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MOUNTAIN HARE DELIGHTS

2020/07/06 15:33

What eyes
I had a liesurely morning before heading out on the hills to photograph my favourite wildlife subject, The Mountain Hare. It was after 2pm by the time I got up the track on the Monadhliath hills. Bags of daylight hours of course this time of year so who cares. I saw no one on the hill. Wildlife photography can be a frustrating sometimes. Usually weather related. Weather of course is a big factor. It seemed that earlier on in the day was actually sunnier, sometimes forecasts aren't too accurate. There was also a keen, cold 25-30mph wind which threatened to spoil any good images with camera shake.
Golden Plover
Despite the noise of the wind I managed to pick out that unmistakable, glorious call of the Golden Plover. Animals are smart of course and these beautiful wee plovers  were on a wind sheltered slope. Last time I was up here they were all over the area. This afternoon the numbers were lower. I got down onto some boggy ground to try and get some closer images. One hour later and the sun peeped behind the clouds. I moved on from my damp, boggy spot and found another pair calling in the wind higher up. This time I got good cover behind some boulders and my patience paid off. There was a lovely wee character calling his heart out oblivious to the fact I was close by.
A better view
That was the closest I got and happier with the shot. It was getting into late afternoon by now and having not too much joy getting my Mountain Hare photographs. You need to be patient and with the wind it can be a real struggle. The light was bad too, quite dark at times.  I wandered around till after 6.30pm before the conditions improved with some beautiful light over Strathspey and the Cairngorms.
Early evening sunlight, Strathspey

Glenfeshie
Just as I was about to head down the hill and home for dinner, I spotted a lovely individual Hare who was lazing in the early evening light. Wildlife photography, especially with the Mountain Hare, requires gaining their confidence, moving slow and being patient. Amongst many other field craft skills. I was eventually 'allowed' to sit down on the rocks with this guy as he lazed, ate and had a quick look at me and realised I was no threat. These are the special moments. You can now sit and take your time with your composition of images.

The odd watchful eye

A stretch now and again

Scratchy nose
I had another marvellous hour watching my Hare as he grazed and scratched, stretched and yawned. I could have quite easily spent another hour with him but it was getting on a bit and I was getting hungry too! I left him in peace and yet more magic moments from these adorable creatures. Thank you sir.

I run wildlife photography workshops throughout the year and I am now back guiding in the hills and running wildlife tours.

For more details check my new website.

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Final shot

Time to head down and beautiful evening light on my bike ride home.
Evening clouds and light

Dramatic

MOUNTAIN HARE DELIGHTS


CREAG MEAGAIDH

2020/07/04 13:02

Summer snow on Creag Meagaidh 
At last we can now travel freely within Scotland as the 5 mile enforcement lifted this weekend. Of course we don't need to travel too far from our home in Aviemore for some wonderful mountains. Creag Meagaidh is just 40 minutes drive from our house.
The Post Face of Creag Meagaidh 
With a not too hot weather forecast we headed over that way anyway. Just nice to be out on other hills from the Cairngorms and Strathspey area. The cloud was down to around 900m or less most of the day so rather than a  viewless and wet summit we opted to just a short day to the Lochan below the impressive Post Face of the mountain.
Lunch at the loch
I took a wa dear up to the big area of snow that is lying in Easy Gully, a Grade I winter route in the centre of the main Post Face. There is an impressive snow tunnel formed at the bottom. Just below this, in the steep rock and grassy slopes I spotted some wonderful Alpine plants including Mossy Saxifrage, Starry Saxifrage, Alpine Mouse Ear and Alpine Aven.
Snow Tunnel

Easy Gully

Impressive

Tunnel and Easy Gully
Other wildlife and flora today. Fragrant Orchid and a lovely Dipper bobbing and swimming it's way up the burn to the Loch. Nice to be out again and freedom to roam anywhere. Next up, wild camping. But not low down with Mr. Midge.
Poor mobile phone shot of Alpine Bistort

Mossy Saxifrage

Alpine Aven

CREAG MEAGAIDH


FREEDOM TO ROAM & BACK TO BUSINESS

2020/07/03 15:48

Mountain Hare, Monadhliath on Wednesday
For many folk in Scotland today marks the time to travel freely about the country. Since the end of March restrictions have been in place, much longer than England. It's also a point in time when I can get back to doing what I do best, guiding wonderful people in the Scottish mountains. From today I am back in business and taking bookings for adventures in the hills. Please look at my website and see what I have to offer. Guided hillwalking, navigation courses and wildlife photography days are amongst the most popular activities I run. Of course COVID-19 has not gone away and everyone needs to be as cautious as ever. Being in the outdoors in small groups or individual tuition is probably the safest you will ever be in these strange times we are now living in. All bookings will receive my COVID guidelines to keep you and me in a safe situation and they will be adhered to. My groups have always been either individual tuition or small groups of friends. You will not be lumped together with individuals you don't know. All details on my website: Tarmachan Mountaineering.

So catching up on the last few days. The heat faded away and some mixed weather for a change after a long period of hot, dry and mostly sunny 3 months! Some of the driest Spring/early Summer we have had for many a year. It was nice to have some fresh weather and well needed rain.


MONDAY 29 JUNE
My local Osprey
I set off this morning to photograph 'my' local Osprey. These woderful birds are a delight to observe and photograph, especially when you know there will be no other people around. You've probably seen many of these birds on spectacular photographs usually catching fish. Virtually all these images will have been taken from a hide at close quaurters with a 'pond' of well stocked trout that's usually man made. All great stuff if you want that special close up picture. For me 'baited' wildlife photographs are not my thing. One of the biggest draws of wildlife watching and photography (for me) is seeing nature in it's true surroundings and wild. No bait, no tv cameras, no visitor centres. This pair of Osprey I have been observing for over 6 years now are always a pleasure. I spent 3 hours this morning. Fascinating watching them. Sadly they have never reared a chick (to my knowledge) despite having built a good nest nearby.
Coming into land after chasing off a Buzzard

