Posted by: mynaturaldiary | July 25, 2009

Scottish Lochs, Islands and Gleann a’ Chrò … (Shangri-la)

At this time of year, my internal compass points north, and that’s the direction I like to head. Thus the owners of Cafe Twitch left their regulars to fend for themselves, and decamped off to Argyllshire, to Connel just outside Oban.

Here there is plenty to keep a birdwatcher on their toes. Alas, an overfull car meant the nice camera couldn’t come, so, dear reader, this post is full of pictures that don’t do justice to the subjects in view…

First, a real treat found in Loch Awe, by the Cruachan hydroelectric power station and its excellent visitors centre. Across the Loch, lies a trout farm, and above it a mast, with a pair of canny Ospreys nesting.

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Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

These are my first sightings I’ve seen of these birds. How exciting!

In the Loch below, there is another northern surprise waiting, a pair of Black-Throated Divers in their dark summer plumage.

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Black-Throated Diver (Gavia arctica)

These are birds I never expected to see, which made the trip to Cruachan doubly exciting!

Back at base, a few scraps of bread tempt the local brave birds.

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Common Gull (Larus canus)

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Rock Dove (Columba livia)

The Rock Doves are a long way (about 500 miles) from the pigeons of Trafalgar Square.

Being so close to Oban means plenty of trips to the harbour, and from their out to the Inner Hebridean islands (or if you prefer the Gaelic, Na h-Eileanan a-staigh). In the harbour were some Black Guillemots.

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Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle)

Also, (surprisingly to me) some Mallards, happily living in the harbour.

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Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

On the first island visited (Mull) a Golden Eagle, harried by a gull comes into view.

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Golden Eagle ( (Aquila chrysaetos)

As we cross the isle to Fionnphort, a Great blacked-backed gull comes into view.

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Great Black Backed Gull (Larus marinus)

These are powerful seabirds, so Mull swarms with predators.

Over the sea from the small port of Fionnphort, lies the holy island of Iona. This island is barely 3 miles by 1 mile in size, yet its influence has been great, being the home of the St Cuthbert, who introduced Scotland and Northern England to Christianity.

On the island itself, a superb beach awaits, looking northwards to the Treshnish Isles, Staffa, Rùm, Eigg, Muck and far, far distant Skye.

Ionasands & Treshnish

The sea washes this beach constantly clean, and there is nothing between it and Paul Island, Newfoundland, except 2,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean. In the distance you can see the distinctive shape of Bac Mòr, or the Dutchman’s Cap, one of the Treshnish Isles, and to the far right, the Isle of Rùm.

On the boat trip over to Staffa were plenty of seabirds, all in the distance, including a Fulmar.

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Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)

Staffa is deeply impressive. Created by separate volcanic eruptions, the distinctive prismatic basalt columns act as pillars between the amorphous layers.

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The main sea cave, called Fingal’s Cave, inspired Felix Mendelssohn to write his famous Hebrides Overture. Inside Fingal’s Cave, the sea echoes in an eery manner as it hits the back of the wall.

Outside, the wildlife seems unruffled. Phalacrocorax aristotelis appears not to sense the poetry of this place since a rock is a rock is a…, so the Shags just sit on the basalt, sunning themselves.

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Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)

In the immensity of space which surrounds the Isle, birds move. The camera cannot catch them in detail, but gets the sense of scale. In the top right circle are a group of oystercatchers, whose plaintive cries carries over the space. In the bottom left circle, a solitary Great black-backed gull wheels.

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On top of Staffa is grassland, interspersed with patches of Heather and other flowers. I catch sight of a Rock Pipet in the tufts.

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Rock pipit (Anthus petrosus)

I also spotted a finch. It’s certainly a little brown bird. There appears to be no white stripes across its wings. This rules out some birds, and there aren’t any trees on the island, which would make life difficult for others. I think it may be a Twite, but I may be wrong.

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Twite (Carduelis flavirostris)

At sea, eturning back across from Staffa to the mainland, I spot a Gannet and a pair of Oystercatchers.

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Gannet (Morus bassanus)

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Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

On the last island trip to Kerrera, a Moon Jellyfish floats by in the clear water as we wait to cross the sea to the small isle.

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Aurelia

This peacefully floats by in the crystal clear waters.

On the island are plenty of Swallows.

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Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

They fly fast over the grassland, catching flies and calling to each other with their exultant trill.

On another telephone wire, I see a Chaffinch.

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Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

I also see another little brown bird in the grass. Is it a Meadow Pipet?

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Meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis)

If it isn’t, please let me know!

Circling around in the distance, riding the mid morning thermal updraughts, were a pair of Buzzards.

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Buzzard (Buteo buteo)

Finally, after a week of exotica, a sight we often see at Cafe Twitch; a Robin hiding in the branches of a tree.

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Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Back to Cafe Twitch via Gleann a’ Chrò and its spectacular mountain pass, framed by Beinn an Lochain, Ben Ìme and the rest of the Arrochar Alps. Rest and be thankful indeed.


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