May 19, 2006

The big day

We needed to have another shot at seeing Ptarmigan, so today we embarked on a long journey. First, though, we finally dragged ourselves out of bed to see the CaperWatch at Loch Garten, which was worthwhile for both the Capers and the Crested Tit we saw. Hurrah!

After that, we departed for Loch Gruinard, a site we'd been told had eagle potential. The journey there was damp, grey and misty but incredibly beautiful.

Set up the scope by the side of the road and started scanning the sea. Great Northern Divers were everywhere. A couple of Black-throateds and at least one Red-throated lingered. A flock of Eiders loafed on the island's rocks (one came close to our shore) and seals lounged on the sand. A few Guillemots flew past and one Black Guillemot was on the water.

It was a fabulous site but there were no eagles of any description. Darren took the rather rash decision that it would be a good idea to drive all the way to Applecross (which was also meant to be good for eagles and Ptarmigan). There seemed little point in arguing, so we did it.

The road to Applecross is possibly the steepest in Britain. It is a crazy road for mad people. There is a sign saying something like: 'This road is impassible during winter and people of a nervous disposition should not attempt to drive it.'

Basically, you drive up the side of a mountain, round hairpin bends, and you feel the urge to learn forward in your seat in case you start rolling backwards.

Needless to say, when we reached the summit of Bealach na Ba, we were literally in the clouds and there was very little to see, other than a duck of unknown species on a tiny lochan! No duck has legitimate business up there...

It was on the descent that we stopped again by the road and caught sight of two Golden Eagles displaying... fabulous. We had scope-filling views as they flew right above us in a clear blue sky (apart from when I was taking photos) and every detail was visible. Quite unexpected.

What was even more unexpected was that a car pulled up on the road and a well-spoken chap asked 'Excuse me. Are those Buzzards?'

It seems that the general public is becoming more conservative when it comes to bird identification. Usually, you'd expect every second person you met in Scotland to inform you they'd seen several Golden Eagles before breakfast that day, including one sitting on a telegraph pole. So that was quite nice.

Took the more gentle coast road from Applecross to Shieldaig, with the highlight being a bush full of Stonechats: a pair with four well-grown juveniles, all crossly 'tac'ing away at us.

On the way 'home', an Osprey flew over Garve in the middle of a rainstorm.

Species added today:
163. Crested Tit
164. Eider

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