Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Mis-spelt Scotch Island of Skye

It's called 'Skye' because the sky is at eye level. And that's official.

We went on holiday… HOLIDAYS!!! Set off Saturday morning and about an hour into the journey it’s first blood to Martin, as I squash a Red Squirrel that foolishly got into my line of sight along the A96. Lizzie said it was going to be on my conscience forever, but little does she know that my only regret was that we didn’t stop and eat it. Only then would its death have meaning.

We got to our cottage without further slaughter, among ‘The Braes’, on the east side of Skye overlooking the Sound of Raasay and, indeed, Raasay itself, which has some sort of extinct volcano on the skyline and, for all I know a Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs lurking beneath.

Little known fact... Lizzie can actually control the storm clouds with her mobile. Raasay volcano in distance.

Sunday morning – threw Lizzie’s toast crusts out and was beseiged by Chaffinches and a Great Tit, also a Pied Wagtail and Willow Warbler in the garden, & Barn Swallows about. I took some photos of the garden flora – Heath Spotted Orchid, Bog Asphodel, Lousewort (sp. – I really cannot be bothered opening a flower book).

Heath Spotted Orchid

You can guess what kind of ground we’re on. Over the sound of Raasay, a Common Raven was bothering a Northern Gannet – now there’s something you don’t see every day. And a Great Skua out there looking like it meant business. A trundle down over to the beach. In my day… as a kid I mean… we’d have gone ‘shell collecting’ and come back with maybe a handful of pretty shells. My lot, on the other hand, seem to need to strip the entire beach of any sign that any mollusc ever lived there. I had to go back to the cottage for more bin bags to put them in. Also on the beach… a single Common Sandpiper, some Common Gulls, and a fly-past by a squadron of 2 Common Ravens.

Stripping the beach... looks like we've just seen something mildly disgusting

Went to Portree, stopping off at the Aros Centre which promised to be fun, with live video links to White-tailed Eagles – knew the kids would like that. Ohmygod. OK, maybe I should had got some gen and known that the usual nest was not occupied this year, but I was a bit dischuffed when they charged us £9 and the ‘exhibition’ was a video screen showing archive low-res footage of the boring bits of previous year’s nests. Fecking joke, the whole thing.

Evening… midgie hell notwithstanding, I got my scope out in the back garden, for more Great Skua, a Black Guillemot going up the Sound (lots of Razorbills and Guillemots too), and looking to the north, several circling mobs of Manx Shearwaters – I’m home!!

Monday 21st dawned… well I don’t know how it dawned – I was asleep! By 8 am however it was bright sunshine, with the water in the Sound flat calm, a Great Skua still marauding among the Northern Gannets, and a flock of 3 Harbour Porpoises. Sweet. While the weather held we went to Kyle of Lochalsh for a ride on the semi-submersible boat affording underwater views of Spongebob Squarepants and his pineapple under the sea in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom. Between you and me, Spongebob has let Bikini Bottom get a bit overgrown with cabbagy brown seaweed. Above the surface, among the rocky islets lurking around the Skye Bridge, we oohed and ahhhed at Common Seals, adults and pups. I can ooh at Common Seals back home too, but they’re *holiday* seals here. Also… holiday Atlantic Puffins flying around, and not so common back home, small groups of holiday Black Guillemots swimming around.

Spongebob's magical underwater kingdom. Bit of a sh*thole, really.

Holiday Common Seals

Skye Serpentarium – bloody brilliant!

What wasn’t so homestyle, was in the evening as I was being midgie bait on the back doorstep and scoping the Sound of Raasay for interesting thingies, an adult White-tailed Eagle crossed over from the Skye side to Raasay. Game ON!

But that’s the problem with White-tailed Eagles… you need more and more to get the same effect. So next morning I was lining up on the quay at Portree to get aboard the MV Starship Enterprise for a trip round the cliff to the nest site. Strangely, out of 25 people spread around 2 boats, I was the only one who’d thought to bring some bins. Anyway we chugged away round the corner and within a couple of minutes of arriving I picked up an adult bird sitting high up on a branch on the wooded cliff face. We bobbed about for about 5 minutes waiting for it to do something interesting, as the gulls gathered round the boat knowingly. Then we threw a fish into the water… and the eagle did nothing, having presumably stuffed itself silly at the back of a trawler already this morning.

