Just back from another 3 day trip at Rothiemurchus fisheries near Aviemore on a tour run by excellent wildlife photographer and guide ‘Osprey Whisperer’ Jo Mcintyre, to witness and capture Ospreys fishing in a trout lake. I stopped on the way up at a hide in Dumfries that the famous Sparrowhawk ‘Mad Max’ visits regularly for an afternoon, but apart from one fleeting visit when he rushed the small birds around the hide I didn't get chance to get a photo. I got some nice Red Squirrel and various other bird pics though, so not a complete waste of time.
Arriving on the Friday evening at 9.30, once again at the excellent Boat hotel at the nearby Boat of Garten village, after the 9 hour 550 mile drive and 5 hours in the Sparrowhawk hide, I was ready for bed to get some sleep before the 4.30 AM leave to the fishery in the morning.
Saturday: Up early and waiting in the car park I met my fellow photographers on this shoot, Joe from the USA, Jeremy, Ian, Martin and Neville, as well as Jo. Its amazing how quick you can strike up a fun relationship with the other guys when spending hours together in hides, and this group turned out to be good fun with a high level of good natured ‘banter’ flying about!
We got to Rothie and met John the ‘spotter’ again, and got settled down at 5AM into hides 1 and 2 and waited in anticipation again for Johns voice to crackle over the radio, ‘Dive’ Dive’. As we adjusted settings and photographed the ducks on the pond to keep up with the ever changing light we were breaking the ice and chatting with each other to pass the time. I had a 300mm f4 lens on my Canon 1DX this time which was perfect to make sure you get the composition in, and brought my 500mm just in case we had a lot of dives and I could experiment with close ups etc.
As ever there were a few Ospreys around, but the dominant male kept chasing them off, we could here the harsh ‘chirping’ noise it was making to warn off others, but then just after 7AM John came on with ‘bird circling, getting lower’, and then eventually ‘DIVING’. Down the bird came crashing into the water and out immediately with a brown trout, all done in 3 seconds. I got a couple of shots as it came out of the water and quickly took a look at them on the back of the camera as it flew out of sight. AGGGHHH, disaster, I didn't get a good focus lock and all images were slightly out and ‘soft’, despite good compositions! Big disappointment, but these birds are really hard to catch and it does take a while to get your eye in, especially when you have such a short time with them in the pool, but I was hoping for more and determined to get on the shot better, helped by Jo suggesting some auto focus setting adjustments. Unfortunately no more dives that morning so I left feeling tired, frustrated and annoyed at myself for not ‘locking on’, must try harder next time. We went back in the afternoon at 2 till 6, but no dives then either, so after dinner in Avimore we retired to bed.
Sunday: Up early again and in the hides by 5, ready for more action hopefully. While we were waiting a little field mouse ran across the front of the hide backwards and forwards keeping us amused, as well as the Heron plodding about on the pond.
At one point it looked like it was going to take a fish, but then it walked out of the pond and had a look in the long grass around the edge, stabbed down and came up with a shrew!! It then went about trying to get the still very much alive shrew down its throat, and after dunking it in the water it then gulped it down, nature can be harsh at times! This kept us busy taking photos and checking settings, before we got the signal from John again that a bird was circling, and then diving. The first dive it missed a fish, and also on the second, coming through the pond area at great speed making it difficult to get a shot, but I got a couple of decent shots in focus this time!! On the 3rd dive it crashed into the water deeper and fought for a few seconds with a fish before emerging with a rainbow trout and flying out.
Once again I locked on and get some good shots, one in particular I like with the wings thrown forward. This kept us busy for around 20 minutes in total and we all got some decent shots, and that was it for the action in the morning. When we went back for the afternoon session in sunshine and rain (typical Scottish weather!) we weren't too hopefully of getting a dive as afternoons have been a bit sparse so far, but around 4PM the dominant bird started circling and did a couple of fast fly throughs before diving properly and taking a fish. For this session Jo had moved me, Martin and Joe into hide 4 to try and get a 3/4 shot as the bird turned in the water, but she said we would have to be quick as it would quickly turn away from us and fly off with just ‘bum shots’ available.
She wasn't wrong, I was shooting at 1/2000 and only got 5 frames before it turned, all over in 0.4 of a second!! Luckily I locked on and got some different shots which were quite nice, Joe was kicking himself as he hesitated slightly before shooting and lost the chance of a decent shot, there really is no thinking time in this game!! No more dives after that, and after a meal and a couple of drinks it was off to bed again for the last day.
Monday: Early start again filled with anticipation, but unfortunately despite plenty of birds trying to come in, the dominant male kept them at bay and didn't fancy fishing himself, so no dives during this session. You do have to be very patient with Osprey photography, sometimes you are lucky with 4 or 5 dives a session, and sometimes none, which makes it very difficult to get ‘THE’ shot, but also more rewarding when you do get something good. Having an experienced guide like Jo really comes into its own when you are not having many dives, as she can get you in the correct position to make sure you have a good chance of getting a good shot straight away using her many years experience of Osprey behaviour and photographing them. If you were getting 15 dives a session it would be easy as eventually you would learn how they dive and get a good shot and an experienced guide not so important, but when times are thin that experience is a Godsend.
Thanks to Jo and all the other guys for a fun session, enjoyed every minute (except maybe the first dive!) and already looking forward to more next year.