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Wednesday 29 June 2022

2022 Hebridean Adventures, Pt. 1 - 19th to 22nd May

Well, here I am, back again!  Before I get stuck into my account of our adventures, I feel that I ought to put a few things in perspective. The holiday, although extremely enjoyable, was not without its problems.

Throughout the break, I was having significant problems with my eyesight. At first I put it down to tired eyes after long periods of driving but, after a few days, I realised something more sinister was going on. I was having great difficulty in seeing things through my camera viewfinder, and also in viewing things on the lcd screen and adjusting settings. Part way through, I found that my right eye - which is the one that I put to the viewfinder - was in really bad shape. If I looked at a fence with just my right eye open, it looked as if the fence was falling over, and I was peering through a fog. The results of my photographic efforts are way below par because of this. I did, however, start getting used to holding the viewfinder to my other eye. A call to the opticians on my return had them asking me to come in urgently, and I was diagnosed as having rapid onset of wet macular degeneration - a condition that also affects the ability to see details in the centre of one's vison. I was given an urgent (rather than 'emergency') referral to hospital and am currently undergoing a thorough investigation prior to surgical treatment.

On our way home, Lindsay started feeling unwell and the following day, when at home, she tested positive for Covid. I followed suite five days later. Neither of us suffered badly, and Lindsay are almost fully recovered apart from ongoing fatigue.

With all the above, it has taken a long while to sort out the photos I took while away and, because of my eyesight, I may have not done a good job of processing them - I struggle to see detail.

So here we go:-

Thursday, 19th May                         Ashby de la Zouch (Leicestershire) to Kinross (Scotland)

I managed to see three Large Red Damselfly successfully emerge from our garden mini-pond before we departed for our Hebridean adventure at 10.00. 

We diverted to Boston Spa en route in the hope of having lunch at our favoured location there. When we visited last year, it was still the 'Deli-Cafe', but we had subsequently learned that it had become 'Da Carlo' and had gone 'up-market'. Nevertheless,  we had decided to give it a try. We were, therefore, disappointed to find on arrival at 12.00 that it was closed, despite the sign on the door declaring its opening hours that day were from 11.30. The day was not lost, however, as we found 'Harts Coffee House & Deli', where we had a splendid lunch and enjoyed friendly service. This will be our venue of choice in future.

Several comfort stops were required as we continued our travels northward but, other than adding 20 minutes to our journey time because of heavy traffic in the Edinburgh area, it was an uneventful journey, and we arrived at the Travelodge Kinross Services at 18.00.

Having had an excellent lunch, a light evening meal was all that was required, and so food was purchased in the M&S shop in the service area, and eaten in our room.

After a fairly tiring journey,  we turned in for an early night at 21.00.
Friday, 20th May                          Kinross to Uig (Isle of Skye)

We both slept relatively well, but were awake from around 05.30, so had an earlier start than expected. A missed turn just before Perth landed us on a slower but picturesque route.  It also gave us the delightful sighting of a Red Squirrel carrying a youngster across the road in its mouth.
A stop on the A95 in a lay-by with 'public conveniences' beside Loch Earn gave us views of the loch and the unusual sight of a drake Mallard waddling along the grass verge of a main road.
 Loch Earn from A95
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) (male) - A95 by Loch Earn
Various stops were made en route, including at Ardelve where we had a good view of Eilean Donan castle - in the rain! Here we enjoyed coffee and cake, followed by a visit to a craft fair. Lindsay found some items of jewelry to purchase!
Eilean Donan Castle - Dornie
Having crossed over the sea to Skye (not by bonnie boat but by the Skye Bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh)  we saw, to our dismay a large illuminated sign declaring that the next ferry crossing to North Uist was cancelled. To the best of our knowledge,  we were booked on the next scheduled ferry. To cut a long story short, we found that the booked ferry had been holed the day before, and we were now booked on a later smaller ferry on the Saturday. This would have the unfortunate result that we'd arrive on North Uist after the Co-op shop had closed, and with shops closed the following day (a Sunday), as we were in self-catering accommodation, food would be in short supply! 

Having arrived at Uig, we checked into our B&B, "5 Glenconon", for the night, where the proprietor, Shirley, very kindly offered a change of room to a ground floor one, to save Lindsay coping with the stairs. We then set off for fish and chips (table booked for us by Shirley) at the Uig Hotel - and very good it was too! 

