After my highlights post from last year – I thought I would follow it up with a Top 15 Photography Moments from 2022. As most of you will know I am more known for my Kenya wildlife Photography where I used to live and guide. But the last few years I have really discovered a passion for the photography on my doorstep.
The following is my Top 15 Photography Moments from 2022 in descending order.
Number 15 – Beavers. Argaty
This is only in at number 15 due to the images not being as great as I would have hoped. In 2021 a family of beavers that would otherwise have been culled was relocated to Argaty. This was a major moment of Scottish history – never before had beavers been moved from conflict areas to a new part of Scotland. As soon as this was announced I knew I wanted to see these animals and photograph them. I had never seen a wild beaver before but this was my opportunity. It was a superb experience, sitting beside a pond area that the beavers had created through blocking the river and waiting for them to come out. Unfortunately it was poor light by the time they appeared and most images were taken at 12000iso or higher, however the images are ok and this will be on my list for 2023 weithout a doubt.
Number 14 – Bearded Tits. Tay Reed Beds
I was in Kirkcudbright in a hide photographing kingfishers. The couple there, both great photographers Barry and Jacqui showed me some images that they had taken recently of Bearded Tits. I had never even seen one before and it was always on the list of wildlife that I wanted to photograph in the UK. They told me the location and I planned to visit the next weekend. That morning it was windy and rainy, the worst weather possible for bearded tits. I decided to go anyway and when I arrived I walked the 1 mile with all of my camera gear to get in position. The rain got worse and I got soaked. I had been told that early morning was the best time to see them, and as early morning passed and the rain continued, I was starting to think that it would be a wasted trip. But then the rain stopped and the sun came out, also the wind dropped. Things were looking better. I found one of the grit trays that are positioned in the reeds to support the bearded tits and other small birds. I positioned myself there and after a few minutes a male and female Bearded Tit appeared, they stayed only for 10 minutes. But what an experience and what an incredible bird. Definitely on the list for next year.
Number 13 – Minke Whale. Mull Waters
I had done this trip with Sealife Surveys, now known as Sealife Mull a few times. I had usually been lucky with whale and dolphin sightings, but my images were not great. It is very difficult to capture images on a boat with so many people. Especially if you are on the “wrong side” of the boat. I had done this trip on the Tuesday of this week in August and everything happened on the port side of the boat. I was sat on the starboard side. On this particular trip on the Thursday I sat on the Port side of the boat. We got out to sea and waited around the isle of Coll as Minke Whales had been seen there earlier. Sure enough after a while someone spotted a Minke Whale breaching on the horizon. Minke Whales do not breach very often and very rarely do it more than once in a short period. Most breaches are partial, often with the animal falling back in the water belly up. While the purpose of this behaviour is not known, for other whale species breaching has been suggested as a way of making noise and alerting other whales to the presence of the breaching individual. It has also been suggested as a means of removing parasites, for “enjoyment” and signalling the size of individuals in competitive situations. This particular whale did not behave like a normal whale and as we got closer it breached again. Then close enough to get an image it breached again. However everyone missed it as it was so unexpected, the whale then disappeared, but then breached again on the opposite side of the boat to me. I tried to get close to the other side of the boat but rows of people stood up. It was extremely difficult. The whale breached again. I put my camera up but was too slow, I kept the camera there shooting between 2 peoples heads, and then…..wow, the whale breached again, a full breach right out of the water and in the middle of my lens. I shot 4 frames of the sequence only 1 of them does not have a persons head in it. I was extremely fortunate to witness this behaviour let alone achieve any images. The whale stayed for a while and breached a couple more times but not as dramatically. I captured a few more images but nothing like the first one. What an incredible experience.
Number 12 – Gannets. Bempton
I had always wanted to do the diving gannets trip with Yorkshire Coast Nature and photographer Steve Race. It was booked for 2021 but was cancelled due to the weather. In June 2022 I travelled down to Bridlington on the East Coast of Yorkshire. I had seen heaps of images of gannets diving and fighting over fish and couldn’t wait to experience it. The boat left early morning and the weather was very sunny, the sun rise and reflections in the water were stunning. When we got to the base of Bempton Cliffs, we stopped, and Steve gave a brief overview of what to expect and suggested shots to look for. Then the fish for the gannets was thrown into the water. Immediately a lot of gannets came around the boat and started to dive, then more and more and more appeared until there were hundreds. I was shooting with 2 bodies, a wide angle on one and a 70-200 on the other. It was absolutely breath-taking, seeing that many gannets, the noise and the site of them diving in to the water and fighting over the fish was incredible. Then just like that it was over and calm returned. My first thought was, I haven’t taken enough shots. It was over so quickly, however it lasted for half hour and I took around 2000 images. As much as Steve tried to explain what would happen and suggest shots to take, when it starts the adrenaline just takes over and I just fired off frame after frame. I think it is impossible to really compose the images as it happens so quickly. The only reason why this is not higher on my highlights is simply due to the images, I got some good images, but for me the diving gannets you have to do more than once. The first time the experience overwhelms you and you just shoot. When I do it again, I will be more selective of the shots I take and will have a better idea of what to expect. Would massively recommend this trip to anyone.
