The day was bright, calm and still. Rare weather for Cairngorm, perfect for birding. The funicular passed us as we stopped to watch red grouse in the heather. A ptarmigan appeared, perched on a rock against a blue sky. Ian, our guide, told of our good fortune. Ptarmigan rarely show so well. The day, the week, was exceptional.
We had been seeing snow bunting when we met a photographer who sat beside the track and invited us to share his close-up bird- assuring us we would not disturb it.
Our last snow bunting of the day appeared on the summit-cairn of Cairngorm. There's diverse colour and shading in those granite rocks and as the snow bunting turned his back he turned to stone, a granite pebble on the mountain summit. He mirrors the colour palette of his habitat to blend into the scene and vanish like the mountain hare. The creatures of Cairngorm have this trick of fusion where smart display becomes cryptic colouring in the blink of an eye.
We met walkers heading off Cairngorm summit with news of sightings of snow bunting and dotterel and suggestions of the most promising route. Coincidence is the thing. Will the birds show during our time on Cairngorm?
All week Ian and Jonny, our guides, had been generous in sharing the telescopes they lugged everywhere. Offering us a bird the moment they had it in the scope, and sharing with chance travellers who came to ask what our group was seeing. Now we met a photographer who invited us to come close and share a snow bunting by the track.
Birding etiquette demands respect for wildlife. Dotterel are newly arrived to breed and we must not disturb them. I admired dotterel through binoculars, through Ian’s telescope. Bright sunlight dazzled my camera. Unable to see the bird on screen, I tried to line up on a significant feature but one rock looks like another in a boulder field. I wasn't alone in choosing a photographer's head to fix on!
Malcolm was seated on a large flat granite boulder and was taking photographs. I sat on the far end, rocked and see-sawed and came off. Ian whispered a warning that we loomed against the skyline, and might stress the birds so I grovelled in the gravel, trying to pick myself up whilst keeping a low profile. Quietly.
Stillness: a calm day and wildlife responded with stillness. Dotterel of bright and colourful plumage were so still they merged into granite boulders and sparse mountain vegetation.
Images of the mind’s–eye. The ones that get away are often the most memorable: mountain hare sleeping in the sun- too distant for our best photographers to catch the magic. How did Ian Ford find him and how did Ian Jenkins pick him up again on our return?
Spotter of the week was Nick. I have a mind’s-eye image of him sitting in the boulder field, utterly focused. Like me, some are tempted to watch the spotters and good photographers knowing they’ll be onto something.
Telescopes essential to bring out detail, and the brilliance of breeding plumage on a bright day. Thanks to our excellent guide Ian, and to Ian Jenkins and Malcolm Taylor for images of dotterel and snow bunting.