After failing last year, the birds had moved to a new site this year and yesterday successfully fledged 2 young. The adult took off along the line of the cliff and suddenly there were 2 juveniles in the sir as well, circling and flying off with the ad. Then they came back, and we watched them overhead for a couple of minutes. Very hard to believe the juvs had only fledged yesterday. The adult settled down on another branch, while the juvs went.

Adult White-tailed Eagle.. just

Eagle nest-site... ish

We sailed off, looking unsuccessfully for porpoises at the other side of the bay. A couple of Common Ravens in the air, and as I was watching another adult White-tailed Eagle came overhead. The skipper of the boat, nice short man though he was, called it a Buzzard, then when I said it was an eagle he called it a Golden Eagle… oh the pressures of having to show people lots of birds. Anyway, it was a W-t E, and a very smart one at that. Much as I’m not a big fan of reintroductions, and these dependency-culture eagles scrounging tourist boat fish and trawler scraps are only one step above Muscovy Ducks (!!) actually these eagles in this scenery looked pretty damn good on it.

Portree from a boat - are you Balamory in disguise?

Evening.. a flock of 1000 Manx Shearwaters circling the Sound from the back garden. Watching them all stream past the scope, it was like being back in Ireland, AND a reminder about how crap Newtonhill is.

Wednesday morning… up at the Coral Beaches, north of Dunvegan, a small town where they’re started eating meat again. Fantastic scenery, and a volcano to climb. A small flock of Arctic Terns offshore needn’t have bothered trying to feed, as an Arctic Skua was sat relaxing on one of the skerries ands every time one of the terns caught anything, the skua would saunter over and steal the fish. Couple of Common Terns further aloing the shore as well.

Coral Beach

Not much new around the house today (did I mention Rock Doves?), except that a few Lesser Redpolls have appeared from who knows where. Our neighbour called round and when Diane told him I was into birds he told us that, implausibly, at around 4 in the afternoons a Golden Eagle came into the trees behind the small hill at the back of the house. Against my better judgement, I went up the hill late in the evening and, predictably, there was a Common Buzzard flying around.

Lizzie gets the bug

Heavy duty paddling in the sea. Whassat? Li’l juvvy flatfish in the water – Plaice, I would guess. And some sort of mass beaching of those most notorious of cetaceans… moths! I found 5 drowned Magpie moths, and 2 ‘very boring’ moths – i.e. the ones that don’t have nice patterns and are a uniform greyish ghoul colour. One of them wasn’t quite dead.

Sex on the Beach

Midgie HELL! But also this

Highland Darter

We went down to the ‘fossil beach’ north of Portree. Now I knew it was meant to be a bit of a scramble… but it was a 200 m drop on rough steps down a sheer cliff face. Fantastic. When we got to the bottom I found some sandstone pebbles and started smashing them at random. I hit the jackpot first time with this cracking fragment of ammonite.

The bit of ammonite what I found. it must have been a whopper

Lizzie found some coral impressions and whereas I found a few other bits of shell I didn’t do any better than my ammonite. One Common Sandpiper on the beach too. Not fossilised. Then it was time for the trek back up the cliff face. Peter took three steps and it was ‘Iwannacarry!!’. Daddy enjoyed the next 200 m of his life like a cup of cold sick. 20 years ago, and without a parasitic 4 year-old sitting on my hip, I’d have skipped up those steps.

Found this Garden Tiger in the toilets near the Pieces of Ate (sic) café.

And now for something completely different


Harry said...

Wot, no Goldies? Had a subadult Golden up there myself, and a pair of Hen Harriers, when I visited in 2005, but, then, I was being paid to do survey work, and you had a wife and kids (and mother in law!) in tow...
If I remember correctly, mind, the weather was quite poor when I was there, sort of like how it is here today!

Steve said...

High School Musical??? The things we allow our kids to get into in the name of independence and finding your own path, blah, blah, blah. Don't you wish you could just say, 'look that show is crap, those celebrities are crap, watch this.....appreciate this...'. But, alas, we can only teach by example, and subtle brain washing.