Keeping an eye out
In the afternoon I went off for a bike ride and the dull early morning transformed into a beautiful afternoon. Sun was out so I went up for a ride to one of the many wee hills below 500m in the Strathspey area. These hills are usually very quiet or indeed deserted so good choices if you want a quiet day away from the crowds. Views are just as good as anything at Munro height. The Cairngorms is well known for the beautiful ancient Caledonian Pine forest. On this walk there is an excellent mix of pine and deciduous woodland. A great walk/bike ride in Autumn colours too.
Dog Rose and Bumble bee

Pearl-Bordered Fritillary
Beautiful flower meadows

Monadhliath from the top

Looking down to Strathspey

Glenfeshie
WEDNESDAY 1 JULY

Mountain Hare, looking splendid in their Summer pelage
It was a much colder day with temperatures on the high Cairngorms forecast to be around 2 C! What a contrast from last week. The Monadhliath hills are a bit lower so with a cloudy day also forecasted. I had a few hours away to check on the Mountain Hares where I run most of my Mountain Hare photography workshops. These days out I offer are becoming more popular. You can see why. Such adorable creatures and wonderful characters.
Golden Plover in full song
High up on the hills above 700m the Golden Plover were in full song. Their call is unmistakable. I think it's like an Avalanche Transceiver 'beeping'. The call gets more frequent as you near the birds. This afternoon it sounded like I was surrounded by so many. A constant chorus of song and 'warning' beeps. They were also curious, seemingly following me everywhere I went as I searched out my usual Hare spots. I don't think I have ever had 4-5 hours of Golden Plover continuous sound. Getting a good photograph though is another matter. Sometimes they laze about resting, not today. They were hyper active.
Checking me out
The hares pelage is now in full summer colour. What a contrast from the winter when they are virtually white. Often in summer they are more camouflaged than in winter. The vegetation up on the Monadhliath is quite different from the high Cairngorms. A lot of heather mixed in with a scattering of rocks here and there and plenty of Cladonia (Reindeer Moss). It was lovely to see a couple of Leverets (young hare) although they are now almost adult size, they grow very quickly.
A cute Leveret
Hare habitat
THURSDAY 2 JULY

Loch A'an
Thursday looked an half decent day, dry with the possibility of some bright spells and low winds on the top. I had a day out in the Cairngorms with the hope of seeing the Ptarmigan and/or Dotterrel and maybe if I was really fortunate, seeing them with their youngsters. I biked it up from the house through Glenmore to the Coire Cas carpark which I am now getting so used to and a very enjoyable way to get to the hill. Riding up through Glenmore I spotted 3 separate sightings of Red Squirrels. Really lovely to see so many, hopefully they will be car aware as it starts to get even busier on the road over the coming weeks.
Stopped off to photograph this beauty

Great tail

Just loves posing
I just had to pull over the bike and photograph one of these wee beauties. I spent 20 minutes in the company of one lady squirrel. She was quite happy posing halfway up a pine as the cars whizzed on by oblivious to what wonderful creature was close by. Great start to the day.

Northern March Orchid

Cloudberry

Lots of Cloudberry!
The lower reaches of the Northern Corries is sporting a glorious array of flowers just now. This Summer has been brilliant for the flora, possibly due to the warm, sunny and dry conditions we've had most of the Spring? The Orchids in particular are wonderful. Lots of Heath Spotted Orchid and Northern March Orchid. Also of note was the Cloudberry just bearing it's fruit this week. These are edible and delicious. Not quite ripe yet. I wandered up the Fiacaill Coire Sneachda ridge to gain the plateau, always a delight and a good workout with all my camera gear in tow.

Fiacaill Coire Sneachda

Nice and quiet

Clouds lifted
I hadn't seen anyone since leaving my bike at the carpark, despite a long row of cars and campervans parked up. The beauty of the Cairnorms, you can quite easily disappear in it's vastness. I got to the plateau after the scramble and had my butties with a wonderful male Snow Bunting singing its little heart out, prerched on the top rocks of the ridge. Delightful.
Singing Snow Bunting
5 minutes later I hear a drone buzzing around me. Quite intrusive and actually they are banned from the northern Cairngorms area. Thankfully I enjoyed the 10 minutes of the Snow Bunting before the idiot sent his drone up from who knows where. I escaped the noise and wandered off south to the Feithe Buidhe area.

Snow Bridge over the Feithe Buidhe

Loch A'an
I sat down by the Feithe Buidhe waterfall that plunges down into the Loch A'an basin. A beautiful spot. The water has carved a fab snow tunnel underneath the snowpack. Further over from the burn are the slabs and the snow tunnels here should start to form soon.
I meandered slowly across the plateau. It went quite dark at one point and a few spots of rain. Then the sun came out. Another day with 3 layers, hat and gloves. Another snowpatch and a small snow tunnel. Not big enough to get right inside, unless you are keen and want a soaking from the burn underneath.
Snow Tunnel season

Braeriach 

Distant snow showers
Some lovely cloud formations on the way down. Sadly another Cairngorm outing with no Ptarmigan of Dotterrel encounters. Next time :)
Coire an Lochain

 Nice cloud formations 

Heath Spotted Orchids

More Orchids
A last stroll by many Orchids on the path out from Lurchers Ridge before another blast down the hill on the bike.
Brill.

FREEDOM TO ROAM & BACK TO BUSINESS


HOT MOUNTAIN DAYS

2020/06/27 17:31

Loch A'an basin, Thursday
The temperatures rocketed here in the Highlands towards the middle of the week. Temperatures up on the summits in the Cairngorms reached around 18 C by Thursday. Thankfully there was a good breeze blowing most days. The threat of thunderstorms and heavy bursts of rain faded way and it has been dry, hot and mostly sunny for four days.

