Ian Short Photography | www.ianshortphotography.co.uk |

During autumn and winter I made several trips starting and ending at the cabin and the story of these trips is told in “The Glen”. The stories focus on  the Cairngorm National Park, one of Britain’s most loved mountain regions. The account contains a narrative and images of my encounters with the wild inhabitants of forest and glen including rare capercaille and crestie, red squirrel and red deer, whooper swan and great spotted woodpecker, as well as pictures of autumn and winter hills, forests and woodland.

 

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THE GLEN - AUTUMN

The day began well. A clear autumn sky had chilled the forest and the early morning sun warmly coloured the ground hugging mist. The forest was quiet except for the muted background roar of gently swaying pines and hundreds of distant fast flowing mountain burns.

 

The silver birch woods were glorious in autumn colour. Early morning dew winked and sparkled as the sun filtered through the trees. It was still early but the forest inhabitants had begun to stir.

 

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As I walked further silver birch gave way to golden beech and then to Scots pine. This part of the forest is one of my favourite places. I have often seen great spotted woodpecker here and this day was no exception. I love their smart black and white plumage, deep red velvet tail and stiletto beak. As usual the woodpecker drilled the pine trunks maniacally in what seemed a determined effort to bash his brains out.

 

I never tire of seeing red squirrels and have spent many hours photographing them in the Scottish Highlands. I knew I would see them that day as a photographer friend, Neil MacIntyre, has been feeding them in this area for over twenty years. Sure enough I heard their irritated chattering from high up in the pines as two of them vied for hazelnuts. After cautiously eyeing each other they chased round and up and down the trees with amazing dexterity. Whilst this scrapping was going on another red ventured into the arena and sat in the crook of a dead pine stump quietly feeding.

 

 I passed by the white kirk on the edge of Loch Alvie. The kirk is surrounded by water on three sides and appears as an island; consequently it is not often visited, making for a quiet reflective spot.

 

 My route then took me through part of the forest where capercaille lek in springtime. Often the cock birds hang around the lek area throughout the year although the sight of a caper is a very rare treat. That day he was there but I kept my distance from him as he was in belligerent mood; I got my picture then quietly moved on. These birds have a tenuous foothold in the forests of Speyside and photographers and bird watchers must be very careful not to harass them; I know this does happen.

 

 I climbed higher through remnants of the Wood of Caledon that in the past covered a much greater part of the glen. The trees of this great wood were cleared mainly during the two world wars of the twentieth century for such uses as ammunition boxes! I heard the call of crested tits through the massive Scots pine. Cresties, a Scottish speciality of the tit family, are characterised by a prominent black and white crest and a sweet trilling call. The Speyside forests are an ideal habitat for crested tits. Cresties nest in the holes found in decayed trees; these are abundant in this ancient woodland. They flitted through the branches and I gained their confidence by standing quite still behind a large pine. It is not easy to photograph such active wee birds.  

 

As the forest changed to the moorland and mountain grassland of the upper glen I was nearing the end of my walk. The heather had been fantastic earlier in the month, the best show for many years, especially by the old deer watcher’s bothy. This is a good place to rest.  Red grouse warned me to, “go-back, go-back, go- back, back, back”. I realised it would indeed soon be time to do just that but, resting by the bothy, I had my “piece”, (bait in north east England), and listened for the roaring of stags. At this time of year stags are very combatitive and fight for supremacy over the herd of hinds. This is the rut or mating season. Not all stags are successful and it tends to be the older and younger ones that are cast out from the herd. I heard the roaring of stags from their hind gathering grounds further up the glen; a deep primeval roar echoing through the hills. I had not intended to stalk these creatures as my skills here are distinctly lacking. There was no need however, as a few young “staggy” outcasts were gently grazing in the glen bottom. They were obviously tired and maybe stoical about lost battles because they did not seem to object to my presence. I crept behind a low embankment near the bothy and got fairly close to them. I photographed them; this is the time of year when they have luxuriant deep brown coats ready for the chill of winter.

 

The weather changed as threatened by the forecasters; cloud had built up in the west and snow covered the high tops. I had experienced a fantastic highland day but needed to move on as late autumn weather can be very cold and snowy in the higher glens. Although I was well equipped it was late in the day and too far from home to be lingering.  The Scottish Highlands never fail to inspire the nature photographer and that day had been no exception.  As I walked back to my Cairngorm cabin I looked forward to revisiting “The Glen” in winter.

 

 

THE GLEN – WINTER

Winter and it was very cold. The loch had a skim of ice when I set off early that winter morning. A changeable weather forecast promised cloud and heavy snow to be followed by clear skies and late afternoon sunshine.

