Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Glen Tanar. Aberdeenshire

Occasionally I do a blog of something 'off island' and this is one of those (but you will note its still in Scotland).  I recently stayed at Glen Tanar in Aberdeenshire, a small estate tucked nicely into the Royal Deeside area and another haven for wildlife (Eagles, Osprey, Black Grouse, Deer).
An area seeped in history with plenty of historic sites and interesting architecture.
Like Arran there is plenty of walking around on mixed low and high level paths, and it has to be said that even in May there was snow on the tops.  But I was here for a bit of R & R, so didn't plan any major mountain excursions.
The Gnome house
Wandering around the many marked and easy going paths I came across this little building which I nick-named the Gnome house (for no reason whatsoever).  At the side of the 'Water of Tanar' I could see it had been some type of pump, fallen into disrepair.  A conversation or two later and I understand it was a turbine that helped provide the power for the little church nearby (Chapel of St. Lesmo) and the organ.
Scenic Trout Loch
I decided to take an evening land rover safari through the Estate, escorted by Mike the Ranger and we bumped and climbed up forest tracks, through some amazing woodland and ancient forest.  The deer frequently skirted our path and cross the track - always scampering away as soon as the camera got anywhere near.
Views across the valley at dusk.
Not that I expected to get any great images going out in drizzle as the light was fading.  But that tends to be when wildlife is quite active and I was really wanting to scout the area for future visits.
The Estate is known for Ospreys, hen harriers and eagles.
The Osprey nest (seriously cropped image using a 400mm lens) was visible in the distance with 'mum' low down on the eggs.  We keep our distance so as not to disturb this fabulous bird at such a crucial time of breeding.
A small amount of cloud inversion as the last of the light faded.
Every time I asked to stop, Mike obliged and I took the odd snap to try to capture the quiet feel of the evening as the temperatures dropped and light faded.
And a surprise hamper appeared with some biscuits made by 'Liz' and lots of hot coffee before we moved on.  Beats my old camping stove that I use for my clients - think I may have to upgrade!
Sky lights
But the night drew in and we managed to have a quick look at a few spots before returning back to the main Estate. Including a little spot called the 'traveller's rest'. A small area, where there are stones to sit on and little carvings in the rocks (a feature across the estate to be looked out for).
 And as you can imagine it was placed at a point just after a steep section of track (depending on whether you were going up or down).
The land rover stopped at the 'Rest'
I found the Estate peaceful and welcoming, I will be going back.  And for anyone looking for a big wedding venue (over 100) just look at where they hold the ceremony (Ballroom).
The Ballroom at Glen Tanar House 

Friday, 23 May 2014

Doubles (Day 123 - 133)

