September 2016 – two weeks of walking, birding and botanising with old friends near Ardtornish on the Morvern peninsula of the west coast of Scotland.
Some highlights. Please note, to save space and minimise scrolling, the photographs below are thumbnails … hover over an image that interests you to see a descriptive title and click any one in a daily set to open a full size slide show. A separate and fully annotated collection of unusual plants/flowers will appear at some time in the future – only a small selection are included here for now.
The list of 41 species seen on this not very intensive, end of the season, birding event was as follows:
Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Common Merganser, Little Grebe, Great Cormorant, European Shag, Grey, Heron, Golden Eagle, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Eurasian Curlew, Common Greenshank, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Common (Mew) Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Kingfisher, Eurasian Jay, Hooded Crow, Common Raven, Sand Martin, Common House-Martin, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Eurasian Treecreeper, Eurasian Wren, White-fronted Dipper, European Robin, Stonechat, Wheatear, Redwing, Grey Wagtail, White/Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Siskin, House Sparrow
Here’s a map. We were about three to four hours NW of Glasgow at the end of 30+ miles of single track roads populated by sheep. Almost the end of the world.
Day One – Arrival and the first bird
The day prior we had flown from Montreal to Glasgow via London Heathrow. This morning we drove north past Loch Lomond and across Rannoch Morr then down Glencoe to Fort William for supplies after which we took the Corran Ferry and were soon on sheep-infested single track roads for a 45 minute drive to Ardtornish where we met up with the Buchaneers. On the way, the first bird of the trip, a European Robin, was duly admired at the bottom of Glencoe.
Ardtornish House, where we had rented a vast, Victorian apartment (http://www.ardtornish.co.uk/the-billiard-room-flat/), proved to be an amazing place.
Day Two – Ravens on the Hill
A good walk up to a hill loch and bothy after lateish breakfast. Dry but cool and windy. Northern Wheatears and several Ravens. Digital collecting of flowers commenced almost immediately.
In the bothy the visitors book included many references to “Gary” the mythical dead hiker buried out the back.
Day Three – Alongside Loch Aline
The Greenbirder’s 68thBirthday. Walked down the loch to Lochaline viewing birds (Dipper, Greenshank etc) in the rain. Interesting high quality silica sand mine, the sands from which are exported by sea for making superior quality glass as used in our binoculars and cameras.
Stopped at a waterside greasy spoon café for venison burgers.
Back at the house we admired the Archimedes screw hydro generator. Later walked in the rain to forage for chanterelles for dinner and finally explored the lochside at low tide for for birds. The exposed mud and sand and rocks were visited daily – a wonderful place to wander.
Day Four – “Hairy Coos” and Curlews
Dry day with sun. Walked around the estate in the morning in vain search of vegetables. Seven species of toadstools in one meadow.
Curlews on Loch Aline. Visited nearby Loch Arienas in afternoon. Walked a gorgeous forest trail to the abandoned village of Aioneadh Mòr (the clearances) populated by highland cattle (hairy coos according to a sign). Beautiful day indeed.
Day Five – Mud Flats and a Lifer
Dry start. Spent over an hour on the mud flats at the top of Loch Aline watching Curlews, Greenchans and other birds.
Then BBQ lunch by Loch Arienas (sausage in a bun, tea from the kelly kettle). Drove to end of road by Loch Teacuis where we encoountered Stone Chats ( a lifer) and Eurasian Pine Siskins.
Day 6 – Ardtornish Castle
Drove down a very bad and potholed road, very cautiously and slowly beside Loch Aline to Ardtornish Castle. Last part of the approach was a tramp across headland. Atmospheric. Buzzard.
Earlier in the day J saw Kingfisher flying along the river that enters the loch by the estate buildings.
Day 7 – Over the Seas to Mull
Up early for the small foot ferry to Mull at the end of an attractive drive along a single track road to find boat by Sound of Mull. Good weather for crossing on small fishing boat. Spent the day in Tobermory – a rather nice town starting with coffee in an art gallery up hill. Painted cottages with attractive gardens over road.
Eagles. Squall blotted town. Fish lunch with crab claws. We met the famous Tobermory Cat.
Day 8 – Loch Arienas
Morning birding by head of sea loch … Herons, Curlews, Greenshank, Swans etc and an OTTER.
Lunch BBQ by Loch Arienas. Afterwards exploratory walk in Rahoy nature reserve through ancient oak woodland alongside stream leading up to,open moorland. Eagle.
Day 9 – Storms and Swans and a Garden
Squally, stormy and wet for most of the day with strong winds. Seven Herons and a pair of Swans sheltering from the winds by the loch. Baked bread. Wandered about the wonderful wild gardens which are anything but wild despite giving that feel. Wonderful what a century or more of skilled management achieves. Amazing and diverse quantities of mosses and liverworts covering everything. A grand day.
Day 10 – The Black Glen (Gleann Dubh)
Walked up the Black Glen on the east side of the Rahoy nature reserve. This splendid trail starts through old oak woodlands beside a waterfall-filled river before opening out onto open moorland. Very muddy and cow trampled trail after the bridge – fell in the slurry up to the knees a couple of times. Abandoned clearances house at the end gave good shelter for lunch. Clever stonework with alternating bands of large and thin stones. Finished the day with another walk down to the shore to look for birds.
Day 11 – Magic Forest
Savary circuit walk … Forest … Mature plantation with mosses … Beautiful views over sound of Mull … Several “collectable” wild flowers photographed
Day 12 – The Day we failed to Get to Mull
Bummer of a day, and not only because the Internet is still dead around here. We were to take an early ferry to Mull and look for Eagles but managed to puncture a tire yards from the ferry terminal. Called the Hertz emergency service to learn that a “recovery” to Glasgow was supposedly the only option (well over three hours drive each way). Not long after we were phoned by a garage just thirty miles away on single track roads who had been contracted for the recovery – he told us he could get a new tire and install it by early evening if we paid him directly and avoid the six hour round trip to Glasgow. Just after 4pm a high tech truck collected us and car, drove an hour to garage, 20 minutes max to change tire than an hour home in the dusk through blattering rain with sheep. A day to remember – but while waiting we visited the shore to check in with the local birds, mostly Curlews with heads down waiting for the rains to stop.
Day 13 – Just a gorgeous day beside the loch
After yesterday’s blatter this morning was cool, calm and bright. Wonderful walk to abandoned Alienas village with stunning hill and loch views. Cattle and sheep. Sunny. Eagle and Buzzard overhead. Wet trail. Probably last walk in afternoon on the sand banks at head of the loch.
Day 14 – A long walk in the rain
Last day of vacation – raining again in afternoon but dry morning for walk down to Lochaline and back.
Stupendous evening meal at the White House restaurant … North of the Border tart made with whisky soaked dried fruits and nuts; must try to make some for Christmas.