AMATEUR wildlife photographer Bill Doherty has revealed how his hunting background when a youngster has helped him capture some of the most amazing pictures of ospreys in Scotland.
The 62-year-old from Northumberland makes regular trips north of the border patiently spending hours waiting to get the most fantastic images of wildlife.
Bill, a service manager working for a charity dealing with people with learning difficulties, has told how his upbringing helped nurture a love in adult life for animals, in particular birds.
He said: “I have been doing this for many years, but this has not always been the case. Before this I was a hunter.
“Born in the 1960`s everyone where I was brought up did past-times such as birds’ egg collection, hunting rabbits, rats, fishing, and at that time I was never at school.
“My learning then came not from school, but from my dad, bird trappers, gypsies, countryside characters and men who kept caged birds and pigeons. In fact, I didn’t attend school much.
“With my father we bred birds in captivity, including species such as crossbills, under licence.
“We also kept, bred, showed and worked Scottish deerhounds, which we sold all over the world, under the Kennel Club affix of Doxhope.
“I no longer hunt, but I use the skills I acquired, using them to get close to my subjects, and instead of stealing lives, I steal images.“
Over the years Bill also practiced a vermin controller, worked part time on farms and estates, part-time keepering, being a mole man, a taxidermist, glass engraver, breeding birds in captivity, and a countryside diarist and author.
All these, he says, has helped him enjoy life in the wild.
Bill said: “I am a regular contributor to various countryside magazine, including the Countrymans Weekly and I have published four books to date, all countryside orientated, including A Bird in the Hand, true stories of my childhood travelling with men who had so much of an influence on me at that time.
“It is so important to ‘know your subject’ when both hunting, and photographing them. I also do talks on wildlife photography.
“Apart from my native Northumberland, the place I frequent the most is Scotland. It is not so much looking different, to me it feels different.
“This is partly due to the Celtic blood that runs through my veins.
“Over the years I have visited Bute, Arran and I know the excitement of sitting alone on narrow stiff cliffs of Alisa Craig and the Bass Rock taking photographs of gannets. I never tire of visiting Scotland.
Bill lives in Ashington, just over the Scottish border, but he originates from nearby Bedlington, famed for the Bedlington Terrier dog breed.
Married for 42 years, with three children and eight grandchildren, he spends his spare time as a wildlife photographer, specialising in birds - and in particular birds in flight.
He said: “Ospreys not only hunt their prey, fish, on rivers, they also fish in small lakes, estuaries and on private lakes set up for people to fish on.
“Some owners of these locations frown on the birds stealing fish, but others have capitalised on this, adding extra fish for the birds to take, and the ospreys benefit in the breeding season from this over stocking.
“Around Aviemore there are two main locations where this happens, and where the owners of the lochs have set up specialised hides for people to observe the birds, and, to take photographs.
“One loch is situated on the Rothiemurcus estate, the other in Aviemore itself, and it is the latter where these images where taken.
“The loch and hides have been set up by Gordon McLeod, an ex ghuillie on the river Spey, and his awareness of the area, the birds, and their needs have been paramount in helping people like myself, obtain photographs.”
He added: “Gordon continually monitors fish stocks, and quality to ensure that the birds have the best to feed their young. The lochan itself has been specially designed, with a clay bottom so that ospreys can see the fish from their high positions in the sky.
“Various TV wildlife programs makers have visited these hides, to obtain footage. Gordon’s osprey hides are probably the best situate in the country at this time, for photographing ospreys fishing.
“On some mornings dives by visiting ospreys can go into double figures, and Gordon has also set up a separate hide, just for people to view this magnificent spectacle.
“To get the images, I needed to be in the hide from 4am. This is when the birds begin to visit, to secure fish before too many people are about.
“When the ospreys are feeding chicks, they need a constant supply of fish to feed the hungry mouths, as the chicks have to grow quickly, leave the next, learn how to hunt and then leave bonny Scotland for places as far off as the Gambia, in just a few moths.”
Bill has been visiting these locations for eight years, some times a number of times per season.
He said: “I hold over 1000 quality stock images of ospreys, and over the years I have got to see many revisiting ospreys, and chicks bred from these from previous seasons.
“Some of my images have been used in various publications and books, and I have had much success in various national and international photography competitions.
“Even with so many images, we photographers are never satisfied, and are always looking for something different.
“One of my goals is to photograph an osprey coming out of the water with two fish, instead of one.
“I have nearly achieved this, with one bird having two fish, but unfortunately one of them escaped the birds clutches before it came out of the water.
“The bird did however secure one, and fly off to its nest with it, which is over 7 km away from the lake.
“When these birds take off from this lake, they often do a sort of lap of honour first, as they shake the water off, and try to get airbourne with the fish, and this is an ideal opportunity to capture flight shots
“Unfortunately my goal on this occasion wasn’t achieved, but, there is always next time. It is not just having the best location, decent camera gear and ability as a photographer, lady luck also comes into it, being in the right place, at the right time.
“The camera I used for these images is a Nikon D700, and the lens was a Nikon 500mm f4.
“A lot of images taken in these Scottish locations can be dull, as the weather is not always the best for photography, and I have a saying, “dull days, dull photos” So the best cameras for the task are those with good low light capabilities.
“My equipment is not the latest on the market, as some of these cameras, and lenses can be quite expensive, but it’s the best I can afford. It is not always the case of who has the biggest or the best, but how the person uses it.
“There is now more income going into Scotland linked to wildlife photography that that what there is for hunting.
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“Ospreys numbers are increasing in Scotland, and this is testimony to various wildlife bodies, and also to people who like Gordon, are prepared to lend a small helping hand. This in turn helps others, wildlife photographers, like myself trying to achieve my personal goal, of capturing an osprey coming out the water with two fish in its feet.
“The present for ospreys is good, and the future hopefully even better. I am looking forward to visiting Aviemore again before the end of this season, to once again capture image of my favourite bird, the osprey.”