Number 11 – Red Squirrels. Argaty
I have been to Argaty on several occasions. But had never been to the new woodland hide. On the day that I went with my good friend Derek McSwan, it was a bright sunny day and the sun was very harsh, however where the hide is positioned under the shade of some trees in a clearing, the harsh sun created spotlights of light shining through the trees. I absolutely loved the whole set up and the opportunity for images was superb. It is great to have a hide set up where you can be creative and create different squirrel images using light.
Number 10 – Hen Harriers. Isle of Mull
Back in May I visited Mull as usual. This year was absolutely incredible for Hen Harriers. Positioning myself with my 600mm lens on an old farm track, I got as close as I could without causing any disturbance. Over one morning, I was treated to views of the male bringing food in on several occasions and on a few occasions passing the food to the female mid-air, over the course of a few days, I was able to capture a good portfolio of images of these amazing birds. A truly spectacular, site to witness and photograph.
Number 9 – Dipper. Kirkcudbright
I spent a lot of time in Kirkcudbright this year at the amazing Scottish Wildlife Hides ran by Alan McFadyen. I had booked the dipper hide in April, but unfortunately, due to the nest failing it wasn’t running. Alan, who runs the hides took me to a dipper location that he knew locally. The location was next to a visitor centre and coffee shop. I could not believe that the dippers would be so active in such a busy place. I spent a while watching the dippers and looking at where they were flying and landing before entering their nest. I then made my way down to the river and positioned myself laying behind some rocks. I got a few images of the dippers landing nearby, some of my favourite dipper images that I have taken, with blurry foreground and background. After a while the dippers started to land on the opposite side of the river and so I crossed the bridge and positioned myself on the rocky shore. I was then treated to the dippers landing on rocks with stunning reflections, it really was a perfect setting. I spent about an hour there, and the location started getting busier, the coffee shop started filling up. I noticed people waving so I waved back and focused on the dippers with complete concentration, after a while I became aware of my feet getting wet and then my knee. I then looked behind me and the water had risen, I hadn’t realised that the river was tidal, and was very close to a disaster with me and my cameras getting soaked, that was obviously what the people were waving at!!!
I made my way up the bank of the river with some of the best dipper images I had ever taken. Even though I was a little wet.
Number 8 – White Tailed Eagle. Isle of Mull
I have done the White Tailed Eagle Trip with Mull Charters several times. I had booked it for August, but unfortunately due to some unusually bad weather the trip was cancelled. Early October I made a last minute decision to go back to Mull for a week, mainly to look for otters, but I managed to get a last minute place on a Mull Charters Photo Trip. It was superb, the weather was unusually warm for October and the light was perfect. We were treated at one point to 6 eagles flying near the boat with all coming down to take a fish at various times. It really was a great experience with some great photo opportunities.
Number 7 – Sparrowhawk. Kirkcudbright
The Sparrowhawk hide with Scottish Photography Hides is the best place in the UK to photograph Sparrowhawks. I visited the hide 4 times in 2022 and every time got images of the resident male sparrowhawk, the best sequence of images that I took was in April when the light was good, and the sparrowhawk visited 7 times throughout the day. It really is an incredible bird, It is amazing to hear how quiet the smaller birds go when they know the sparrowhawk is in the area and then it just appears so quickly and so silently, It then eats its mouse and flies off. This hide is brilliant, there are lots of other opportunities for different species here too, Jay, Woodpecker, Redpoll and lots of finches. A brilliant location.
Number 6 – Redstart. Kirkcudbright
Back to Scottish Photography Hides again. On this trip I was due to photograph kingfisher, but unfortunately the hide wasn’t operating. So Alan offered me the Redstart hide. It had only just been built and not used yet in 2022. I spent the day there on my own and had an amazing time watching these amazing birds, I had several visits from the male and the female, plenty of interaction between the 2. It was really fascinating to watch the behaviour of these birds, the male in particular aggressively chased off everything that came near, other redstarts, blackbirds and even a woodpecker. I didn’t expect this hide to offer so much photographically, but it was superb with so many opportunities to create some unique images of these summer visitors.
Number 5 – Ospreys. Aviemore
I visited Aviemore in 2021 and it made my highlights back then, but more for the spectacular bird, the osprey than the images that I took. On reflection, I messed it up in 2021. I returned in July 2022, a bit later in the season with the hope that I would get more dive opportunities and I wasn’t disappointed over the 2 days I was extremely lucky and had 14 different dives. I got some great images this time and was really pleased to capture this amazing spectacle. I was even able to create some different images zoomed in on the osprey and highlighting the power of its talons. What a bird and what an experience.