TUESDAY
After early cloud and rain it was a lovely afternoon for a bike ride up Glenmore and over Ryvoan. The first of the 3 heathers we have here in Scotland is just out in flower. Bell Heather. This time of year you get to see different flowering plants day by day.
Adorable Red Squirrels
Bell Heather in bloom, bees loving it
Ryvoan Pass


WEDNESDAY
Mountain Hare, Monadliath
On Wednesday I had a wander to my usual spot in the monadhliath hills to photograph the Mountain Hares. Good numbers and they're well into their summer pelage now, that gorgeous chocolate brown colour. No good close ups today but nice to see them in relation to their mountain environment and blue skies above.
In sillouette

At the ready

Camouflage in the heather
Highlights today were a Wheathear and her two fledglings lower down the hill. She was looking after her young well, constantly feeding them with insects, plenty of them about just now.
Wheatear adult

Juvenile, getting towards adult size

Patiently waiting for food

More

It was also lovely to observe and photograph a Golden Plover looking gorgeous in the golden sunshine. This is another ground nesting bird that can be found high up on moorland and sometimes even above 900m in some areas. Their instantly recognisable call is usually the first signs they are close by before actually  seeing them.
Golden Plover

Golden colours

Nice backdrop
Northern Cairngorms

Nice afternoon sun
Meadow Pipit


THURSDAY

I had a wander around the plateau, avoiding the paths as much as possible. Quieter
but mostly to try and find some of our wonderful wildlife.  Namely Ptarmigan and Dotterel. It's that time of year when the young should have hatched so it would have been nice to see some chicks about. In the end I saw no adults of either species never mind any youngsters.
Selfie snowpatch

The Ciste Mhearad snow

With crevasse
The Ciste Mheared snowpatch up towards the summit of Cairn Gorm was is hanging on well. There is an impressive 'crevasse' opened up. This gives an easy indication of the depth of the snowpack here. At least 3 metres. It will still be here for some weeks to come, despite the soaring temperatures of the weekend. A good spot to cool off for lunch. Earlier in the day I spotted two juvenile Ring Ouzel at around 1100m. Nice to see them high up. They are normally lower down, close to the Coire Cas carpark earlier in the Spring/Summer.
Juvenile Ring Ouzel

Happy not to fly off very far today
If you've never had the pleasure of seeing these beautiful birds you may well be mistaken in thinking they are female blackbirds. The big giveaway clues are the terrain and height they thrive in (unlikely to see a blackbird at Munro height) and their very beautiful and distinctive call. Once they grow into adults they get their distinctive white bib on their chests. The male's is much more vivid.
Trailing Azalia

Stag Rocks above Loch A'an

Golden sands and beautiful blue waters of A'an
I roamed around the plateau for a few hours, checking out all my usual well known spots that \I have frequently seen Ptarmigan and Dotterell. Not today unfortunately. Always another day. I was accompanied by plenty of Skylark and Meadow Pipits and a distant Snow Bunting or two.
Shelterstone Crag & Carn Etchachan

Coire an Lochain, late afternoon

Coire an Lochain
Hiding Mountain Hare

Heath Spotted Orchid
Nice to see my friend the Mountain Hare in Coire an Lochain on my return home. It was still as hot on the bike ride back down the road from the top of Coire Cas. Great news again this week. From 3rd July the whole of Scotland can freely travel about and accommodation is starting to open up at the same period. Of course this is also terrific news for moi. I can get back to work and hopefully folk will start hiring mountain guides again. So I will be availiable from 5th July onwards if you require any guiding in our beautiful hills. I also provide navigation courses and wildlife photography workshops, as usual.

FRIDAY & SATURDAY
Some wildlife watching and photography last two days. We have some very easy walking around the many lochs and lochans in the Strathspey region. All within short travel distance or on foot/bike from the middle of Aviemore. Thankfully Saturday was a bit more comfortable temperatures after another scorcher on Friday. Saturday evening we had an half hour weather window after rain. Enough time for a lovely photograph session with a Lapwing on the Dava Moor.
Lapwing
Juvenile looking a bit damp
Taking off

Delightful baby bunny in Clova
I counted at least 50 in this group of Greylaggs
Juvenile Kestrel

Moorhen

Moorhen Chick

Azure Damselfly
A very fast Roe Deer



Ringlet Butterfly


Looks like rain

No, sun came out
Lochindorb, nice evening

After the rain


HOT MOUNTAIN DAYS


SUMMER SOLSTICE, TAKE 2

2020/06/22 17:32


Carn Etchacan & The Shelterstone Crag, 0445
Over the years I have made an effort to get a high bivvy out on the mountains for the Summer Solstice. It's one of those 'you must do if you're a mountaineer'. Of course the whole idea of it is to enjoy a stunning sunrise on the longest day of the year. Of the many bivvies I have done over the years I think A' Mhaighdean in the Fisherfield Forest ranks has my finest sleep out at Solstice. A glorious 2 days.The prize for the  most miserable one was probably Clisham on Harris in cloud, rain and midges! You can't win them all.
Of course camping out (which includes bivvying?) isn't allowed at the moment in Phase 2 of Covid come-out. So the next best thing is to walk through the night and plan on getting to a chosen mountain top at sunrise.
I am 24 hours 'out', I know. The true Solstice was yesterday but the forecast for the early morning yesterday was dull and cloudy so I gave that one a swerve.

The Northern Horizon at 0230 from Coire Cas
One loctaion I have been meaning to photograph for some time now is the huge and spectacular Carn Etchacan & Shelterstone Crag. This remote climbing crag is steeped in Mountaineering history. Some hard summer and winter routes here. It's in a remote and very beautiful spot above Loch A'an. A fair trek to get to never mind doing a spot of extreme climbing. The crag faces East, therefore to get a good photograpic image you ideally need to capture it early morning, preferably at dawn. Of course being the Summer Solstice it is now sunrise at 0419 (precisely)! The best spot to photograph it is at the top of Stag Rocks on the Cairngorm plateau. I left my house on my bike at 2300 on Sunday evening.
Sunrise behind Cairn Gorm
Apart from my bike lights, I didn't have to use my headtorch all night/early morning. This time of year it is basically twighlight. A lovely bike up to Glenmore and the ski road. I then walked up Coire Cas to the 1141m top and over the plateau. It was chilly up high, single digits C. A brisk breeze was also blowing. Not ideal for photography so I was hoping to get some shelter amongst the many wee tors that litter the edge of the  plateau above Stag Rocks. Of course there used to be a bothy, well shelter, here. St Valery. It was pulled down after the Cairngorm disaster in 1971. This was a dark day in The Cairnorms. Many children and 1 adult perished in winter blizzards high on the plateau. They were searching for another bothy that existed at the time in the Feithe Buidhe area. All but 2 of the group perished from exposure and cold as they failed to loacte it in the appauling conditions. After this incident all the high shelters were pulled down for safety reasons. Far better plan to get yourself down off high ground than risk searching for a small shelter in poor conditions. All that exists of this  bothy at the top of Stag Rocks is a slab of granite which is inscribed with the St. Valery shelter name. It's a good bit of micro navigation to find it.
The only remains of the St. Valery Shelter
I arrived in good time, 0330 so plenty of time to set up the tripod and camera. Also scoping out the best viewpoints and windless spots. Photography is much better with a few clouds around and the light was just catching under some of the clouds above Cairn Gorm summit.

