Monday, March 11, 2013

Caledonian Caper -  Part 1

Firstly a big apology for the lack of recent posts. I have been having a 'blog holiday' to recharge the batteries. I figured I deserved a short break after 6.5 years.. Mind you I have been struggling with the photography over the last few weeks due to the continuously dire weather coinciding with my free time. I have been getting the odd photo here and there but nothing really constructive. Anyway, hopefully the weather should start to pick up soon , although certainly not for next week having just seen the forecast, and the first of the spring migrant birds are starting to come in to the south of the UK.

About 3 weeks ago I went on a bit of a road trip to the Highlands of Scotland. In fact it was a round trip of around 800 miles to go and photograph a single bird. Sounds slightly crazy but it was a very special bird and I will describe the trip over this and the next blog post. I was told of the location of this special bird and given that it is very Territorial, was confident it could be found. Mind you when your travelling so far for a single bird, doubts inevitably creep in to the mind 'would it still be there?' being the most important.

So late on the Sunday afternoon my very good friend Andy and I set off on the long journey northwards under the promise of a forecast of unusually fine Scottish weather for the next two days. It probably took about 6 hours to get to our destination and we arrived in darkness under crisp, clear star-filled skies. Having checked into our accommodation, it was time for an early night for an early start in the morning to go and find the special bird.

The next morning I pulled back the garden to see clear skies and a heavy overnight frost and after a hearty, if slightly unhealthy, full cooked breakfast we set out to find the bird. After a twenty minute drive we parked up along side a beautiful old pine forest with well spaced trees dripping in lichen and mosses. A short walk into the forest and we arrived at the 'spot'. Please do not email asking where this 'spot' is, as I will not be divulging to protect a species that is really struggling to survive in the UK! It took about 5 minutes to find the bird or more correctly for the bird to find us. The bird we had made this epic voyage for was a solitary rogue male Capercaillie.
For those of you not familiar with this bird I will you a bit of background. The Capercaillie (which is a corruption of the Gaelic meaning 'Horse of the Woods') is the world's largest grouse which is about the size of a small turkey. It was brought to extinction in Scotland in 1785 and was reintroduced in the 19th century. The population flourished to an estimated 10000 pairs in the 1960s but had plummeted to less than 1000 birds in 1999. It has been named rather depressingly as the bird most likely to become extinct in the UK by 2015. A range of factors have caused the decline including habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, predation and the use of deer fencing which the birds unwittingly fly in to.  A great deal of effort is being made to prevent the sad potential loss of this magnificent bird. Given its perilous status, and quite rightly, the bird is afforded legal protection under schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act meaning that a licence is required to photograph the bird at breeding and lek sites. Fortunately our visit was outside the breeding season and the bird was solitary and so the need for a licence was removed.

A rogue bird is one that has not found a mate, and is completely overloaded with hormones and will quite happily attack anything within the vicinity regardless of size. They are a large powerful bird, with a very sharp beak and can cause damage. My friend Andy had a prolonged encounter with one in Scandinavia, as he was stuck in deep snow, which broke his finger.  As with all wildlife photography the most important aspect is to show respect for your subject, unfortunately a testosterone filled 'Caper' shows a complete disrespect for photographers!
Light was fairly limited in the forest despite the clear skies as the low winter sun was shielded by the hillside behind. The first sight of this bird almost takes your breath away as it is very beautiful and just seems so fitting in these atmospheric forests as is stands their majestically surveying its domain. The call of the Capercaillie is slightly odd and sounds a bit like a series of pops, a bit like porridge going down a plug hole, although apparently a lot of the sound is beyond human hearing and carries long distances.
The morning of photography went very well with the bird strutting around and displaying, between bouts of feeding on heather and bark, before taking off vertically (which is impressive for a bird of that size) to roost at the top of a pine tree. It had been an amazing wildlife encounter and one that will stay with me until I am returned to the great global carbon sink. A special bird in a wonderful setting with amazing weather and very good company. It doesn't come much better than that.

Two happy photographers headed back to the car, leaving the snoozing 'Caper'. We decided we would try for another specialist in the afternoon, the ptarmigan. For me the afternoon did not go well as you will see in my next post.


Liz said...

What fantastic photographs! I've never seen a Capercaillie - Interesting!

Toby Houlton said...


I've been a lurker on your site for quite some time. As always your pictures are stunning! Particularly like the close up head shot, just perfect. Definitely a bird on my list to photograph (i'll pass on the broken finger option though).

MC JayBe said...

Very good pictures, love your blog!

Shirley said...

Hello again Richard, whenever I saw the title in my reading list – I was straight over. I’m delighted your long trip was fruitful - I’d have waved if I knew you were passing ;-)

Thanks for sharing your photos of this bird in its natural setting and some background info on it too which is always interesting. I really can imagine how special this sighting must have been for you. Your images, as usual, are just brilliant and you always capture the mood of the moment beautifully :-D

Looking forward to hearing about your ptarmigan encounter (or not) – that’s a bird I’d love to see and I might guess where you went to see it. I might also guess (knowing your numerous past posts with hare images) you would have been keeping an eye out for the mountain hare too?

PS I didn’t remember you had been blogging since around the time I started - you are two months ahead of me! It is a long time isn’t it? I can’t believe I’ve been going that long too albeit slowed done in the 1 ½ years due to personal stuff.

Stockfotografie said...

Amazing photography !!!!
This is really nice blog and super work .You are capture best photos ,I like it .

Morgan said...

Wonderful pictures!

Clipping Path said...

Brilliant photography.


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