It was Saturday, October 20th at four in the morning when we set off to Scotland for a week long birding and photography holiday. What could be better, I hear you say? Well, there was a small problem, just a wee one (I picked up some Scottish whilst I was there J); it was a 605 mile drive from home to the Hotel (The Grant Arms Hotel)! For those of you who are saying “you should have flown”, we did think about it. However, flying with 2 x camera bags, 2 x telescopes, 2 x suitcases and 2 sets of very heavy winter coats meant it just wasn’t practical, particularly with 1 x wife (who’s getting a bit old now and doesn’t understand the concept of carrying her own stuff). There was also the worry of how the camera gear would be treated during transit as I don’t think the baggage handlers are renowned for being gentle with putting the equipment in the hold of the plane! So we took that silly decision to drive, forgetting that I am not as young as I like to think I am.
The hotel, situated in the Highlands (specifically Granton on Spey in the Cairngorms), is a fantastic place to stay for those of us who like wildlife photograph as there is a notice board within the hotel where people can put up their “spots” of the day. This gives you a good opportunity to see what birds are flying in (particularly given this was during the migration season). They also have a seminar room for talks that are given throughout the week. It was a fantastic place to base ourselves, as we wanted to combine photography with watching the migration happen in real time. The breakfasts were full ‘English’ style, which really sets you up for the day and when you return at the end of the day there were (joy of joys) complimentary teas and coffees with shortbread biscuits awaiting you. Then after a shower you can just pop down a fantastic dinner (pausing only for a wee dram at the bar (just up my street).
A 5 minute walk from the hotel put us in the Anagache Woods and the colours where a delight to see as the trees changed from their summer shirts to winter coats. Red squirrels, crested tits and tree creepers where all there along with much more to see in this, some of the oldest woodland in Scotland – if you venture to the edge of the woods you can even catch a glimpse of River Spey dippers amongst the ducks!
The whole area in the Cairngorms is photogenic with so many scenic views (you are really spoilt for choice) but for Christine and me, this was also about seeing the migration happen, with flocks of Fieldfare, Redwing and Mistle Thrush to be seen in their hundreds.
We drove up to the Black Isles and saw a dolphin at Chanonry Point and then carried on to Udale Bay where we saw several Oil and Gas rigs having a rest. This bay is renowned for great numbers of birds and we were not disappointed, with thousands of geese, ducks, scoter and scaup to name but a few. Another (very windy) day took us up to Burgh Head and then further along the back road we passed RAF Lossiemouth where you can watch the fighter jets take off (specifically Typhoons - I know, I sound like a fighter jet expert but the truth is I rang Ian, the club’s chairman to check J).
When we got to the beach it was a fantastic sight, a delight to photograph, but we still had the wind to deal with! Fortunately the sheltered bay gave refuge to many birds. The weather didn’t put other off either as on the foreshore we watched surfers doing what they do best, surfing (except for the man who kept falling off J).
Highlight of the visit (just because I don’t see fighter jets every day) was, after hearing this loud bang that took 10 years off my life (years that I don’t have to spare), was watching the Typhoons circling around us for about 20 minutes. I thought they were out to get me as they were so low I could nearly shake hands with the pilot! First there was one, then two – it was fantastic to see them (sorry about the photos but I got excited and forgot my settings!).
On the last day (the Friday) we woke up to a thick mist and when this briefly cleared there was snow on the hilltops. This was followed by a day that saw mist, snow, and sleet, so we took the decision to leave that night after dinner. It was a shame but a good call - as we were coming out of the highlands they were shutting passes behind us! Not the best drive back (11 and 1/2 hours) but finally we were home and lived to fight another day. All in all, a fantastic holiday with Christine.
Dave & Christine