The Red Squirrel : A Future in the Forest

cheeky red squirrel in pine forest
Anyone who knows me will know of the illicit love affair that I’ve being having for the past thirty years…with red squirrels, of course. Growing up in what is now the Cairngorms National park in the heart of red squirrel country it was hard to avoid these charming creatures as they went about their business in the woodlands around my home. I’ve been interested in wildlife for as long as I can remember but it was the red squirrel which really got me involved with photography. It began simply enough by putting out a few hazelnuts to entice them to within camera range and before I knew it the squirrels had found the nuts and after just three days I had my first photograph and that was me hooked

Since those early beginnings there is really a day that goes by that I don’t go down to the woods to feed the squirrels. They have become a massive part of my life and I never tire of watching their amusing antics and trying to capture them in a new light or to show interesting behaviour. It’s an on-going quest, which I hope will never end. I regard myself as very lucky to have grown up and lived in such a beautiful part of the UK and whilst I try not to take the squirrels for granted it is easy to forget that the red squirrel has a tenuous hold in much of it’s range in other parts of the country and of course has been lost altogether from most of the UK for a variety of reasons.

red squirrel, cairngorms national park

Even here in Scotland where red squirrels are doing quite well, their range and population is hampered by a lack of suitable habitat. With less than 2% of the Caledonian forest now remaining in Scotland the future of the red squirrel is by no means certain. A lack of woodland corridors  means that populations have become isolated and fragmented and are much more prone to disease and predation. When we think of the demise of the red squirrel it is often the grey squirrel which is held up as the main culprit and whist this is certainly true in many areas it is not the whole story. The lack of suitable habitat remains the greatest challenge for the species and this is something that I would like to see addressed through a forward-thinking plan to increase woodland cover to join up the small islands of trees that exist at the moment.

As a photographer working alone for much of the time I find it frustrating that I am seemingly unable to make much of a difference. It is rewarding to take pictures that other people enjoy and I hope that in some small way this does make a difference and helps to influence opinion but a lot of the time these images are simply eye candy for folks who enjoy wildlife. There’s nothing wrong with that of course but I wanted to contribute in a more meaningful way as well as to fulfil a long held ambition to publish a book on red squirrels. I have to admit that this is self-indulgent to some degree – let’s face it who doesn’t like to see their images in print – but I hope that by teaming up with celebrated natural history author Polly Pullar and the team at Wild Media Foundation (the guys behind SCOTLAND: The Big Picture) who are helping bring this book to fruition I will be able to produce something that not only interests squirrel fans but also contributes to the wider discussion on promoting a wilder Scotland.

Red Squirrel sitting on branch of pine tree. In the Cairngorms National Park.

On 1st November we kicked off a crowd funding appeal to raise the funds that will allow us to produce the book independently. We have got off to a great start and I’d like to thank everyone who has backed the campaign so far but we have a long way to go and I hope that we can maintain the momentum through to the end of the month when the appeal ends. To be honest I am both excited and nervous in equal measure knowing that we need to reach the target to get the required funding otherwise we don’t get a penny and it’s unlikely the book will happen.

Fingers crossed the pledges will keep coming in though. It’s going to be squeaky bum time for the next few weeks that’s for sure!

If you’d like to make a pledge then please visit the Kickstarter web page at: http://kck.st/2eWxFHx

In addition, if you are able to post about the project on social media that would also be very much appreciated.

Thanks,
Neil

Rothiemurchus Diving Ospreys

Rothiemurchus osprey pool

With young Ospreys hatching now and over the next period the adults will be at full stretch feeding the hungry chicks.  Hopefully the well-stocked Osprey diving pond at Rothiemurchus will supply a good amount of trout for the regular birds that visit from the surrounding area.

Now in its second season and with a few tweaks from last year it is with great anticipation I look forward to the coming season. Two new low level hides and the edges of pond cleaned up allowing for cleaner backgrounds, it is certainly looking the part.  In the end up does not matter what you do it is the Ospreys that matter and so far in early part of the season things are looking positive with good activity from a variety of different birds. With chicks now hatching can only presume dives will increase.

Osprey, Rothiemurchus Osprey, Rothiemurchus

Most of my own visits have been guiding other photographers in the early morning shift but have managed one evening session myself, as I had all ways wanted to try some backlit shots. A perfect evening with good light and reasonable favourable wind direction I got myself settled into hide. Did not have to wait long perhaps 40 minutes when I seen a bird heading for the pond. A couple of circles round the pond and swoop in low over the water, this was looking promising, next pass over I could see the wings folding into dive position and down it came, splash it hit the water and I locked on and fired a burst of shots trying to keep tracking the bird, within a few seconds it had banked round the front of hide and away again but it had missed, chances are it would have another go. With my heart now pumping in anticipation of what was going to happen next, whoosh it was in again and this time it was in the water floundering as it grips the fish.  A big push and its now skimming the top of the water as he gains speed and upward momentum, after a few meters its clear of the water and picking up speed and I have lost the focus (a few expletives) sure you can work out what they were !!!! Anyway was sure had got some good shots of first few meters of take of. I could see the fish wriggling frantically as it went on its final journey so knew that bird wouldn’t be back. Time for a look to see what I had captured, please be something. Phew a few and a couple look really promising, typically a couple of crackers have the head obscured by its wing  ,which inevitably does happen in a sequence. Sadly did loose focus at one vital stage so angry with myself (room for improvement Neil) as I curse myself.  Anyway will reserve full judgement till get back to my mac. Once home and done edit was happy with a couple and the evening light did look rather nice so had to satisfied really. Best two shots are the ones you see here of  Blue XD , a bird we had seen visiting a few times last year. These other images you see are from my most recent visit this year and are of an unidentified bird. However he does seem to be a regular.