Another 10 days has passed me by and I have to admit with the exception of a couple of photographs I'm posting some rather substandard efforts! I seem to have see-sawed from great opportunity to chasing my tail and forgetting - I also committed the cardinal sin of running out of battery, fortunately not whilst on a job! But why doubles? Well there are two pictures of students at work, 2 vintage subjects, 2 sick animals, 2 birds in hand, 2 floral subjects and 2 large lumps of metal. And all this by chance!
Day 123 - A real sign of may with apple blossom in full bloom
Some of the blossom on the trees is stunning at the moment and I'm just waiting for the storm that will bring it all crashing down.  But its not just tree blossom, all the lovely spring and summer flowers are blooming and the road verges look fabulous with pinks and blues up the bankings.
Day 124 - The first taste of vintage
These two fabulous cars were parked outside the Machrie Bay Tearoom and I grabbed the opportunity to get a few snaps (more on my facebook page). I admire the hours it must take to keep them in such pristine condition. Car washing and waxing is something that I only do when absolutely necessary (actually I should just say washing here, as I can say I've ever waxed my car!)
Day 125 - Fern feelers
The fern is putting out its shoots which I think look like feelers exploring the air.  This really was a shot of desperation as I rushed around checking a site for a lesson, before taking students out, and juggling too many balls in the air this week.
Day 126 - Students on location (1)
Site and exercises scoped yesterday and the students are hard at it.  Lots of competing light with lovely sunshine and harsh shadows. But I got to play on the rope swing so that they could practice fast and slow shutter speeds - and this is work?
Day 127 - The second bit of vintage 
An old expanding camera, as far as I know not working.  But what an amazing bit of kit.  I'm intended to put it into my studio and set off to paint a shelf.  But didn't get very far as although I have the paint I don't have a brush!  another item added to my mainland shopping list!
Day 128 - Poorly Bowser  (sickness 1)
Bowser has a bad back and hips, he's only 4 so forgets sometimes that he can't or shouldn't jump.  On Saturday he was in severe pain and had to be rushed to the vets.  It's horrible to see a pet in such pain and I really wasn't sure I would be bringing him home.  But a strong injection that made him very drowsy and 12 hours sleep on the settee and he started to improve a little.  More painkillers have followed and finally he is improving again.
Day 129 - Another patient just before I released it (sickness 2 and bird in the hand 1)
This little siskin I picked out of the bird feeder tray when it was lashing it down with rain and it was clearly not well.  It let me pick it up without any struggle and for the second time this weekend I felt pessimistic about its chances.  But I put it in a box, with food and warmth and sure enough it perked up enough for me to release it a couple of hours later.
Day 130 - Thumbs up for this wee pheasant chick only a couple of hours old (bird in the hand 2)
The pheasant breeding that I'm following is going well and the chicks are hatching and moving from hatchery into special pens that have heat and humidity controlled.  Unfortunately the heat and humidity attract midges so I didn't hang around too long.
Day 131 - Student on location (2)
Another day another workshop.  A half day session with a miserable forecast turned into a lovely sunny afternoon.  We covered landscapes, close up work and waterfalls, not to mention some wildlife.
Day 132 - Lump of metal (1)
On full day tours I take out the camping stove and we stop for a brew and lunch along the way.  While the kettle boils we take the opportunity to photo the landscape and birds in the area. On this occasion a tractor pulled in for a quick stop and I grabbed a snap.
Day 133 - Lump of metal 2
It wasn't on my plan for this year but a huge electric bill made me realise I mustn't use the central heating quite so much.  So I opted for a wood burning stove to be fitted - can't wait to try it out but apparently I have to wait a couple of days for the cement to set.  I'm sure its going to be toasty in my house next winter.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Black Grouse Lek

I'd heard about Black Grouse and the breeding Lek many times and seen snippets on the TV, and of course I could immerse myself in the well documented display, any time just by looking at You Tube, but it's just not the same as seeing it first hand. By chance I was looking for a couple of days away and came across a mention (Twitter) of Black Grouse on the Glen Tanar Estate, along with the availability of hides.
Black grouse in the greyness of early dawn
So a quick phone call and I'd booked a cottage, hide and not forgetting the ferry.  I forgot to book the weather!  Before I knew it my day had come - or should I say night - with a 2.30am start. Ouch that's early! I had to meet the ranger who would escort me to the hide at 3am to be well settled before dawn. Meeting Mike at the Estate Office, in the fine drizzle we set off in the land rover to get as near to the hide as possible without disturbing anything.  A short walk in the pitch black and I arrived at the hide.
Female grouse stirs up the males
Having sat in many a cold dark spot, I was well prepared with a padded fleecy sit mat and small hot water bottle.  It wasn't that cold but being still soon chills the body and there was snow on the tops, so it couldn't be described as the height of summer!  The noises of the night told of a lot of activity - all unseen in the darkness.
Males strut their stuff.
The rain also tapped on the roof, and dripped through the many holes, but I was mesmerised by the peculiar noises, almost like little pressure valves going off which I realised was the grouse.  They were here! Unfortunately the light wasn't. The greyness saw me ramp up the ISO as high as I could and I still couldn't achieve a realistic shutter speed.
Shake a tail feather!
I sat back and watched (well actually as far forward as I could on the edge of my seat).  The dance started as the hen wandered like a little temptress through the males. Lots of tail feather ruffling and strutting before one either submitted and retreated or was seen off with menace.
Oh for light and a faster shutter speed!
The light still did not oblige and the misty dawn remained grey and damp. But I made the most of it enjoying the grouse, curlews, oyster catchers, lapwings, ring ouzel, warblers and pipits.
The view from the hide into the gloom
And then a large hare bounded through the grouse and stopped, nose twitching about 15 meters in front of the hide.  I froze, it's nose twitched seemingly sensing I was there.  With shutter set to quiet mode (still not that quiet), I managed a few quick shots before it darted off.
Hare today gone in a moment.
The light improved a little but the female had disappeared so the grouse had settled down and all was quiet for the next hour.
What big eyes you have!
The grouse still did small walks around each other but there was none of the earlier fervour and they moved further away from the hide.
Posturing with no real passion.
It really looked like they were just socialising and meeting up for a chat and I knew the activity had mostly finished for the day.  In real terms the grouse can lek all year but the main season is April to May and I was near the end of this - the hens having laid and now being sat on eggs.
Three's a crowd
A rumble in the distance told me of the imminent arrival of Mike the ranger to pick me up and the grouse flew on his arrival. Packing up my gear the sun finally put in an appearance - too late for me - but the valley lit up in the freshness that only a dawn can bring (that and the coffee that was waiting in the land rover).