Cairn Gorm summit with beautiful lit clouds
The ever changing colours
All my photography tries to capture the colours I actually see. Some photographers will argue it's art and the camera can never capture what the eye sees. Fair enough. In these days of mobile phones and social media it's getting quite extreme with the 'art' form. No doubt you'll have come across the many images with completely saturated colours of sunsets and sunrises. Big no, no for me but hey ho, people must lovely gory and weird colours!
First rays of light on Carn Etchachan with Ben Macdui in the background
Suns up! Loch A'an below
I was jumping between sunrise shots in the East and the first rays on the roks of Carn Etchachan. Can't be in the two places at the same time! It's always very special that first sight of the sun peeping over the skyline. What joy.
Beautiful colours

Shelterstone Crag (centre picture)
Soon the whole mountain side was illuminated and Loch A'an was just catching some daylight too. It's amagnificent scene. This whole area is, for me, the finest place in the Cairngorms. From Stag Rocks round to the summit of Carn Etchachan. Whicever viewpoint spot you choose along the crag edges you can't go wrong. This morning at this particular time it was most definitely the place to stand!
The glorious beaches and water of A'an. Lying at 700m. The jewel of the Cairngorms

Carn Etchachan towering over Loch A'an
I spent a good hour moving about finding some of the best spots to capture the ever changing light. Already the clouds were rolling in from the SW over Ben Macdui's summit. The beautiful light was about to disappear. What a glorious sight and enough time to savour it all.
Hard to choose

Cloud creeping over Ben Macdui
That was it. Dull cloud and flat light. It was over. Light is everything in photography. Early morning and evening the finest times, always. It is worth getting up early and stumbling out of bed. Or in my case, no sleep the previous evening! I was going to stay a while on the plateau for some wildlife photography. The wind had picked up and it was quite dull. I was happy to head back down, despite lumbering all the camera gear!
Magic. Will be back here for a winter sunrise soon! At least in winter you get a wee lie in!
The final sunlight, 0600

SUMMER SOLSTICE, TAKE 2


SUMMER SOLSTICE

2020/06/21 17:47

One of the many recent sunsets over Loch Morlich

A catch up from over the last few days. Another spell of nice weather. Over the weekend there were a few cloudy periods and an hour or so of light rain. The afternoon and evenings in particular have been beautiful. On Wednesday evening we took a wander down to Loch Morlich and for someone a wee dip. Standing on the lochside in the still air for just 10 minutes was enough for me. The dreaded midge has arrived!
Swimming. Cairn Gorm and Loch Morlich at 9.30pm

10pm
If you're not in the water you need this!
On Thursday it was glorious all day (see above post). I had a terrific day on the mountains.
Pinnacle Gully on Thursday 


Friday was a lovely evening for a strollette around the Sugarbowl area. The wild flowers this summer have been superb so far. I spotted an area of Small White Orchid at around 650m. Never seen this tiny orchid in the Cairngorm mountains before. These are relatively common in The Alpine countries. Nice to see up here. It was a very warm evening, we got back before the sun went down and Mr. Midge made another appearance. At 600m it was still 20 C even though it had gone 7.30pm.
Heath Spotted Orchids

Small White Orchid

A small area of them

Looking fabulous in the light

Beautiful early evening light

Northern Corries at 7.30pm


On Saturday we headed out on the bikes to Lochandorb. Roads are getting busier now but the road from Carrbridge to Lochandorb is much quieter and a beautiful pedal over the Dava Moor in warm sun after a dull morning. Never seen the lochside so busy. Lots of fishing, camping and  even a cravan trying to get down the single track road with plenty of opposition coming the other way. No hope of seeing the Northern Diver in this chaos. So I nipped into the fields away from the mahem and some wonderful Lapwing, Oystercatcher and their chicks.
A trio of Oystercatcher

Even the Common Sandpiper moved away from the water

And the Redshank
Escaping the crowds we were back on the bikes on our way home. Stopped off near Carrbridge as I spotted a beautiful Lapwing and her youngster in one of the fields. Lovely to watch. It was silent after the lochside noise. All I could hear were the Lapwing. Curlew flying overhead and landing in the fields (about 6 of them) with their very distictive and beautiful call and a distant Cuckoo. Peace restored!
lapwing, Female adult

….and her young chick
Northern Marsh Orchid

Cotton Grass great this summer

Hawkweed (not a weed!)


Saturday evening was glorious once again. Far too nice an evening to be stuck indoors so we had a wander down near the Spey and a place I have been visiting for the last 6 years to observe how  'my' Osprey are getting on. This pair (to my knowledge) have never had any chicks as yet which is a real shame. But they are just wonderful to watch. They are not tagged (ringed) and no TV monitors or the like on the nest, no Visitor Centre and no hides to 'get that stunning photograph'. Instead you just stand and admire in a beautiful setting. This evening was special as the light was just perfect. One of the pair was posing perfectly at the top of a tree. Brilliant.
Just landed


Picture Perfect

Keeping an eye out

Just beautiful

Some beautiful wild flowers at lower altitudes too on our stroll back home.

Nature is beautiful

No caption for this one
Biking over the Dava Moor, Saturday

Flowers everywhere

Summer is here!
And so we reach the Summer Slostice. We've had a superb spell of 'summer weather' already. Will the second half be as good? Somehow I think not but who knows. Stay tuned for me of this kinda stuff and maybe soon we can even go visit other mountains. But for now it's The Cairngorms.

