Sunday, 1 November 2015

Highlights from the Highlands Part 2

For the second half of our trip in Scotland, we headed to the west coast starting with a few nights on the Isle of Skye, staying in a friendly vegetarian B&B near Portree. Skye has to be one of the most scenic parts of the British Isles and the drive around the northern half of the island is particularly special.

A must do activity whilst staying in the area is to take a wildlife boat trip out of Portree. The main target on these trips is the white-tailed eagle, which I have seen many times on Mull and around Gruinard Bay, but the resident pair that nest on the cliffs not far from Portree provide the best sighting of this magnificent eagle you could ever hope for. Over time the local boat operators have built up a relationship with these birds by offering them a mackerel. The result being, (if you are lucky) one of the birds will swoop down from the cliff above and pluck the fish from the water at close range leaving the crowd of onlookers gasping and the skipper desperately trying to balance the boat as everyone rushes to one side.

White-tailed eagle
We also crossed the sound of Raasay to visit a common seal colony and watched black guillemots at their nest, while great skuas were harassing kittiwakes and gannets and terns were diving into a feeding frenzy. We also came across a few flocks of puffins, but unfortunately they were always just too distant for pictures.

Great skua

Common seal
Common seals

On the way back into Potree harbour I spotted a superb great northern diver, sporting its full summer plumage which was a treat as I never seen them in this plumage before.

Great northern diver

We then moved to Plockton for a few nights and explored the Applecross Peninsula. The drive across this remote area is not for the inexperienced driver and there are signs warning you not to attempt it at all in the bad weather. The highest point is the Bealach na Ba pass which takes you towards the village of Applecross is the highest navigable road in Britain and one of the most beautiful too.

Applecross Pass
There are plenty of red deer on the higher moor here and on arrival in the village of Applecross we actually found some in cultivated fields close to the road.

Red deer
Red deer
It was quite a surprise though to find not one but two immature Iceland gulls feeding alongside the herring gulls on the beach outside the Applecross Inn. In fact I took delight in feeding them parts of my cheese and pickle sandwich. Other notable birds seen here included rafts of red-breasted merganser, eiders, rock pipits, a singing wood warbler, common sandpipers, bullfinches and wild rock doves.  

Iceland gull
Iceland gull
Iceland gull
Hooded crow
Wild Rock Dove
Rock pipit
Heading south we spent some time around Fort William and Glencoe and used Glenloy Lodge as our base. The owners of this lovely B&B also run Glenyloy Wildlife Holidays and are wealth of knowledge on the local fauna and flora. Best of all though is that they leave titbits around the gardens for their resident pine martens which are unusually for martens are active well before dusk.
Pine marten

Buachaille Etive Mor

We were staying Glenloy at the start of the flight season of the chequered skipper, which is now restricted to just a handful sites in the Fort William area, but despite some favourable weather conditions at the time of our visit we still failed to find any, but we may have been just a little too early for them to be on the wing.

Orange tip
Oak fern

One of the last points of call was Loch Garry en route back to Inverness, for some exquisitely marked summer plumaged black-throated divers and we were even lucky enough to see common scoter on their breeding grounds here too.

Black-throated diver

Loch Garry