Saturday, 27 October 2012

Ardnamurchan, Outer Isles and superb Aurora Display

A trip to Barra and surrounding area at the start of the month and my first appearance to the Hebridean outer isles. It was an SLS staff trip for a few days on Bold Ranger which is the Hebridean Sea School vessel which has room for 6 overnight passengers. A huge bonus that legends Popz and Andy T were coming as well to add to the excellent company. Big swells as we headed north west on the 5-6 hour journey and we retreated from the flying bridge as the spray was too much in the open grounds. A small group of Common Dolphins briefly joined our bow and 2 distant Storm Petrels of some sort just afterwards.

As we arrived at Vatarsay I got a Black-throated Diver in nice breeding plume and a few Mergansers and Eider ducks also seen. A quick walk around Vatarsay produced Ringed Plover and a single Dunlin. Starling flock feeding on the discarded creel pots and a couple of Ravens overhead. Tight grasslands and small outcrops didn't produce much habitat so I wasn't expecting a lot.

The next day we headed south to Barra Head to cover a few areas by boat and after a stunning sunrise we found a huge haul out site for Grey Seals with plenty of new born pups showing. An immature WT Eagle was showing well overhead. As we made our way around the shore we got Dolphins which we presume would be Bottlenose as there is a resident pod in the area. Further out to the open sea we got an incredible view of around 500 Fulmars all together wheeling around...wow. Jimbo kindly gave me some helm time on Bold Ranger controlling her from the bridge in glorious sunshine taking her into Castle Bay to moor up for a spell.

The next day we went to Eriskay and going ashore their me and Andy had a nice walk around, taking in all the sites of this unique isolated community. Stonechats seen roadside and also a Sparrowhawk which was funny as there is not a single tree on the isle. A Merlin was also seen and the famous wild ponies which Andy was ecstatic with seeing again. A small murmuration of Starlings were also seen heading east at dusk.

The long journey back to Tobermory got us more Cetacean action with breaching action early on at a distance and they seemed to have a blunt face and no prominent beak? also quite dark? Another species briefly seen later on with a tall slender dorsal and slow surfacing...it can be so variable...photo ID is very important with sea watching. No mistaking the next sighting as a group of Commons associated with us for about 10 minutes in their usual spectacular fashion. More splashing north of Coll but we could not pick on them. Also Andy got a Minke whale in the area as well so plenty of action which was helped by the calmer sea state with dropping winds. A great experience, thanks very much to all at SLS. habitat and wildlife wise the southern outer isles are not my cup of tea and long desert like beaches don't get me excited but it was another unique hebridean landscape and more evidence of the variety of these special islands.

My SLS famly on route to Barra

Vatarsay

Andy and Struth enjoying the view...


Rainbow striking Bold Ranger...

Grey Seal haul out site with Pups...

Andy the legend with his Eriskay ponies!

love at first sight...

Common Dolphins associating with Bold Ranger on way back to Tobermory...

The best Aurora display I have seen to date...

Pulsing winds...

Glengorm Castle with Aurora band...
Back on Mull and an evening trip round the isle with Ruth and Andy, covering the LNK stretch. A fantastic sunset was the highlight along with 5 Mountain Hares! A Tawny owl on the wire on the way back was another bonus.
We had a couple of full day Whalewatch trips early in the month but no joy with the Minkes but superb to be out to Coll again.
The Aurora winds have been blowing well and with conditions on our side we have enjoyed some nice displays including one 'Storm level' night joined by Ruth and Jayne as the action peaked at 2am with strong pulsing ripples and dancing shafts in the sky. Red Deer roaring through the night and a meteor shower also in the north added to the amazing atmosphere. The best Aurora I have seen to date, incredible display...so lucky.

Wispy cirrus clouds saturating sunset from Gribun
Friday 12th and left for Ardnamuchan in the morning as the island started getting Rally fever for the few days ahead. A good opportunity to cover some areas on the wild west of the mainland. Stayed in Sonachan bunkhouse and it was pretty wet most of the day but headed out anyway and did a nice local hill climb tackling Dubh Creag at 244m. Nice views looking over the Sound of Mull and a few Red Grouse and Ravens seen. Two Snipe flushed and also 15 Whooper Swans in flight going down the glen.

