Thursday, 25 February 2016

15th February - Coral Beaches Claigan, & Portree, Isle Of Skye

Another beautiful sunrise, but with no frost this morning, and it was not as cold as Sunday.  After another breakfast with the onlooking rabbits and sheep we were heading back to the area around Claigan, and the coral beaches we had found the day before, but as seems to be the case with this place it was hard to drive too far without stopping to admire the views across the moorland and lochs, this particular view across the loch towards Dunvegan looked particularly impressive.

We stopped again in Dunvegan and scanned the estuary where the water reflections across the loch towards the Macleod's Tables were quite striking either with imposing clouds in the background.

Or in the clear waters of the loch.

This road towards Dunvegan Head was becoming a favourite as we were finding it hard to go too far before stopping to check the water and edges of the shore.  Seals were present  again in the water, but the search for otter along the shore line was not successful, but there were plenty of more seals hauled out on the rocks and in the sea weed.

As we drove dark clouds signalled bad weather and a little further on the rain and sleet returned, we passed the Whooper Swans on loch , and then made our way to the car park where we parked and waited for the rain to ease off, in the trees and bushes around us were Song Thrushes and Robins, the later trying to sing.

The rain finally stopped and we headed down the path in sunshine and blue skies.  Following the edge of the loch there were Shags diving close in, and further out a single very distant Black-throated Diver recognisable from the bill and head shape.  The path then carries on over a muddy field, and down to a beautiful white coral beach with crystal clear water.  

Even though it’s called Coral Beach, it’s not really coral. It is in fact the crushed bleached skeletons of Red Coralline seaweed.  There is a reef by the Island of Lampay just off shore show to the left in the photograph above and here the Coralline grows very slowly at 1mm per year, while the dead pieces break off and turn white and brittle.

As we approached there was a small flock of about 20 Ringed Plover on the grazed grass close to the beach.

With the blue sky and clear turquoise water you could easily have been in the Caribbean.

We walked around the beach and out to a point where we could scan the sea and into a small sheltered bay.  There was a small group of Red-breasted Mergansers, a couple of winter plumages Black Guillemots and two Red-throated Divers.  The Guillemots were too far away for even a record shot but one of the divers was close enough for the photograph to confirm the identity, the upturned bill being diagnostic.

Beneath us in amongst the seaweed were a pair of roosting Oystercatchers, it is strange how such a brightly marked bird can hide, we almost missed them.

We turned back and climbed the hill that overlooked the beach for some more wonderful views out across the blue waters of the loch, the island of Lampay, and looking down on the white sands of the beach.

And looking south the clouds and sun were producing yet another dramatic scene over the curves of the bay and beaches.

Before we left I dropped down onto the beach to capture the contrast between the black igneous rocks that were exposed against the white of the “coral” sand on the beach.

Walking along the beach a Common Seal appeared and became interested in the activity of some of the other people on the beach; it would gradually get closer and closer to the beach.

The plan now was to return to the car, and then drive around to Portree on the east coast of the island.  However with the weather better than when we came through earlier we stopped to allow some more time to photograph the Whooper Swans, the light and water providing some more impressive reflections and background to the swans.

A single bird moving through, what was looked like silvery water.

While watching the swans a group of five Wigeon flew in, there final descent the characteristic “wiffling” flight that all ducks and geese demonstrate.

Just as we were about to leave the roosting swan was joined by another on the bank, close to the grass.

Our drive to Portree took us once again around Lochs in the north of the island and out over the hills before descending into Portree a small fishing community that was all closed up for the winter.  We parked and walked down to the harbour where, as you would expect at this time of year, there was little going on. As well as fishing one of the main businesses for the town are tourist cruises from here and during the winter there is not the call for them.

On the hill above the harbour there was a terrace of coloured houses very similar to those in Tobermory on Mull, the sunshine was reflecting the colours into the water.

We managed to find a cafe where we could get a coffee, and then headed back to the car park which looked out across one of the bay's.  On the exposed mud there were Redshank and Oystercatcher, and Common and Black-headed Gulls were roosting and feeding, the back ground was the snow capped mountains of the Cuillins.

Close in a Hooded Crow allowed a close approach as it fed amongst the tide line.

While a pair of Oystercatchers drilled the mud close to me.         

Leaving Portree we headed south towards Sligachan, but we had to stop on the way to take in more  amazing  scenery.

At Sligachan  we turned onto the road we had come in on Saturday, the weather though was now a lot different from then, overcast and decidedly more wintry.

We stopped again to take in the views across Loch Harport, but the conditions were a lot more overcast and not really as spectacular as they were on Sunday.  Curlews could be heard from the tide line, and a Buzzard appeared overhead calling.  The tide was falling and exposing the mud and sea weed.  In the middle a lone Grey Heron was stood watching the water for any opportunity.

We then made our way back to Skinidin, and the Black Shed as the sun set behind some very dark clouds and the winds started to pick up, a sign of things to come for tomorrow.  There was though plenty of time and light to play with a local Border Collie that proved to be very attentive, and impossible to tire out.

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