SUMMER SOLSTICE


THE WILDER SIDE OF THE CAIRNGORMS

2020/06/18 11:13

Loch A'an from Pinnacle Gully
The wonderful early part of summer continues. We very rarely get thunderstorm activity here in the Cairngorms area. Don't know the technical reason why. Must be something to do with the rounded nature and plateau of the mountains? Down south there has been a lot of lightening going on with big thundery downpours last couple of days. Today that theme continued. Apparently it was pouring with rain in most of England whilst we enjoyed wall to wall sun!
Coire an t-sneachda 

Marsh Marigolds under Fiacaill Buttress

Fine day for it
I cycled from my house up Glenmore and the beautiful ride to Coire Cas carpark in the Northern Corries. I'm really enjoying the satisfaction of door to mountain last couple of weeks. There was low cloud in Aviemore but by the time I got to Loch Morlich the air was clear. Stunning early morning pedal and views up the ski road. T-shirt weather all day. Very little breeze on the hills but enough to keep you from overheating. I wandered into Coire an t-sneachda and up to the Fiacaill Coire sneachda ridge.
 Roseroot good this summer

The Fiacaill Coire sneachda ridge 

Starry Saxifrage just in flower

Not bad
My familiar route over the ridge. A stunning morning. I was up on the plateau by 10am and sauntered up to the top of Cairn Lochan. You get a grand view of the cliffs from the summit. I could see 2 parties on the classic climb 'Savage Slit' you will  see where it gets it name from by the photos.
Coire an Lochain, Savage Slit just on the right hand crag above the large patch of snow
Climbers on Savage Slit

The lochan below in the coire
I walked south from here and to the wilder part of the Northen Cairngorms, also the most beautiful too. I keep banging on about the splendour of the Loch A'an basin and the area around it. It really is the finest the Cairngorms has to offer. A real sense of solitude amongst amazing rocky mountains. The scale of the place like no other.  A lovely spot for lunch and to fill the water bottle up at the Feithe Buidhe burn.
Top of Hell's Lum Crag

Feithe Buidhe

Snow on the Feithe Buidhe slabs
A keen skier on the large snowpatch
There was a skier having a few runs down the large snowpatch that lingers on the Feithe Buidhe slabs. The depth of snow is probably over 3 metres in places. There are cracks developing now and soon there should be some good tunnels forming.  The skier was the last person I was to see for the rest of the day. So that 4 distant climbers and 1 distant skier and they were the only folk I saw all day.
Hells Lum crag from the Grabh Uisge

The Pinnicle in Pinnicle Gully

Cairn Gorm and Loch A'an from Pinnacle Gully
From Hells Lum over to the Munro top of Carn Etchachan is even wilder and completely pathless terrain. It is an area of beautiful views as you walk amongst boulder 'meadows' and cross the wee waterfalls of the Garbh Uisge Mor and Garbh Uisge Beag burns. If you walk along the cliff tops you get those wonderful views down to Loch A'an. This is a great place to escape everyone. I have never seen anyone in this area on the may occasions I have visited.
The vertical Shelterstone Crag

Top of Castlegates Gully

Cairn Gorm from Carn Etchachan
The two fine Grade I winter climbing gullies of Pinnacle and Castlegates are either side of the famous Shelterstone Crag. If you're into hard rock and ice climbing in a remote and wild setting then this is the mecca. With its beautiful backdrop of Loch Avon does it get any better in the British Isles, indeed anywhere? I've climbed both gullies in winter and they rank (for me) two of the finest Grade I routes in Scotland.
Loch Avon from Carn Etchachan 

Feithe Buidhe snowpatch

Coire an Lochain 
I headed back across the plateau and descended into Coire an Lochain for the return home. All day long I seemed to be in the company of many Skylarks. These wee birds of the hills and moors are just a beautiful sound and have very distinctive flight. They often just hover above you before a sudden dive bomb down to the ground. Delightful.
I thought it was a very fitting and apt end towards my day when I spotted my old friend in the coire, the lone Mountain Hare. Fabulous news yesterday that a new bill has been passed through the Scottish Parliament. The Mountain Hare is now a fully protected species and it is illegal to shoot them. The mass slaughter of these beautiful creatures has been going on for some years. In some areas of the Eastern Highlands the population of hare has plummeted to below 10% of their number from 30 years ago. Quite shocking and disgraceful. The 'reason' that they have been slaughted from estate owners is purely to protect Red Grouse. These landowners and estate workers make claim that there is a tick that the hare carries which kill Red Grouse off. None of that has had any scientific research. A poor excuse. Lets hope the law is enforced.
Mountain Hare, Coire an Lochain

Safely protected

30 minutes with this guy
I spent half an hour or so with this hare before heading down to the road. Another beautiful end to the day in warm sunshine. I always look forward to the fab blast downhill on the bike. I've got my time down to 35 minutes from Coire Cas to my front door. Brill.
The bike down is always fun

THE WILDER SIDE OF THE CAIRNGORMS


CLOUDSCAPES & HEAT

2020/06/14 10:26

Cairn Lochan in a wonderful cloudscape
The temperatures took another leap today with an afternoon reading of 24 C in Aviemore. We made an early start to get the best of the weather and not too hot a day. It's also the best time to get out anyway, for wildlife. We set off from a cloud engulfed Coire Cas carpark at 8am, even so it was still just T shirt conditions at this time in the morning.
Cloud burning off quickly in Coire an Lochain
No wind at Coire an Lochain
Cliffs and cloud on the crags
We walked into Coire an Lochain. Dead calm conditions and the skies were now clearing with beautiful sunshine in the coire. A certain someone couldn't resist a wee dip in the chilly water. A refreshing start to the day. We headed up onto the plateau and to Cairn Lochan. The only sound the calling of a couple of Snow Bunting. Wonderul atmospheric cloud conditions as we reached the summit with the crags holding onto some cloud, away from the cliff edge it was completely clear skies. Could have sat and watched this for hours.
Cairn Lochan

Snow Bunting on the cliffs
Male Snow Bunting

Fabulous
For lunch we headed across the plateau and to the finest view point in the entire Cairngorms. Sat and lazed around for 30 minutes, as you do on these beautiful hot, windless days in the mountains.

