Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Jewels in the snow. Cairn Gorm, 26th February

After the hard trek and the exhilaration of seeing the ptarmigan up at Coire an t'sneadcha we got some warmth and strength back by sipping a hot chocolate and sharing a bowl of chips in the ski centre bistro! Whilst we'd been in the cafe the sun had come out and the wind had dropped. Bloody typical! We suffer in the misty, arctic and gusty conditions and the late starters get it just peachy! Never works that way for us. Although still cold it was now quite pleasant to sit at one of the picnic tables and wait for the buntings to appear. Which they did, lured in by the hand outs of sunflower seeds offered by the continuous stream of photographers that come to get great images. These birds are a very popular attraction to birders and toggers alike but we had them all to ourselves. I added to the piles of food on offer by strategically scattering sunflower hearts all over the place. I don't like "set up" shots and like to work a bit to get "off the cuff" photos. I'm not against folk placing mossy covered branches or in this case little piles of snow to fabricate an attractive perch but just prefer to capture the birds where they land. 

Snow buntings are extremely confiding often settling within feet but never seem to stay put for long periodically flying off further up the slopes, probably to see what's on offer at the Ptarmigan restaurant higher up the mountain. They always return though usually every 20 minutes or so. The maximum we saw was about 40 birds in flight but only a high count 11 settled down at any one time. When the whole flock is in the air they resemble jewels as they twist and turn.

With the full sun it was enjoyable to sit and wait and then take a volley of shots as the birds fed. The flock had a habit of settling on the benches and tables and appeared to wait for a dominant male bird to fly down to the food before all joined in the bounty. Each feeding bout would last around a couple of minutes before they were off again.

I could have stayed a lot longer and didn't manage any decent flight shots but we were both done in after the mountain walk. May try to return later in the week but the weather forecast is poor so may not be possible. 

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