Tuesday, February 17, 2015

In Search of the Wildcat

At last night’s (16/2/2015) meeting, Chris Hatch gave an illustrated talk about the wildlife of the Scottish highlands. Chris is a self-employed ecological consultant based in South Wales, who works as a wildlife photographer and as a world-travelling wildlife tour leader. He is part of the Wild Media Foundation, a company that uses photographic images to draw attention to nature conservation issues.

Chris started his photographic tour on the high mountains of the Cairngorm National Park, with ptarmigan and arctic hare. These hares are killed in large numbers by gamekeepers in the highlands, because they can pass on tics to grouse (hunters pay up to £1,000 per day to shoot grouse on the big estates). The moorlands below the peaks were the setting for spectacular images of merlin, hen harrier, black grouse and other wildlife.

We detoured to the Moray Firth, to look at seals, bottlenose dolphin, puffin, gannet, artic tern and other seabirds; accompanied by interesting facts on the threats some of these species face. On the positive side, white-tailed sea eagle and other species are benefitting from reintroduction programmes, which in combination with eco-tourism initiatives benefit the local economy.

Back in the Cairngorms, ospreys are fed fish from a local fish farm near a hide in one eco-tourist location. Chris showed photos of a range of birds encountered in the pine forests, including the large capercaillie which feeds on pine needles. The pine forests are also a stronghold for the red squirrel, one of Chris’ favourite animals to photograph.

Chris took many of his bird of prey shots in the Cairngorms using a make-shift hide and bait taken from a friend’s roadkill-stocked freezer. This is also how he eventually managed to get his shots of the elusive Scottish wildcat, which is seldom photographed in the wild. The wildcat is a powerful animal, about half-the-size-again of the largest domestic cat. Its main distinguishing feature is its blunt rounded tail with dark bands around it. The Scottish wildcat is a sub-species of the European wildcat and its population is down to around 400 individuals in total; with the main threat being inter-breeding with female domestic cats. A charity “Highland Tiger” is helping to save the Scottish wildcat, with one of its main aims being to get people to neuter their domestic cats.

Find out more about the Wild Media Foundation here:

Highland Tiger – saving the Scottish wildcat:

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