Enjoying the SCENEry

Living at the SCENE field station offers many magical moments given its wild setting. It is the perfect place for a budding photographer like Behind the SCENE’s Angus Lothian (@AngusJLothian) to explore! Making sure he takes the time to appreciate his situation, Angus has captured many of the wonderful experiences he has had during his studies in some truly beautiful images. Here he tells us us about some of his favourite adventures and shares his most memorable photos.

Just one of the stunning views for photographers to capture. Angus Lothian
Just one of the stunning views, captured at just the right moment. © Angus Lothian

Enjoying the SCENEry

SCENE is situated in the heart of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. It is surrounded by amazing beauty and an incredible array of wildlife. For an amateur photographer and adventure seeker like me, there are few better places to live than SCENE. Having the opportunity to live and work at this field station for the last nine months has allowed me to experience the whole wonder that comes with the changing seasons.  It’s safe to say that when I’m not working in the office or the field, I am out and about with my camera, making the most of living in this incredible region!

Ben Lomond

When we first arrived at SCENE in September 2015, we were met with bright blue skies (it isn’t always like this; it is Scotland after all, so we were very lucky). The imposing mountain range known as the Arrochar Alps could be seen in the distance, framed by the deep green foliage of the oak trees bordering the single-track road approaching the field station. It was remarkable: only an hour outside of Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, was this stark change in scenery. The most prominent aspect of this landscape was the astonishing view of Ben Lomond across the small, millpond-like loch, the Dubh Lochan.

Ben Lomond is an iconic mountain and a favoured destination for many hillwalkers, reportedly being visited 30,000 times a year. The position and popularity of this Munro—the name given to hills in Scotland with a summit above 3,000ft—made it a prime photographic subject of mine, and it became a personal objective to capture the changes that come with the seasons. I have spent a lot of time over the year taking pictures of Ben Lomond from various viewpoints across the National Park to record the dramatic seasonal transitions. Out of all of these views, my favourite was during a special event that painted Ben Lomond in a new light, but more on this image a little later…

Naturally, when you have a Munro in your back garden, you have to climb it. In October three of us set off up Ben Lomond, walking from SCENE to the nearby village of Rowardennan, and then starting the climb. It was a beautiful day, almost perfect for hillwalking. Unfortunately, the views from the top were limited thanks to clouds, a reoccurring theme when talking about viewpoints in Scotland. But the climb was worth it for the sense of accomplishment alone, and sparked my now deep interest in climbing more of Scotland’s Munros, an activity known as “Munro bagging”.

Aurora Alerts

Throughout winter we waited with baited breath for the alert—an aurora is coming. The long hours of darkness in the Scottish winter allow for better chances to see the Aurora Borealis. We were incredibly lucky to get one of these alerts and to chase it up. Simply by walking (essentially running) 50 metres to the Dubh Lochan jetty, we witnessed the Northern Lights dancing behind Ben Lomond. I have taken many images during my time at SCENE, but on this night I captured one of my favourites—a magical moment in the harshest season. Who wouldn’t remember a moment like this fondly?

The Aurora Borealis. © Angus Lothian
The Aurora Borealis. © Angus Lothian

A month or so later, we got another alert and decided to try and get a better view of the Northern Lights over the Crianlarich Hills in the north of the National Park. We drove to Balmaha, the nearby town, and ascended Conic Hill in the dark (twice for me as I forgot my tripod in the car). The sky was clear as we climbed with the stars shining bright overhead. Everything was pointing to a great aurora display. When we finally made it to the top we were met with clouds in the north, obscuring the Northern Lights. Disappointing to say the least, but we still managed to have some decent views towards Stirling and Glasgow. Not getting the shots we initially wanted, we decided to have a bit of fun on the summit. Although climbing in the dark was a fun experience in itself, we didn’t want to waste the journey, so we played with long camera exposures and torches.

Wildlife: Wallabies, Red Squirrels, and More

It isn’t just the scenery and the natural phenomena that are amazing. The diversity and abundance of wildlife around the region is incredible. Since moving here in September, I have had many firsts, and they don’t get much more astonishing than seeing my first wallaby!

A wallaby in Scotland?! It is not a widely known fact, but Inchconnachan, one of the twelve larger islands in the loch, is home to an established population of wallabies, which were released in the 1940s. Somehow, they have adapted from the warmer climate of Australia to the cold and often wet climate of Scotland. Secretive and shy creatures, it was a true chance of luck that we stumbled across two of them and managed to get photos.

A reclusive wallaby from Inchconnachan on Loch Lomond. Angus Lothian
A reclusive wallaby from Inchconnachan on Loch Lomond. © Angus Lothian

Another incredible sighting that we got was a red squirrel making its way for the peanut holder at a lodge in Rowardennan. They are locally extinct throughout most of the United Kingdom due to competition and disease spread from introduced grey squirrels. However, the Scottish Highlands remain a stronghold for red squirrels due to the active prevention of grey squirrels from crossing the Highland Boundary Fault by monitoring and trapping. This fault runs through the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and, rather interestingly, is visible above ground in the form of Conic Hill and the most southerly islands in the loch. Red squirrels are charismatic creatures and it is a privilege to see them this far south in the UK.

The wildlife of the National Park is not restricted to wallabies and squirrels. Hordes of geese appear during the winter to feed on the nutritious fields around the loch before returning north to Iceland and Greenland to breed in the spring. The warmer weather of spring and summer brings swallows and swifts in their droves, as they migrate north from sub-Saharan Africa to breed in barns and similar structures.

Spring also brings with it a remarkable bird of prey that can be seen fishing around the loch: the osprey. There are at least six osprey nests in the Loch Lomond region, with many more nests near the other eleven lochs within the National Park boundaries. They undertake arduous journeys to and from northern Africa every year, returning to the same nest to be with the same partner. This is one animal that I haven’t managed to capture on camera yet, and so my next goal (outside of doing well in my degree) is to get an action shot of this master of the sky in action.

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Being here at SCENE is a fantastic experience, with so much opportunity for not only career, but also personal, development. The relaxed working environment mixed with the ability to step outside and walk up hills, wander through ancient oak forests, canoe across lochs, watch stunning sunsets, listen to bird song and search for wonderful creatures only makes you more positive. The field work is tough sometimes, and the office hours can be long, but it is no hardship when you have all this on your front door step.

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