Thursday, 30 July 2009

Scotch Argus

Monday was another fine day but I wasn't able to get out so we'll move swiftly onto Tuesday - a day of dodging showers! With a target of Otters and the tide well in already we set off on a different route. The Curlew numbers have built up quite nicely over the last couple of weeks but they are always overshadowed by the Grey Herons. There must be at least 30 of each of these birds dotted around the shore of Loch Beg. A lone juv Black Guillemot is failing to hold anyones attention when the Herons are so prominent but it's out there! The Hooded Crows have the young out of the nests so there are good numbers around and they are great to watch. The adults are always rooting through the seaweed on the shore or breaking Mussels on the rocks. When the tide is in they plod around on the machair looking for something to harass. We found a particularly noisy youngster that was hassling one of the adult birds. The parent was blissfully unaware of the youngsters shouting for food - we could learn from this I'm sure, if your out shopping and the kids are screaming just carry on regardless! Here is the adult doing the 'shopping'........and the youngster doing all the shouting and jumping up and down....The WT Eagle parents were showing well but still no sign of the youngster although I have received news that the youngster is flying around on occasion. We headed off to Loch na Keal to see if we could get a view of the Golden Eagles on that side but it was a wasted effort and the rain stopped play eventually. On the loch itself were a small group of Eider and about 20 RB Merg with a small flock of Linnet feeding on the shoreline too. We headed back along the loch eventually getting to the other side of the shower picking off the likes of the Northern Wheatears, Rock and Meadow Pipits, Raven etc. We eventually located an Otter which we watched for nearly an hour. He was fishing well and it was only a matter of time before he caught something big enough to haul out. When he eventually got to shore we could see he had an Eel that was at least three foot long! It was nice to get photos for the guests but it means that I don't get the opportunity myself - it must be my turn soon! Tuesday evening saw me travelling about again so I thought I would take the opportunity to see if I could catch up with the SE Owl that I nearly ran over. First stop was for the WT Eagles at Grasspoint - distant views of one of the youngsters that was soon joined by an adult bird. While I was watching the youngster a first summer male Hen Harrier flew by giving good views but too far for the camera. I took a few shots of the Red Deer hinds on the way back out - fine looking beasts.
Off for the Shorties next. I put one up from the side of the road again but it was off like a shot. I found a place with good visibility and started to scan around - not a sign! In the distance a flash of a pale bird turned out to be the target bird that was soon joined by another two. The initial bird then put in an appearance but too far away for any decent shots. The best I could manage is shown below and it wasn't going to improve in the failing light.Wednesday was a day of torrential rain - it sounds bad but it's all lies as it was actually another fine day which is getting a bit boring now. The Curlews are still out in force but the Golden Plover and Dunlin seemed to have moved on. Another great show from the WT Eagles but still no sign of the youngster for me. We cracked on through the day picking up plenty of small birds and also doing the flowers justice too. It was nice to see Heath Spotted Orchid still in flower in a shady spot along with St Johns Wort - most other places they have gone to seed. We gave the Mountain Hares a good shot and were rewarded with 2 of them together. On the return journey a Swift was a surprise find as it swooped in front of us. It not that easy to get photos with a full complement of guests so it was nice to get some shots of Scotch Argus while having lunch.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Rain at last!!

Thursday, Friday and Saturday was a continuation of the pleasant weather with the usual bag full of goodies - Otters, Eagles, Deer etc. This deer had everyone convinced he was stuffed as he just stood and stared but didn't really move until we did!
Sunday was a day of rest with some hefty showers forecast - we weren't disappointed. A good change in the weather always brings a few birds in and makes life interesting. A clear spell between the showers had me checking the shore to see what was out there. The Golden Plover were there but only 20 of them and I could see some smaller waders too. There were 2 Turnstones, 23 Dunlin, 1 Sanderling and a Greenshank flew in too. Not a bad haul. A quick check of the ridges before the next shower came through produced 1 Golden Eagle getting harassed off two Common Buzzard before disappearing into the cloud. I also had a run out in the dark, in a clear spell, but it wasn't too exciting. A single Barn Owl closely followed by a Short-eared Owl that nearly killed itself on the front of the motor - just the wingtips clipped the bonnet as I buried the brake pedal - one lucky Owl! On the return journey the rain was falling hard so no Owls on the way back but plenty of Frogs and a single Hedgehog. The weather at the moment is low cloud and heavy rain - should be a cracking day then!
Here's one I need some help with from you Lepiwhatsits - it'll be a common one but I haven't got a good enough book to pin it down! Thanks in advance.

