Well that was an interesting one. I always like to write a little summary at the end of each year, reflecting on what I’ve achieved since last Christmas. This year is no exception, but like everyone else on the planet I couldn’t have anticipated what was about to happen when I wrote in my last yearly summary: “I have a great feeling about 2020.”
The truth is, despite the obvious uncertainty and difficulty that came with COVID-19, I’ve actually had a really productive year. I count myself very lucky to have been able to continue plugging away at my writing during lockdown, where I had little choice but to open the laptop and type something. I combined my daily exercise with photography and took some of my best images so far.
It was so much fun keeping a species list for the first time this year, which has since become my “nerd list”. I planned to just keep a record of the birds I saw on the stretch of shoreline by my house but the nerd list soon became a record of everything I saw wherever I went. Now, at the end of the year, I’ve seen 156 different species of bird, mammal, amphibian and fish, including 55 lifer species! If you’re also a nerd then you can see the full list at the end of this post…
The most significant change this year was the move to Scotland. I’d been considering it last year, but it took the company I worked for going into administration and being made redundant to force me to take the leap. And that was the best decision I could have made. I’ve been in Moray for ten months now and I’m here to stay. I could see myself settling a little further south in the Cairngorms National Park – those ancient pinewoods are way too tempting – but living by the sea for the first time has been so special.
I received my first writing commissions at the end of 2019 and this year my portfolio has continued to grow. I was thrilled to be asked to write two book reviews, a TV review and a website article for BBC Wildlife magazine and several of my photos were featured on their social media and online articles. I have also been invited back to the Wild Intrigue family as Writer in Residence and I can’t wait to get more involved with this in 2021.
I first met my friend Steve while I was admiring a group of waders on the backshore and he hurtled by in his van shouting “Look up there are dolphins!” Since then we’ve gone on lots of wildlife excursions and I got my first experience of van life. I love the nomadic nature of living in a van – eating breakfast in one place and then being somewhere completely different by dinner. My favourite trip has to be when we journeyed to the west coast in October (between lockdowns) to see the red deer rut. I’ve wanted to hear stags bellowing for ages and this year I succeeded. Friends of ours have a beautiful wood cabin on the edge of a loch, which was the perfect base for a deer photography trip. As well as that, we were visited nightly by badgers and pine martens!
One of my most treasured highlights of the year was Norway, which very nearly didn’t happen but after lots of nail biting I managed to get there. Norway’s restrictions meant we had to quarantine for ten days and get a COVID test that involved a cotton bud going way too far up my nose… It was all worth it though and I’ll never forget the experience. After an incredible first half spent watching northern lights and white tailed eagles soaring over the house, the second half featured my first humpback whales and orcas. I was very happy to have my article and photos from the trip published by Oceanographic magazine too.
Winter is probably my favourite season and I’ve been in a particularly wintery mood this year. As they say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes! I loved wrapping up and seeing both local wildlife and a couple of special visitors. In early December I was very lucky to see some waxwings that had arrived in my local town. I was also fortunate enough to see redwings and fieldfares this winter. My plans to photograph mountain hares in the snow were put on hold when Scotland went into Tier 4 on Boxing Day, but hopefully there will be an opportunity next year.
After the year we’ve had, I’m a little reluctant to make any New Year’s resolutions but there are some things that are luckily still in my control! Last year I had a real buzz for art and started a nature journal and the Instagram Inktober challenge to keep it up. Sadly these fizzled out and although I still love drawing and painting, it’s my photography that’s really soared this year. When I was living in Hertfordshire I went for months without taking any photos, but since moving to Scotland I’ve used my camera almost daily. I’ve vastly improved my portfolio and take great pride in some of the shots I’ve taken.
Sadly, my trusty old Canon DSLR bit the dust on Christmas Day! So it was time to upgrade. I’ve deliberated over what camera to get next for ages and whether to go mirrorless or not. When Steve recently bought Canon’s latest professional mirrorless – the very swanky R5 – I can’t deny I was won over. The quality is incredible but perhaps the clinching factor was the silent shooting. No mirror means no click, and when it comes to capturing the shyer animals such as deer and otters, camera clicks can spell disaster.
So this week I ordered my own R5 and I can’t wait to see just how much it can improve my work. Although writing is still my main focus, photography has developed into an even greater passion this year and is such a great visual accompaniment to my articles. While I have no idea if I’ll be able to achieve this in our current climate, in 2021 I aspire to photograph my first otters, British orcas and pine martens. No pressure!
There are some other (some might say more realistic) things I’d like to achieve in 2021:
- Learn to recognise at least ten tree species – my tree knowledge is pretty shameful and considering I spend all my time in forests this needs to change!
- Write morning pages every day – lots of writers swear by morning pages and I’d love to try free writing each day and see how it affects my work
- Have all my writing notes in one place – I have an awful habit of jotting down notes and observations in a dozen different notebooks, so finding something again is hopeless. I want to get more organised and put all my writing in one place moving forward.
As I write this, snow is falling in quite a dramatic fashion and I’m like a little kid all over again. I’ll probably pass on making snowmen this time, but I can’t wait to see all my furry and feathery neighbours in the new white world. Who knows what will happen in 2021, but all we can do is carry on. The word I chose for myself last year was “improve” and I can say with confidence that I’ve done that. I’ve found where I want to live, earned some money from what I want to do and seen some incredible wildlife.
An excellent year’s progress.