Monday, 12 May 2014

On and off the Island (Days 112 - 122)

The last 10 days have been quite different to my normal routine as I managed to slip off the island for a few days - not that I was without my camera.  The aim of going away was to capture an annual event but more of that later. It's been such a hectic time I'm struggling to remember what I did and the photo's provide useful reminders.
Day 112 - A quick snap in my garden of the song thrush, mouth stuffed with bugs (hopefully for chicks in the nest).
Day 113 - A tiny wren has a huge voice but doesn't stay out in the open very long, preferring to dart into the undergrowth at the merest hint of a camera. I think I'll have to get my hide out to capture closer images of this one.
Day 114 - And a full day photography tour saw my little group battling hazy grey weather as we circumnavigated the island.  Stopping in Catacol to capture the Apostles cottages.  Luckily we stayed dry and we did get some lovely shots over the day.
Day 115 - It's raining again and delicate woodland flowers droop under the weight of water and I'm preoccupied with packing.  My bag is full of chargers and technical stuff (along with a hot water bottle!).
Day 116 - I started running again last week, after several months off following an injury.  It's been a bit of a stop-start recovery, spanning over a year now but I haven't given in.  So I'm planning on a bit of cross training and therefore dragged out my bike for an 8km cycle.  I had forgotten how hard the saddle is!
Day 117 - I've arrived at a lovely cottage on the Glen Tanar Estate but passed this derelict barn on the way up the track.  First job on arriving was to walk my dogs, who had been in the car for hours, so we wandered passed this and had to have a nosy in.  The roof beams were amazing, and I'm sure it will be converted in the not too distant future.
Day 118 -  Loch Muick (yes that is snow still on the tops) and a lovely walk all the way round.  Eight miles in 3 hours enjoying the scenery and full 4 seasons weather experience! Lots of deer but very few birds on the water. Sat down for my picnic and gained a couple of ticks!!
Day 119 - Between April and July Balmoral Castle is open to the public - well one room and the gardens.  After an early shower I managed to hitch a lift down the drive (the little truck had just left) and picked up my audio set.  Feeling slightly cluttered with camera, monopod, audio set and bag I set off around the site.  The gardens were a little disappointing but the buildings were stunning and there was plenty to see (especially off the beaten track - working on the principle someone would soon move me on if I wandered where I shouldn't). The Garden Cottage was one of my favourite spots as I could peer through the windows and wander to the water garden. Keen gardeners will be pleased to note that I spotted greenfly in the Queens conservatory - so no-one is immune to this little pest!
Day 120 - Actually it should be night 120, as I started at 2.30am with a short drive to meet the ranger  (Mike) to be escorted out to a hide.  The plan, to shoot Black Grouse during the lek.  The weather was not looking promising!  Camera kit carefully planned, padded fleece sit mat, hot water bottle, hat and gloves packed in preparation for a cold night.  No flask of coffee as I wouldn't want to leave the hide for the duration!  In the darkness the grouse made lots of noise, sounding like steam valves going off.  As light - well a greyness - arrived the birds were plentiful.  Shame the light wasn't!  My closest visitor was the majestic hare that sat in front of the hide for a few minutes before lopping away.  The black grouse will be subject of another blog soon.
Day 121 - The Burn o'Vat a rock formation (pot hole) and small waterfall, accessed through a gap in the rock and well marked from the car park at the Muir of Dinnet a large nature reserve where I saw plenty of greylag geese and golden eye duck during a walk around the loch.
Day 122 - Time to go home, and I took this from the roadside in Dinnet.  There seem to be a lot of castellated and turreted buildings in Royal Deeside and I found it a fascinating place.  I will definitely be back to this area as I don't feel I have even scratched the surface of what it has to offer - and I want some good weather for the Lek next year!