The finest view in The Cairngorms

Shelterstone Crag from Hell's Lum

Loch A'an and Shelterstone
The beautiful beaches of A'an
This year the lingering snow patches are holding on nicely. For those interested in such things. Most years there are two patches of snow that usually survive right through to the following winter. They are on Ben Nevis and Braeriach. But the last two years these have melted away completely. I wonder if we will have these stick around this year? One area that holds onto snow well into summer and a good indicator is the snow in the Feithe Buidhe slabs. When these stay around till July they sometimes form wonderful 'snow tunnels' This is when the watr trickles down the slabs of rock underneath the snowpack and creates these brilliant snow caves, which you can sometimes walk into if the snow cover has been deep enough that particular winter.
Feithe Buidhe and the deep snowpack
Feithe Buidhe slabs

A wonderful place to explore
We teared ourselves away and headed back to civilisation. Up on the plateau it was lovely to find two male Ptarmigan high up on the rocks who were just lazing about and didn't seem in the mood to fly off anywhere soon. Always nice to get your wildlife to stay around for any length of time. Of course you need to be quiet, patient and move slowly.
Ptarmigan walking

Ptarmigan curious

Ptarmigan chatter

Ptarmigan at rest, but still got his eye on you
Our day out was timesd to perfection. The cloud building up and becoming hazy by the time we headed down Lurchers. Some nice cloudscapes to keep us company.
Nice cloud formations over the Lairig Ghru

Braeriach and Cairn Toul


A lovely view to end the day
Interesting to see the ski road up to Coire Cas carpark has now been open for over a week. As mentioned on a earlier post, the carparks at Coire Cas and Coire Ciste are blocked off. The plan is to put unmanned automated barrier in place and compulsory parking fees at the carparks. That's all fine. But I can't understand the logic of actually closing off the carparks until these are in place? Anyone with the answer please feel free to enlighten me. Just an observation but I counted 33 cars parked up along the roadside before the blocked off carpark. Recipe for traffic problems and accidents?
Meanwhile, on Loch Morlich beach

CLOUDSCAPES & HEAT


THE GREY MAN OF BEN MACDUI

2020/06/11 10:02

A one and a half hour wait for a view

lenty of Moss Campion on the plaeau

A busy Ben Macdui summit
Snow Bunting through the gloom

White out in snow patches

Coire an t-Sneachda late in the day

The best offer from Cairn Gorm

Coire Cas Headwall
Ptarmigan saves the day

Coire Cas carpark closed

Evening sun

Best shot of the day, on the way home!
There was a good weather forecast for this afternoon. A cloudy morning was due to improve slowly with a clear skies slot around 3pm over the Cairngorms. With that in mind I took the telephoto lens and cameras on my usual bike ride from the house up to Coire Cas carpark in The Cairngorms. Hoping for some nice wildlife and landscape photography. It was a cool morning and still very much overcast even by mid day. I decided heading over to Ben Macdui. Timed to get to the top at around 3pm, in time to bask in those forecasted clear skies and lovely June sunshine. I waited on the summit for over one and a half hours in the gloomy, foggy skies. The light NE winds did it's best to try and shift the cloud but only the odd glimmer of that beautiful Cairn Toul - Braeriach panorama. I checked the weather forecast twice whilst on the hill (sad, I know) and it kept stating clear skies! I think there was a young tea lad on the job messing with the computer weather forecast models today! The cloud did try and lift by early evening as I made my way down into Coire Cas. The day was saved by a lovely male Ptarmigan in the upper Coire Cas boulders and the beautiful Snow Bunting singing away. Saw no one on the hill again. They wouldn't have missed much anyway. Ah well, I knew we have had our Summer sunshine this year with April and May being absolutely beautiful.
On a brighter note. Good news this week. The Scottish Government announced that come 15th July Scottish Tourism will be allowed to get back into action. Hopefully this will mean folk can move freely in the UK and accommodation opening up again. I can be back doing what I do best, guiding people on our wonderful Scottish mountains.

THE GREY MAN OF BEN MACDUI


QUIET HILLS

2020/06/08 22:00

Coire an t-sneachda 
It was a fine day to be out on the hills. Almost no wind on the Cairngorms and bags of sunshine in the afternoon.  I cycled up from the house again to Coire Cas carpark. Full hill kit and 3kg of camera gear. I may not be the fastest biker from Aviemore to the top carpark but I reckon I'm the only one with a big rucksack going up several times per week! On the ride up I spotted 2 Cuckoo at just under 600m on the final Scots Pines before the carpark.
Sun in the corrie

Rose root in full bloom

Lingering snow by the Goat Track
I walked into a deserted Coire an t-sneachda.  By mid day the clouds lifted and some fab sunshine. My usual route up from here to gain the Fiacaill Coire sneachda is always a joy, summer and winter. No ptarmigan here today but I heard the distant Snow Bunting calling from the cliffs.
Fiacaill Buttress 

On the ridge

Always fun
Very enjoyable scrambling soon brings you onto the plateau. I was expecting it to feel much colder as forecast was for single figures on the tops. With the full sun and no wind it felt lovely.
Cliffs of Coire an Lochain 

Snow on the Great Slab shrinking

A distant Braeriach 
There were a couple of Snow Bunting on the cliffs. No ptarmigan seen today sadly. I wandered over the plateau to Cairn Gorm. Lovely in the warm sun.
Coire an t-sneachda and Cairn Gorm

Fiacaill Coire sneachda 

Beinn Mheadhoin 

View from Cairn Gorm
A stroll down Windy Ridge and the fun blast back down the ski road on the bike. Beautiful early evening light.
Loch Morlich 

Fun ride down

Beautiful ride and scenery

Loch Morlich, windless

QUIET HILLS


UN- FLAMING JUNE

2020/06/06 11:54

Cairngorm plateau from Cairn Gorm summit
It has certainly been a very up and down Spring with regards to weather conditions. Most of April and May we've enjoyed very dry and very sunny conditions in the Cairngorms. Less than one week ago saw Aviemore reaching the highest temperatures in the UK at 27 C. Yesterday (Friday) there was a big drop in the thermometer with the tops of the Cairngorms dipping below freezing coupled with high winds and near constant snowfall throughout the day.

