Photographing Snow Buntings in the Cairngorm Mountains

Sometimes man and nature rub along side by side quite happily.  In the winter months, snow buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) head south from their arctic homes in Scandinavia, Alaska, Greenland and Canada.  Having spent the summer in their northern breeding grounds the winter in Scotland is almost a little extension of this summer warmth.  

The view across the Cairngorm mountains from the ski centre main car park.

The snow buntings soar in swarms high over the car park at the Cairngorm Mountain.  Their call heard before they are seen.  As one mass they swoop low, sussing out whether there is food before circling high again.  A second fly-by confirms that the humans are present but not causing problems before a final arrival is made.

A busy swarming chatter of buntings descend.  Some eating, some squabbling and some pottering around picking up snippets of food that they find in the surrounding heather.  Snow flurries arrive, not enough to settle but enough to make us feel like this is a little adventure.   They stay for a while before becoming distracted and ascend high into the air, off to find a new spot for a moment of ground time.


Photographing snow buntings is one of the easier wildlife encounters of the Scottish Highlands.  There is minimal walking involved and a warm cafe and toilet is located a few steps away - luxury if you ask me. 

This encounter felt almost like we were in the garden.  The birds knew we were there but were happy to feed as usual and ignore our presence.  The busy car park just a few steps below left them totally unphased and meant that we could wait and chat (and enjoy the flurries of snow!).

Waiting for the snow buntings to come and feed. The car park below means they are not upset by our presence.