Friday, 24 July 2009


Wednesday was another good weather day apart from a bit of a splash early on. It was one of those days that start slow so it has no choice but to improve. We picked away at the small birds early on and then got caught in a heavy shower while away from the motor. As usual I was just in a T-shirt - I should know better but I don't and I'll never learn as you'll find out! After the rain we drove into sunshine and midges but the Otter we found was a good distraction from the biting monsters for a while. Next on the hit list were 5 RT Diver and 3 Black Guillemot with a few Common Seals swimming around too. We found a nice female RB Merg hauled out on the shore and scoped a WT Eagle from about a mile and a half. Lunchtime saw us scanning the ridges while munching but the eagles were polite enough not to show until we'd finished. Two Golden Eagle put on a decent display and then a WT Eagle showed off the skill of gaining height in seconds - very impressive! The Golden Plover flock seems to be holding steady at about 30 birds with the Dunlin difficult to find at times. Now for the pirates! Wednesday evening we were booked on to the RNLI fundraising trip round Iona on the MV Iolaire. The trip is run every year at short notice on a calm evening. First port of call is Tinkers Hole, a safe haven for the visiting yachts, where we sail round the yachts collecting donations while serenading them with Scottish songs. Here we are approaching the first 'victim' of the evening - you can see one of the eager pirates rubbing his hands in anticipation! A successful raid on the first boat - seriously though, people give generously to this worthwhile cause and enjoy the visit they get from this fundraiser. The captain of the boat has to skillfully manoeuvre the boat so that the collection bucket can be put within reach of the yachtsmen. We get a request to sing the Wild Rover from these people - classic stuff! We also had a guided tour of the interesting points like the Fairy Staircase in Tinkers Hole......

......the Marble Quarry on Iona......

......and despite the showers of rain we were spotting wildlife too. Davy, the skipper, announced that he could see what looked like a Basking Shark up ahead so we went for a closer look. This must have been at least 20 foot long - you can see the tip of the nose and the tail as this one surfaced.

It came in for a closer look too - shame about the weather though. You could see all of the Shark when it rose to the surface. One of the highlights of the trip.

We carried on round the West side of the Iona. You can see the shower that had just washed over us in the next shot with Ben More in the distance.

We visited a few more people in Bull Hole before setting adrift in the Sound of Iona to hold a raffle and an auction. We raised almost £800 on the night for the RNLI.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Tuesday treat

Tuesday was a day of mixed fortunes weatherwise. It was clear in the morning with a light breeze but the forecast said it would be raining by 2pm...ish and dreadful by 4pm. I had most of the guests on board as I set off to pick up the last 2 people. We chatted away along the road and as we reached a high point overlooking a bay something caught my eye. I told everyone to keep their eyes on the water and there it was again....a Bottle-nosed Dolphin close inshore. Naturally we stopped for a better look and found that there were actually two Dolphins - out came the camera to capture the moment. We couldn't stay too long as we still had other folk to pick up but a great start to the day.With the forecast not being so good we decided that Golden Eagle was going to be high on the priority list and had to be found before the rain started in earnest. First port of call got Otter on the list so a good start for the people that missed the Dolphins. Next we headed back to the area where we had the Dolphins but there was no sign. Two Red-throated Divers were showing well, loafing about between feeds. The clouds were gathering by now and there was the odd spit of rain so we headed off to an eagle spot. We scanned the ridge looking for flying birds to no avail. Out came the scope to check again for the chance of a bird perched up - result. One bird sitting just below the ridge. We had lunch and kept an eye on the bird in the hope it would fly off before the rain started. It didn't quite work like that though - it flew, for sure, but it went straight behind the ridge and didn't reappear. We headed off to see if we could pick up any more Otters as the rain started for real. I picked up 2 Otters on the shore but they were in and out of the rocks heading up the shore and soon out of sight. We carried on with the hope of another Otter along the way. We did find this Common Seal that was hauled out on the near shore. It looks like he'd been 'in the wars' with a few bite marks round the neck. It's a dangerous job trying to spread your genes!We headed for the WT Eagle nest and found the nest to be empty! The adult female was in attendance and we wondered if the chick was just hunkered down in the rain. The adult flew to another perch not too far away, a spectacular sight, but this was overshadowed by the brief appearance of the male being harassed by Ravens. A superb size comparison. With no sign of the youngster we headed off back to where we'd had the Otters. Again we were lucky to pick up the mother and cub fishing along the shore and eventually hauling out for a wash and brush up before moving back into the water. Another great day out despite the weather and the weatherman was right about the 4pm cloudburst!!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Time flies

