates the attitude of the old-fashioned society that these conservation bodies are up against, generally intolerant of anything with a predatory disposition. Unfortunately for our birds of prey, far too many ‘conservationists’ fall into this club as well, intent solely on protecting pretty song birds and ground-nesting game birds.

It’s astonishing the number of people that I’ve met over the last year or more who all regurgitate the same line of ‘there’ll be nothing left’ when the topic of a White-tailed Eagle reintroduction comes up, as if the bird is some rabid tiger with huge pterodactyl wings. Yes, they are known to take lambs but there are measures that can be taken that don’t include poison or firearms. The birds, mammals and fish that we see around us in Britain today all survived the period when the eagle lived here naturally before we extirpated them, so what would be different if they were to be reintroduced? Or have our interests in self-preservation reached such levels that we honestly believe there is no space for any top predators other than ourselves?

But, with it being the International Year of Biodiversity, I shall try to remain optimistic. After all, Natural England does seem optimistic about starting formal consultation on the reintroduction issue in the second half of this year. Perhaps one day we will see this magnificent bird return to English skies. But for now, in defiance and celebration rather than pessimism and nostalgia, here’s a series of photographs from my last couple of visits to Scotland showing both wild and captive birds doing what White-tailed Eagles do best. Wouldn’t it be great to see this along England’s coast once again…

White-tailed Eagles, part 2

Posted in Conservation, Conservation Photography, Photography, UK Wildlife, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2009 by Neil Aldridge

9M6J2897crop2I recently returned to Scotland to try and get the shots of white-tailed eagles I felt I was missing from my last visit. The weather was perfect on all 4 days, giving me the chance to capture the eagles hunting at a higher shutter speed and a lower ISO.

While all seemed rosy with perfect conditions for the eagles to feed their chicks, truth be known these were one of the lucky pairs after a spell of bad weather had hit western Scotland earlier this spring, meaning that many nests have failed this year.

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The weather I can put down to luck but the timing wasn’t by chance. I’d planned my visit to Skye for a few weeks after the chicks would be likely to hatch so that the adults would be hunting twice as hard to feed their growing chicks and to keep themselves in shape, providing me with more opportunities to get the shots I was after.

9M6J2769cWith some shots already in the bag from the previous day with the 1d mark3 and the calmest, brightest day of the lot upon us, the timing seemed perfect to try the new 5d mark2 with a 1.4x teleconverter and 400mm f2.8 combination. But, true to the unpredictable nature of photographing wildlife, the eagles didn’t want to budge from their nest, content with digesting the sea bird they had killed before our arrival on the scene earlier that morning.

In the end I had to be happy with what I’d captured on the first morning and this gave me the chance to see what other wildlife was thriving alongside the eagles on the island.

The trip provided me with my best views of golden eagles and one of my most memorable encounters with a pair of otters. Also, knowing that cuckoos are having a hard time of it at the moment, it made it all the more rewarding that by the end of the trip we’d seen 5 of these charismatic birds. In true Scottish style however, the warm weather following spring rains also meant one other thing – midges!

In all, it was again plain to see how important white-tailed eagles are to the local community. Sentimentality aside, a bad nesting season such as this one can have knock-on effects for tourism and the local economy and that came across in my conversations with those people whose lives are intrinsically linked to the presence of these magnificent birds.

White-tailed Eagles

Posted in UK Wildlife with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2009 by Neil Aldridge

What a week! To spend a week photographing in April in west Scotland and to not have any rain is good going, plus to see six white-tailed eagles and interraction between pairs at three of Mull’s nesting sites was something special!

The white-tailed eagle (also known as the sea eagle) is the UK’s largest bird of prey and the 4th largest eagle in the world. While I’m used to photographing large birds in Africa like the martial eagle, let me tell you…these birds are huge!

White-tailed eagles were persecuted to extinction in England 200 years ago and the UK’s last bird was shot in Scotland in the early 1900’s. It wasn’t until 1975 that a reintroduction programme in Scotland’s western isles was implemented using birds from Norway.

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Ferries carry hundreds of thousands of visitors to Mull each year and with eagle watching related tourism generating upwards of £1million annually for Mull’s economy, the reintroduction programme is clearly economically viable.

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After the success of the eagles on the west coast, a project to develop a population in East Scotland is now also underway. However, it seems that the English public will have to wait for further consultation and debate to conclude before they get the chance to see white-tailed eagles fishing Norfolk’s waters after plans for a reintroduction programme there were met with resistance.

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It is the threat to livestock, especially lambs, and amber conservation status birds like the avocet that concerns those opposed to the planned reintroduction in Norfolk. However, white-tailed eagles enjoy a varied diet, eating mainly fish and carrion. Based on experience of eagle management in Scotland, there is also a belief that wild eagles can be tought to feed on rabbits and other food rather than lambs by carrion being carefully situated.

wind turbineDespite their green credentials, the threat wind turbines pose to white-tailed eagles is a concern to conservationists and with further wind farms planned for the North Sea and east coast, any reintroduction of eagles to Norfolk could be affected.

Having seen how communities in developing countries in Africa deal with the very real threat of losing livestock to lions, leopards and wild dogs, I would really hope that the landowners, gamekeepers, conservationists and government of a modern, wealthy and forward-thinking country would be able to reach a responsible agreement over the reintroduction of a bird species. But you tell me…are white-tailed eagles too big for our skies? Cast your vote…