Monday, 29 February 2016

18th February - Kilmaluag, Staffin Beach, Loch Dunvegan & Neist Point, Isle of Skye

It was becoming the thing to do first thing in the morning, get up and see what different view there was from the windows of the Black Shed.  This morning it was a snow capped Table in the lovely early morning golden sunlight.

The weather looked like it would not be too bad today, but as we were finding out if it was something you didn't like, then you just had to wait and it would get better.  We decided to head out to the north east, taking the the road out to the Trotternish peninsula, and the furthest point north we could go.  We headed towards Portree, but then turned north onto the A87 heading towards Uig.  The road follows the coast, and then drops down into the sheltered harbour of Uig.  We drove around to the harbour, then continued up out of the small town, and around the coast, always with stunning views out across the sea with amazing cloud formations as squally shows made there way from west to east.

I had seen reports of Barnacle Geese at Kilmaluag, and was remijnded of this as we came into the village, as we did so Helen pointed out a large flock of geese feeding in the fields close to the road.  Of course I stopped and pulled over to see them.

There were 101 birds present, and close in they were busy grazing on the grass.

They are always alert though.

Suddenly they are all looking up, something had spooked them.

But it was nothing to worry about just a pair of Greylag Geese flying into join them.

The Barnacle were still unsettled and continued to look up.

Then the noise levels increased as they cackled away and altogether they lifted up into the air, and wonderful sight and sound as the wings beat the air and the birds called to each other.

But they didn't go too far settling back down at the back of the field to start feeding once again.

I can confidently say that these were truly wild birds, and it was lovely to see them, they are probably my favourite goose with the striking black and white patterns.  Very soon these will be making the long journey north to the Arctic circle and Svalbard.

We left the geese and headed on around the peninsula.  Inland the scenery was amazing, the mountains inland formed a ridge known as the Trotternish, and in places they were snow capped once again.

This is the area known as the Quirang ridge.

With some amazing rock formations close up.

The road then curved around Staffin Bay, we saw a sign for a walk down to the beach but decided against it and continued on.  A little further we saw a left turn that would take us down to the beach, so this time we decided to take it, on these decisions experiences are made.

It was a single track and made it way over a river and then around the cliffs to a boat slipway.  On the beach close by sheep were feeding on the sea weed.

We stopped here to have a quick bite to eat, and as always I had itchy feet and was out of the car.  Along the ridge of the cliffs there were several Rock Doves, and as we watched them a Peregrine flew up to the rock face and scattered the doves.

There was a breakwater stretching alongside the slip way, and we decided to walk along it to get better views of the sea and surrounding islands.  We met a couple at the end who asked if we had seen any otters, apparently un-beknown to us this was one of the best places to see them.

This changed to game, and we scanned in earnest the water and rocks.  All we could see though was a Common Seal close in, watching us.

It would hold itself in the water watching us, then tip its head back and slowly sink back underwater, the appear a little closer still keeping those dark eyes on us.

Then again, the head back, the thick whiskers coming out of the water and the eyes close just before it sinks under water once again.

Looking north the sun was lighting up the cliffs at the top of Staffin Bay.

We were not aware at the time but the beach is famous for dinosaur footprints, and this area is a very important site for fossils.

While we were enjoying the sunshine the showers continued on either side of us, and looking north another of those spectacular Skye rainbows indicated that it was raining somewhere.

We continued to chat and scan the bay, and I picked up a white shape on the water that then took off and turned into an adult Gannet.  It flew around the bay gaining height.

It would dive further out to sea, then come around in circles as it looked to gain sufficient height to dive once again.

The Common Seal had now disappeared and had been replaced by an adult Shag in its beautiful bottle green breeding plumage, showing the lovely yellow patch around the bill and the lime green eye.

As we stood there scanning the water I heard a call from a small bird I have not heard for quite a long time.  The last time I heard it would have been on the sea wall at East Tilbury in Essex.  The call is distinctive, I have seen it described as a nasal "tchway", I always struggle with the phonetics.  It flew over my head and circled round before heading offf towards the beach.  Location as much as anything helped confirm it as a Twite

We were walking up and down the break water scanning the rocks when suddenly Helen saw something. It was difficult to get on it and she lost it as well.  Then she saw it again moving between the large boulders on the beach.  It was a young Otter and in a frantic few minutes as I saw it then lost it I managed to get yet another poor record shot of an Otter.

Maybe one day I will get that perfect Otter photograph in this country.

It was very cold close to the water and we decided to head back to the car.  Away to the north the clouds were looking very ominous.

We decided to drive around to the beach on the other side of the cliff.  Slowly we drove along the track, and as we did so I noticed birds out over the water.  Gulls were mobbing a larger bird as it flew across the water.  I took a look and realised it was a White-tailed Eagle, and all hell broke loose as I rushed to get out of the car, realising that it helps if you releasee the seat belt.

The eagle flew through the attentions of the gulls and headed cross the bay.