Doesn't time fly when you are having fun? I can't believe that my last posting was on Friday and I have no new photos for this one! Friday I spent sorting out my photos and typing up the diary, Saturday I was in charge of the shop but I did manage to check out the waders outside that included 30 Golden Plover, 3 Dunlin, 3 Greenshank and 6 Ringed Plover. A Golden Plover shot from a while ago...cracking birds.Also on Saturday I was watching the dog Otter fishing in the loch from the shop doorway - cool or what. Just to top that one...later in the evening, while leaving the pub (I'd only had a pint), the dog Otter was just heading back into the loch. We watched him lollop down the machair into the loch and get stuck into his fish supper!
Sunday was rained off but I did make the effort of going out to try for a few shots. I was offered a run out so we went in search of anything that was within camera reach. Not a good idea in poor conditions! We managed to see Golden Eagle flying briefly in the rain, a couple of WT Eagle and we didn't bother looking for the Otters due to the conditions. How committed is that?!
Monday was a better day after the rain stopped early on. There was quite a wind blowing though so the Otter spotting was going to be challenging. With WT Eagle in the bag we headed off for the elusive mustelid. We found one surprisingly quick but lost it just as fast. It was feeding one minute and then heading off on a mission the next - not easy to follow in choppy conditions. Everyone got to see it before it disappeared from view. Next up was Golden Eagle....we headed off and picked up a female Hen Harrier fairly quickly. The showers were still pushing through, some heavy, but there is always the expectation of birds getting up to dry themselves off. We waited in a good location and managed to get a few Buzzards but nothing bigger. We moved on but on the next stop, looking back to where we had just been, two Golden Eagle flying around! Back in the motor to get a closer view. With the wind still blowing in from the West it wasn't a surprise to see the large flock of Gannets fishing. Plenty of Manx Shearwater with them and a good smattering of Kittiwakes too. Gannets are superb to watch even if they are just flying by but to get the feeding birds is top quality stuff. The closer you get the better they are too. I once had a trip out to Bass Rock and had the privileged to walk amongst these birds. Visiting a seabird colony is an unforgettable experience and certainly something that everyone should do - the sight, the sound, the smell it's just fantastic! These photos were taken at Bempton Cliffs....
Just to top the day off nicely we managed to find a Bonxie (Great Skua) harassing the Gannets too.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Friday flowers