Fresh snow drifts and cornices

Moss Campion
On Saturday I headed out on the pedal bike from the house up to the Coire Cas carpark. Surprisingly the snow gates at Glenmore were open. They've been closed and locked since the winter and restricted access from COVID-19. Even more bizzare was the carparks at the Ciste and Cas are blocked off. Weird but hey-ho. There was just 4 cars parked up at Coire Cas. I never actually saw another human being all day on the hill.
Northern Corries from Windy Ridge

Fresh snow above 1100m on Cairn Gorm
It was a cold day for beginning of June but the temperatures were rising steadily as the day progressed. Most of the fresh snow from Friday had melted away but above the café, on Cairn Gorm, there were still quite deep drifts and even wee cornices. I reckon it would have been a wild and cold time on the hill yesterday. The best of the weather was forecast to be around the middle of the day.  The weather man spot on as the cloud lifted and treated to some fine sunny spells with only light winds. I headed up Windy Ridge and up to Cairn Gorm summit. Fine views from the top with some quite big areas of deep snow. Looking across the plateau there seemed to still  be a good covering, far more than most of last January!
Big drifts

Cairn Gorm

Mountain Hare about

Ben Macdui and Loch Avon basin from the top
On the way down I ventured over to the Ciste Mhearad area in the hope of seeing and photographing Ptarmigan. This is usually a good bet for these wonderful birds. As mentioned in previous posts on my blog, the Ptarmigan have been low in numbers the last year of so. So it was lovely to spot a Male Ptarmigan, sitting and not really moving much. I had a sit down with him for a good while as the sun shone and hardly a breeze in a sheltered area. The Female Hen of course will no doubt be sitting on her eggs not too far away.
Male Ptramigan


Enjoying the peace and quiet
Ciste Mhearad is a well know snow holing location. The snow builds up here quite rapidly to some depth. Because of this it is always one of the last places in the summer moths to be completely free of snow. Quite a  good depth lingering on at the moment. The photos below are mostly of the old snow with some fresh stuff on top.
Ciste Mhearad

Ciste Mhearad

Ciste Mhearad
I had another wander around the plateau before heading back down. The clouds had rolled in, as forecasted, by mid afternoon. At just under 1200m I spotted a beautiful Mountain Hare. He was sitting quite content nibbling away and dozing. I spent a good hour near this wonderful high altitude hare. His pelage still had some of his winter coat hanging on.
A fine looking Mountain Hare


Seemed to enjoy the fresh snow
Rain not far away
Bog Cotton dried out
Yes!

Thank you!








UN- FLAMING JUNE


LAST OF THE HOT MOUNTIAN DAYS

2020/06/01 14:16

Fantastic t see the ptarmigan again
We've been enjoying some absolutely gorgeous weather up here in The Highlands for quite some time  now, a brilliant Spring. The weekend temperatures were some of the highest in the UK with Aviemore reaching 27 C today. I had a brilliant time back up in the Northern Corries of the Cairngorms again on Monday. My usual bike ride up from the house to Coire Cas carpark is getting  easier, despite the weight of all the hillwalking and photography gear. It's always less arduous in beautiful sunshine and no wind. Very pleasant too has there is no traffic on the access road to the ski  centre carpark from Glemore.
Coire an t-sneachda

Still big snow patches in the Goat Track & Point 5 Gully areas
I took a wander into Coire an t-Sneachda. Last time I was here it was on one of the last days before restricted access due to the Corona virus. That was a marvelous winter day out. Very different today with hot sunshine, sunlight in the coire, snow melted away and no people. I sat down in the higher reaches of the coire and filled up my depleted water bottle. Wonderful to drink the cold, refreshing water. After a quick snack I turned around and a male ptarmigan was sat looking at me only inches away on a rock at shoulder level. But by the time I lifted my camera he was away into the boulders below. Sightings of  ptarmigan have been very low in numbers for well over a year. Apparently one  reason for this is because they can go through 6-8 year cycles of high to low breeding numbers. Another theory is a virus they pick up in their gut gets transmitted and unfortunately kills numbers of birds. A familiar story to us humans.
The Fiacaill Coire Sneachda scrambling

A familiar route for me

The approach to the scramble
Walking up to the start of the scrambling on the Fiacaill a' Coire Sneachda I could hear Snow Bunting singing away on the cliffs. Always a beautiful sound in Springtime when the males are in full song. Warm rock and no wind along the arete of the Fiacaill. A good body work out combined with the 450 metre climb on the bike earlier in the morning. I was soon onto the plateau and still no breeze to speak of really. Despite the high temperatures it was very pleasant compared to Friday when we had scorching heat.
Beautiful Snow Buntings around the corries

They love the cliff tops
There were many Snow Bunting singing away once again on the edge of the cliffs that run up to the  top of Cairn Lochan. Brilliant stuff. For photographers you'll need to get high this time of year if you want to capture these wonderful wee birds. The male bunting transforms himself into a much more white plumage and can be easily identified. He's also the one doing all the singing and chirping.
The cliffs of Coire an Lochain

Lingering snow on The Great Slab in Coire an Lochain
There were only 2 people I saw all day. One guy on the summit of Cairn Lochan and a distant runner along the edge of the Northern Corries. I'm guessing the closed access road up to Coire Cas is a 'deterrent' for local folk to venture up into the Northern Cairngorms. Having said that, it is only 1 hour to walk up the road or there is a nice trail up through the forestry on a well made path that runs roughly alongside the road. I've always wandered what these mountains were like before the skiing arrived at Coire Cas in 1961. Pretty quiet I would have thought. There would have been a road as far as Glenmore then it would have been Shanks's Pony up to the corries. Coire Cas itself must have been wonderful before the skiing parathenalia too, a heaven for wildlife and green.