The long wing beats showing the exceptional broad wings and that heavy, huge yellow bill.

Unfortunately it headed away form us, and I continued to watch as it headed south along the coast.

It is amazing how far they can move in such a short amount of time.  Soon it became a speck soaring high against the backdrop of the distant snow capped mountains.

As the eagle became just a distant image we returned to the car and continued on around the cliff as we had always intended.  From here we had a good view of the shore line, and scanned the wrack and kelp for any sign of movement that might reveal another otter.  Unfortunately there wasn't any and all we had to enjoy was the view out across the bay.

The eagle though provided an injection of expectation so we decided to drive back to the break water and spend some more time watching the beach.  As we left the car we noticed that this time rather than a Common Seal entertaining us, it was a Shag that was close in, and it gave some wonderful views as it dived close to the rocks.

Looking to the south the cliffs of Kilt Rock looked splendid in the sunshine.

But looking north towards Staffin Island yet another rainbow was signalling that a rain shower was never too far away.

Staffin Island was used as a base for fishing, if you look closely you can see poles on the foreshore that were used to hold the nets that were cast into the channel between the island and the shore.

We headed back to the car, and as we turned I noticed a huge bird soaring just above the cliff top.  You could clearly see the "fingers" of primary feathers as it held the wings slightly in a "V", then it was gone.  I stopped and waited, it then appeared again drifting above the cliff once again, but then heading off away from us.  I managed only a few record shots but I was satisfied this was a Golden Eagle.

For somewhere that we did not intend to visit, reluctantly decided to drive to the beach, and were only going to stay for a short while, Staffin had turned out to be a huge bonus.

We left this time, but almost immediately decided to pull in at the Kilt Rock viewpoint.  As I walked to the edge of the cliff I was pleased to see Fulmar flying alongside the face of the cliff, and then turning out to sea.  I had hoped I could catch up with them, as it is about now that they start to return to their spring nesting sites.

Alongside the view point there was a waterfall tumbling over the cliff and down onto the beach, and this was backed by the view north towards Staffin.

To the south was the point called Ruba Nam Brathairean.  Interestingly the meaning of the word Ruba is hill, and this is the same for arabic as well.

Once again you could see the dramatic clouds filtering the sunlight onto the sea and rocks. and out to sea the light was producing some amazing colours on the sea, with a little window showing the distant mountains.

As we headed south towards Portree the clouds rolled in once again, and up ahead we could see the unmistakeable shape of the Old Man of Storr in the mist on the side of the mountains.

The area of the Trotternish is a prime example of landslip, on the western side the hills are sloping, but on the eastern side the land has slipped producing the ragged terrain, and weirdly shaped rock pinnacles, of which the Storr is the largest.  As we got closer the mist cleared and we were able to get better views of the Storr and surrounding rocks.

The road then changes to single track, unusual for an "A" road and follows the shore of Loch Mealt.  As we passed through the sun returned, and we were treated to some good views of a lovely drake Goldeneye.

From here the road drops down to the town of Portree, as we arrived a rain shower had just passed through and the sun was returning and it lit up the rain drops in the trees like thousands of small jewels.  We stopped in Portree for a coffee, then decided to continue on, taking a small road over the hills to Struan, where we would join the familiar road that would take us up to Dunvegan.

Rather than head back to the Shed we decided to drive, once again alongside the Loch.  Every ime we had driven along here we had passed the entrance to the castle, but never actually seen the castle.  We stopped to scan the loch, and I turned around, and there behind us was the castle close to the shore of the loch, and looking splendid in the afternoon sunshine.

We headed up to Loch Suardal to see the Whooper Swans once again.  The light was completely different on the water, and the wild swans looked amazing with yet another backdrop.

The blue and pink of the light setting off the reflections.

As well as the swans there were the usual Wigeon and teal present, plus a pair of Goldeneye.  As I stood watching the light continue to change a familiar "gronk" heralded the arrival of a pair of Ravens overhead.

Heading back we stopped to take in the views across the Loch once again, something we didn't seem to tire of.

Leaving Dunvegan and heading back to wards Skinidin, for the first time we could see across the Black Cuillins, the sun highlighting the snowy peaks.

There was time, and the conditions looked right to head to Neist Point for the sunset.  We made our way this time to the point on the rocks where we could see the lighthouse at the end of the point.  Another thing we could see were many Fulmar wheeling around the sides of the cliffs.  These were definitely not there last Sunday so they must have arrived in the last few days.  

We waited and after many shots I settled on these two as the best.  The sun stayed behind the cloud and Western Isles but this produced quite a nice colour in the sky.

And then just along the point to capture the colours.

It was now very cold, and we headed back to the shed.  During the evening I set the camera up for some night exposure in the hope I might just catch some of the Northern Lights.  This wasn't to be but I did get some nice images of the Table, with the snow covered peak and moody clouds

And then out across the Loch towards Dunvegan.

This had been our best day for wildlife, its is always better though when you stumble across these places and not plan for them, hoping that they will deliver.

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