A.M.A.N.D.A. April ’13

Fat is a delicate word in our house. You see I’m not 18 any more and thanks to middle age (plus a few cream eggs here and there), I’ve put on a few pounds in recent years – only a few mind! Pete is very sympathetic to my (temporary) bulging midriff (not) and tries his best to avoid the ‘F’ word as much as he can. But then that’s his trouble of course, he can’t resist stirring the hornet’s nest, poking jibes at the afflicted amongst us. I can hear him now with his (not so) subtle hints: “That’s a FAT lot of good.” There’s not much FAT on that idea.” You get my drift? Nothing direct, just little digs here and there; I wouldn’t mind but he’s hardly Richard Gere now is he?

And so to the latest excuse for the ‘F’ word. Crested tits and Great-spotted woodpeckers eat alot of fat, my fat, the fat that I make from bread, lard and peanuts each winter to feed the greedy so and sos. With our Winter Wildlife tours going at full tilt for almost a month, and photographers lining up in our hides to photograph them, alot of fat has been needed. It started off: “Amanda, could you mix some more fat?” but gradually degenerated into, “Fat for Fatties from the Fat Factory please.” He even got our other guides involved! Now again, there’s a deliberate and cynical avoidance of any direct reference to my own body but I can see it in his eyes – I know those eyes – he’s having a dig. Now of course he will deny all of this saying I’m being over-sensitive, paranoid even, but I know, I just know.

The Fat Factory is now winding down for the season as the birds go off to make new fat addicts. I’ve given Pete ‘the stare’ more than once, just waiting for him to cross that uncrossable line but sneaky as he is, he stays just the right side. He claims he’s sympathetic to my complaints about excess body baggage; he claims he still loves me as he did when I was 18; he claims he’s a mature, modern man. Fat chance!

A.M.A.N.D.A. Jan ’13

Well that’s another eventful year now passed and I can sit down and look forward to the year ahead. Or can I?

Looking at the diary, it seems like I’ll be going solo for the first quarter of the year and so I’m just hoping that the good ship Amanda stays afloat. Pete is already one foot out of the door for a month-long stay in Yellowstone (he claims it’s work but we all know different) followed by Winter Wildlife tours in the Cairngorms, before Lofoten in March. Our son Sam has a couple of busy months ahead with Biathlon tournaments coming thick and fast – the British Championships in Germany followed by the European Youth Olympics in Romania. A very proud Mama am I, but at the same time, he’s learning to drive as well as perfecting the art of being an adolescent (at which he excels!)

So why am I telling you all of this? Well, having ensured the boys are packed with plenty of warm clothing and a months’ worth of pants and socks, I’ll need to set the alarm for early. I mean very early! Before I even start the day in the office, the dogs need walking, the cows need feeding, the buzzard hide needs baiting (which due to recent developments now involves a ladder and a precarious climb up it) ditto 3 x red squirrel hides, 3 x bird hides and the crested tit site. Only then can I sit down and enjoy my porridge (I don’t actually like porridge).

Knowing my luck, the ‘Famous Five’ Heiland coos will manage to escape everyday. Over the holidays they surpassed themselves with a 4-mile sortie up Glenfeshie. It took several hours, my personalised crook (I knew it would come in useful), the Land Rover and much swearing and shouting (mainly while Pete was waist-deep in the freezing river coaxing them across) to get them back home.

Oh and then, I mustn’t forget to meet and greet our hide clients, as well as shopping and cleaning in preparation for our forthcoming Winter Wildlife tours. And all of this ignores the challenges of the snow that is yet to fall.

Am I complaining? No. Well perhaps just a little bit. If you happen across me in the next few months, please forgive me in advance. My hair will be a mess, my clothes will be a mess and I will be a mess! But I’ll still be smiling! It’s the only way.

I wish you all a great year ahead with lots of laughter, happiness and good health along the way.

A. x

A good kick up the backside.

Look I don’t want to sound like a martyr but I’ve been very busy these last years. And? Well, with some things I’ve taken my eye off the ball, my foot off the pedal, my mind off the prize. Enter stage left, Mr Andrew Parkinson.