Ptarmigan portrait

Taking it easy

Looking fine in the sunshine
Retracing my steps I headed back East along the plateau, still with the Snow Bunting singing all the way along the cliffs. Shortly after leaving the top I spotted a male Ptarmigan! He was taking it easy on the cliff edge gazing out to the North. Looking very chilled out he wan't at all disturbed by my presence. A brilliant 30 minutes or so sitting beside him just 4 metres away. I even had my packed lunch whilst sitting looking out to the corries with him. Pure bliss. For me this is wildlife photography. A day spent in the hills looking and searching. Then quality time near your subject, watching their behaviour patterns. Of course getting some nice images is a big plus point. After lunch I left him to his peace and quiet.
Just the odd croak
Coire an t-Sneachda & Cairn Gorm

Coire Domhain snowpatch

View west from Cairn Gorm
The bright sun and clear skies faded by early afternoon with some high level cloud building up. I finished my walk by heading over Cairn Gorm summit and down Windy Ridge. On the way I was treated to even more Snow Bunting and that other wonderful Cairn Gorm bird that we have here in summer, the Dotterel. Fabulous end to the day.
Another Snow Bunting near Cairn Gorm

Moss Campion just starting to flower

Female Dotterel looking inquisitive
Well not quite over, looking forward to the brilliant ride back down the road to cool off. It's a brilliant, fast freewheel back down to Glenmore with, of course, stunning views. But there was still some last minute wildlife, even at carpark level. Finished nicely with Ring Ouzel and an inquisitive  Pied Wagtail.
Ring Ouzel

Pied Wagtail

LAST OF THE HOT MOUNTIAN DAYS


HOT WEEKEND

2020/05/31 22:54

Braeriach from Lurchers
Saturday and Sunday we enjoyed hot, cloudless conditions on the Cairngorms. Maybe too hot! But we shouldn't complain as Tuesday all is changing to cooler and wetter conditions. Nice to be out on the tops again. Saturday it seemed we had the whole of the Cairngorms to ourselves. Not a soul seen all day apart from a few bikers on the ski road.
Time for a morning dip
On Saturday we headed up the road to the Sugar Bowl and up the Northern ridge of Lurchers Crag. Before heading to the summit there was time for a cool swim.
Lairig Ghru from the top

Western crags of Lurchers 

Coure an Lochain
Caperts of beautiful  Trailing Azalea on the long ridge to the top. We even managed a sunbathe on the summit of this 'deleted' Munro.

SUNDAY 31 MAY
Loch na Binne swim
Another hot day on Sunday but strong winds on the tops so nice and cool. Another morning dip in one of the lochs up the hill. We then headed up the long, broad Northern ridges of Cairn Gorm. Ww saw no one again all day.
Strath Nethy

Loch na Binne

Bynack Mor

Loch zmorlich from the Northern slopes on Cairn Gorm

HOT WEEKEND


IT'S GREAT TO BE BACK!

2020/05/29 19:01

The beautiful Dotterel, Cairngorm plateau yesterday
10 weeks of not being on the mountains is the longest time in my life, and that's a fair few years! Friday 29th May was a day that we were allowed access to the mountains again here in Scotland. That is, if you live around 5 miles from any hills. The Scottish government and SMRT's published the guidelines this week. Phase 1 of coming out started 29th May.
Some folk may say 'you're so lucky living near the mountains'. My reply, as always is 'Luck didn't land me in The Highlands. Hard work, commitment, scarifices and determination have given me nearly 30 years of living in these wonderful places'.
Loch Avon Basin

Feithe Buidhe slabs
It was with great joy that I set off by bike from my house on Friday and cycled up to the Coaire Cas carpark in glorious early morning sunshine. The snow gates are closed at Glenmore still. I've cycled up the road many times over the last 10 weeks which keeps you fit, especially when carrying camera equipment weighing 3kg. I am proud and glad to state that since restrictions set in over 10 weeks ago we have only used the car on 3 occasions and that was for the 5 minutes drive into Aviemore for shopping. All my exercise bike rides and walks have started from my front door. Today was no exception.

Bike ride from the house to Coire Cas carpark

Glorious morning 
I took a wander over the Cairngorm plateau after a visit to Coire an Lochain, a familiar route. Once up on the plateau via the Twin Burns it was so warm, no hot! Clear skies and hot sunshine for the rest of the day. I only saw 3 solo walkers all day. On my way over to the Feithe Buidhe area I got a wonderful 20 minutes with a single Dotterel. This beautiful migratory plover  travels the long route from West Africa for breeding on our hostile (sometimes) high Cairngorm plateau. A ground nesting bird that is a delight to see and only found on the high tops in The Scottish mountains
Female Dotterel

Beautiful markings
Just 20 minutes later the plateau was filled with the beautiful call of the male Snow Bunting. Another one of our special birds up here. The male changes its plumage in the summer months and very different markings from the female. There's nothing quite has lovely as the singing of a snow bunting on the hills.
Male Snow Bunting

Female Snow Bunting
I had lunch at my favourite viewpoint of the entire Cairngorms. Stunning views of the Loch Avon basin. I sat and drank out of the Feithe Buidhe waters, pure magic. 2 litres went down very easily in the scorching hot conditions. Apparently Aviemore was one of the hotest places in the UK at 27 C.

Fiacaill Coire Sneachda
Even the reindeer where high up on the plateau today. Savouring the cool snow patches, a common sight when it gets hot up here.
Reindeer cooling off

Bemused by humans
Back down to the carpark. Day topped off with the beautiful Ring Ouzels around the ski area. A fab whizz back down the ski road on the bike. A grand day out. It's  great to be back!
Loch Avon beaches

Traling Azalea

Ring Ouzel

See you soon

IT'S GREAT TO BE BACK!


RESTRICTED ACCESS - WEEK 9

2020/05/24 20:29

Osprey's looking fine in the sunshine
At last there is light at the end of the tunnel. Well a glimmer of hope at least. This week the Scottish government have started Phase 1 of getting back to some kind of normality. From 28th May we can exercise freely (including mountain walking) if you live within 5 miles of the countryside. So great news. I can get back on the hills. Looking forward to that. Meanwhile it's been another great week for wildlife. Weather wise there were some beautiful evenings after cloudy, dull mornings. Toward the end of the week we had high winds and the first serious rain for some weeks.
A small selection of images from this week.
A pair of Goldeneye

Ring Ouzel with a snack

Lapwing looking fine in evening sun
Cairngorms from the Dava Road on a gorgeous evening, Wednesday

Loch Insh, hotest day

Loch Morlich in beautiful evening light

Loch Morlich & Meall a' Bhuachaille

Another hot day on a bike up to Coire Cas carpark

Great cloud formations
Mute Swan

Ducklings galore

Male Goldenye

Eyes in the back of your head?
nothing like a good scratch
Nice clouds on the Burma Road

Stratspey from the Burma Road

Bluebells

Lochindorb
Mallards are beautiful

RESTRICTED ACCESS - WEEK 9


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