Sunday, 12 May 2013

Taking the high road

I couldn't persuade the family that another spring holiday in Scotland would be a good idea this year, but with time off for exceptionally good behaviour I was able to get away for a few days last week on a solo trip. First stop was Stirling, to see my brother, sister-in-law and nephews.

Sunshine in Glencoe
They are used to me turning up late, going early and leaving presents - I think the kids think I'm Father Christmas - and as I had to get to Skye by 1400 the following day for the ferry to North Uist this visit was no exception. Both boys were up early so I did get to see them in the end and was on the road with plenty of time to make it to Uig for 1400.

The fine morning weather gave way to this in Uig on Skye
Glencoe was glorious and as well as the weather, my luck held when I was able to squeeze past the scene of a prang on the A82 just before the police closed the entire road, which would undoubtedly have meant a missed ferry - the only one that day.

The Coastguard joined us mid-crossing for some exercises
The weather deteriorated after that and any hopes of jamming in on eagles overhead on Skye were dashed by heavy rain and low cloud. Not far out of Uig, however, conditions improved enough to spend the two hour journey seawatching on the open deck.

Bridled Guillemot in Uig Harbour
The first Great Northern Diver, Black Guillemot and Puffin appeared just offshore. Further out into The Little Minch, a steady stream of Manxies sheared effortlessly across the bows.

The Uig-Lochmaddy ferry crossed the path of a steady stream of Manx Shearwater
A couple of other birders on deck asked if, like them, I had also booked this trip before the Harlequin Duck (which spent a couple of months on North Uist) had done a bunk. I hadn't in fact: my plans were hatched at the last minute, after it became clear the Harlequin had gone. While it would have been great to see it, I did see one on Lewis in 2004, and it was quite nice to be travelling not to twitch a single rarity: I'm not sure I could have coped with the stress over such an extended journey.

Puffins were probably the commonest auk encountered during the crossing
Conditions remained good as we reached Lochmaddy where a couple more Great Northern Divers included one in summer plumage. Common Sandpipers were piping from the rocky shore and an eagle soared over a distant ridge.
This Great Northern Diver was one of four seen on the crossing
I couldn't positively identify the eagle from the moving ship, so straight off the ferry it was out with the scope, scan the ridge and then - bang - a Golden Eagle which then proceeded to stoop and rise in a spectacular display flight. A good start to the trip.

Hebrides leaving Lochmaddy - a Golden Eagle was over the ridge beyond the ferry

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