Number 4 – Kestrels. Poole Bridge
I had read about this hide at Poole Bridge and had always wanted to visit it. It is located just outside York and was a good partner for the Bempton Gannet trip. When I arrived at the hide, The kestrels started to appear before the food was even put out, It was incredible to see them. The hide set up here is great, with lots of different perches adding interest to the images. I was informed that the kestrel chicks had just fledged and that they were hanging around near the other hide, so after a couple of hours I walked to the other hide, and this is where a good day tuned in to an incredible day. I placed the food on an old gate and within minutes the male appeared and then the fledglings one after the other. The next few hours were incredible with the juveniles knocking dad off of the food and then protecting it from their siblings. I doubt I will ever be in a position to capture better Kestrel images than I did that day at Poole Bridge. It really is an incredible place.
Number 3 – Badgers and Pine Marten Glen Tanar
Glen Tanar is another place that I had looked up online and read that if you were extremely lucky you could capture images of pine marten, badger and on very rare occasions wild cats. The hide here is in an old disused cottage. I was a little sceptical to begin with as you were shooting through glass windows, but it soon became evident that this would not be an issue. I was informed when I got in the hide that the female pine marten had 3 kits. I was also told that they hadn’t been seen together yet at the hide, so I hoped but didn’t have much hope. After being in the hide for around an hour, all of a sudden 3 Pine Marten Kits appeared. It was incredible. For the next hour I was able to capture images of the kits playing and posing together.
Around 10pm I was starting to pack up. I had photographed badgers earlier in the year and didn’t expect to see the wild cat, but as I put one of the cameras away a badger appeared, so I stayed and captured images of the badger eating under the floodlights, after a while the badger started to make its way to the fallen tree stump and proceeded to climb on to it and walk along it, I had never seen a badger do this before and was able to capture some pretty unique badger images.
Number 2 – Puffins
In April I went on my 6th trip to see the puffins with Turus Mara. The weather was awful travelling out there but as we approached the Isle of Lunga the weather cleared and the sun came out. I had always managed to capture some good images on Lunga – due to the close proximity of the birds I actually think it is harder to capture bad images, but on my previous trips after reviewing the images they were all the same. I was photographing the bird but not looking at creating images. This trip I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted with the pink sea thrift and the bluebells being key targets to capture the puffins around. I found a nice patch of bluebells and positioned myself laying on the floor near this, I had noticed a puffin earlier going in to its burrow in the bluebells, I knew if I waited I would get the shot I wanted. After a while a puffin couple came out of the burrow and paused to look at each other. It was one of those moments where everything came together, the interaction of the birds, the bluebells, the background. After capturing this image I then spent the rest of the time on the island looking for backgrounds and interesting ways the light was falling and captured probably my best puffin images. Lunga is a special place and one I hope to visit again in 2023. I just pray that bird flu has not had a significant impact on the puffins or the other sea bird colonies here.
Number 1 – Otters. Isle of Mull
Number 1 for the 2nd year running are otters. The reason why they are number 1 this year is down to one extraordinary family a mum and 2 kits. I was on Mull in July and August and this family were getting seen most days, but unfortunately they were in one of the busiest areas on Mull, a loch renowned for otters. Every time I saw this family, they were already surrounded by people and therefore me adding to the already too high numbers would have caused more disruption. On the rare occasion I found them on my own, I spent ages getting in to position behind some rocks only for more people to turn up and pile out of their vehicles and disturb the otters. Otter disruption on Mull is a real problem and has become worse over the last few years. It is becoming harder to get good otter sightings and to be able to watch these incredible animals and capture images without causing disturbance. I had resigned myself to the fact that this trip was just not meant to be, however on the last day I was leaving the loch after not seeing this family, when I caught a glimpse of them making their way along the shore. There were no other people or vehicles so I quickly parked and made my way to some rocks, I was hoping that they would come ashore close to these rocks, after a few minutes the family came ashore and started to walk through the kelp and the kits began to play. After a while the whole family settled down to sleep no more than 10 metres away from me. It was incredible. I had this family to myself for an hour, They knew that I was there but didn’t see me as a threat and it was brilliant to see how relaxed they were. What a last day.
My good friend Brian Boyes photographed this family several times over August and September and so I decided to go back in October for a week to see if I could get some more images of this family when it wasn’t so busy. I met up with Brian and we went out together and every day we picked this family up and were treated to some exceptional views of this otter family, playing and eating together.
It was a real privilege to be trusted by these otters and to be able to share these moments with them. Otters really are incredible animals and have probably become my favourite subject to photograph.
2022 was a great year and another year spent exploring the amazing wildlife in the UK.
With tours to Kenya, Finland and India planned for 2023 not to mention a private tour of Mull and Kirkcudbright I am sure that 2023 will bring some amazing wildlife experiences.
Links below for all of the brilliant people and companies I have worked with in 2022.
Sea Life Mull: Home – Sea Life Mull
Mull Charters: Mull Charters, fishing wildlife scenic cruises
Scottish Photography Hides: Scottish Photography Hides – Scottish Photography Hides
Kestrels: Wildlife Photography — Pool Bridge Farm
Derek McSwan: derek mcswan photography – search results | Facebook