Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Scotland...like Scotland.

It's finally happened..I have a dot on the cluster map. I think it was me though as I'm currently in Scotland with students and viewed the site on the youth hostel computer. Oh well. No, hang on, someone in Spain has looked, as has someone in the Far East! Many thanks..hope you enjoy it! A big thanks to Joe for plugging the blog...I do appreciate it and it was worth forging your end of year grades to make it look like you actually did some work....

Just got back from a week in bonny Scotland. What a fantastic country...awesome scenery, amazing wildlife and very pleasant people. The weather was excellent on the whole ( a bit of rain here and there) and the creatures obliging. Managed to get a few good pics amongst the usual hundreds of rubbish ones!

Glen Coe
Just one night in the famous Glen, after a marathon drive in a minibus ridiculously limited to 62 mph. The road between Carlisle and Glasgow has to be the most monotonous anywhere in the world surely!

Being June, it is well into Highland midge season, and these little gits were out in serious numbers, making an evening meal at the Clacchie Inn almost as unbearable as the food (how can such a well-situated inn have such abysmal food??) Anyway, a bit miffed at the non-appearance of Jimmy Saville (lives nearby) I decided to get an early night before continuing up the way to the next stop, at Ratagan on the shores of Loch Duich.

A breakfast, with accompanying midges (at 0730!!), outside provided singing Willow warbler, Siskins, mewing Buzzards and what I believe to be female Purple hairstreaks flitting around the rush pasture behind the YHA. All the books I've read say that these butterflies do not really descend to ground level, but I'm convinced that's what they were..maybe someone can help? There were plenty of oaks around...maybe the things like to hang out in grassland below the trees? Or were they Little blues? Oh I don't know.

Fort William
A 2 hour stop under the watchful slopes of Ben Nevis provided a cholesterol-boosting Scottish fry up (how many kinds of fried meat can there be??) and the lovely sight of a pair of Black guillemot courting by the harbour. I was able to watch as they twittered and circled each other like a couple of teenagers on heat..warms the cockles.

I first visited this area in 2005, and it's got to be one of the best locations for a youth hostel anywhere on the planet. You can flick a fag butt from the door into the loch (if you wanted to). Loch Duich is a beautiful saltwater loch, and sits under the gaze of encircling mountains, notably the Five Sisters. It's also famous for Eilean Donan castle which was used in a BBC trailer years ago when they had those massive inflatible globes flying over British landscapes.

Anyway, it's also useful because of the wildlife you can see with relatively little effort within 100m of the hostel. Siskins chirp in the trees, Eiders and Goosanders bob along on the water with smart Common gulls, the boggy road verges hold Water avens, Foxglove, Londonpride, Common-spotted and Northern marsh orchids, the loch shores have drifts of thrift and Sea campion, Harbour porpoises can be seen at virtually any time, Red deer wander the hillsides, and Otters are almost guaranteed if you put in the time of an evening.

Northern marsh orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella

Skye and Neist Point
Having been to Skye twice before, the prosect of a full day there was mouthwatering. Unlike previous visits I did not want to bomb around trying to see as much as possible...so decided to head straight for Neist Point, the westernmost spur of the island. Parking the van at the car park, it's a good 15 minute walk up and downhill until you reach the lighthouse and suddenly the noise of hundreds of seabirds hits you...Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills, Gulls, Shags and Gannets all over the place.

Approaching the sheer cliff edges with care, I was able to hunker down on the rocks, pour meself a cuppa and watch as Kittiwakes cried and wheeled a few feet away from me...I was mesmerised for over an hour just watching these birds, even though they live on shit-covered rocks and make loads of noise.

Spanking adult above....grubby first-summer below.

An urge to punch a Razorbill
After an hour or so watching the Kittiwakes and failing to see a Basking shark, I wandered down to the sea's edge to get some closer photos of flyby birdies. I was busy musing on the geological forces that could've created such rectangular rock formations when suddenly a Razorbill flew right towards me and plopped down just out of view. I could tell that it had landed extremely close, and so with thoughts of quality pics I fixed the 500mm lens to the camera and stalked forward. However, the thing had completely disappeared..it was nowhere to be seen on the water and I wondered if I had imagined it. I soon realised that it was in fact sat on a rock not 3 feet from me preening itself...bonus...but hold on...there was something wrong with this bird and it was giving me the creeps.

I can't explain it, but something about this bird brought mildly agressive feelings to my mind...how can you not like the look of an auk? Look at the pictures, and tell me there's not something odd about it...it looks like a bloody Rockhopper penguin with its silly crest thing and the way it just sat there bogging me was spooky. Maybe it was injured, sick or maybe it was actually my spiritworld familiar and I've just buggered my chakras or something. Anyway, see what you think...