After tea we took a ride out on a highly scenic road from Uig to Brogaig that we hadn't travelled on before and Lindsay spotted a distant White-tailed Eagle. I only managed a distant record shot.

White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) - from road from Uig to Brogaig
On returning to base we had a mug of coffee while I wrote up my notes, and then turned in shortly after 21.00.
Saturday, 21st May                     Uig to Lochmaddy (North Uist), to Clachan Sands
Lindsay and I were both awake quite early, and wished we had booked a breakfast for a little earlier than the 08.00 that we had booked. We had both had a rough night, purely because of concerns about the knock-on effects of our delayed sailing.

While waiting in our room, we watched the action at the garden feeders which was boosted when Shirley, the proprietor,  chucked out some old bread under the feeders. I was quite surprised to see a couple of rabbits tucking into the bread.
Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) - Uig, Isle of Skye
Breakfast was excellent, even if it was interrupted by me needing to return to our room to get my camera when a couple of Hooded Crow decided that they too wanted some of the bread. I think it's safe to say that this was a 'garden lifer' for me.
Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix) - Uig, Isle of Skye
We left our B&B at 08.50 and I suggested to Lindsay we should go to the ferry terminal, just over a mile away, to enquire about arrangements for our modified departure. This turned out to be one of my best decisions because, on approaching the people organising the boarding, they asked if I had my vehicle and tickets to hand (which I  had), and they then told me that if I fetched my car and parked in the reserve lane they were pretty confident that we could be on our way in half an hour! We were, and this meant that we would arrive on North Uist 10 hours before the time that they had rescheduled us to.
 a showery morning as we set off leaving Uig, Skye
It was a cool, grey and showery morning as we set off. The crossing was uneventful and much less in the way of wildlife was seen than we have found in the past. I stayed outside for the duration and got quite damp and chilled. Lindsay stayed inside for the first half of the journey but had to spend the second half outside because there was a bit of a sea swell going on and the motion was getting to her. Here are some of the few birds that I managed distant shots of.
Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) - from Uig to Lochmaddy ferry
Razorbill (Alca torda) - from Uig to Lochmaddy ferry

Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) - from Uig to Lochmaddy ferry
On arrival at 11.30 we made haste directly to the Wee Cottage Kitchen (a mobile cafe at the water's edge beyond Solas that we found to be excellent last year), and had an extremely enjoyable light lunch. A drake Eider treated us to a stretching session while we were there.

Eider (Somateria mollissima) (male) - near Malacleit, North Uist
Also nearby, an Oystercatcher was relaxing on its temporary island. I say 'temporary' as, when the tide goes out, the slope of the bay is so shallow that the water is approximately 2 km away! In fact, at low tide, people drive across the sand to the island of Vallay.
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - near Malacleit, North Uist
After this, we headed down the Committee Road which is a road that can be excellent for spotting interesting birds, particularly raptors, but little was seen.

We stopped at the Hebridean Smokehouse, primarily to buy smoked scallops, but came away with some other delicacies as well. 
As we were not able to access our rental until 16.00, we had some time to kill, so we decided to head up the west side of the island and then along the north coast. We had not long left the Hebridean Smokehouse when Lindsay spotted a male Hen Harrier on her side of the car. I managed a few record shots before it disappeared behind a hedge, so I found somewhere to park and went to investigate. I didn't manage to relocate the bird, but I did spot a distant female Hen Harrier in the same area, although I failed to get anything but record shots of this bird too.
Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) (male) - near Cladach Chirceboist
Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) (female) - near Cladach Chirceboist
After all but three days of solid driving, I was getting extremely tired, and my eyesight seemed to be suffering the most, to the extent that I  could see clearly enough to drive safely, but my power of observation for spotting birds as we travelled was, I would estimate, well below half its usual level, and my photographic abilities reduced by a greater amount!

We continued our travels turning round after a brief stop not far from Burneray, where we found a group of five Ravens. Here is one of them.

Raven (Corvus corax) - near Clachan Sands
Having accessed our rental property and relaxed with a mug of tea, we went to get provisions at the Co-op, 6 miles away. Shortly after we left the Co-op, Lindsay spotted a Short-eared Owl on a post on her side of the road. I took a few blurred record shots through the windscreen with it facing away from me, then Lindsay opened her window but I failed to get any shots as we drew alongside before it moved off, eventually disappearing from sight. We had, at least, seen our first Short-eared Owl of the stay.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - near Solas
It is our custom, on returning from a drive away from the cottage, to go past the cottage and check out the few hundred metres to the end of the road as this part of the lane has been extremely productive in the past. On this occasion, however, only an Oystercatcher on a plastic bale posed for the camera.
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - Clachan Sands
That evening, we enjoyed the smoked scallops which Lindsay had heated in a little butter with a few chives that I  had picked in the garden.

