Fish Eaters of the North (Part 2)

More early starts, more late finishes, more highs (and in some cases very high highs) and the inevitable lows – this was the flavour of Fish Eaters part 2.

Image: Helena Spinks

We had lots of great dives at Rothiemurchus (thanks to Neil and Julian) and we had one unbelievable session with the dolphins (see image below) but I’m going to focus closer to home and make a bold and radical claim: 4 of our group have photographed something unique this week. Here’s the story. The osprey pair close to our base have two chicks this year, making four birds in total. As far as I’m aware, images of osprey chicks being fed away from the nest are, if not unique, rare indeed. The image below shows a recently rung fledgling being fed by its father. At one point, adult male, adult female and chick sat side by side on this perch – cool or what? This image took 1/250sec to produce but in reality, it’s taken nearly ten years to engineer a situation whereby our guests can get this sort of encounter and produce this sort of picture. A special experience for them and a very satisfying result for me personally.

Image: Chris Hatch

Well done to all of our Fish Eaters crew – it’s been a blast.

Image: Karen Hatch

A.M.A.N.D.A. June ’12

24th May 1998 was a memorable day here at Ballintean: we welcomed our first guests to the only-just-finished-in time Steading. For those of you who are not familiar with ‘The Steading’, it’s our converted barn, which plays host to our photo-tour guests here in the Cairngorms and it was 14 years ago – almost to the day – when we opened its doors for the first time.

10th May 1998 was another memorable day but for very different reasons. Seemingly every tradesman north of Glasgow was on holiday, had fallen sick or had a more lucrative job on at the time.  Our own house was stacked full of furniture, cushions, bed linen, pictures, ornaments – you name it, it was there, all ready to take its place once the work was complete. There was even stuff crammed into our bedroom and although it’s a bit of a blur now, there may well have been a night or two when I parked Pete in the corner bolt upright, coffin-style, to get his sleep. Sam was two and was as demanding as two-year olds inevitably are.

We called in reinforcements. Pete’s favourite helper, aka my mum travelled north with her intercooled, turbo-charged iron and The Irish Sea provided safe passage for Aunty Helen and Uncle Pat who came from Dublin complete with toolboxes in hand. Believe me, we desperately needed their help. Anything at The Steading that is now fixed to anything is thanks to Uncle Pat. Aunty Helen worked wonders with her rubber gloves to clean every surface and mum’s infamous ironing skills took care of 11 sets of curtains and 11 sets of bed linen (Pete’s underwear remained full of creases that month!).

One night I remember looking around the place at midnight and listening to the resident tawny owl sat on the newly completed roof. It wasn’t like this on the telly and I can recall feeling absolute dread at the prospect of definitely (in my mind) not being finished on time. But we managed it…just. Uncle Pat was rewarded with a game of golf and I took mum and Aunty Helen to every tearoom within 20 miles!

In the last 14 years we have welcomed many people from all over the world and from all walks of life. They bring with them stories and more often than not, the foundation for great friendships. That dining table has seen (and heard) many a tale and if it could laugh, I’m sure it would, in the same way that so many other people have laughed sitting around it. It’s a great source of pride for me that not only have we made great friends with many of our guests, but also they have made friends with each other. Here’s to the next 14 years – are you listening Uncle Pat?

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.