#293 – Going wild in Scotland – Beasties, mythical and otherwise

Mythical beasts (and public art) – The Kelpies near Falkirk

(For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!)

Regulars to this blog will know that I mostly photograph landscapes, but recently I’ve been trying my hand at photographing wildlife – with various degrees of success!   Our Scottish trip in September 2020, sandwiched between Covid-19 lockdowns, was the ideal opportunity to try for some wildlife, but my first ‘beasties’ were mythical ones – the Kelpies.

Impressive in the daylight

Even more impressive at night!

A few posts back (see post #285) I told the tale of the Kelpies near Falkirk.   In Scottish folklore, kelpies are mythical water spirits, with a habit of enticing young men to a watery grave.    The Falkirk Kelpies are a magnificent sight on the Scottish tourist scene, and they don’t do that watery grave enticement thing – they are also kind to photographers, as they don’t move around like most wildlife.

Swans in Helix Park – working up to take-off speed (note the poor duck!)

The day after we had admired the kelpies, we were looking for a decent length walk for Border Collie ‘Mist’, and the nearby Helix Park and Lake seemed to fit the bill.   Boating and similar human activity was out of the question due to Covid restrictions, but the water fowl were making good use of the peace and quiet.   I got some practice on my wildlife subjects by tracking a couple of swans in take-off mode.

Finally getting airborne

In flight, or swimming, swans are the epitome of grace and elegance, but the bit in between where they run across the surface of the water is usually not a good look!   It was only after I downloaded the series of images that I noticed the poor duck on the flight path (first swan image above).    As the swans took off, the duck was gallantly trying to outpace them – not a chance!

*     *     *     *     *

The Braemar ‘golf-playing’ deer herd ….

…. looks like a boys day out

It wouldn’t be a complete trip to Scotland without a mountain or two, preferably more.    I described our hill day on Morrone in post #286 and the photos of the ‘boys on the golf course’ amused several readers.   They seem to be doing the greenkeeper a good turn by cropping the grass, but I bet those pointy hooves will add a few extra holes to the course.

*     *     *     *     *

Red deer near Loch Assynt

There was a low ‘deer count’ on this trip, but we weren’t actively seeking them out.   The largest herd I ever saw was some years back – a huge stag with his harem of 20+ casually strolling across the road in Glencoe, just as I came round a blind bend at around 70mph on a motorcycle!    No damage to the deer or my pride on that occasion, thankfully.

They soon become aware of our presence

This small group of four was spotted in the early evening near Loch Assynt when the tourists were heading for their hotels.    Being in the camper often gives the opportunity to watch (and photograph) the local wildlife – the young male on the far right didn’t notice me at first, but it wasn’t long before his head went up, probably after smelling me or my Collie ‘Mist’.     Even then, they were not alarmed, and they just sauntered off quietly.

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 The Isle of Bute was a late addition to the trip.    We had planned to head for home in Wales at the beginning of October, but it was announced that from October 1st, Welsh residents would be restricted to their local area (county).   The four nations of the United Kingdom have failed to employ ‘joined-up thinking’ since the start of the pandemic, each one taking a different approach, but this time the situation was crazy.

On Bute, a big seal catching up on the sun ….

….with his mate, the oyster catcher, also getting some rays

Free movement was still permitted in England and Scotland, but if we returned home, we would have to drive straight to Denbighshire and stay there.   Now don’t get me wrong, Denbighshire is a lovely county, stretching from the sea to the Berwyn mountains, but we didn’t really fancy being trapped there.    The solution was simple – don’t go back!   Which is why we found ourselves on Bute.

Not too far away from the seals, a group of cormorants also enjoying the sun

The only thing I knew about Bute before this visit, was that the main town of Rothsay was the subject of a folk song about a drunken Hogmanay party (New Years Eve for those who don’t understand Scottish) – the fact that we were usually ‘well-oiled’ when we sang it usually added to the hilarity.   This trip was a much more sober affair, with a visit to Scalpsie Bay to see the seal colony being one of the highlights

There’s something in the water in front of this character

It looks like another seal

Then, all of a sudden, it’s time for a sharp exit ….

…. leaving the original seal with a bemused expression

Swimming seals are unbelievably graceful, but on land they are just big lumps!    They do enjoy sitting in the sun though, and why not.    We watched the antics of these two for a couple of minutes – at first it looked like just one seal soaking up the sun, then it became obvious that the one seal was watching another seal (second image above).   Then, the second seal decided enough was enough, and left in a big splash of water.  Yep, a busy day down on the beach!

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The pair of golden eagles we saw near Lochnagar ….

…. keeping their distance …

….but the shape is unmistakable

Several times on the trip we had hoped to spot (and photograph) eagles, but our first ‘hit had been a fluke.    We were on our way back from our hike out to Meikle Pap of Lochnagar (see post #287)  when I saw a pair of golden eagles flying above us.   Chris was unconvinced at first, but there was no mistaking the shape.   The camera lens wasn’t long enough to get more detailed pics, but being there in that moment was more than good enough.

*     *     *     *     *

Over on Mull, hoping to spot a white-tailed eagle (sea eagle)….

…. but in the meantime, the gulls give some practice on photographing a moving target

Straight in for a fish supper

I had been given a recommendation for a good place to see white-tailed eagles on the Isle of Mull, and a happy afternoon was spent there, parked up by the lochside.   This was towards the end of the trip, and I think I was just starting to appreciate that patience is just as important as a good camera or a long lens.    So, as I watched and waited, I practiced panning the camera on gulls who were diving for an early dinner.

Out on the island in the sea loch, one sea eagle isn’t going very far just now ….

…. then the unmistakable shape flying overhead

The largest British bird, the white-tailed eagle, also known as ‘the flying barn door’

A passing photographer pointed out the ‘bump’ on a nearby island – apparently, it’s a favourite spot for one particular eagle to sit.    Then, finally, there was a flypast – yet again it was a bit far for a detailed shot, but no mistaking the shape or size of a sea eagle, also known as ‘the flying barn door ‘ because of its 2-metre wingspan.

But, having teased you all with tales of eagles, here’s a superb image of a sea eagle by photographer Christoph Müller – great inspiration for me on future trips – no pressure then!

The white-tailed eagle © Christoph Müller

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except the white-tailed eagle image shown above, which is © Christoph Müller and is reproduced here under a Creative Commons Licence.

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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7 Responses to #293 – Going wild in Scotland – Beasties, mythical and otherwise

  1. Wonderful photos! You sure saw a ton of varied wildlife.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Chelsea – already looking forward to the next trip to Scotland, Covid permitting 🙂


  3. Love the ‘social distancing’ diagram at the end!

    The deer encounter sounds scary but I had to laugh – I glanced one with my wing mirror across the Dirrie More at night once – I hoped it was okay – I hoped my car was too (it was)!

    Also had to laugh at the poor duck in the swans photo – what happened to it by the second shot? Had it been sunk?


  4. Steve says:

    I like the way you dip in and out of the local ‘lingo’….. ‘beasties’…. ‘fish supper’……. and then a bit of ‘Taffy’ when that suits….. an enjoyable bit of writing Paul and without me saying, you will know what I think of your pics. Great job mate.


  5. Haha – cheers mate. I hope all is well with you and ‘er indoors 🙂


  6. Steve says:

    All good thanks Paul, hope its the same up there with you guys. Take care buddy.


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