North West Scotland [part 3]
I woke up to Cuckoo yet again but leaving the van a pair of Red throated Divers graced the loch. What a beginning! The road was magic at that time in the morning and became so wooded with large areas of birch woodland and amazing islands on Loch Shieldaig with old pines and potential White tailed Eagles nesting sites. The one nest which is well known is in the bay by the village of the same name. The island belongs to the National Trust of Scotland and is covered with thick pines. The eagle’s nest is on the opposite side of the village and can be viewed occasionally from there. My early morning arrival failed to see the birds. Even the so called Otters were missing! Instead I had to make do with several pairs of Herring Gulls, Red throated Diver and Black Guillemot.
Moving on brought me to Torridon. The car park was full mainly with camper vans and motor homes having been here all night. The walk to the hide was as the guide book said not worth the effort but the adjoining shore of Loch Torridon was a great hit with many breeding and feeding birds especially waders. So much gravel had been dumped leaving islands and streams running around them at low tide. Gorse was in full flower making the blue sky look even more beautiful. Shelduck were checking out the many rabbit holes along the flood bank with Ringed Plover alarming having built territories along here. I waded across several streams to get closer to the loch flushing at least 3 Greenshank, Dunlin, Turnstone and Redshank. There was a migrant Whimbrel feeding along the shore while a group of Golden Plover were using the short turf of a distant field.
The Loch had both Great Northern and Red throated Diver, Red breasted Merganser and a late Wigreon. Both Common and Herring Gulls were present here in numbers while a Raven was mobbed by a Hoodie. I had not been heard by a Grey Heron which was preening inside an area of Gorse and only flew when I was 5 yards from it! This is a great habitat and even eagles apparently come down to feed on the rabbits and carrion washed up on the shore. Shame the hide was not built to view this area because with more people watching I am sure more birds will be found and more members for the National Trust of Scotland!
Next was a wonderful drive along the Beinn Eighe National nature Reserve looking up at so many Munros in technicolour with that light and down to Loch Maree. One day I might walk up some of these only if I had days like I was driving through as it was hard to find a cloud in the air, I looked in on the SNH visitor centre and then off to the big car park ready for the walk in the Caledonian woods. First I scanned Loch Maree and saw a Black throated Diver in full summer plumage. They are so black and white at this time of the year and this loch claims the highest density of breeding birds in the UK.
The walk into the trees is very steep but the path excellent even with my artificial knees climbing over all those steps. This was around midday so bird song was not at its peak but the Willow Warblers kept me company and I had a common lizard on the path and was hoping for an adder after having one in our house back in Cumbria! How rare is that! The views were great from the track and the height of the heather amazing. A Tree Pipit posed for a shot and soon I was back down to the car park crossing under the road where a Pine Marten scat showed you they were around.
I checked several small car parks along Loch Maree for better views of the loch but it was not until I found the track off the main A832 that I found the Forestry Commission car park along the loch. Here were open views across to the 30+ islands that look like mainland from here. A walk along the Tollie Trail was helped by a clear fell of Sitka Spruce offering a young planting in the future. Plant life was trying to come back after the shade of these trees with Bilberry in flower along with Gorse and Primroses before more species get started. Hopefully planting will never put deep conifer back along this shore!
Before hitting the metropolis of Gairlock I drove along the south side of the bay. There are both small sea lochs and freshwater lochs along the road. On Loch Bad a Chroata were a group of waders feeding with Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper and Dunlin. Parking was poor until I managed to get off the road after a car nearly drove into the back of me! Another stop for a bird with what looked like had a red breast was in fact a ‘Greenland’ Wheatear just looking so bright in all that sun and with its large size compared to our Wheatear!
The other habitat here are the stunning beaches at Opinan and Red Point. I wondered around the dunes at Opinan and rocky shore scanning the beach with its dog walkers finding mixed waders. Breeding Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher were present as well as migrants such as Sanderling, Dunlin, Turnstone and 2 Whimbrel. Arctic Terns were fishing off shore and coming to the rocks to offer sand eels to their mates. Inland were both Wheatear, Pied Wagtail and Twite but a rumpus high inland lead me to 2 Golden Eagles which suddenly started Talon grappling and spinning away with one finally chasing the other away. Amazing! The car park at Red Point was full so I drove back having time to check out the north shore.
Gairlock was busy as usual and I focused on yet another single track road passing a camp site with more motor homes than you can imagine! I carried on towards Melvaig finding a quarry to pull into for the night. I had a quick tea and then down onto the beach via some grassy cliffs. There was a Sand Martin colony and yet more migrant waders. I found Holy Fern in a cave and slowly headed back to the van. An early night actually turned into a nightmare when the van decided to lock itself with the keys inside! A night in Gairlock should not have happened because in the morning AA only took 5 minutes to open the van! [ I won’t boar you with the full story!]