It is a real pleasure to introduce you to local wildlife photographer Lee Conwell. Lee tells us what first sparked his interest in photography and shares a year of stunning photographs which have been taken close to Tiny Home Borders.
Whilst I originally hail from a little village in County Tyrone, I have lived near Bonchester Bridge in the Scottish Borders for the last 8 years.
Growing up in rural Northern Ireland and working on local farms, I have always been interested in wildlife and the natural world around me. This first started as a hobby with birdwatching as a boy using binoculars before progressing to taking some photos with disposable cameras. Of course, this was long before the days of the amazing smart phones that we all have today.
My work as a site supervisor has taken me to some beautiful natural locations across the country and it was not until I was working in the Western Isles and Shetland that my passion for photography was truly sparked. Surrounded by fabulous scenery and an incredible diversity of wildlife, I bought my first digital camera, a little Sony, and I started to photograph the birds, the wildlife and the natural world that was all around me. Then, while when working on a well-known Highland Estate for 18 months, I was captivated by the deer in a Scots Pine Forest and I decided to buy my first ‘good’ DSLR camera. I was able to photograph the majestic stags in their natural environment and as I spent time learning about the animals and their natural behaviours, I started to realise just how adaptable wildlife can be. Even whilst wearing my high viz workwear, as the deer got used to me, I was able to get within 20 or 30 yards of them.
Work as a Plant Manager on a Wind Farm project would bring me to the Borders and I loved it so much that I have never left! This is such a beautiful and unspoilt part of the world and the perfect location to live, particularly if you are passionate about wildlife like me. It was red squirrels that first brought me to Hallrule and this is when I first met farmers David and Claire MacTaggart. The route to Hallrule is definitely off the beaten track and the valley provides a rich haven for wildlife, so I asked David if it was alright if I could take some photographs of the local wildlife and of course the deer. He could not have been more helpful or encouraging, David is so knowledgeable and is very much about enhancing the land and not destroying it.
Still very much a self-taught photographer, my interest has grown and grown and I have invested in state-of-the-art cameras and lenses. Indeed, I also like to use trail cameras in some of my favourite spots, just to get an idea of what wildlife is in the vicinity and when. Wherever I go, I always have 2 kits bags with me as you never quite know what you might see and where. In my day job, I am currently working on the Flood Prevention Scheme in Hawick and we regularly spot herons and kingfishers by the Teviot, whilst there is currently too much activity going on for the otters in Hawick, it is possible to see these wonderful creatures near the village of Denholm.
I don’t keep a written diary of what I see throughout the seasons but I suppose my photographs document this for me in any case. But through years of exploring the area and taking photographs around Hallrule and Ruberslaw, I have a good understanding of which species I might see, when I might see them and in what conditions. As someone who is lucky enough to stay at Tiny Home, I really hope that you enjoy seeing some of my photographs, all taken pretty close to where you are staying.
From January to December, here is a year of the wildlife that is quite literally right on your doorstep. Don’t forget your camera, you just never know what you might be lucky enough to see. One message that I do have however, is that you know about and follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, whilst Scotland does have a right to roam, there are certain rights and responsibilities that you have in relation to accessing the outdoors. Thank you.
We start the year with a curious little Robin in the first snow in January, delightful little birds that like to follow you along the hedgerows, they are in great abundance throughout Hallrule.
Two baby Rabbits just outside the warren, cautiously looking in both directions for predators in the morning sun, usually found near the boundary edges of the fields.
A stunning Hare sitting peacefully in the meadow fields waiting for the sun to burn through the morning mist, very hard to spot in the long grass but can be found in great numbers here in Hallrule.
Here is a beautifully coloured Jay, very common in the Hallrule area and often chasing the Buzzards, they are opportunists for food with an unmistakable screech.
A Barn Owl flying silently past the woodlands in search for a meal, very difficult to see as mostly nocturnal but can be seen in first light, amazing to hear them call each other at night.
A Stoat that never really stays still, always on the move looking for prey, they have amazing agility to take animals twice their size.
A beautiful Roe Deer lets me capture a special moment as she shows the bond with her Fawn, it was after weeks of waiting building up a trust with her knowing her Fawn was hiding in the background, a truly amazing moment I’ll never forget.
A Roe Deer stag wandering through the edge of the forest at first light, good numbers of these deer can be found around Hallrule, early morning or at dusk is the best time of seeing them.
September is a great time to see the Badgers, they play a big part in the ecology of the countryside and to see them tussle and interact with each other is amazing.
This Red Squirrel walks upside down across an old oak branch out gathering nuts to store for the winter, it is amazing to watch how agile they really are. Do keep an eye on the trees while out walking on the Hallrule road.
Mr and Mrs Tawny Owl having a wee rest after hunting all night, not often seen together, this shows the bond between these beautiful birds and top predators. The forest is alive with their calls in late evening.
Here we see a Fox headed home after a night sourcing food, his bright red coat is still difficult to spot in the undergrowth, but you can sometimes get a fleeting sight of one on the Hallrule road.
I hope that you enjoy some great wildlife spotting while you are at Tiny Home and if you are interested in keeping in touch with what is happening throughout the year wildlife wise, you can always follow me on Instagram.
If you like what you see, I do sell my prints or canvasses, feel free to get in touch if there’s something in particular that you are looking for.
Lee Conwell, wildlife photographer