Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Hebrides 8: Balranald (take 2)

The afternoon was cloudy and overcast as we began our walk through the RSPB Balranald Nature Reserve.  This was to change, however, and it was sunny and very hot by the time we'd finished our trek around the peninsula.  The gales and horizontal rain of the previous day were completely forgotten as a result!

Everywhere on the Uists there is evidence of abandonment and dereliction, and this was true even in Balranald.  Crofts and farm machinery alike are simply left to rot.

We had to walk past the section of machair which had made such an impression on Sunday, but this time we were able to look at it in rather closer detail.  Each strip of land had a different collection of wild flowers, presumably indicating how recently it had been cultivated.  Again it was difficult to do the area justice, but I was glad of a second chance to photograph the spectacular display.

With a little bit of artistic licence...

We finally moved onto the beach area, and by now the sun had decided to come out.  The terrain was rocky, and this was reflected by a change in the flora.  We also started to spot seabirds, including a pair of ringed plovers who were escorting their chicks through the seaweed.

The nature reserve is grazed by cows, each of which had its own personal swarm of flies.  It soon became clear that we, too, were each surrounded by our own swarm, including the infamous cleggs with their vicious bites.  The only solution was to keep moving.

Once we'd managed to negotiate our way past the cows, we had a pair of arctic terns to deal with.  As expected, they were being their usual, friendly, accommodating selves, and spent as much time as possible indicating in no uncertain terms that we were unwelcome in their territory!  It's impossible to be angry with such beautiful birds, however, no matter how bad-tempered they are.

Most of the rock in the Hebridean island chain is Gneiss (sometimes called Lewisian Gneiss because of its location), which is among the oldest on the planet.

The Eastern side of the Balranald reserve is made up of a large white beach.  It looked spectacular in the sunshine, with a view across the bay to a small hamlet of crofts and the hills of North and South Uist in the background.

Finally, this is one of the very few shots I managed to get of what was probably the commonest bird we saw on our travels: the wheatear.  Nothing to do with either "wheat" or "ears" (a bit like Red Rock Cider it seems) but instead a reference to its "white rear" - something which becomes instantly visible when the beastie flies away from the camera (as it usually did!).