Saturday, 16 August 2014

Hebrides 5: A Day with Steve Duffield

We had booked a day with Steve Duffield of Western Isles Wildlife, knowing that the weather forecast for Sunday looked pretty good.  We had a great time with Steve, and can thoroughly recommend using his services if you happen to be in the area.

Steve told us to meet him at 09:00 in the car park of the Co-op on Benbecula, the island between South and North Uist, and by this time we'd already spent some time watching a short-eared owl hunting close to the road.  He then took us via a loch with red necked phalarope before picking up two other people (Hamish and Carol) at the Langass Lodge Hotel.  Most of the day was spent with binoculars rather than a camera, as photography wasn't really appropriate given the demands of nature viewing and consideration for the other people involved.

Steve took us to see an otter on Loch Scolpaig, and then across the Committee Road where we saw red deer and spent a while watching a couple of short-eared owls flying around.  The Committee Road, which goes across the moor linking the North and South coasts of North Uist, gets its name from a locally organised job creation scheme to help destitute crofters who were hit by famine in the 1840s.

The beaches on North Uist were beautiful and completely deserted.  The shots below show the view looking North towards Harris and South-East towards Skye.

The oyster catcher was one of the most common seabirds we saw on our travels, even outnumbering the ubiquitous gull in many places.  The water was completely clear, and this gave some amazing colours in the sunlight.

Next stop was a campsite next to the RSPB Balranald reserve which housed the best catering van in the history of the universe.  Talk about cakes to die for (or of, perhaps?).

This is the view from the campsite showing a derelict croft and cemetery on the right, and the dome of an MOD listening station on the far left (one of our destinations in the afternoon).

It was difficult to do justice to the machair in Balranald.  We thought that the wild flowers might have been past their best in July, but this was certainly not the case.  It was mass of reds, yellows, greens and blues, which proved almost impossible to photograph.

A few more flowers found in Balranald, including the frog orchid - a plant which only its mother could love.

Much of the afternoon was spent in a fruitless attempt to spot a golden eagle (thankfully we had more success the following week).  The search took us to the top of the hill with the listening station, which commanded superb views over the area.  Despite seeing buzzards and hen harriers, however, North Uist was to remain resolutely eagle-free.

The final destination was a remote loch on North Uist whose location was not publicly advertised as it contained a breeding pair of black-throated divers.  Amazingly we managed to find the loch again later in the week, so were able to spend a bit more time watching these beautiful birds.

We finished around 17:00 and headed back to the cottage for dinner, glowing from a day in the sun and the wind.  The forecast for the following day was slightly less clement, however...