We spent 3 weeks in the Western Isles (Outer Hebrides). Our first 2 weeks were on the island of North Uist then our last week was on South Uist. We also took several day trips to some of the other islands. Click on the image below to go to the trip gallery :-
This spring we ventured down to Hampshire in search of an early butterfly - the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary.
We found a colony with lots of fresh males and females but the weather was too good - the glorious sunshine and heat meant that the butterflies were very active, flying around all day long, barely resting and giving few photo opportunities. However, one afternoon some rain clouds blew in and we had light showers for a while. During this period we managed to find several roosting butterflies.
With so many fresh individuals we were hoping to find a mating pair. Eventually we found one up a tree !
We took some time out to look for Wood White butterflies in Surrey. It was fairly early in their flight period and we found plenty of fresh specimens.
There were several pairs displaying courtship behaviour that we hadn’t seen before. The male would repeatedly curl and uncurl his proboscis whilst the female looked on. Then he would rapidly open and close his wings in a dazzling flashy display.
As the ferocious heat of the day died down the butterflies all disappeared. Although we’d been following them all day we couldn’t find any settled ones. We packed up our gear to go back to our accommodation and as we walked out of the wood we came across a few that were roosting on dandelion heads.
Whilst we were down south we also paid another visit to Dean Mason and his harvest mice. These delightful creatures are always up to something and Dean provides ample props for them to explore. We had another great morning and managed to capture something different to our last few visits.
We returned to the Scottish Highlands for an action-packed week.
For 3 days we got up at 3am to meet Mark Hamblin at 3:45. We then walked in the dark up onto a heather moorland and settled into comfortable semi-permanent hides. After only a short wait we could hear the black grouse arrive at the Lek site, but it was still too dark to see them. The sound of their bubbling calls was amazing, and we could occasionally hear the hisses and wing clashes of duelling males. After a while we started to make out their white tail feathers in the gloom then slowly daybreak allowed us to see the birds properly. With our cameras set to fairly high ISO values we were able to start photographing properly around 5am. One morning several females came in and we were photographing from 4:15 with good results.
The males squared up to each other but didn’t often come to blows.
The more dominant males jumped off the ground and called to assert their positions.
Occasional clashes settled disputes.
One morning about a dozen females flew in under cover of darkness.
Thankfully they stayed for quite a while and had the boys running round after them.
Each day it was around 7:30 that the birds flew off the lek and the morning’s excitement was over.
After the exciting early mornings, sometimes we just chilled out or went for a walk. On other days we went in search of mountain hares that were between their white winter coats and their grey/brown summer ones. They were standing out well in the heather.
The ones that were further along in the change process blended into the heather better.
The weather was warm and sunny, so many of the hares were fairly hot in their thicker white fur coats.
Some sought the patches of remaining snow to cool down on.
It wasn’t only the mountain hares that were changing their coats - up in the Cairngorms the ptarmigan were also changing from their white winter plumage to their mottled grey summer plumage. They still fitted in with the landscape well and were quite hard to spot.
We found a confiding pair and followed them quietly for a couple of hours.
They moved slowly, feeding then resting for periods.
The female is a lovely mottled golden colour.
The male is darker and has bright red eye wattles. He called a few times to make sure the female stayed close.
When they waded across a shallow stream we left them peacefully on the other side.
On the first day the cliff ledges were lined with guillemots, razorbills and other seabirds with a smattering of puffins too.
However the weather was changeable with high winds and at this early point in their breeding season the birds were not settled. The next day there were only fulmars left on the ledges, most of the other birds had flown out to sea. There were several eider ducks on the island so we spent some time with these lovely birds.
Thankfully by our last day some of the puffins had started to return to the island, although they still seemed fairly nervous and unsettled.
In late February & early March we spent a couple of weeks up in the Scottish Highlands with one of our favourite subjects - mountain hares. Snowfall had been fairly moderate this winter but at least there was a little fresh snow fall whilst we were in the hills.
Weather conditions varied between bright blue sky and thick low misty clouds. Sometimes it was difficult to keep an eye on each other, let alone the hares !
This poor hare got a shock as it crested the hill in the mist and had to jink to avoid bowling into us.
When the wind blew some of the hares took shelter in the juniper bushes on the lea side of the hill.
But some sat out the snowy storms.
We were pleased to find one of our old pals - a character we’ve seen for several years now.
Foxes are one of our favourite mammals but we haven’t photographed them for a couple of years.
So early in the new year we decided to devote some time to increasing our portfolio of these beautiful and charismatic animals.
For more fox images, click on the picture below to go to the fox gallery