How I turned to nature

Puffin taking off – Photograph: Peter Lewis

A horrific car accident left Peter Lewis feeling low – but as he developed a love of wildlife photography, the shadows lifted.

Photography has changed my life for the better – and yet the story of how I took it up starts on one of my worst days ever, 7 January 2006.

Excitement was high as we set off from Peterhead, where I have lived for most of my life, on our way to Glasgow to see our hometown team play Rangers in a Scottish Cup tie.

With my father-in-law and my daughters, aged 13 and 9, I was looking forward to a great day – not one spent in an emergency ward in Aberdeen.

We were in a head-on crash just 15 minutes into our journey. Samantha, my eldest, suffered a stroke as a result of the impact. My father-in-law suffered fractures to both legs, a knee and a wrist – injuries that were to prevent him from working again. I had only a broken ankle.

A month later, Samantha was able to come home, and my father-in-law finally managed to walk with a stick after having his legs and arm plated and a knee rebuilt.


Roe deer, Insch mashes – Photograph: Peter Lewis

As for me, I went back to the old routine of working 6-7 days a week. It was my way of dealing with what had happened, and I left my darling wife to deal with everything else. She was the rock that we all clung to as the waves hit us, trying their best to knock us all over the edge.

About a year later my father-in-law went on a trip to the Loch of Strathbeg, our local RSPB reserve, with his wife and Stephanie, my youngest. I came home to hear all about it from my daughter, who had thoroughly enjoyed spending the day with her grandparents.

The first Sunday I had off, I took them back to the reserve, which I hadn’t seen since about 1982. We had a great day and I had forgotten just how good this place was. That night we sat in the Tower Pool Hide. Plenty of birds, nice scenery, I thought to myself, never realising what this night would do for me. Stephanie was looking through some binoculars she had won, and squealed with delight that she could see a fox. I looked and laughed, saying: “Where?” Sure enough, through the overgrown grass came a male fox scenting his patch as he went along his way, looking at the lapwings that now had seen him and took to the sky in their dozens.


Crested tit – Photograph: Peter Lewis

The brain, a powerful tool they say, started to work again in my head that night. Once home I took my compact camera out and downloaded the photographs I had taken – not too clear, but what do you expect from a £90 camera?

As my eyes scanned the pictures trying to work out which bird was which, I realised I had actually spent some time away from the comfort zone of the settee and TV.

I started going out myself when my daughter and father-in-law couldn’t make it, seeing and learning more. My family had a laugh about my “mid-life crisis”, saying I was a twitcher – to which I replied: “No. I’m a birder.”


Gannet in flight – Peter Lewis

No-one could believe the change in me and my attitude to life. The times that I have now been out are too many to count and my knowledge of birds and nature has increased immensely. At Christmas 2008 I got a DSLR camera to get clearer and crisper shots of what I was seeing, because when I saw other people’s photos in the centre’s album I was disappointed with mine. I ended up joining the Peterhead Photography Club to learn more about my camera, and through this I have met some fantastic photographers, such as Philip Newman.

I have now seen more of my beautiful country and its wildlife and hope to do so for many more years to come.

One day I will never forget is 23 May 2009. On my way back from a walk, I decided to walk along a fence line, looking to see whether any raptors had left pellets on the posts.


Badger foraging – Photograph: Peter Lewis

I couldn’t believe what I stumbled upon – four fox cubs playing on the other side of the fence, oblivious to me as I snapped away. This was a sight that could not be beaten – not even by the white-tailed eagle; the snow geese among thousands of pink feet; the whooper swans trumpeting their notes on a cold winter’s morning; stoats in ermine; the short-eared owl – or so I thought.

One night I saw something move under a gorse bush as I came back from one of my walks – a fox, I thought. I walked back to my car not sure, but determined to find out what had eluded me. Three months later I finally got a glimpse of the animal. I only saw its backside as it went through the grass behind the gorse, but I had seen enough of it to see what it was – a badger.

On my next visit, after an hour of sitting in a tree among camouflage netting, I finally saw what I wanted to see. Out of the gorse they came, sniffing the air for danger before slowly coming into the open. My camera went off as I prayed they would not dart back up the hill. Now I have camouflage trousers and jumpers to get near these beautiful animals, and by being really still can get to within an arm’s length for some fantastic shots.


Ragged robin – Photograph: Peter Lewis

This year has been one of the best since my marriage and the birth of my children. I have lost weight carrying that heavy backpack, met some fantastic people with a knowledge of birds I hope to achieve one day, and have a new hobby that I wish I had started years ago. I have sat and watched wildlife that I thought I could only see on television.

To pick one highlight is hard but I think it has to be the badgers, closely followed by wonderful birds like the stilt sandpiper or the barn owl who keeps playing hide and seek with me, when all I want is her photograph.

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2 comments on “How I turned to nature
  1. Richard says:

    Great story Peter you have inspired lots of folks on your journeys

  2. Peter it was almost 3 years ago through Flickr I first had contact with you, It was a real privilege to see your work and meet you and family at Grantown on Spey last summer, you are an inspiration to many


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