Autumn in the Highlands

It’s been almost three months since I wrote a blog about my life in the Highlands & two years now since I relocated here from Glasgow, which is hard to believe! I had a busy September/October with cabin guests and workshops. It’s been lovely to meet guests and clients who follow me on social media and great to introduce them to the wonderful area I live in and, of course, my red squirrel family. All my cabin guests have enjoyed their stay in The Drey which is fab and the workshops have gone down well too!

It’s been a strange Autumn this year weather-wise. The weather remained mild and the leaves on the trees took a long time to change. The closest oak to my house is still looking more green than orange and it’s almost December! After missing the autumn colours last year I was determined to make the most of them and visited a few of the local glens – I’m lucky to live close to all the Inverness-shire glens. I don’t tend to take landscape images but I did dust off the 24 and 50mm lenses and tripod for these trips. I was given some tips on camera settings for landscapes by a workshop client which certainly helped.

I do love autumn colours!

In one of the glens I spotted this Fly Agaric fungi and was glad I’d brought my macro lens with me.

I was also pleased I had my Nikon D500 and 500mm pf5.6 lens on the passenger seat one day as I spotted a group of red deer stags.

My local red squirrel family has continued to entertain both me and my clients. I so love spending time with the squirrels and introducing them to others – everyone loves their antics and leaves with a smile on their face(s). They are such a joy to hang out with especially as we are sitting outside with them. I give clients tips on how best to photograph the squirrels and information on their behaviours and personalities.

Patty, the dominant female, is always around. She is such a hard-working squirrel, spending more time caching nuts than all the others put together. This could of course be because she chases the other squirrels away mind you – I don’t think they like her as much as I do! It was interesting to see how her behaviour changed whilst she was pregnant/nursing young. At that time she sat eating nuts rather than caching and wasn’t as inclined to assert her dominance. However, if a squirrel deigned to come too close she would make warning noises and if they ignored those she did remove them from the area. She’s now back to her old aggressive tricks and is very territorial, more often than not chasing any other squirrel away – they hide in the trees or try and creep in unseen whilst she’s there, it’s fascinating to watch their interactions. I love the fact I know these squirrels and their behaviours so well. It makes the experience much richer.

This is Patty. At the time of writing (25 Nov) she’s the only one of the squirrels who doesn’t yet have much in the way of ear tufts. She’s still gorgeous though! The video was shot on my Samsung S20+ yesterday after she tried to steal nuts from my bag – I scattered a few next to me and set the phone up to record.

The only other squirrel I recognise now is the other female – Emmylou. She’s another of my original three. Emmylou is a very sweet little girl and far more timid than Patty. Interestingly she’s the only other female. Others have appeared and there have been female kittens but I presume Patty doesn’t let them stay in her territory. Although not as confident Emmylou can hold her own and she’s also the squirrel most likely to approach me. She’s sniffed my boot and cached nuts right next to me, so close I could reach out and touch her if I so choose to (I don’t). Such a privilege though. In the pictures below Emmylou sat and ate a nut then cleaned her paws.

I have no idea how many boy squirrels there are as they all look very similar. They grew their tufts back before the females and are now sporting almost fully grown ones. I do like a squirrel with ear tufts! The colours at the site are looking great right now too.

I have seen a few kittens although I’m not sure how many are still around – hopefully they’ve survived. Initially there were a pair who appeared together, often feeding at the same time on the bird feeder (they couldn’t figure out the squirrel feeder).

I’m only seeing one now (could be different ones though). They are still very timid and won’t leave the tree with the feeders and dash up the tree every time they are spooked. So adorable though!

Here’s one final video of the squirrels, I shot this in September. Patty is the one with the stripy tail.

The most exciting appearance at the squirrel site though was this:

A pine marten kit! Although I’ve followed my local martens via my trail cameras I’d never set eyes on one of them so this was such a thrill. It happened in October at 10.30am! The marten sat in the tree for 10 minutes watching us – Patty even came down for a nut during that time. So lovely to finally see one of the local martens.

I spent 10 days or so photographing pine martens in August and it looks as though I only featured images from the beginning of that experience in my last blog. It was a real privilege to spend so many days in the company ofthree siblings.

On a few occasions two appeared at the same time. The first time the two played together which was lovely.

The next time though it was one of these two and the male kit. He was really aggressive – she just wanted to eat but he repeatedly hassled her. Fascinating to watch but hard to capture.

The third time was the best though. Again, very hard to photograph especially as the light was low and the heather high. It was the same two kits but this time they were chasing each other as well as climbing the trees and jumping between branches. Often all I could see was a tail or paw as they rolled around together but it was a joy to watch! Fortunately I had both my Gopro Hero 9 and Browning trailcam filming from different view points so put together this video.

I’ve seen a marten since then but it was under artificial lighting. She seemed very small, but ate a lot! The light was quite low and my D850 with Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 were required plus a fair amount of editing and Topaz Denoise (affiliate link).

The garden birds went very quiet in the autumn although numbers are beginning to pick up now. I’ve spotted brambling a couple of times and the long-tailed tits are making appearances which is always a delight. Corvid numbers increase dramatically over the winter. A few days ago there was a large group of rooks as well as a few hooded crows adding to the usual carrion crows. I entertained myself trying to photograph them all in flight.

The field behind the cabin was populated by cows all summer and although most were moved in the autumn a group of bullocks remained for another month or so. They were very curious and friendly, running over to the fence whenever I returned in the car. It was sad to see them go. There are sheep now who aren’t nearly as interesting. Stil beats looking out over houses though! This was my favourite of the bullocks.

One of my cabin guests discovered that there was a dipper close by which was fab! I spent a couple of days photographing it but haven’t seen it since, although a neighbour tells me there are now two around sometimes. It wasn’t particularly bothered by me if I sat still and it’s such a great bird to watch – really interesting behaviours.

I also spent a bit more time watching the local ospreys and other birds. They were mostly quite distant but the ospreys were still here until late September which seems very late! I also saw juvenile gannets, sandwich terns and black tailed godwits as well as the usual redshanks, oystercatchers and curlew.

Finally I’ve started volunteering at Tollie Red Kites. I applied when I moved to the Highlands but due to Covid the feeding station was closed until this summer. I love red kites – if I was a bird that’s the one I’d choose to be, beautiful and elegant. It’s great to have the opportunity to see them and introduce them to others. I have managed some photographs too!

Buzzards make regular appearances as well.

But the biggest surprise were a pair of a white-tailed sea eagles which made the kites look tiny!

So that’s about it. I have written a couple of articles for other sites though which might be of interest:

Creature Candy on mountain hares

NatureTTL on How to Photograph Wildlife in the Scottish Highlands

If you’d like to visit the area and see some of this amazing wildlife for yourself then I’d love for you to come and stay in my cabin The Drey Inchberry. I can offer workshops whether you stay here or not – full details on my website.

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

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