Osprey, Rothiemurchus Osprey, Rothiemurchus Osprey, Rothiemurchus

With Rothiemurchus having a busy booking spell over July –August  sure there will be many more Osprey images from many photographers to be seen over the next few months. Anyone lucky enough to get a few dives will soon realize how addictive it is , cant put my finger on it exactly but it is one of these experiences that just gets a hold of you. Who ever comes will know exactly what I mean. The bird with fish, below, is Blue DF a favourite bird also returned again this year.

Osprey, Rothiemurchus Osprey, Rothiemurchus

I have my own Diving Osprey tour next year, keep an eye on photo tour page on website for details coming soon.

Ptarmigan

Ptarmigan, Cairngorms

The grouse family have long since been a special subject for me to photograph, indeed some 28 years ago when I first started they where the very first birds I set out to try and capture on film , as it was back then.  Over these past years I have covered the Capercaillie , Black grouse and Red grouse fairly well, however not for the lack of trying I was never really happy with my Ptarmigan shots.  Over many trips up the Cairngorms over the years I cannot recall returning home without pictures but was nearly all ways disappointed with the results. Perhaps I am being to harsh on my own pictures and some of these I had taken where not that bad but I know what was achievable and felt my shots where largely well short of the standards I set myself.

Ptarmigan, Cairngorms

Ptarmigan, Cairngorms

For much of February this year (2013) we had the most amazing spell of weather imaginable with virtually no wind and clear blue sky’s, perfect conditions for Ptarmigan in the Cairngorms. However during this period I had photo tours nearly every day and none of them included going up to do the Ptarmigan , each day would go by and I would look up towards the hills imagining how good it must have been to be up there. Indeed this proved to be the case as each night you would see other photographers tweeting about what a great day they just had in the Cairngorms , naturally I was delighted for them 🙂 !!! . Only joking, anyone making the effort to get up there deserves their pictures.

Ptarmigan, Cairngorms

Ptarmigan, Cairngorms

With the weather still holding at last I got a day to do some of my own photography, with conditions perfect for various other subjects I pondered briefly what subject to go for. Briefly is the term as it was a no brainer really to go for the Ptarmigan. With my friend Mick who was visiting at the time we got an early start and headed up the hill. By 10am we were up in Ptarmigan country . A walk up the highest ridge with most light proved fruitless, no birds to be seen, surely it was not going to one of these days . A change of direction and down in to the corrie side overlooking the boulder field things looked or should I say sounded better as I could hear the distinctive croak of the Ptarmigan coming from the opposite side, a scan with the binoculars and sure enough there must have been over 20 birds scattered about amongst the rocks and to my great relief on the lit up side of the corrie and not on the shady side which has largely been the reason for the disappointing results from previous endeavours.

Ptarmigan, Cairngorms

Ptarmigan, Cairngorms

Never much point in sneaking up on Ptramigan as they have seen you coming from a long way back so all you can really do is approach them slowly and carefully and just hope you get some obliging birds.  Well this proved to be the case, for the next 5 hours we stayed with various different groups of birds following them as they went about their daily routine, can only say what a privilege and fantastic experience it was and one that will stay with me for the rest of my days. So after over 20 years of trying at last I got the day I longing for, was it worth the wait, you bet it was. Worth mentioning Mick my friend who was with me, it was his first time doing Ptarmigan.

Ptarmigan, Cairngorms

Ptarmigan, Cairngorms

Ptarmigan, Cairngorms

Neil McIntyre Photography – welcome

Hello everyone and welcome to my new website and indeed to my first blog post.  The old website had its day and was long overdue an update to say the least , in the end up decided just to go full hog for complete new site, with all new image’s largely taken over the past 2 years and hopefully improved the photo tour information side of things also. Instead of having the Scottish Wild Images site and my own website have now incorporated it all in to this one . Will not make any rash promises but fully intend to keep the blog updated reasonable well , at least one a month or more depending if got anything of interest that crops up. While on the topic of websites a big thank you to Neil at Dancing Dog for all his work and ideas.

Just a little update on what been going on and what is coming . Mainly been busy with photography tours which continue to be popular, so will strive to keep the ever popular Red Squirrels, Crested tits etc going along as well as the new Red Deer day which you can see more about on the photo tour page. Not long till Black grouse lek either , weekends all full up but availability still ok mid week if anyone interested. And of course the new Osprey diving pond at Rothiemurchus is very exciting for the forthcoming summer so will keep you up to date with that. As for my own pictures managed to get some bits and bobs but difficult to get really stuck into anything as clients photo tours take priority at the moment. Have included a couple of most recent shots here, both taken when out on photo tours with folks last week when weather was so bad would not normally have gone out and just shows what you can still get despite the weather sometimes.

Crested tit, on branch of old pine.

Crested tit, on branch of old pine.

Mountain Hare tucked up below peat bank, sheltering from gale force winds.

Mountain Hare tucked up below peat bank, sheltering from gale force winds.

Have just finished Judging the first round of the Scottish Nature Photography Awards, quite a task with around 2500 entries this year. I have to say some top images in there this year and will be a very hard task indeed to pick the winning shots in the next stage.

Sorry not the most exciting blog to get started with but hopefully next time will be 🙂 . Thanks for now.