A Winter’s Tale

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It’s the week before Christmas and we are in the highlands of Scotland. The snow is really starting to fall now  and resting  just a few feet away from us is a mountain hare, lying in his form taking shelter from the wind. A magical moment…

Yes, I know I said Cemetery Gates would be my last blog for the year. It wouldn’t be Christmas though without a few suprises!

Last weekend Preslava and I took the overnight sleeper up to the Cairngorms to spend a few days with our good friend Neil McIntyre, a trip that  is fast becoming a Christmas tradition.

It seemed we’d timed it absolutely right, coinciding with the first snowfall of the winter. Last time I was up in February it was just Neil and myself. The Cairngorms is one of my favourite wild places and it was lovely then to have Preslava with us this time to share the experience. I’ve said it before (and will probably say it again), but Pressie has the sharpest eyes and it didn’t take her long to spot our first hare. We quicky found another sitting a bit closer but our attempt to get near him met with abject failure. He simply got up and hopped away nonchalantly. Pretty much par for the course with mountain hares!

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Not to be deterred by this initial set back, we turned our attention to Pressie’s hare instead. This one proved to be far more obliging. A  slow and careful approach brought us to within metres of where he lay. Neil’s field craft skills are second to none and between him and Danny I’m lucky to have learnt my field craft from two of the best teachers out there over the last few years.

At one point our hare got up and we both thought he was about to go, only for him to settle  back down again. This next image is one of my favourites. I love the effect of the blowing snow. For me it shows what hardy animals mountain hares are.

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It was an encounter very much on the hare’s own terms and a remarkable experience I’ll never forget. Certainly up there with my best wildlife encounters. According to Neil it was also one of the best opportunities he has had with mountain hare in years. We must have spent a good forty minutes with him (although it felt a lot longer than that he was so relaxed). Towards the end of the session we both agreed he had been good to us and it was time to leave him undisturbed. When we looked back he was still sitting there where we had found him  braving the elements.

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Whilst we had been photographing the hare, Preslava was looking at the Wild goats that call these mountains their home. They are great fun and make terrific subjects.

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Click on image to enlarge

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They look particularly good with their muzzles encrusted in snow. The only downside is they smell. Well according to Neil and Preslava they do. I couldn’t smell a thing, which probably says a lot about me!

Christmas is a great time to catch up with friends, and I was keen to introduce Pressie to an old friend of mine, the Capercaillie.

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Since I’d last seen this particular rogue he’d become something of a TV celebrity, featuring in the final programme of this year’s Autumnwatch series. He has provided somewhat elusive this winter and it took them a while to find him, only getting their footage on their last day apparently.

It took us a while to locate him too, I’m glad we did finally catch up with him though so I could share him with Pressie. He’s such a charismatic bird and was looking in remarkably fine fettle; the snow really bringing out the detail in his colouring.

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One of the things I love about the Cairngorms is there is so much to see, including species you can’t find on your doorstep.

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Crested tits are such cracking little birds. I always seem to struggle photographing them though. I’m not much of a small bird photographer. And with an invasion of Coal tits crowding them out on the feeders this trip proved to be no exception!

There has been  a lot of discussion recently on the subject of baiting wildlife. I don’t have a problem with it myself. For me, it’s all part of a wildlife photographer’s field craft. More importantly perhaps, from a conservation point of view, at this time of year when conditions are harsh and food scarce, birds are left having to expand valuable energy reserves foraging. Giving them a little helping hand can only be a good thing, right?

We always have a great time with the Red squirrels. For me, they always look  best in winter with those ear tufts. To show them at their very best though, you want them in snow.

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This winter Neil has a new site in a pine wood surrounded by heather. It’s a beautiful location and makes for some lovely images.

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Like any new location it takes a while for you to see the potential for images. After a couple of sessions there my head was buzzing with ideas and I can’t wait to go back later this winter to give them another go.

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With temperatures as low as – 6 degrees Celsius during our stay we woke up to a wonderful hore frost each morning. It really was a winter wonderland. The morning we arrived we thought we had stepped into Narnia. We came across these whooper swans resting on a loch in the mist. They looked spectacular set against the rising sun. Our very own Christmas performance of Swan Lake.

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I’d like to thank Neil and his fiancee Joanna Davies for a fantastic few days. For anyone thinking of doing the same trip, Neil and Jo now offer some cracking accommodation that’s perfect for couples, a log cabin with a kitchen, lounge with satellite TV and double bedroom. The wood burner in particular  provided hours of entertainment  and tremendous sense of achievement for me. ‘Man light fire!’ as Neil joked to me. Neil and Jo  are also planning to add another cabin to their rapidly growing property portfolio in March.

Neil tends to get booked up very early. My friends at Natures Images are working with him though as part of their Highland Winter trip at the end of January next year. There are still a couple of places available for anybody interested.

Right, I really am going now. It only remains for Preslava and I to take the opportunity to wish everyone a very happy Christmas and  peaceful new year!

London, Christmas Eve

 

 

 

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17 Responses to A Winter’s Tale

  1. Penny Dixie says:

    Bloody fantastic images Jules – I absolutely LOVE the mountain hare pics! I am booked in for a day with Neil just before the Natures Images trip and my top ambition is to come back with mountain hare images… fingers crossed!
    Thanks for the tip about Neil’s log cabin – that sounds like a lot of fun

    • jcoxfoto says:

      Hey Penny Thanks for the lovely comments. Good luck with the mountain hares. And have a very happy Christmas :)

    • jcoxfoto says:

      Hey Penny

      Apologies for the belated reply. I thought I’d responded to this one. Thanks so much for your kind comments and support. It means a lot.

      I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time with Neil. He’s a wonderful guy and you’ll learn loads :)

  2. Peter Maris says:

    Nice write-up I am envious of your snow, its 9 degrees here way to warm for the time of the year at least to me. Hope to get some snow soon, would like to have some new Roe Deer shots in the snow.
    Have a nice Christmas.

    Peter

  3. Jason Curtis says:

    Jules stunning, absolutely stunning! A suprise gift well worth the wait :) All the best for 2012 and keep those great images coming.

    Jason

  4. Ian Haskell says:

    Nice shots sir! Those hares shots are well cool.

    Ian

  5. Edwin Kats says:

    You *#%#%$!!!!!

    Very envious matey. Sounds like a cracking trip with some amazing results. Keep it up!

    Ed

  6. Simon Litten says:

    A great selection of shots, Jules. Fingers crossed we get some of the white stuff down here before too long.
    Merry Christmas!

    Simon

  7. Amazing photographs Jules and some of my top subjects to photograph! Very very envious of you mate.

    Have a great new year and looking forward to your work in 2012.

    Cheers

    Steve

  8. beautiful series of winter photos, must have been a great experience to get so close to the mountain hare, beautiful details, also liked the last picture of the whooper swans, great location, interesting blog post, happy new year.

    Kolbjorn

  9. David Lloyd says:

    The first picture on here is outstanding and is followed very closely by the rest.

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