We’ve had several great trips to the Shetland Isles so we planned to return a little later in the year than our previous visits, to get a few different images.
Click on the image below for the trip gallery.
Back home again we paid a return visit to Shropshire for purple hairstreak butterflies. We missed them on our last trip, being just a bit too early. This time we were fairly late in the flight period but managed to find a few butterflies.
There were plenty of other butterflies around too, including small coppers and gatekeepers.
Early this month we returned to our favourite farm for some more fun with hares &
Click on the picture below for the trip gallery.
On a trip to Norfolk later in the month we concentrated on finding swallowtail butterflies. Not an easy task as they tend to fly over large areas of reeds around the broads. However, we managed to find them in small numbers in a couple of places.
Also on the broads there were whitethroats nesting in the reeds.
On the way home from Norfolk we spent a few days in Northamptonshire searching for black hairstreaks. It seems to have been a bumper year as there were large numbers of fresh butterflies at a couple of sites. We also found several chrysalis or pupa.
After we returned home we had a couple of day-trips to Shropshire for the diminutive silver-studded blue butterflies. These differ from our local caernensis sub-species in North Wales - they’re slightly larger and the females have only a little blue on their upper side. Here they feed on flowering heather adding color to the photographs.
On our first visit we were fairly early in their flight period so the butterflies we saw were predominantly males.
We returned a week later and found a very fresh male newly emerged, still attended by ants.
Other males were found still roosting on rosebay willowherb.
As the day warmed up they flew out to the heather.
There was also a female roosting in the rosebay willowherb and many more females on the wing.
With so many males and females now on the wing we were sure there should be some mating pairs, so we took a walk around and soon managed to find several pairs.
We spent a couple of weeks on islands in the Hebrides. For the first week we were on North Uist in the Western Isles or Outer Hebrides. Our quest here was corncrake - we’d heard plenty on our visit last June but the vegetation had bee too high to see any. This time we went in early May when the vegetation was just starting to grow. We heard corncrakes everywhere and managed to see plenty of them. However, photography still wasn’t easy as they are such shy birds.
For our second week we moved to the isle of Mull where we planned to take boat trips
most days in search of 2 key species : Sea eagles on Loch Na Keal, Mull and Puffins
on Lunga, one of the Treshnish isles.
Click on the picture below for the trip gallery.
Out on a hike from home we found a large colony of one of our favourite butterflies - orange-tip. It was a day of mixed weather, ideal for butterfly photography : when the sun shone the wet meadow was full of flying butterflies but when the clouds brought the temperatures down suddenly a few of the insects were caught out and had to rest on cuckoo flowers.
We found several female orange-tips resting on cuckoo flower. On closer inspection the flowers had eggs on their stems. The orange-tip eggs are greenish-white when first laid. After 2-3 days they turn pink then orange. They are laid singly as the caterpillars are cannibalistic.
The female has no orange on her wings.
An orange egg can be seen at the bottom of the flower bud just below this female.
The male’s orange wing tips are difficult to see when he’s at rest,
but are very obvious as his wings open.
There were also green-veined white butterflies in the meadow.
We spent several days on a farm this month, trying to photograph hares. Unfortunately it was just after storm Gareth with high winds and heavy rain. The hares seemed to have taken cover in the woods and the long grass so we only managed to photograph them on one afternoon. However, a pair of kestrels kept us entertained each morning.
We soon learnt to tell the two kestrels apart - the female has an all brown head
and a narrow black band towards the end of her striped tail.
The male has a grey head and a wider black band on his plain tail.
Whilst we were in the hide one morning a red-legged partridge wandered by :
The farm also has a healthy population of tree sparrows :
Hares were the main focus of our visit, but they were being rather shy.
Each afternoon & evening we split up - one in a pop-up hide, one in a bag hide.
Most times nothing came by but one sunny afternoon we each had a couple of nice hare encounters :
A bonus that we hadn’t expected was a barn owl that decided it was hungry earlier than usual one evening :
Wildlife photography doesn’t always turn out as planned. When we booked a fortnight in the Scottish Highlands at the end of February we were hoping for snow. However, a heat-wave struck and there were record temperatures approaching 20’C. What little snow had fell on the hill-tops during the winter rapidly melted away, leaving only tiny pockets here and there. However, there was a silver-lining to this weather cloud ! We did lots of hill walking and bagged a couple of Munros so returned home much fitter. The calm conditions meant that we could get up many of the mountains that are often too dangerous to climb in the fierce winter winds that we usually encounter at this time of year. Thus we spent many days photographing one of our favourite birds - the ptarmigan.
Easier to spot than usual, standing out in their white winter plumage.
Many of the birds were already paired up. This was earlier than usual, possibly due to the mild temperatures.
Some territorial fights broke out when males invaded territories.
We got some funny looks from a male that flew close to us whilst we were eating our sandwiches. He then went on to claim his territory (still eyeing up our lunch !)
The birds seemed to be enjoying the mild weather as much as us, resting in the sunshine.
Some birds managed to find a little patch of snow to cool down on.
A few of the males were flying around in response to calls from other birds.
A very confiding individual allowed us close enough to see it’s feathered eye-lid.
We found a few mountain hares lazing in the sunshine.
We spent a morning in Neil McIntyre’s red squirrel hide where a couple of squirrels entertained us.
We love foxes but usually they’re shy and difficult to photograph. Last year we found a group that were less wary of people and this January we paid them a repeat visit. We learnt a little more about fox behaviour, finding that January isn’t really a good time to see foxes as they’re pre-occupied with mating. However, we did find the foxes on several days during our week and despite gales, rain and hail they were excellent company.