February 2022 – storms a-plenty but some great wildlife experiences

The weather this winter has been oh so challenging – storms, heavy rain, almost no frosts, little snow and temperatures that have fluctuated from freezing to double figures every few days. The Scottish Highlands have regularly been one of the mildest places in the whole of the UK, and many of the photographers who have travelled up here for wintery scenes and wildlife in snow will have left disappointed. However, I had a very busy February and managed to work around the weather, with clients almost every day except when I had a short break on the West Coast (more on that later).

I ran three “Squirrel Therapy” residential workshops during the month which include 3 nights accommodation in The Drey Inchberry, my rental cabin; 3 mornings of red squirrel photography and 2 afternoons photographing something else. Fortunately all of these workshops fell in between the biggest storms and we even had some wintery weather during each of them.

My squirrels have been a little quieter than usual, probably as confused by the weather as we’ve all been, but still put on a good show for my clients. Everyone loves the fact that we’re sitting outside with the squirrels who often come over to check us out before scampering off to collect/eat the hazelnuts. Patty has, for the most part, behaved herself allowing some of the others a chance to share the nuts. She’s a very busy little lady, constantly in and out collecting and caching nuts, stopping every so often to eat a nut before going back to work.

One of my male squirrels is recognisable due to a scarred nose. He’s in a lot too, and is a very hungry little guy. I’ve called him Sam. He has a branch he scampers up to whenever Patty appears – he can eat his nut in peace up there and have a groom before he returns for another nut.

I’ve seen a little snow up at the squirrels which has been great.

I take my squirrel therapy clients to hides in the Cairngorms too for some variety.

We photographed a few other species too including red deer. On my 2nd visit we were lucky enough to have heavy snow. The stags are obviously the most impressive but I love the hinds as well.

Great to see snow bunting in snow too – their colours match the location perfectly. Fab little birds. You often hear the flock just before seeing them – they come down, stay for a few minutes and then off they go again, only to return again a short while later.

Now I have my very own crested tit site I’ve been taking my squirrel therapy (and other) clients up to see these personable little birds. We’ve had all sorts of different weather conditions including snow and temperatures in double figures but fortunately the cresties have always appeared delighting my clients many of whom had never seen one before. I have a pair visiting, and (maybe) an individual as well. It’s hard to tell as they all look identical!

Long-tailed tits appear very regularly and they are always a crowd pleaser!

Treecreepers are frequently seen as well, working their way up the trees then falling back down to the bottom and starting again.

There’s a pair of red squirrels who, I think, must be siblings as they chase each other through the trees in a playful way (not like Patty!). One is very confident and will come down to a feeder even when there’s a large group of photographers. I helped out with a Natures Lens winter tour and had 5 people there with me who were absolutely delighted when the squirrel appeared.

I’ve left one of my Browning trail cameras running at the site and, finally, I’m seeing pine martens appearing – almost every night. There are at least two as I captured this footage of the two of them, plus one appeared in daylight!

The potential of this site excites me so once the crestie season is over I’m going to see what else I can do here.

As a volunteer at Tollie Red Kites I tend to spend a fair bit of time there, and take photographs when it’s quiet. In February I was so busy that I was only down for one shift, but it was cancelled due to heavy snow making the site inaccessible. I therefore went up a couple of days later and did a private feed as we had meat that needed used. Some great conditions and nice to have the place to myself! I didn’t quite achieve what I wanted with the rainbow, the kites were just too far away when they crossed it.

I was back there at the end of the month with a group from “A Year With My Camera“. Fantastic light and lots of kites. They all had a great time and hopefully learnt a few things from me. I didn’t take photographs though as I wanted to devote my time to helping the group.

Talking of raptors, I often spot sparrowhawks perched right outside my kitchen window, however they always fly off as soon as they spot me. A few days ago, a beautiful male gave me time to cross the room, unpack a camera from my rucksack, return and then photograph it. Always a thrill to see one up close.

I spent a morning alone with the squirrels and was surprised when a pair of jays plucked up the courage to come down and grab some nuts. They are such shy birds that they’ll rarely make an appearance as I sit outside and very close by. However they must have been hungry that day!

After a busy few weeks it was nice to take a few days off and travel to the West Coast. The best day weather-wise was, of course, my travel day. There had been fresh snow on the mountains and everything looked gorgeous.

I stayed close to Plockton at Craig Highland Farm. They have a number of rental properties and, on the recommendation of a friend, I chose one of the fisherman’s beach cottages which is, as the name might suggest, on the beach! The main reason for choosing it was because pine martens visit the back window sill every night. My intention was to try and use a camera trap to take some photographs but the weather all week was wild and every night there were gales, heavy rain and ice showers so the camera stayed indoors. I did, however, leave my trail camera out and shot this footage of two martens playing together.

Individuals did also appear on the window ledge, unbothered by the fact I was mere centimetres away on the other side of the glass.

As I mentioned the weather was wild which made doing very much quite a challenge. At times I found myself outside as shards of ice fell from the sky – not very pleasant, but certainly invigorating. I therefore spent a fair amount of time driving around the Southern half of Skye drinking in the views of the awesome mountains. I’m no landscape photographer but here are a few of them, mostly taken on Skye. I love mountains!

I didn’t do very much wildlife photography, but did come across some red deer stags

A white-tailed sea eagle flew over the beach by the cottage one afternoon in some lovely light.

Finally, I found a group of highland cattle on the road to Elgol. Gorgeous animals! I loved the colours in the hide of the one in close up here.

So that was February. Rubbish weather, but both I, and my clients, made the most of it. If you’re interested in joining me for some “squirrel therapy” or to photograph other subjects please do get in touch, or why not just come and stay in my rental cabin The Drey Inchberry and explore the area for yourselves. I’m also going to be offering a residential 2022/23 winter wildlife package very soon for those of you who don’t want to spend quite so much time with the squirrels.

I also have prints available via my website as well as greeting cards and a few (discounted) 2022 calendars on Etsy.

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

3 thoughts on “February 2022 – storms a-plenty but some great wildlife experiences

  1. What a fantastic chatty blog Karen an your photos are amazing. Thanks for sharing 😊. I was part of the group at Tollie last Sunday, my first time photographing birds. Its quite a challenge, they move a heck of a lot faster than flowers lol! 🤣 Thanks for all your advice and hope to see you again.


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