After doing the blog on Wednesday I was waiting to be picked up, for a change, to have a day in the field taking photographs. The rain was falling steadily but there was not much wind. The rain started to ease off about 11am and my lift arrived with the first port of call being Loch Beg to look for the Otters - plenty of fish jumping but nothing else so a scenic shot instead!As usual with a camera in hand the wildlife was staying at bay so we switched to flowers and dragonflies. Spear Thistle seemed a good one to start with. It's not a nice one to fall into so I didn't this time but I have in the past - ditches always catch the unwary!Being a tall lad the ground is always far away for me so the next shot of Eyebright was an achievement as I wasn't dressed for lying in the wet grass. There is a nice little tale attached to this plant....17th century botanist William Cole reckoned that Eyebright was the herb used by Linnets to clear it's eyesight.Since short-sighted Linnets are not easy to identify, few could argue with Cole's reasoning!We made some effort for flight shots of dragonflies as the birds were being elusive. I was keeping out of the way of the pro's with the big lenses and didn't even attempt the flight shot. Golden Ringed was the main target but this Common Hawker decided to join in the fun.We'd noticed some Harebells high up at, the side of the road, that looked good for some alternative angles without lying in the mud. The shutters were clicking away like mad so they must have been happy with something to photograph. I took a couple of shots so I didn't feel left out. Up here this is the Scottish Bluebell with Bluebells being called Wild Hyacinth. Other names for this beauty that is linked with magic and folklore are 'witches' thimbles', 'fairy bells' and 'old man's bells' relating to the Devil himself!We headed off to a different location and it was nice to take in a bit more of the scenery while I was a passenger. Rock Pipit was one of the targets as they perform quite well and are numerous but I found some little red beetles crawling over the rocks instead. These pretty little things turned out to be weevils - Apion miniatum to be precise.While I'm playing with the bugs the terrible trio are hard at it..........'what's that I've stood in - can we photograph it?'.
Everyone has a go at fishing up here but I was surprised to find this ewe guarding the creels for the master. Looks like they had sold out of todays catch too!That's enough of the silly stuff for one blog entry. Thursday was a return to normality and back on the trail of wildlife. The weather was good yet again. We failed to get Mountain Hare early on but a female Hen Harrier flying by more than made up for that. Next stop produced the sightings of the day as we looked out to sea. A small group of Manx Shearwater were loafing just offshore so I set up the scope and the first person to look gave a cry of 'I've just seen a fin!' - Basking Shark was a high probability but I'd not noticed any on my first look around. A quick look in the scope and up came the fin again - Bottle-nosed Dolphin!! We scanned the surface of the sea to try to get another view and a Minke Whale broke the surface some way to the left of the Dolphin but didn't resurface. The BN Dolphin was seen again twice before it was out of sight round the headland. Superb stuff though. Lunchtime was spent looking for Eagles and Otters but nothing was showing initially. The usual 'one last look' produced a WT Eagle sitting on the ridge - it looked to be a dark bird so not an adult and this was proven when the bird took flight and the tail was dark. We moved on a mile or so down the road and picked up another WT Eagle above the same ridge but this time an adult bird - a cracking sight as the bird cruised over the top of a group of Stags that were skylined. We picked up the mother and cub Otters just as they were settling down for a sleep so we watched them grooming till they settled down for the afternoon. At the WT Eagle nest site the youngster was well out of the nest on a branch and one of the adults was keeping a watchful eye from the back of the forestry. Two Golden Eagle gave a decent display over the glen while we waited to see if the young WT would give us a better view. All told it had been a cracking day and we topped it off quite nicely with this Red Deer hind with a calf.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Golden opportunities