After our meal, the rain set in and, with a cold stiff breeze prevailing, I  did not feel the need to venture out again.
Sunday, 22nd May                                  North Uist and Benbecula

We had a late start this day as the weather forecast was not good and we both felt in need of some relaxing time after our travels and lack of sleep.

In the event, the weather turned out even worse than forecast with barely a let-up in the rain and a temperature which hovered around the 11°c mark. Fortunately it was far less windy than the previous day.

After breakfast, a quick check round the cottage produced a distant Short-eared Owl, confirmed that the Starlings were nesting in the box on the shed, and indicated that a Wren was probably nesting in the thatch of the cottage roof again. This year we had rabbits in the garden too!
Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - cottage garden, Clachan Sands
Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) - cottage garden, Clachan Sands
Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) - cottage garden, Clachan Sands
I also found two odd items attached to the cottage wall which I came to the conclusion were probably cocoons of a largish moth species.
Cocoon - from wall of cottage, Clachan Sands
I subsequently found another one of these on an outbuilding, so decided to take one in the hope of discovering what was contained. It was brought home and hung up in a sheltered position outside. On 11th June, this gorgeous Drinker moth emerged.
Drinker (Euthrix potatoria) (male) - from wall of cottage, Clachan Sands
A short run up the lane in the car (in order to keep the camera dry) turned up another Short-eared Owl which, frustratingly, landed on a post behind a nearer post and at the back of the black plastic bales, but at least I got a record shot!
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - Clachan Sands
Lindsay wanted to go to an accessible beach to try out some recently acquired nordic walking poles to see if they would help her walk on the beach - something she loves to do -  so we headed to a beach we know as Cow Beach. They worked a treat! I wandered off a bit further down the beach and saw a distant tern. I risked getting the camera wet and tried for a shot, but didn't get anything that would let me identify it.

Two more Short-eared  Owls were seen on the way back to base, which I found quite surprising as owls and rain don't usually mix. Perhaps desperation had set in as it seems that the weather had been dire here for a week or more.

A Redshank was again in the water that is just before the turn into our lane.
Redshank (Tringa totanus) - near Clachan Sands
As usual, on our return we took a run up to the end of our lane to see what might be around. We saw very little but our return to base was hindered by a Hebridean road block!

roadblock on Clachan Sands
After lunch, we set off for Benbecula taking a small diversion to travel along North Lee Walk to  spot where we have seen Red-throated Divers on a few occasions, but nothing of interest was seen there this day.

Two more Short-eared Owls were seen on the way to Benbecula.  I stopped for one but only got a couple of distant going away shots.

After a stop for tea and cake at Stepping Stones restaurant on Benbecula we headed for the well-named Stinky Bay, where there were many Eider and a few Sanderling.
Eider (Somateria mollissima) - Stinky Bay, Benbecula
Eider (Somateria mollissima) (female) - Stinky Bay, Benbecula
Sanderling (Calidris alba) - Stinky Bay, Benbecula
The star turn, however, was an immature male Surf Scoter out in the bay. This is a rarity for UK, and a 'lifer' for me.
Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata) (immature male) - Stinky Bay, Benbecula
The next stop was just up the road a short way to see the Red-necked Phalaropes at Griminis. Two were seen, but the misty weather and distance was against satisfying photography. I'm not entirely sure of the sex of the bird(s?) in these two (greatly manipulated to remove mistiness) images, but suspect female.

Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) - Griminis
When the mist became much more dense it was time to depart. Our journey took us past Stinky Bay again so, as the mist had cleared and turned to rain, we stopped to see if the scoter was any closer to the shore. It was not, but it would be a shame not to offer another shot of this bird.
Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata) (immature male) - Stinky Bay, Benbecula
Little was seen on our return to base and the weather dictated that we had an evening in. Tea primarily consisted of hot-smoked salmon from the Hebridean Smokehouse, which knocks the mass-produced stuff into a cocked hat.
This brings me to the end of Pt.1 of my account of our visit to the Outer Hebrides. I suspect that Pt.2 will be in about a week's time - depending on a few things scheduled to happen in the interim, for which fingers are crossed! In the meantime, take good care of yourselves and Nature. Thank you for dropping by - - - Richard