This post isn’t exactly about photography, but it is connected. As someone with a strong interest and love of nature photography I’ve made it my mission to learn more about Scotland’s wildlife, and this has pretty much dictated my reading, and some viewing choices.
After my first visit to Aigas in 2015 I purchased a couple of Sir John Lister Kaye‘s books “Song of the Rolling Earth – A Highland Odyssey” which is the autobiographical account of the Aigas Field Centre and “At The Water’s Edge – A Walk in the Wild” in which John shares some of his experiences during a year of walking his estate, primarily around their stunning little loch. John is a naturalist and conservationist who is passionate about the world around him and this comes across strongly in his writing. When John describes his encounters with animals he has the ability to paint a wonderful picture bringing these moments to life. There are far too many passages to mention here, but all have stayed with me – frozen wrens, mating adders, coming face to face with a wildcat, finding a stunned goshawk, stalking a stag – these are just a few examples, both books are full of them. Being completely smitten with the Aigas Loch obviously enhances my enjoyment, I’ve been there, I can picture exactly where he is, but if you are at all interested in Scottish wildlife, I’d highly recommend these books.
Another author / photographer / film-maker / naturalist recommended to me by photographer Laurie Campbell was Mike Tomkies. Mike has an interesting back-story. He was a Hollywood columnist, he sailed round the world, he served in the army… but his heart lay in the wilds of Canada, Spain and Scotland and he wrote a number of books about his time in these remote places. It’s definitely worth reading his wikipedia page and there are a few documentaries on youtube too. Sadly he passed away in October 2016.
I’ve read a couple of his books so far, “A Last Wild Place“, in which he writes about his first years staying in a remote cottage, many miles from civilization with his German Shepherd Moobli, and “My Wilderness Wildcats” – his attempt to rear and breed two wildcat kittens and the older fiesty Sylvesturr. He was an entertaining and engaging author who combined his knowledge of the wildlife with personal observations and a knack for telling a good story. His descriptions of the birds that visit his garden are wonderful – the cock chaffinches, heron, gulls etc. The wilds of Scotland are brought to life with his tales.
Another Laurie recommendation was Hugh Miles‘ documentary and accompanying book “Track of the Wild Otter” about otters on Shetland. He spent a number of years finding and familiarising himself with the wild otters around the coast, at a time when there were far fewer otters along British shorelines. One female otter became so accustomed to his appearances that he was able to capture some lovely, uninhibited footage of her and her cubs. The film also features beautiful shots of some of the other wildlife which frequents the shoreline. It may be decades old now, but for me it’s one of the best I’ve seen in its genre, an intimate portrait of a wonderful animal. The documentary is often shown on BBC Alba and for non-Gaelic speakers don’t worry it’s in English with Gaelic sub-titles!
And, of course, there’s Laurie and Anna Levin’s otter book too “Otters: Return To The River“, some fabulous photographs taken over the years throughout Scotland of both fresh water and sea otters.
On the topic of otters, I think my favourite book on the subject is Dr Miriam Darlington‘s “Otter Country“. I left my first copy at Aigas by accident, but was enjoying it so much I ordered a second. It’s a joyful & informative read. Miriam is passionate about otters and travels the lengths and breadths of the UK to find signs of them and learn more about these elusive animals from some of the experts in the field.