There’s a lot of wildlife endemic to Scotland which simply does not exist south of the border. The Capercaillie, Scottish Wildcat, Golden Eagle, White-Tailed Sea Eagle, Reindeer (yes, you read that right), Black Grouse, Ptarmigan – the list can and does go on.
I’d already planned to go to Speyside to see Pine Martens, as I was hoping to shoot enough footage to use it in a documentary about these beautiful little predators. I then discovered that there are wild Reindeer in the Cairngorms – perfect, since that’s where we were planning to spend much of our time. Due to when we were able to go, we’d already unfortunately missed the Ospreys and had little hope of finding Wildcats, Capercaillie, Black Grouse and Ptarmigan simply because we didn’t have the time to spend specifically looking for them and waiting (which is what most wildlife filmmaking is, a very long wait in the right spot). Not to worry, this means more trips this coming year in the right times of year and the right places.
Since we were going during the rutting season, I was hoping to see some Red Deer running wild. A lot of Scotland’s deer population is closely managed, but they are wild and free to roam around the countryside. This wish was granted twice over (I’ll elaborate below). I’d also hoped to see otters, but I knew this would be difficult given our timescale (we were only able to go for a week). While I didn’t get to see much of the wildlife I had hoped to see – being wild it’s hard to predict – I did get some excellent footage. Seeing the Reindeer was an excellent experience. They are beautiful creatures and I recommend everyone goes to see them the next time you’re in Scotland.
I also booked us into a wildlife hide not far from the Reindeer with the hopes of seeing Pine Marten. This hide came recommended from The Vincent Wildlife Trust, so I had high hopes. I did get some excellent footage of badgers and mice, however I was slightly disappointed by the footage I got of the Pine Martens as it looks staged and man made because they are sat on a feeding table made from tree branches. Having said that, I was pointed in the direction of Creag Meagaidh nature reserve. This is somewhere I want to spend a lot of time in the future. At Creag Meagaidh, not only are there truly wild Pine Marten living in the forest, but there are Golden Eagles nesting in the mountain, and on a patch of snow that never thaws high up the mountainside there are Mountain Hares and Ptarmigan.
What was also clear from the wildlife hide is that I need to use a low light camera. I have a Sony FS7, which is an excellent camera, but it simply cannot shoot in the dark without some serious digital noise. This is to be expected, given that it’s not a specific low light camera, but it did perform much better than most cameras would in the situation. In the future, I would like to use a Sony A7S Mark II – this is the premier low light camera which even specialist infra-red cameras are struggling to beat for low light performance. What’s fantastic about this camera – beyond it’s low light capabilities – is it’s size and price. It’s a mirrorless camera, so it’s smaller than a DSLR with a similar price tag of around £2,500. While I know that this will seem a large amount to most people, this is cheap for a really high quality camera. The Mark II version also has internal 4K recording, meaning that it can record UltraHD images (which are four times the resolution of Full HD) without needing an additional recorder. This makes it a good partner camera to the FS7. Armed with one of these, I should have no problem filming Pine Martens, Badgers and other nocturnal creatures in the future.
One morning we woke up early in an area we knew had Red Deer. It was foggy, which made the deer difficult to see, but we could hear them roaring not far away. We set the camera up with a 600mm super telephoto lens on the FS7. There were at least two stags that we saw, each with their own hareem of hinds. We could even hear the stags fighting, but unfortunately the fog was just too thick to see them. Now while there will be people who would be concerned to be that close to wild animals, these animals clearly knew where we were and we were staying a comfortable distance away. Neither we nor the deer were ever in danger from one another. At other times in our trip, the deer were difficult to film as we had to find somewhere to pull up and park – by which time they were long gone. Here we simply set up near where we could hear them and waited.
I’d like to go back to this area as well, as I have been told of some beautifully unusual Red Squirrels who have pure blonde tails. I would love to film these unusual and beautiful little creatures, as I would like to build on my very first wildlife documentary about Red Squirrels. I’m hoping to go back in the spring or summer, when they’ll be breeding and therefore more active with less regard to people being nearby.
We saw the deer a second time while in Wester Ross, when we weren’t even looking for them. Down one winding road, I happened to look across the river plain and spot a stag. It turned out that there were in fact two stags, each approximately three years old (you count the tynes or spikes on their antlers in order to approximate a stag’s age) and they had just been fighting. The victor remained on the river plain while the loser climbed the mountain. The 600mm super telephoto lens came into it’s own here. We would not have had a chance to film the stags had we not rented this lens; it gave us the ability to film animals that were at least half a mile from us, and film them closely.
In the end, this trip has given us more places to visit and spend time at. On coming back, we researched places to film Scottish Wildcats and are earmarking several weeks to spend looking for the UK’s only living native feline to film them. I’d like to spend more time near the wildlife hide looking for the Red Squirrels with blonde tails, to go to the Cairngorms to look for Black Grouse during lekking (breeding) season and also to spend more time in Abernethy Forest looking for Otters and Capercaillie. Creag Meagaidh is also somewhere to definitely spend a lot of time in the future searching for all the different creatures resident in that area. I need to spend some time looking for Osprey also, given that I missed them this time. This is why I love filming wildlife. It’s infectious – you always come home wanting to go back out and look for more.