Ten minutes of ecstasy!!

For this blog post, we welcome back our intrepid Arctic correspondent, John Cumberland

Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca; Catholics visit St Peters in Rome; Hindus congregate along the Ganges; Jews wail at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem; Mormons trek to Salt Lake City (apart from the one who hopes to become the next US President, he is too busy campaigning) and politicoes attend Party Conferences.

Northshots’ aficionados return to Ballintean and Glenfeshie for their Cairngorms refresher, their spirits to be revived  by the sight and smells of the Caledonian forests, the sprightly River Feshie, the confident golden eagle, the cantankerous capercaillie and the over- exposed red squirrel.

One looks forward to the reassuring welcome from Amanda, the creaking floor above one’s bedroom, the rustic Cairns-carved toilet roll holders, the wet wellies in the stone lobby and, of course, the celebrated red squirrel. Will one be accosted by his agent as one scrambles up to ‘his hide’ and will he demand an even bigger royalty this year as the prima donna squirrel wearies of all this media attention? These are the questions.

As the countdown to our next trip ticks by, the anxieties multiply. Should one  upgrade from the trusty 500mm lens to the ‘big bazooka’, the 600mm? After all, no less than the Prime Minister has stated that we need such a device to solve many of Europe’s woes. Maybe a 600mm lens would improve one’s wildlife reach, but will it focus close enough from the Northshots’ hides on a ‘Crestie’? Cairns always says that ‘equipment is not important’,  but of course, it is – just ask those frustrated amateurs with their diminutive  silver digithingy trying to capture a stork nesting upon a lofty church tower.

Has one prepared a suitable slide show for the after-dinner sessions? Will it all be an anti-climax?  No, Pete will make sure of that as there is always the latest 2020VISION escapade to report.

So much has happened on the photographic front during the past year and snow and ice seem to feature heavily.  Yes, there will be plenty to talk about during those after- dinner sessions.

The memorable experiences during the Northshots trip to Svalbard on MV Origo – see the Northshots blogs around August/September 2011. The tough but productive trip to  the winter mountains of Slovenia (not with Northshots) Perhaps one should be discrete about that one? Sorry Guy! The brilliant northern lights and fabulous arctic landscapes workshop on Senja with Northshots, lead by the charming, thoughtful, attentive and
articulate Niall Benvie and Charlotte Eatough.  I did not believe Cairns knew such nice people!

Our Senja group hit the jackpot on this trip with not only surprising shots of the northern lights on the first night but, on the second night at around 11-30pm,  ten minutes of such electrifying green light that we seemed to be on another planet! Yes, we had nailed it, including the famous ‘dancing curtains’.  At one point, the light burst above the mountain skyline as though a green volcano was erupting! Solar activity is at a high level this year and we had been blessed. The ecstatic cries from our group echoed around the snowy valley and the icy mountains. Niall and Charlotte caught one another eyes and shared a knowing smile. Mission accomplished!

Afterwards, bags  to pack, aircraft to board, stories to share, images to edit, captions to write, slideshows to prepare, Photoshop to curse, even blogs to create. It is hard work, this photography business!

Text & images: John Cumberland.

Winter Wildlife 1

It’s a fraught time of year if I’m honest and although we’ve been running our Winter Wildlife photo tours for over a decade, I still fret. Will the squirrels perform? Will the crested tits turn up? Will the damned weather hold? Will Rob Jordan ever refuse a full cooked breakfast?

Our intrepid falconer Alan Rothery with the latest in fashionable headwear.

I hope its not obvious to guests but there’s a whole shed load of behind-the-scenes preparation for these tours and it’s a constant round of topping up feeding stations, sourcing new perches, drilling fat holes for woodpeckers…the list goes on. The worrying is compensated by sharing this great part of the world with great people. The weather’s been less than ideal this week but everyone is still smiling and enjoying the opportunity to indulge in their photography.

Most of our hardy group spent yesterday trudging through icy winds and thick cloud in search of the elusive mountain grouse, the ptarmigan. Picking a day to head into the hills is always tricky and sometimes there’s a compromise to ensure we get up there at all. There were birds around but as I’ve found before in high winds, they tend to be twitchy and we struggled to get anything meaningful. Moving a tripod with a telephoto lens around on slippy rocks is another obstacle that takes some practice to overcome. Not every day spent in this unique environment is a great experience but I always maintain that each day provides great experience. The mountains teach you alot about yourself.

The mountain pioneers!

Thanks this week to Karen, Sally, Steve, Nick, Bert, Derek, Kerry, James, Claire and Nigel for once again making all the fretting worthwhile.

The festive season beckons.

Has another year really passed by? A full 12 months? Are we really staring down the barrel of another bellyfull of ritualistic over-consumption? It would seem so.

I’ve had a tricky few days – snowed out from home (rather than snowed in); freezing diesel and ailing parents on my mind. Against this backdrop I set off today to use my camera – it sometimes seems like a real novelty! Gingerly picking my way down ice-laden Glenfeshie, I met a neighbour who stopped to pass the time of day. “Have you done it all?” she enquired. “Done it all?” I asked. “Christmas!” she beamed. I politely avoided a response but later, whilst standing behind my tripod trying to make the most of this wonderful scene, I reflected on what my neighbour meant by ‘it all’.

I’m 48 next month and if I live until 100, I’ll never understand modern Christmas. By ‘it all’ I hoped she meant giving thought to relaxation; reflecting on a prosperous and varied life and looking forward to spending time with those I don’t normally spend time with. But I don’t think she did mean that, and the queue outside Tesco’s car park tonight would suggest not either.