I’ve known Andy for a few years and always respected his no-nonsense approach to wildlife photography. I also like the fact he thinks – far too much as it turns out! I recently spent a couple of weeks guiding with him on two of our Winter Wildlife tours (I’d been trying to recruit him as a tour leader for some time but he has over-inflated ideas about his financial worth) and he took the opportunity to remind me of some home truths – more than once. Trouble is, you can get too close to things to see them clearly and hands up, that’s what I’ve done with some of the feeding stations around our base, in particular our red squirrel sites.

So what’s the problem? Well nothing really but let’s face it, a red squirrel sat on a mossy stump has kind of been done. 5 years ago it was fine; today…well you have to move on and that’s what Andy politely pointed out (actually his rather dictatorial tone was far from polite as I recall). Andy’s fresh eyes and fresh ideas have given me a new perspective, a new energy and we’re embarking on a number of improvements to provide visiting guests with new opportunities. These flying/running/jumping squirrels are just the beginning.

So thanks to Andy (and it has to be said other guests too) for making some very helpful and constructive suggestions. We’ve always made a big play on our tours about the opportunity to learn from each other – and here’s a case in point. A good kick up the backside is what I needed and I feel so much better for it!

You can learn more about the enigmatic – and rather rude – Andy Parkinson by listening to my One 2 One interview with him here.

It just goes to show…

I know what it’s like. If you hear the word ‘Alaska’, your mind races to wolves, grizzlies, moose and ice-capped mountains. Any trip there has to include all of these and more. The Cairngorms is the same. It’s the home of ospreys, pine martens, crested tits and capercaillie. These are the wildlife superstars and these are the species people want to see. But what about chaffinches?

Image: Peter Turnbull

We’ve just come to the end of our Winter Wildlife programme and uneventful as the weather was (in the main), we’ve enjoyed the company of four great groups who adapted to the unseasonal conditions and between them, produced some fantastic images of…wait for it…chaffinches! Yes, yes,  you can mock but just look at these images. Disappointing as it might have been, there’s been very little snow and our guests were left with two choices: wallow in self pity or make the most of things. Universally they chose the latter and good for them.

Image: Charlie Goddard

Selling a photo tour in the Cairngorms on the back of chaffinches is going to be a tough call for anyone but it shouldn’t be. I’d rather have one of these cracking images in my library than a mediocre shot of an osprey or pine marten. Well done to all of our photographer guests for nailing some great shots and for realising that subject rarity is irrelevant when it comes down to it.

Next year we’re planning some changes to our Winter Wildlife programme and we’ll be uploading dates soon. Thanks to everyone who joined us in 2012 – I hope you enjoyed your time spent in the Cairngorms and I hope you enjoyed your time with the wildlife icon that is The Chaffinch.

Image: Cheryl Surry

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.

Winter Wildlife 1

We’re into our season of Winter Wildlife photo-tours and I just thought I’d post a few shots from last week’s session. In the most part the weather was OK if not perfect and along with my co-guide Chris Gomersall, we kept everyone hard at it. Apologies to any of the group who have returned home suffering from an impoverished physical condition!

If you receive our monthly newsletter you’ll know that we’re presently looking into a refreshed range of tours for 2012 – both here in Scotland and to a few new locations such as Iceland, Netherlands and Lofotens (and it looks like we’ll be doing another Arctic Special to Svalbard in search of polar bears). All tours will be posted by the end of March – watch this space!

Extra Winter Wildlife anyone?

Our Winter Wildlife photo-tours are all now fully booked but there is a possibility that we’ll be adding a further winter tour.  Mountains & Moors will focus on the unique wildlife and landscapes of Scotland’s uplands – ptarmigan, mountain hare and red deer, as well as the spectacular landscapes of the Cairngorms and Inverpolly.

If you’re interested in booking a place, please do let us know as we’re presently gauging interest.

Dates are likely to be March 5-11 2011.