The next day produced better weather with nice sunny spells so I headed inland to the east to cover some of the planned areas of the Sunart Oakwoods. I called into the wildlife centre Nadurra to have quick look at the sightings board and ended up buying the new SNH Birds of Prey book. Called into the FC wildlife hide and got an Otter straight away along with Herons and Common Seals. A Basking Shark had been reported on the 10th! Don't know how reliable that record is. Did a nice walk around the stunning loch Moidart but quiet on the wildlife front. Went to Loch on the evening and got 2 WT Eagles and a Goldie. Baited a near by area with bread and peanut butter and sat til dusk but no sign of Pine Martens this time. A long drive back down the peninsula and headed to the point for a night shift of astronomy where I got a faint Aurora display and also an amazing experience in the lighthouse education centre learning about the buildings and districts history  in the early hours while the lighthouse was in operation.


Rowan and Holly growing out of Glacial erratic, on route up Sgurr Dhommhnuill

This photo Oak-kay for you? stunning Sunart Oakwoods!
Lovely sunny weather on Sunday as I headed east again down to Strontion. I checked the Loch Doilet area and the Peanut butter butties were still there so no Pineys in that area. Parked up in the Ariundle car park and started the long walk through the Oakwoods and nature trail up into the higher ground. Redwing and Fieldfare feeding on the track and a couple of flyby squawking Jays. Bullfinches also calling up in the canopy. As soon as I arrived on the open ground a Goldie took flight from a crag on my left and headed up the glen and that would be the last eagle of the day. Red Deer were roaring throughout and a few Pipits and Ravens were seen along with a male Kestrel. I climbed the peak Sgurr Dhommhnuill which is 888m and superb highland views from the summit. I had my lunch on top which was just stale slices of bread on their own. I felt like Froddo Baggins foraging on his way to Mordor. Although people who have seen my feet say they look just like Froddos!

You can see remains of a slate mine half way down the peak which used to employ 600 people in the 19th century. I did the nature trail back down in the woodland and the crisp evening light was making the turning oak leaves glow. The Sunart oakwoods are a rare habitat which used to cover from Norway to Portugal but after the expansion of man the majority was clear felled for agricultural land. Local communities preserved the woods around Sunart and have always managed them in a very traditional way. A new scheme is involved to get value out of the woodlands trough tourism and timber. On the way back to the east I had to drive like Ace Ventura with my heed out of the window as the sun was so strong on my dirty windscreen!

The solar winds were blowing again so I popped to the point to photograph a weak display, but a sudden strong burst for five minutes was captured and it was great scenes! Again the atmosphere was insane with the noise of the sea and the lighthouse in operation with a full lit sky, milky way, shooting stars and aurora borealis!...immense.

Ariundle nature Trail...
Sun dropping with Ben Haint showing...

Sanna bay with Rum and Eigg in the backdrop...

Ardnamurchan volcanic creator remains...

Full rainbow showing after completing peak

On the summit, 2500 ft. amazing highland views...

Pine Marten scat on track

Loch Moidart...

Walking back round to castle Tioram

higher ground above Loch Doilet getting ready to bait area for Pine Martens...

Loch Sunart in low light

Castle Tioram on loch Moidart
Last day at the wild west and I decided to stay closer by and visit something I have always wanted to see properly since I have been based up here...The super volcano creator remains! I approached the rings from Sanna bay in glorious sunshine and again amazing views of highlands and islands. A small community lives in the 2km creator remains with a road running right through it.
I headed to the point at midday to do some sea watching and worked out it was half term as the place was packed with families  Some nice healthy hurries of Gannets and Kitiwakes out the west but no Cetaceans in with them. Got the ferry back to my adopted home the isle of Mull after a great few days in Ardnamurchan and surrounding districts!

Aurora capture from Ardnamurchan point...

My most satisfying photo capture to date...
Thanks for looking, my next blog post is my 100th one so very special and proud of the achievement. The main content will be Autumn SLS boat trips and five days of inland guiding on the isle with the main focus been photography. Cheers

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this interesting and educative information. I think many writers will find your contribution very helpful, I have equally learnt something from it.
    buy-college-essays
    custom-paper-writing
    Accounts Software For Small Business

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sant Ritz is more than just a home. Its combination of condominium status with contemporary ville living.
    the interlace

    ReplyDelete