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Sunday, 15 May 2016

Scottish Highlands and Islands: Day 1, 2 & 3: Journey up, Isle of Skye & Speyside

Just back from an outstanding holiday at one of my favourite holiday destinations, Speyside and we also visited the Isle of Skye Thur 5 to 12 May 2016. Three quarters of the usual Scilly team drove up to Skye where we initially had brilliant sunny weather. On the journey up I had a brief sighting of a Whooper Swan(with extensive yellow on the bill) on a Loch and several Hooded Crows seen c8. On the journey up we stopped along the shores of Loch Lomond and the opposite side of the road I saw a singing Wood Warbler and the other side in a silver birch wood another reasonably close Wood Warbler was seen singing plus 2 Treecerreepers scaling the trees too. We also heard a Tree Pipit singing. We then went straight to Applecross where I had been informed by several people it was really easy to see Ptarmigan. We drove up to the summit and parked by a carpark either side of the road taking the track up to the tower. All we saw were Meadow Pipits. There was no sight nor sound or evidence ie. droppings of Ptarmigan anywhere. However we already had company at the top by a French speaking film crew who had been all over the summit and surrounding area. We arrived on Skye to brilliant sunshine but our only full day on Skye was sadly overcast with occasional spells of light rain. Driving over the bridge we saw 2 Red Grouse, at least 2 Buzzards, we saw 6 Hooded Crows. We stayed at Staffin, a really picturesque crofting community (what you would expect for an offshore Scottish island) overlooking a bay. Our stay got off to a great start when I saw a male Twite, a brown bird with forked tail and pink rump flew north east across the garden viewed from our room, later on a walk to the local community centre for dinner, we saw a Twite fly and settle distantly in a field and a Cuckoo calling seen perched at the top of the middle Pine in a group of 5 Pine trees. We also saw 3 Rock Doves flying past the croft fields or local garden they looked like pure birds but none posed for pictures! By the street before the harbour we got off to a good start with a Hooded Crow perched on a lamp post. We bordered the MV Stardust II hoping for close encounters with Eagle, however we didn't realise that a competitor boat went out at the same time and basically stole our birds. I spotted a Grey Seal poking its head out of water briefly. It's very disappointing when these boats can't o-ordinate with each other and we had paid £25 each for the privilege. Over some sea cliffs we saw 2 distant Golden Eagles fly over. As we approached some cliffs we were joined by the other boat and beknowst to us they had already thrown a fish out and suddenly out of almost nowhere, a large adult White- tailed Eagle flew to their boat grabbed the fish in its talons and flew off, giving great views for them but not quite so good for us! It perched on a large rock and fed on the fish grasped in its talons giving us some good perched views of this species. John spotted a Black Guillemot flying right and another Tystie seen later too. Around 20 Shags flew over the sea, 6 Guillemots and 6 Razorbills flew by. Also by the cliffs were up to 15 Rock Doves, genuine birds flying out from the cliffs and flying left. On the journey over, I spotted a group of 10 Kittiwake mostly adults with at least 1 immature amongst them. We then visited another White- tailed Sea Eagle nest perched on top a tree. Our Captain threw a fish out but the Eagle had already eaten and instead we were treated to a Bonxie flying in and settling on the sea and feeding on the fish. We were also taken to see a colony of 25 Common Seal resting on rocks and seen well from the boats some of the seals were swimming in the sea too. At another Loch, we saw both a male and female Red- breasted Mergansers swimming around the left hand edge of the Loch. A male Stonechat. Another Loch revealed 2 Red- breasted Mergansers another pair plus a fling 'Commic Tern', Just past castle we wandred around an estuary and saw 5 Swallows on perched on a wire fence. On the estuary, 4 Eider seen (2 males and 2 females) swimming around. Meadow Pipit seen feeding on the near rocks plus 2 distant Common Terns flying around a small rocky island plus 2 Common Sandpiper seen too. Finally driving past Loch where the road skirted the edge of the Loch, we saw 2 magnificent Red- throated Divers swimming close to the edge and one bird was calling its eerie wailing call. Photos were taken but the light was abysmal (as it had been all day). Finally, a visit to the north of the island a look out to a windy sea revealed 2 summer plumaged Great Northern Divers, 3 fly past Fulmars, 3 Black Guillemots and 10 Gannets. Just past this we stopped and saw another summer plumaged Great Northern Diver on the sea plus 2 Black Guillemot. On Sunday 8th May, at Staffin first thing, a Cuckoo flew east. 2 Rock Doves were also seen on the entrance path where the cars were parked but soon flew off. At a Loch, a Red- throated Diver seen distantly, another male Stonechat on a nearby bush. Common Sandpiper on the Loch edge and a Buzzard on a close Pylon which flew off when Tim stalked it, whilst I discovered a confiding Green- veined White butterfly clutching tightly to a blade of grass. On the journey over to Speyside, at a stop just before Rogie's Corner by some birch woods, we heard both a trilling Wood Warbler, heard a Tree Pipit and saw a Willow Warbler. On Speyside, we were welcomed by very sunny even summery weather, and at a local village, we saw Lapwing, Mistle Thrush and Pheasant in a field. Nearby at a loch, we parked up and took the lower track by the loch side and spied both male and female Goldeneye on the water. On the island in the middle, a large double bed-sized Osprey nest revealed a female Osprey sitting on the nest whilst a male Osprey was continually flying around. Unfortunately, as it was after 2pm we were looking into the light. A Song Thrush was seen feeding on the grass by the graves and a male Blackcap heard. At High Lodge motel at Aviemore, where we were staying for the next 4 nights, we saw and heard an overflying Siskin.

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