Monday was another cracker of a day full of sunshine. As I've mentioned before every day is different and presents it's own opportunities and challenges. A Curlew playing sentinel for it's youngsters was a beautiful sight, standing proud on a mound with a stunning backdrop of blue sea and craggy shoreline - breathtaking! This Common Snipe was lurking under a bridge, feeding in the soft mud. Not a view for checking out the intricate plumage but an evocative moment in the day. It's always worth checking the nooks and crannies.Another golden opportunity was this Common Buzzard perched atop the war memorial just outside Bunessan - this bird (or another?) was still sitting there when we passed by 5 hours later!Not quite golden this one but Yellowhammers are one of the most stunning birds you can see in the countryside, brightly coloured and often described as 'it looked like a Budgie', always after some food 'a little-bit-of-bread and no cheeeese' you hear him call.With the previous night's rain there was little chance of getting Adders so we dipped out on that one but the Golden ringed Dragonflies are out in force hunting down anything that flies and defending territories. It was no surprise to watch one catch some prey and then land to enjoy the meal.It was difficult to see what this beast was eating but I managed a half decent shot of the prey item in the shade - it looks to be a Wasp so obviously team colours count for nothing in the wild!We bagged a Golden Eagle patrolling the ridge soon after lunch and then a WT Eagle doing the same while we watched the antics at the Seal colony. Otters were being elusive but hopes were still high as we approached the hot spots for these shy creatures. We drove slowly round the loch, stopping occasionally to scan larger areas, all to no avail but a second trip around might yield something. We took a break at the WT Eagle nest sight and watched as the young Eagle was making it's first journey out of the nest - not fledged just yet but 'branching'. A good sign that the bird is nearing the time to leave the nest properly and explore the wider world. Another drive round the loch still didn't produce any Otters and it was the same for everyone else. It was good to see that other people were as perplexed as me at the lack of action.
Tuesday started off with a bit of drizzle but the forecast was for it to continue. Four WT Eagle started the day well with the female on the nest with the adventurous youngster out on a limb and the male bird was sitting close by. When the male took off, just after we'd been enjoying views of a Crossbill, I wasn't surprised to see there were two birds flying. The male was off with a female bird but it wasn't the adult as the tail was dark, a young female from last year. The curiosity of the young birds is amazing. They seem to be willing the young birds out of the nest, a reassurance that they won't be alone when they do leave. Fantastic to watch all the same. A Whinchat posed very nicely on a roadside fence until the camera came out and it went all shy.The species list was building quite nicely but a purple patch wasn't too far away. We bagged a couple of Adders with one performing very well as it made it's escape around our feet rather than heading off in the opposite direction. An impromptu stop to scan the loch panned out very well with a great haul of partially unexpected birds. Five RT Diver was a good start, 30 Manx Shearwater cruising around, 10 Eider with about the same number of Razorbill, a single Black Guillemot and a cracking male Common Scoter! With the sea looking flat calm we moved on to see if we could improve the seabird list. About 300 Manxies were gathered in offshore in 5 tight packs. One of these groups exploded into action as a couple of Porpoise started feeding. We all came away smiling from that one. We travelled onwards wondering what we would see next. On an inland loch we located a lone Swan but it was too far away to ID so we headed closer to it. Another fortuitous decision - it turned out to be a Mute Swan but the closest bird to us was yet another Red-throated Diver! The view through the scope was stunning and none of the photos do it justice. It was just too far away for the Lumix...........and the heat haze off the bracken put paid to any chance of a good digiscoped shot.There wasn't going to be any chance of topping what we had already seen but we were happy enough with the day. A couple of Snipe, lots of Greenfinch, Stonechat, Mountain Hare, the list goes on. Wrens are birds that you hear a lot but can be tricky to see on a day out. One of our smallest birds but the loudest voice - here's one giving it six-nowt!
Another day that was classed as an inspiration to get out in the field and have some fun. It's good for your soul, man!

Monday, 13 July 2009


Friday was another hot one and a day full of all the usual birds but we concentrated on the smaller birds for a change. One comment was that the small birds don't sit still for long enough but we had good views of most things and quite a few we even managed to scope too. Whitethroat was a cracker for the day, Crossbills are regular now in the scope, Whinchat, Stonechat, Mipit, Ripit - you get the picture. The Otters behaved and the juv WT Eagle gave a fine performance. The only let down for the day for was no Golden Eagle despite extensive searching - one brief view of a bird dropping over the ridge isn't good enough!
The weatherman has been trying to throw some different weather at us for a while so the forecast of rain on Saturday didn't materialise. I was off for the day doing chores but I did find time to photograph this Orb Spider Araniella cucurbitina - class!It really did look like the weather was going to change as the clouds started rolling in late on. It gave a good sunset and they say 'red sky at night, shepherds delight'............I bet those shepherds were delighted with the next was a shocker! One forecast said it was in for the day and another said it would clear hmmmm! We set off with intentions of targeting the big stuff.....WT Eagle, no sign - Otter, no sign - Golden Eagle, no sign....oops. We struggled to start the day with anything decent with Linnet and Stonechat being the initial highlights. We then located an Otter close in to shore which was the turning point of the day despite the rain still falling.The young WT Eagle was up doing his thing and a Crossbill settled in a tree for a scope view. It looked like the weather was starting to lift too. A female Hen Harrier gave a superb flyby before the sun broke through and the coats were coming off. Common Seals, Red-throated Diver and Slow Worm were all bagged as we stripped down to T-Shirts. Golden Eagle was bagged soon after - a bird we'd just about written off for the day. The biggest catch of the day was a couple of fledgling Meadow Pipits on the side of the road - as cute as they get.Another Hen Harrier, a male this time, was a nice addition to list and a good finish to a day full of stuff.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Sad news

