Lockdown: The Sequel. Thank Goodness for Red Squirrels and Snow!

Here we are again, back in lockdown in Scotland from the beginning of 2021. Hugely frustrating from an employment perspective as I’m unable to do any guiding or workshops during what should be the peak season or visit the mountain hares which is heartbreaking. However, as I’ve said before, I’m incredibly lucky to live where I do and the weather so far this year has been pretty good for photography, we’ve even had snow, which is rare where I live so I’ve been making the most of it and have taken a terrifying number of images of the local wildlife!

The focus of my photography has, of course, been on the red squirrels. Both the 3 that frequent my garden and those in the woods behind it. I honestly don’t know what I would have done both during this lockdown and the last one without the squirrels, not only are they wonderful photographic subjects but they are so joyful to watch. I always refer to my time with them as “squirrel therapy”, it’s good for the soul.

The woodland squirrels are not as active as during other times in the year, I presume they are snuggled up somewhere warm scoffing some of the many nuts they’ve cached over the past few months. However, there’s always been at least one, sometimes up to five, visiting my squirrel site when I’ve been there. I’m no longer using a hide, but am lying on the ground to photograph them. This is so much fun, I feel part of the gang, and it’s hilarious when they come over to check me out – so close I could touch them. Wee Bruce actually ran up my legs one day which was surreal.

This is me with a squirrel feeding close by. I took this with my new toy, a GoPro Hero9 Black.

Amazingly we’ve had two of three occasions where snow has carpeted the woodland floor. Last winter was wet and windy, this year there’s been little in the way of wind and it’s either been cold and frosty or snowy – so much better! I never expected to have the opportunity to photograph these squirrels in snow so I’ve been making the most of it. I’ve been primarily using my Nikon D500 with the Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VRII, this is my only telephoto lens now and it gives me a bit more flexibility.

I do, however, sometimes take the Nikon D850 with my Nikkor 500mm pf 5.6 lens along which, although quite tricky to use as the squirrels are close and speedy, does allow for some lovely close-ups when they stop to eat a nut.

The woods have looked so pretty in the snow. I went for a walk through them after the heaviest snow shower and it was a real winter wonderland. These were taken using my “landscape” lens, the Samsung S20+ – straight out the phone, no edits, pretty good I think.

On that walk I popped down to my squirrel site to put a few hazelnuts in their feeder (I recommend Wholefoods Direct for hazelnuts, both in their shell and unshelled) and was delighted to spot long-tailed tits in one of the beech trees, as well as a few other birds plus a goldcrest in the bracken. These are quite possibly my favourite little bird images of the season so far. I’d been trying to photograph the long-tailed tits in snow without much success.

I’ve also spent a whole lot of time in my garden photographing the birds and squirrels here. I’ve been working on a garden photography set-up, it’s still very much a work in progress but has proved useful these past weeks. Part of it involves a reflection pool, however it’s mostly been an ice rink as yet! The challenges facing me are 1. a small area in the back of the garden where I can put everything, 2. very uneven, sloping ground and 3. having something that works for squirrels and birds. Below is what I see from my hide (a Nitehawk chair hide). The tree at the back is brilliant, it provides a beautiful orange background to the images.

However, I’ve been pleased with some of the results and I do love just sitting in my little hide watching the wildlife come and go. The birds are very entertaining, especially the blackbirds and robins. I put together this little video “Blackbirds and Robin” filmed using the Nikon D500 with Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VRII and the GoPro Hero9 Black:

Here are a tiny number of the many little bird images I’ve taken from my hide:

Set-ups are great, but personally I actually prefer images taken of the birds in the trees and shrubs and on the ground, so I’ve tried for those kinds of photographs in the front garden:

I was delighted and surprised to see a fieldfare in early Feb. I’d thrown an old apple into the garden for the blackbirds and it turned up, jealously guarding it from other birds. It’s been back every day since, and I’ve been putting more apples out for it.

And here’s a video of it filmed with the gopro

Having red squirrels in the garden is wonderful too. There were four, but sadly little Etta is no more, however her brother Dizzy is doing really well and is beginning to look more grown up finally with ear tufts now although they aren’t as impressive as those of the other two!

This is a favourite, it makes me smile with the giant robin in the background!

The other two, Ella and Louis are in and out regularly too. I think they are probably siblings as well as they do get along ok.

So… all in all it’s not been a bad start to lockdown, even if I’ve been unable to actually go anywhere. Thank goodness for the squirrels and snow!!

To purchase images or greeting cards of my photographs please visit my website http://www.karenmillerphotography.co.uk – this is my sole means of income right now so every purchase helps just a little bit. Hopefully I’ll be able to start workshops when lockdown restrictions are lifted. Info on those on my website too.

I’ll leave you with another video of the garden wildlife, there are more on my youtube channel. Enjoy.

[The links included within this blog are affiliate links.]

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

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