March was some month! It kicked off with a boat trip to find the humpback whales that have been causing some excitement in the Firth of Forth. Our skipper soon located them and we enjoyed their company from afar before they twice swam by us. I managed to catch a photograph of one against Inchkeith island (which is posted on Facebook) and photographs of the whales’ tails taken by my colleagues were sent to St Andrews University Sea Mammal Research Unit for identification, tracking and monitoring purposes. It was my first experience with humpbacks and a real privilege to see them in our backyard.
The unseasonally warm weather not only gave a great display of snowdrops this spring but also crocuses. I love the splash of colour these flowers provide and Edinburgh’s parks are often carpets of yellow, purple and white. Sadly their season is all too short and crocuses can die off very suddenly, giving way to daffodils.
My wife and I spent a long weekend in Orkney last month and were staggered by its history. We visited the 5,000 year old neolithic village of Skara Brae (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the burial chamber of Maeshowe, the Standing stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar (see image). Walking around these sites, it is incredible to think that one is sharing the same structures as vikings and earlier settlers. The weather was kind to us staying cool but sunny and we enjoyed some great fiddle music in Kirkwall’s ‘The Reel' - a pub owned by renowned folk musicians the Wrigley Sisters. It was a memorable trip and one I’d certainly repeat again.
A visit to the Lammermuir Hills was very productive for images of red grouse. Now is the time when the males display to the hens by showing off their red ‘eyebrows’ to attract a partner for the breeding season. Their finely patterned, bronze plumage blends nicely with the surroundings and I find them comical little birds with an unmistakable gutteral call that is evocative of the heather moorland. The occasional grouse can oblige by sitting tight while he has his portrait taken - and which is now on Facebook.
I was made to feel very welcome by the RSPB branch group in Hamilton when I presented a talk on "Forthshore: East Lothian's Coastline." It seemed to go down well and the audience of around forty were very generous with their appreciation; I found it a very enjoyable night.
I put a trail camera up on our local hill overnight to see what animals were moving about and was amazed to see three badgers, a pair of foxes and a roe deer buck. Activity seems to be increasing with the advent of spring and perhaps it’s time to start up the weekly visits again. Celandine, pink purslane, sea squill and gorse are all trying to flower too.
The results of the Scottish Nature Photography Awards 2016 were announced in March and I was delighted not only to have had three images shortlisted but for one of them - a picture of a twin flower - to have been runner up in the Botanical category (see Awards section). It rounded off a very satisfying year with regard to photography competitions and one that I shall find hard to beat in 2017!