The red squirrel hunt was on. I left Aberdeen at 6am in the morning for my journey across the picturesque Cairngorms to a small patch of Scottish forest in the Kingussie area. In February, the Cairngorms can be wonderfully decked in snow, however, around the time of this trip, it was only the peaks that had a white covering. Photos of the Red Squirrels in snow would have to wait another season, and I arrived after a pleasant drive. I met up with Peter Cairns, a fantastic local wildlife photographer, whose hide I would be using for the two days. See more of Peter’s work and tour offerings at his Northshots site.
I was sharing the spacious hide with one other photographer (Patrick Frischknecht from Switzerland), and within 10min, I got to see my first Red. Living in the South of England, there are virtually no opportunities to see the Reds behaving naturally in the wild. I’d been looking forward to this little encounter since booking the hide.
With a few nuts strategically hidden about in front of the hide, the first red arrived and flashed about at breakneck speed until he found a hiding place for the nuts.
So began the game of trying to work out from where they would appear next and to which branch they would retreat to eat their retrieved bounty. As usual, it took a while to get into the creative rhythm of shooting and the first day passed by quickly. I only got a few keepers that were worth getting excited over. I don’t stress if I don’t get the shots immediately because I know that it takes time to absorb the characteristics of the species you’re shooting.
So dawned the second day, and I was soon sitting in the hide again, waiting for the first sighting. Peter has set up some branches strategically, amongst which he hid the nuts, and this resulted in great natural photos. The little Reds appeared regularly throughout our stay, and I reeled off the photos that I’d visualised the night before. It’s critical to build up different photos of any species in your mind before you begin shooting.
Although we didn’t have bad weather, the sun didn’t make an appearance at all, so thankfully, Peter provided plenty of bean bags to support the cameras and lenses. I had to shoot with some pretty high ISOs and some low shutter speeds, so beanbag support was essential. I must admit to still being amazed at the 1D Mk4 and 500mm combination in low light. The noise was minimal in every shot.
Many bird species flitted about in front of the hide, and there was a Great Spotted Woodpecker that regularly visited. We also had a little Field Vole visit which was a first for me. Soon it was time to head back to Aberdeen to catch a flight back to London, to the land of the Greys.
Altogether I had a great time and would recommend the hide to anyone wanting to experience the quiet and tranquillity of a Scottish forest accompanied by some really good wildlife photography opportunities.
Red Squirrel Images from the trip
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