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  • Writer's pictureAilie Brown

Wildlife Inspired Hobbies

Updated: Mar 5

Something we do very well at Speyside Wildlife is watch wildlife. We go to all corners of Scotland and the world, in pursuit of some of the most fantastic species. For years my hobby was bird watching; going for a walk in my local woodland, listening to bird song, spotting little Long-tailed Tits flitting in between the trees, constantly scanning the water for Otters and Kingfishers, noticing butterflies zip past in search for wildflowers and trying to identify all the different species. All these things bring me joy. I am now so fortunate, I get to do these things as a wildlife guide and share these experiences with guests.

However, even though I still go out on my own bird walks, I have pursued another avenue in wildlife hobbies - crafting. I enjoy using cuttings from my garden to make things, sometimes they just end up in a vase (I find Honesty makes the best winter filling to my vase) and I have made ice suncatchers and festive wreaths and picture frames from sticks. I find that the natural world inspires us in many ways and I have asked our guides to tell us about their hobbies and how wildlife has inspired them

A wreath.
Festive Wreath from Garden cuttings (Ailie Brown)

Sally Nowell - Jeweller

"Since I was a child I've loved wildlife and colourful beads! After a 37 year career in the NHS I've been able to pursue both of these passions.

Being able to retire relatively early I've been able to work as a guide for Speyside Wildlife, but I've also set up a small business selling jewellery. My business is called 'Bowerbird Jewels' and most of you will be able to imagine why I chose that name! I work with colourful glass beads that I source from Czechia and the colour combinations I work with are very often inspired by the ever-changing Scottish landscape. During the Covid pandemic I often used the amazing colours of our wonderful birdlife to inspire me. Every time I go out I can't help but notice the different shades of the countryside, whether that's the lichens and mosses in Abernethy Forest, or the glorious sunsets our Speyside Wildlife group witnessed on Islay last autumn and these plays out in the rich colour combinations I choose. I display my work in galleries across Scotland and most recently in East Yorkshire, where I'm using some gorgeous glass bird beads as a centre piece to my jewellery.

I've also been asked by a remote west coast restaurant to make a selection of work reflecting the changing colours of the Knoydart peninsula, so that has been a wonderful challenge to put together colours of the mountains, heather, shoreline and sea. We pass by here on our Canna and Corncrakes Holiday."

Here are a few images of what I do...…..

Darren Rees - Artist

"I’m very lucky that I’ve turned my twin hobbies of birding and painting into full time activities. The art side actually came first – I was working with the RSPB Wales office as an in-house artist and illustrator when I first met Ian and Sally who went on to found Speyside Wildlife. A few years on and they asked me to lead their first foreign holiday as I knew Mallorca quite well. That was the first trip in 1992 and I’m now coming up for 190 tours!

The wildlife experiences from the tours feed directly into my art. Whether it’s from brief sketches I gathered on tour, or later in the studio looking at video or photos, I love telling the story of the encounters we have. It may be bustards displaying on a Spanish plain, Orcas patrolling the waters around Vancouver Island, or wolves moving through the Yellowstone landscape. The scene we all witnessed at Bolivar Flats on the first Speyside Wildlife trip to Texas won me a pair of Swarovski binoculars!"

You can follow Darren’s art on Facebook and Instagram @DarrenReesArtist or

Cath Wright - Nature Journaling

"I’ve always enjoyed drawing and creating things, but in the last few years I have moved from ginormous abstract acrylic canvases, to smaller, more detailed ink sketches. In 2020 I trained as a Nature and Forest Therapy Guide and as part of our training we had to learn ‘tea plants’ so that we could confidently make tea using the plants around us at the end of a session. I found this learning process fascinating, sketching the plant from different angles then researching its scientific names, identification features, medicinal properties and some of the stories behind the plant. I’ve carried on this practice since qualifying, as I find it a great way to learn and make new nature friends!

Here in Speyside, we are surrounded by majestic Scots Pine trees and due to their evergreen properties, they symbolise immortality to many. The pine groves or ‘shaman forests’ scattered over the grasslands of Eastern Siberia are sacred to indigenous people. These groves should be entered with reverence and respect of the gods and spirits of the wood – I think Scots Pine still command respect whenever I wander through out local forest, as they reach their gnarly and orange trunks high into the sky around us."

Whether it's art, or crafts, sketching or making jewellery, it's wildlife that inspires us. Many of our guides have found inspiration while away on our Speyside Holidays, from the coasts of Scotland to the plains of Yellowstone. If you'd like to find out more about our Speyside Wildlife holidays, you can do so here.

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