Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Mountain Hare and Dippers, Findhorn Valley

Day 6 and the final day of my visit. After a hearty breakfast, well where I was going I thought the extra calories would come in handy, I drove up Findhorn Valley where the weather was closing in rapidly. However, on parking by the wooden bridge I was uplifted by two events. On the high top behind me two Ravens, several Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk were squabbling above what appeared to be the carcass of a Mountain Goat. Whilst in the mouth of the burn the resident Dipper had found a possible mate and, from the noise and activity, they were on the way to being a pair. The course of true love never runs smoothly and they were joined by another male intent on spoiling the party.

Distant displaying Dippers - any chance of getting close?

I set up the camera at a discreet distance amongst the tussocks of marsh grass, donned full wet weather clothing and some added camouflage and sat down in the wet grass to wait for the action. After several hours all I had captured were some distant shots and cramp was setting in. Time for the second target of the day - Mountain Hare.

I returned to the car and shed any extraneous kit and started the ascent, the weather turned even worse, several times I took shelter behind a rock as the wind drove the hail and rain horizontally above my head, the temperature took a marked turn for the worse too. I had marked several candidates from the car park using my scope, when there is no snow these little blighters stick out like sore thumbs and are not difficult to find. Finally I located one, well actually ten of them, and they scattered, treating me to the usual view of the hare - its rear end. One of them looped round, obviously returning to what would have been the snow hole. I threw myself prostrate on the wet heather and sure enough he settled down, watching the antics of the mad photographer approaching him. Divesting myself of my bag and monopod I crawled like a commando over the wet heather until I was about 15 feet away. During my approach he twitched not a single whisker and while I snapped away he just calmly watched. In fact I had quite a conversation with him and suggested that if he pricked up his ears it would be nice, he declined, so I whistled, still no response so I bade him farewell and started down for another go at the Dippers.

I can see you.....

.... and I'm not sure.....

..... so I'm off....

.... perhaps you're not a threat after all.

Will this pose do?

How about a profile view?
A  Mountain Hare's view of the Findhorn.

A second attempt at the Dippers resulted in some "nearly" shots, conditions were terrible. However, whilst sitting in the wet grass I happened to scan the dead mountain goat position and there, in an argument with a Buzzard, was my first ever Golden Eagle, from the markings a probable three year old bird.

All this dipping creates a heavy preening load.

Nearly a shot of the "Dipper Dance"

A wild and woolly place.....

.... but majestic.
Finally it was all over, I had seen some cracking wildlife, met some wonderful people, stayed in an excellent hotel and joined a brilliant wildlife club. The next morning I headed off for the A9, just before Duthil on the A938, a flock of small birds flew over the road. For the third time I laid rubber onto Scottish tarmac and did a swift U turn, "parking" the car on the grass verge and scrabbling for my scope - sure enough in the distance a flock of more than 100 Twite - another life tick. I had searched the area on most days of the holiday as a flock of 1000 birds had been reported - smug satisfaction came over me.

The journey down to Musselburgh was uneventful except for the Pass of Drumochter in a full blizzard, a bit scary to say the least. At Musselburgh I again dipped the Surf Scoter and managed no additional ticks, just a shot of a pair of Shags.

In the words of General Douglas MacArthur  - I shall return - actually I think it's we as Liz will be with me.


  1. Hi Dave

    Great pictures and story line. Do I really have to wait for May for the next instalment.


    1. Hi Martin

      not really - all my gear is cleaned and ready to go again - you just have to convince Liz that I have to return sooner than later.


  2. Great stories Dave with some superb shots taken on the way. Must be feeling very pleased with this trip.

    1. Hi Mike

      yes really enjoyed myself - the Caper was the icing on the cake as I didn't really expect to see one.
      Ended up with 6 life ticks so looking forward to a return visit to get Black Grouse.


  3. Wonderful photos and account of your adventures, as always feel a need to follow in your footsteps.