Tuesday was yet another pleasant day but the wind has switched to the North and the temperature has dropped a bit. Nothing too exciting to report from the last couple of days but one of the highlights on Tuesday was this female Hen Harrier that came cruising past us about 10 yards away but the cameraman was a bit slow!!The lonely Reed Bunting is still singing his heart out. He changes location every couple of days but surely he has a mate somewhere or it could be more than one bird.
Wednesday and Thursday were pretty similar weatherwise with the Northerly still blowing. A couple of drips of rain here and there but nothing to dress up for. Thursday turned out to be a tough day for no reason at all but nothing wanted to perform in the morning. All good things come to those who wait. We watched the juv WT Eagle exercising his wings and jumping up and down. Then nothing for ages except a flock of gulls feeding on a shoal of fry. The flock included about 20 Common Gulls, 6 GBB Gull, 2 LBB Gull and one BH Gull - not the most exciting thing but an interesting observation on the day. The Golden Eagles performed as expected but only after we had a close encounter with one of last years young Adders.It's certainly a different colouration on the young ones and great camouflage against the rocks.We finished the day in real style with 2 Otters, 2 WT Eagle and a male Hen Harrier all in the same place and within 15 minutes. What's wrong with spacing things out through the day?!
A bit of sad news from yesterday was an Otter getting run over on the road. I've not got full details of this so I'm not sure of the sex of the beast - it could be the dog or a bitch with no cubs. It should come clear over the next few days who's missing. It's not really anyone's fault as they are prone to just running out in front of you. I've had one under the motor that came to no harm and another that I had to follow down the road because he wouldn't get out the way.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Death of a Cleg

Another grand day of sunshine with the threat of rain that never materialised until later in the day. Otters were first on the list this morning but it was just the dog Otter having a snooze. We left him too it expecting to get some action on the way back round. Off to the WT Eagle to be greeted by the chick lying down and the sudden appearance of mum while watching 30 Crossbills flying round. The chick was very vocal today which added a nice touch to the viewing. A couple of Crossbill were making brief appearences behind us and eventually one of them posed long enough for this snap.Back to the Otter only to find the tide had dropped away and lazy bones still asleep. He looked up once and it looked like he was thinking 'I'll stay here till the tide comes back in!' - we left him to it. A brief look around the ridges for Golden Eagle only produced a juv WT Eagle but it performed well. The female bird from earlier was also sitting on the ridge viewing her patch. Clouds were starting to build up in the distance so we made haste to lunch but not before picking up four sumplum Red-throated Divers, a RB Merg and this Common Sandpiper.With an Adder in the bag and Dipper on a plate we commenced eating. I was in full conversation with one of the guests when their eyes bulged and the jaw dropped. I threw my sandwich to one side and raced for the camera, switched it on and pointed in the direction of right of the picture if you missed it. Gutted! It flapped once...........then Golden Eagled into the distance - what a view as it went over though!Now, I'm fond of most wildlife but I can't see the point in the midge. It's really small and when it bites it hurts so you kill it - what's the point in that? Clegs are much the same but huge in comparison. They bite, it hurts for a second then it goes numb - a much better idea except the pain usually makes you swear involuntarily and then you kill it. They could have as much blood as they liked if they didn't hurt - you know it makes sense. Anyway, I was really pleased to see my pet spider catch a Cleg in the motor - brakes on, camera out........traffic appears from nowhere so I parked properly and just in time to see the Cleg get carried off for supper - YES!!!That was me made up for the day - the best bit of wildlife watching I've done in ages. Even the Meadow Pipits were dancing with glee!The weather was starting to catch us up but we'd covered most of the bases by now. Mountian Hare was spotted just before the heavens opened but just prior to spotting that we had a Common Snipe running down the road in front of the motor before flying off. Northern Wheatears are out in force with all the youngsters on the go and always cracking birds to see.