A return to the red squirrels

Last August I spent a really enjoyable day at Neil McIntryre’s Rothiemurchas Estate red squirrel hide deep in a remnant of the beautiful Caledonian pine forest.  The setting was stunning and the squirrels put on quite a show!

When I returned to the highlands again in March 2018 I made a point of revisiting Neil’s hide.

I arrived a little early as there’d been yet more snow in Tomatin and I was a little worried about the roads.  I therefore wandered down to Loch an Eilein for a few minutes spotting at least five squirrels en route!  The loch looked incredible.  Frozen solid at that end with mist floating across at the treeline and sun beams penetrating the loch.  Wow! Here’s a phone pic which doesn’t really do it justice, but gives an idea:


Unlike last time, I was sharing the hide with two others, so we all headed up together and got settled in.  Fortunately it’s a big hide and we worked around and with each other.

No purple and pink heather this time around, the foliage was more of an apricot colour, but it looked lovely too.  There was still a light covering of snow on the ground too – not quite as much as I’d have liked but as Neil pointed out, squirrel sightings are fewer when snowy because they stay curled up in their snug dreys.

The squirrels weren’t as active as August, but there were plenty of visits.  The only down-side though was that they primarily collected and cached the nuts, rarely stopping to eat or to take pause. Any broken nuts we put out were snaffled by the birds.  Great morning though!

The vast majority of these images were shot using the Nikon D610 and Tamron 150-600mm lens on beanbag with manual exposure – afterwards I did think I should probably have switched to aperture priority as the light was constantly shifting, but it worked out ok although I was constantly changing my settings.

This tree root with the pine tree in the background was a very photogenic perch.  The first image here is my favourite from the shoot.


This has to be one of the most distinctive tree stumps!  I’ve seen it in so many images since Neil opened this hide.  You can see why though…


This was also a very photogenic perch, much utilised by the squirrels this time


I love the muted colours in those last two images.

This log, with a light covering of snow was a good spot for photographs


Like last time I tried to take some photographs that showed off the stunning setting


It was quite tricky on this occasion to photograph much in the way of movement as although the light was lovely at times it wasn’t bright enough for a fast shutter speed.


I had a go at a backlit image – far from perfect, but for a first attempt I’m relatively pleased.


I didn’t try for any forward-facing jumping squirrels this time but did try to do some from the side.  However they were slightly out of focus unfortunately – something to try again next time!

So all in all another very enjoyable morning at Neil’s hide.  I do recommend visiting it if you have a spare morning in the Cairngorms. It’s a wonderful setting at all times of the year and watching the squirrels is an enjoyable way to pass the time!

Highland based nature photographer and guide specialising primarily in Scottish wildlife but available to cover live music and events.

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