Wildlife watching on the water and moving on

Friday dawned with a swirling mist over the loch. I particularly like this bunny shot too. I was up early so I could be in Stornoway for 9am for the Hebridean adventures day trip to the Shiant isles. I was excited at the prospect of the scenery, and wildlife watching opportunities, and also apprehensive (due to my lack of sailing prowess). Any way all present and correct at 9am and by 9:20am had been briefed on safety and wildlife, and suitably attired in lifejackets etc. All 12 on the trip were in the capable hands of Colin the skipper, John the wildlife guide, and Anna the crew!

I began up top in one of the seats, as we left the harbour. Immediately we were seeing birds, seals and porpoises. The array of birds rose as we travelled and included gannets, puffins, kittiwakes, guillemots, razor bills, terns and so on. With out an all singing and dancing camera, I struggled a bit with the small birds (the puffins in particular). We lingered a couple of times on the way to the shiant isles, one to see a minky whale (I didn’t see it) and to find a couple of lots of dolphins – by the end we had dolphin encounters four times – all fabulous!

The water was pretty calm, with patches of deep blue, the wispy clouds lifted and we hugged the coast mostly so it wasn’t too bad for those of us a bit prone to ‘mal de mere’. Sitting was better than standing. Various jelly fish also passed by – some quite large! Anyway by lunch time we arrived at the Shiant isles, I cannot really do justice to the sheer numbers of the birds all around us, and the magnificence of the scenery and rock formations. We moored for a while surrounded by birds to eat lunch – I seem to be better at pictures of razor bills than puffins, and then we did a complete circuit of the island complex.

Post lunch I was not feeling so good, and mostly sat in the calmest place on the boat – a bench on the bottom deck at the back. After our cruise round the islands, we set out in the direction back but much more out to sea. By this stage it was windier, and I was struggling abit. The lovely Anna the crew, gave me a cup of lemon and ginger tea, which settled things. I was best off sitting down at the various levels in the boat and as central as possible. By this stage I was a bit more wrapped up against the sun and wind (bit of a gangster look with my bandanas but glad I did – as my cheeks are still pink today (I think wind rather than sunburn!). I missed the second sighting of the minky whale too  sadly before the restorative powers of the ginger tea took hold but only 3 people saw it!

Irrespective of my difficulties, I cannot understate what an amazing experience this was, and we finished off with looking at 2 sea eagles nests (and young through binoculars) and lovely sightings of the adult birds (on a fence post at the top of the cliff in the middle!).

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Another aspect of all this was being able to look across to Skye for much of the trip – it was lightly illuminated and hazy so hard to really get a picture of the effect. It took me back to Jane and my trip, and our thoughts from Skye looking across at Harris and Lewis in 2011. There was something quite magical about it and helpful that is hard to explain.

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We finally got back at 5:40 and I was very relieved to be back on terra firma. There was quite a lot to do at base, as it was a very early start and everything bar the bear essentials needed to be packed, and the car loaded. I set alarms, wrote myself a list of what I must do before leaving and eventually got to bed to find, when I put my head on the pillow, I still felt like I was on the boat!

Wildlife of the day LOTS!!!

Saturday morning dawned early, I awoke as you do 10 minutes before the alarm at 4:40. I was on the road shortly after 5:15. I had my first coffee of the day in the queue on the harbourside, and breakfast while the boat was being loaded. I had a much easier crossing (tactically I sat in the middle at the back of the boat in a recliner – mistakenly I had thought it was the front) but it was good to see Lewis disappear from sight. The boat was busy including a couple of sports teams, and the lewis pipe band in suitable kilts, as well as a lot of people with dogs. I had a coffee from the café after the queue had subsided, and I avoided the area serving bacon sandwiches with black pudding!

I was disembarked by 9:45 and I started the long drive south. The scenery was stunning with a cloudy cover this time, and much warmer. It was a bit bizarre to be driving through the cairngorms when it was humid and 24 degrees Centigrade. I stopped at Kinguissie to avail myself of the facilities. The car park was free but the facilities cost 50p! (they were very nice). I had my second thermos coffee, and then carried on. I drove on and the heavy showers began. It was dramatic, but I was intrigued how low some of the rivers and lochs were (though in parts of Scotland there has been flash flooding).

I pulled of the A9 towards Denning to find a lunch spot, and ended up at a farmshop/café (it was much more café than farm shop). I think it was very clear to me from there that I was no longer on Lewis. There were lots of people, it was hot, there was a field of wheat, and trees. I watched the swallows, as I ate a rather tasty lunch with very naughty double fried chips (!!!)

The final 100 or so miles had more rain and more low cloud, so the last rather scenic bit in Dumfries and Galloway was rather obscured. I was definitely getting tired, and glad to pull in to junction 16 of the M74, to spend the night at the days inn at annadale water. Door to door was about 12 hours! I stayed here with Jane and Ginnie the dog on the way back from Skye in 2011. In fact, we stopped here more than once as it was good for the dog with a lake to walk around.  I have thought about them both quite a lot as I have enjoyed Lewis/Harris. They both would have loved it. For old times sake I did a circuit of the lake between the showers. This may have been a mistake as it was very ‘midgy’ as the wind had dropped and it was damp from the rain. Good to see a red beak on the lake (oyster catcher) and for old times sake a marsh orchid, which I have added to wildlife of the day with the swallows mentioned earlier and some lovely foxgloves.

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