There is definitely something wrong about this bird...see? just look at that expression

Neist point sea stacks....covered in shit....how do we find this acceptable when birds do it? If I was to have a poo on the pavement outside my house I'd be arrested....

Well anyway, Neist Point had some more goodies on offer as the day wore on. Whilst the students, true to form, got on with some involuntary wildlife-avoidance behaviour I sat on the rocks and decided that I was going to see a cetacean...and I did...a Minke whale that surfaced at least 6 times and even managed to blow some stale breath out of its hole...superb at only 100 or so metres away.

Beinn Eighe

The mighty Beinn Eighe. Britain's very first National Nature Reserve, bought for £4000 in 1951...the bloke from the Nature Conservancy got a right rollocking from his Whitehall bosses for buying an entire mountain rather than the few hundred acres of pine woodland he was supposed to. Lucky for us he knew a bargain when he saw one!

Containing the most westerly meaningful stand of Scot's pine in Britain and some breathtaking mountain scenery, Beinn Eighe NNR is a wonderful place and every naturalist in Britain should go there. The bryophyte communities are more or less unparalleled in Britain, the pine woodland is the closest thing we have to rainforest in the UK and Loch Maree holds the largest concentration of breeding Black-throated divers in the country. Beat that! Slap on about as many national, European and international designations as you can, and you have one of the best wildlife sites in Europe.

Remnant Atlantic 'Rainforest' at Beinn Eighe

Despite having been 3 times before, it was still with a fair amount of annoyance that I had to wait with the minibus for the ATS man to come from Inverary to repair our two knackered tyres whilst the students went for a walk with one of the SNH rangers. Tip - do not get tyre failure in the Scottish Highlands...it can be fatal...or else you have to wait for 4 hours while a gruff man in overalls ("Where the F***ing Hell are ye?") drives like a mad git to reach you in order to change the tyres because both the spare and tools have been removed for health and safety reasons.

Lesser twayblade Listera cordata

Abernethy & Loch Garten

After leaving the west coast, we headed across country to spend a couple of days at Aviemore on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park. A buzzing little town, Aviemore is the ideal location for exploring the wealth of wildlife sites in this part of Scotland, and has the advantage of being a prime wildlife location in its own right.

Craigellachie NNR - birch forest, lochans, pergrines and scarce Odonates.
Immediately behind the Youth Hostel is Craigellachie NNR, an area of prime birch forest, rocky crags and glorious dubh lochans.

Abernethy Forest - gnarly old Scot's pine with an understory of Calluna and Vacciniums...and full of ticks.

Morel fungus at Abernethy. Reminds me of a Brian Aldiss novel 'Hothouse', in which the last few surviving humans (little green midgets) struggle to survive in a world dominated by mobile carnivorous plants and friendly giant termites. The hero of the story somehow gets attached to a parasitic morel that craves human thoughts...

Ospreys schmospreys

I have decided that there is something slightly creepy about the RSPB. Full respect for their conservation work - nobody does it better really - but they do seem to be taking over the world in a quasi-religious way('For birds, For people, For ever!!! Ha Ha Ha). Take Loch Garten for instance. Spiritual home of the Osprey in Britain. Set in the midst of stunning scenery and amazing habitats. What do they do? Give them names. They give the Ospreys names. Names.
The visitor centre resembles a church meeting, with the congregation sat on benches, staring at screens showing re-runs of 'famous' osprey highlights over the years ("Remember the 'big stick' fright of 1987? or the Capercaillie suicide mission of '94?"). They are told how the nest is entirely natural , except for the bits where the RSPB volunteers weld metal bars underneath it and replenish and tidy the sticks up each winter. Anyway, I'm ranting again. It just smacks a bit of animal hospital...can't we just let the poor beasts get on with it and be content with stopping egg thieves? Do we always have to interfere? Apparently all this year's chicks died despite mouth-to-beak first aid....

I reckon the best place to watch ospreys, that doesn't require looking at a TV screen, is the Bridge pub in Aviemore. At this quality establishment, you can sit outside munching on venison steak, sipping a pint of real ale and watch up to 6 ospreys wheeling about over the trout farm next door...how much better do you want raptor watching to be?! This year, I thought I might even pop into the trout farm and try to catch some close-up shots of the birds. They apparently let Joe Public in for £2 to watch...provided you don't have a camera. Yes, I tried to wander in one evening with my very unprofessional-looking 500mm lens (it screams amateur) and was told by the miserable teenage bufoon that I had to pay a tenner cos I wanted to take photos!! Bloody cheek! Bollocks to that I said, and walked off muttering. Stick to the pub...

1 comment:

Jochen said...

Welcome to the blogging world and greetings with another dot on your clustr map from Michigan! Nice blog!!