We Have Ptarmigan!!! – MNHP Cairngorms 2017

This morning Becca and I left at 5:30 in the morning to go and photograph red squirrels in a hide. I got quite excited when I saw my first ever red squirrel coming down for breakfast just before sunrise. The first red squirrel very obligingly sat and nibbled a few peanuts, shame that light wasn’t very good at that point. Got a bit cold after 2 hours in the drizzle, but the sun broke through the clouds at around 8. We had at least 3 individuals around us, and 2 of them spent most of the time circling a tree behind us.

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Red squirrel nibbling away on a peanut

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This one found a hazelnut and ran off soon after I took this shot!

Becca Witt - Red Squirrel 2.jpg

© Becca Witt

Becca Witt - Red Squirrel 1.jpg

© Becca Witt

Carys and Mark had a good view at the black grouse hide this morning, they saw 1 female and at least 8 males.

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© Carys Fearns

Mark even got them in flight!

© Mark Wallwork

The others went out to photograph red grouse at the ski centre. Using the van as a moving hide, they got reasonably close to the red grouse.

Some shots of red grouse they’ve got:

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© Josh Pawlowski

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© Holly Wilkinson

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© Aaron Burden

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© Aaron Burden

We spent around an hour hiking up Cairngorm Mountain, aiming to photograph ptarmigan. On the way up we spotted a few red grouse. We arrived at the level at which ptarmigan may be found and had lunch whilst scanning the landscape for the birds.

We were on the verge of giving up, being battered by hailstones and no sign of ptarmigan. Just when we thought we’d head back down David spotted a pair right on a slope filled with boulders. We started to creep towards the pair while David went round to the back to prevent them from going further up. The pair flew off after a while.

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Ptarmigan with David the Ptarmigan herder

Just when we thought our session with the ptarmigan is over and most of us started to head down, Josh, Carys, and I stayed for a lesson about ptarmigan feathers, poo and footprints, we strayed into a pair of ptarmigan in the middle of the path!  We quickly set up our little “stalking circle” with others coming back up to join the shoot. The flurry conditions provided great opportunity to get some ptarmigan in their natural habitat, revealing the harsh (for us) conditions they face every day.

Becca Witt - Male Ptarmigan.jpg

Ptarmigan (male) © Becca Witt

Becca Witt - Female Ptarmigan

Ptarmigan (female) © Becca Witt

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© Carys Fearns

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© Josh Pawlowski

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Ptarmigan (male)

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Ptarmigan running up the slope as we left

Satisfied, we headed back down to the carpark, where I managed to tick another off my British bird list: Snow Buntings!  I was struck by how lovely their “snowy” plumage were!

Jason and Ben are in the black grouse hide tonight, and some of us are heading out for some night photography and possibly some star trails.

Thank you for reading and hope you have enjoyed the post today! 🙂

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