 

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The loch side walk got the day off to a good start; whooper swans spend the winter in this part of the Spey valley and a small herd can often be found in the marshes at the southern end of Loch Insh. Tall marsh grasses and scrub gave some cover, enough to photograph them, before they flew off whooping over the loch. Amazing birds, these Arctic visitors; occasionally I see and hear them as they pass over the cabin. The quiet whistling sound of their wing beats is a true sound of wild places.

 

By mid morning, still very cold, Cairngorm looked serene in the strong light and bright cloud. I walked on and imagined the frenzy of anticipatory skiers heading for Coire Cas and Cairngorm Mountain. My route, however, was to the west and towards quieter birch and pine woods, such a contrast to the sounds of sporty activity on the ski slopes. Silver birch laced the sky and the pines of Kinrara took on an ethereal appearance as darkening light pervaded the woodland.

 

 In the distance I saw my pal Neil MacIntyre; I gave him a wave then moved on through the forest. Clearly he had been feeding squirrels as one inquisitive red gave me a rather self-satisfied look as he picked up a hazel nut and clawed his way to the upper branches of a pine. Reds were active that day; in their shining russet winter coats determinedly feeding so as to store up energy against the chill of winter.

 

I stopped for a while, being about half way to the glen, and sat quietly in the pine wood. It was time for a “piece” and a hot drink. Snow began to winnow gently through the trees. Two regulars put in an appearance; robin and crestie were active despite the cold, and I watched them for a few minutes.  I caught sight of a great tit fluffed up against the chill as it took advantage of a sheltered roost in a dead pine.

 

Snow fell in much more significant quantities as I passed by Alvie Kirk; I did not linger long. The solid looking kirk defied the weather and its bell clanged a melancholy toll across the valley; was it announcing a winter funeral?

 

I pushed on, despite the heavy snow.  I felt it would soon be decision time; go on or go back? As the snow accumulated I remember speculating whether the snow gates on the A9 road would have closed near Drummochter Summit, as they often do in such weather. It is here that red deer wander down from the hills to graze the meagre roadside grass verges and this act of survival spells danger to them; determined drivers on the A9 are often oblivious to deer and I counted three road kills that week on my journey north from Yorkshire.

 

Go on, was the decision. I headed determinedly to the glen’s bothy and shelter. Grateful for this respite from the storm, I shook the snow from my jacket, lit a couple of candles left by previous visitors and had the remainder of my piece. As I peered through the grimy bothy window I was delighted to see a rather disconsolate young stag that had stoically turned his back to the weather, soaking up the snow and seemingly waiting for the snow squall to blow out. I had passed a few small herds of deer in the glen bottom as I approached the bothy; they are easier to watch in winter as they tend to head for lower ground and shelter, but they do not hang around for photographers who may take time to get their act together. But I had time, in the shelter of the bothy to gauge camera settings, so I got my picture.

 

The storm passed and clear northern air brightened the glen. Blue sky and cumulus cloud gave the snowy landscape a sparkle. As I mentioned, I have a childish liking for snowy weather and particularly enjoy looking out from the cabin windows in shirt sleeves, wood stove belting out heat. So, with this thought in mind, I decided to shorten my planned walk and head back whilst it was still light. I was in luck that day; the glen’s gamekeeper, with whom I am acquainted, had been feeding deer and offered me a lift. I accepted with alacrity; the last hour of the day was spent in good company as we discussed contemporary red deer issues that were affecting the management of Highland estates; too many deer, too few deer, overgrazing or too much regeneration and scrubby growth? I am not an expert so no conclusions on that occasion.

 

Nearing the cabin I reflected on another great day in The Cairngorms. The chill of a late afternoon in winter descended and the bright snow fields of the Feshie hills blushed pink as the setting sun dropped behind The Monadliath Mountains. The winter trip had been shorter than autumn but just as memorable.

 

 

 

 

 


1. Autumn Sunrise

 


2. Autumn Silver Birch

 


3. Autumn Red Squirrel

 


4. Two Squirrels

 


5. Autumn Kirk

 


6. Autumn Capercaillie

 


7. Autumn Crestie

 


8. Autumn Red Grouse

 


9. Autumn Red Deer

 


10. Autumn Snow

 



 


11. Winter Loch Insch

 


12. Winter Whooper Swan

 


13. Winter Cairngorm

 


14. Pinewood Snow

 


15. Winter Red Squirrel

 


16. Winter Crestie

 


17. Bothy Fireplace

 


18. Winter Red Deer

 


19. Winter Findhorn Valley

 


20. Winter Sunset

 

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