Friday, 25 January 2013

Scottish Highland: The Cairngorms

Finally have some spare time to upload my blog, sorry I've been rather busy for the pass months after the US trip. For the pass few years of X'mas and New Year I've been spending away from friends and family, working away in different parts of the world; you can imagine then staying home this year was amazing but really hectic!

Anyway, I've spent the whole last week in the Scottish mountain, the Cairngorms, one of the last standing wilderness in the UK. The trip was organised by a good friend of mine, who got a few of us back together like the good old days, perving at wildlife, geeky talks, and basically doing what we love in the wild.
My experience of the Scottish highland was very unique and different from anywhere else I've been around the world. While the UK was having a large amount of snowfall last week, we've gone even further into the snow! The Cairngorms being up in the highland, there are much more snow and can be extremely windy; -10c with wind chill factor at 90mph to be exact!

8 of us stayed at a self-catering house in a local farm for the week. The snowy landscape was beautiful and being out of town, the night-sky was extraordinary.

Amazing night-scape at our downstep, a min walk down to the farm 
The spectrum of colours from the sunrise reflected by the snow, turning everything into pink 

Of course, we've been traveling around the Cairngorms, from dawn till dusk, looking for the unique wildlife the scottish mountain offers. 

Coal tits feeding in a RSPB reserve we visited 
A friendly coal tit feeding right out of my hand!
I've never seen this many coal tits at the same time!
Here we have a cheeky crested tit looking for food

Although not as colourful as some other tits, crested tits 'bridled' face pattern and the upstanding black and white crest make this a most distinctive species. They are largely confined to ancient Caledonian pine forests and Scots pine plantations. (RSPB 2012) They spends their time foraging on the trunk and large branches of pine trees, where England lacks over many years of deforestation. Scotland is the last breeding area for the crested tits, where the remaining pine forests habitat stands in the UK.

A wide-angle shot of the crested tit in its habitat 

After spending some epic time with the woodland birds, we left them nicely fed and headed into the mountain, in search of mountain hare and my personal favorite: ptarmigan.

Mountain hare in winter coat, hiding in the snow
They are much easier to spot when they are on the move, usually a good view of their bum! 
Female ptarmigan on snow blending into the background
I've hiked 3 separate days and over 20 miles combined in search of this bird but unfortunately, this was the only image I've got. As you can see they are extremely hard to spot in the snow, and only found high up in the mountain where there is extensive snowfall and very strong wind. Nevertheless it was great to see them in the wild!

Half way through our trip, we found a couple of locations where we can see red squirrels early in the morning. A small group of us went out early before sunrise to get a glimpse of this native squirrel species in the UK. 

The main threats to the survival of these native reds are the increasing number of non-native grey squirrels, disease and road traffic. Red squirrels can be very elusive and spend much of their time in the tree canopy away from predators such as pine marten and birds of prey.

For my next blog update we have a mini winter study of red grouse, as well as some 'behind the scene' video clips, hiking in epic scottish highland condition. After that I'll backlog some more of my travel journal in the U.S.A. so be sure to keep an eye out on here!


  1. The image of the hare running away is very cool, Jacky.

  2. Goods phots again Jacky, I went last year you should of let me know you were going might of saved you trekking a few miles! lol Anyhow looks like you have done rather well