Wednesday 28 July 2010

Holiday highlights

I’ve been home for a week now, and I’ve just about finished going through all my photos from our Scotland holiday. I can’t be arsed to write a day-by-day account of it now, so here are just a few highlights in pictures.

On the way up, this lasagne sandwich caught my eye while we were stocking up on provisions at the last proper supermarket en route to Sutherland. It was duly purchased and eaten for lunch in a layby overlooking the Kyle of Sutherland. Verdict: 6/10 – a nice idea, but the meat was a bit tough.

I was delighted to find a colony of Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries just down the road from Laxford Bridge – a new butterfly species for me. Being towards the end of the flight period, most were a bit tatty, but I managed to find this reasonable specimen, which kindly sat still for some photos.

The Fritillaries were in the boggy, grassy area on the right of this photo. About 20 were seen in total. There were also half a dozen Golden-ringed Dragonflies zipping around this area.

Laxford House itself was superb – massive (6 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2 sitting rooms, huge kitchen with Rayburn etc, etc), fantastic views overlooking Laxford River and completely hidden from the road by trees. This is another place which must get rarities in the autumn, being an oasis of trees in the middle of miles and miles of mountain and moorland. There is a record of Red-breasted Flycatcher from here a few years ago, which shows it does have potential. Breeding birds around the house included Spotted Flycatcher, Redpoll and Siskin; other birds seen from the house included Black-throated and Red-throated Divers on the river, Common Sandpiper, Greenshank and Red-breasted Merganser. We also found Otter spraint not far from the house, but didn’t manage to see the actual animal. In case anyone was wondering, we didn’t have the whole house to ourselves; there were eight of us – me, Sophie, my parents, my brother, his wife and two kids.

The world-famous Lochinver Larder pie shop has already made an appearance on Mark’s blog, but just for the record, here are the photos again. If you’re a pie fan, it’s worth making the long trip north just for these.

The stunning beach at Balnakeil on the north coast. Another area which has had a few rarities in the past. These photos make it look a nicer day than it really was!

Nearby is the John Lennon memorial in Durness, where the Beatle spent his childhood holidays at the house of his cousin in Sangomore.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: this bizarre waxwork of that well-known Scot Mohammed Al MacFayed greets visitors as they enter the gift shop at Falls of Shin. The falls are a brilliant place to see Salmon leaping up the waterfalls as they return to their breeding grounds. No, I didn’t manage to get a photo of one.

We did a tour of the Glenmorangie distillery at Tain, on the east coast, one day – great value at just £2.50 each, which included a generous-sized dram afterwards (at least a pub double), and then you got the £2.50 off any purchase over £16 from the shop! I was amused to see this plaque on the door:

On our last full day we went on a boat trip round Handa island. You had to sit astride the seats like a motorbike, and also get dressed up in rather ridiculous waterproofs. I’ve got a photo of Sophie in these as well, but I’ll get into trouble if I put it on here! Having walked round Handa at the start of the holiday, it was fantastic to see the seabird cliffs from the bottom. The smell was even stronger down here too! The ride back to Scourie was fast and exhilarating, but the waterproofs were almost totally pointless – despite the speed of the boat and the heavy swell, there was virtually no spray at all.

I didn’t take many bird photos – apart from the first and last days it was generally grey and wet. Also my Sigma 150-500 seemed to be playing up the day we went to Handa, resulting in most of the photos I took that day being slightly out of focus. I think it was just the contacts, as after I cleaned them it seemed to be OK. Here are some of the better ones:

Other highlights I didn’t manage to get photos of included a sub-adult Golden Eagle soaring over the hills just north of Loch Assynt and a Pine Marten disappearing into roadside vegetation just outside Lochinver. Total bird list for the holiday was exactly 100.

Finally, here’s a panorama of the view from the house in Achriesgill where my Granddad was born. One of my favourite views in Britain...

Sunday 11 July 2010


Balancing out the perfect dragonfly weather at Chartley Moss earlier in the year, the weather today in Speyside was complete crap for dragonflies - cool, showery and windy. As a result I didn't see a great deal at the various pools around Abernethy Forest which are known to be good for the two species I particularly wanted to see - Northern Emerald and Northern Damselfly. At the first pool I checked I did find a male Northern Damsel cowering in the grass - I managed to coax it onto my finger, but it flew off before I could get a photo. The only other Odonata species on the pool were an ovipositing female Common Hawker and a pair of Large Red Damsels. All the other pools were far too exposed to the wind, and no further dragons or damsels were seen. No birds of note either apart from a Crossbill sp heard flying over at Loch Garten.

The forecast for tomorrow is similarly poor, so we've decided to give Beinn Eighe (a 100+ mile detour) a miss and just have a look for dolphins off North Kessock instead.

Friday 9 July 2010

Hit the North

Tomorrow we're heading for Sutherland for 12 days - via Speyside and Beinn Eighe (weather permitting) to look for the Scottish dragonfly specialities. On Monday we should arrive at Laxford Bridge, where we'll be staying until the following Tuesday.

I strongly suspect that there will be no mobile phone signal here, at least not a good enough data signal to access the Internet, so blog updates will probably have to wait until I get back. In the meantime, here are some Google Streetview shots of Laxford Bridge:

Looking north: the house we're staying in is hidden behind the trees on the left, just over the bridge. The blob in the top right corner is probably one of the notorious Highland midges trying to eat the camera lens!

Looking north-east. The mountains in the distance are Foinaven and Arkle (as in the famous 1960s racehorses, which were named after them).

The north-west coast of Sutherland is very much like Shetland in habitat, and almost completely unwatched most of the time. Just imagine what must be turning up in isolated gardens like this one (at Oldshoremore, where there was a Black-headed Bunting the other day) in the autumn:

I'm sure the horizon doesn't really slope like that, but you get the idea

Or these gardens a few miles down the coast at Achriesgill. The white house in the first picture is where my grandfather was born, by the way:

Looking inland from the same spot (Foinaven again in the distance)

OK, it's in the shadow of the Isle of Lewis (but only just) as far as Yanks are concerned, but eastern vagrants must turn up along this coast. Someone needs to be brave and get up there one October...

P.S. I've enabled comment moderation while I'm away, to thwart the bastard Chinese spammers. Hopefully they might then fuck off altogether.

Saturday 3 July 2010

The Happy Moth

OK, maybe only hardcore Divine Comedy fans will get the title joke, but here are a couple of photos of a Buff-tip moth with a 'smiley face' caught last night in the garden (and spotted by Sophie. I just scribbled 'Buff-t 1' in my moth notebook, and then carried on going through the other 80-odd species in the traps). It looks a bit like Thomas the Tank Engine from the side.... if Thomas the Tank Engine was about 3 cm long and had wings. And legs instead of wheels. And had evolved to look like a broken birch twig.