Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Golden Moments and Shear Delight

About 32 years ago my beloved and I went on our first date. It wasn't planned that way, we had met at a birdwatching for beginners course and I had offered to take Ruth and her friend to see Puffins at Bempton Cliffs. Her friend 'dropped out' of the trip and you can guess the rest.

On the way home from very successful Puffin watching I asked Ruth what she would like to see next. "Golden Eagle" was the reply. She claims that my knuckles turned white on the steering wheel!

I had seen Golden Eagles on four occasions before I met Ruth. Since that first date, we have been to Scotland about six times, in summer school holidays and mostly with children not keen to hang around looking for birds. Not a Golden Eagle in sight. It became a joke between Ruth and I that she could not divorce me before I had shown her a Golden Eagle. A joke that caused some of our associates to give us a sideways look - I actually think some took us seriously.

As we approach 30 years of wedded bliss, I decided that I must have a serious attempt at ending this drought, so I suggested a June half term break on the Isle of Skye.

During the trip, that started midday on 1st June and ended on 9th June, we saw 77 species of which 66 were seen on Skye. Not a bad total, considering that we spent no time looking for tweets in woodland, saw neither Peregrine nor Sprawk and spent most time either admiring the views or scouring rock faces for Eagles.

On the 5th June we searched to the south west of the Cuillins. Along a small track to the sea a large raptor came in to view. "Another Buzzard" said I, keeping a firm eye on the narrow track festooned with suspension busting potholes. But as it disappeared round a small hill, we realised that it was much further away than we thought and an great deal bigger. So Ruth tracked the bird whilst I negotiated the rally course.

We came into an open area of the valley and there was our prize. An adult Golden Eagle, resplendent with mainly uniform dark plumage and a golden mane that contrasted with its dark face. By then it was being harried by two Hooded Crows. It flew around, twisting and turning to avoid it's pursuers, occasionally raising its head in a threatening manner and calling frequently. We watched this spectacle for about five minutes with the Eagle coming within 250 meters on more than one occasion. Not just a first sighting for Ruth, but a mind bogglingly brilliant display that many who have seen plenty of Golden Eagles will not have witnessed. I doubt that I will ever have a better view.

Eventually the Eagle landed on a ledge about half a mile distant. It made us realise just how easily we could have missed other birds sitting on the many cliffs that make up Skye's spectacular landscape.

The next day we had a more typical view; an Eagle about half a mile away, this time being chased by two Ravens. This was an immature bird, with a clear white tail band, but little white on the wings.

I decided that a trip on the ferry to Tarbert, in Harris, would provide opportunities for Shearwaters and possibly Petrels. We saw neither, but did see several hundred Puffins and lots of Common Guillemots and Razorbills. We saw five Tysties in Uig harbour and odd ones on the trip.

A trip up the north east edge of Skye took us past Kittiwakes colonies and yet more Guillemots and Razorbills. At one point we took a walk to a ruined castle and were entertained by a singing and displaying Rock Pipit. It gave us an opportunity to compare its song with the shed loads of Meadow Pipits that we saw during the week. At this site we also saw lots of orchids, mainly Spotted but also a few Northern Marsh. I will speculate that the Spotted Orchids were mainly hybrid fuchsii/ericetorum, but I stand to be corrected by those who know their Skye flowers.

It was good to hear Cuckoos. We found them in five different locations, but no bubbling females.

Having used the bridge on the journey to Skye, we decided to take the ferry to Mallaig on the return. As we neared Mallaig, a flock of over 200 Manx Shearwaters were wheeling around an obvious food hot spot. A single Bonxie was chasing them in the hope of a free meal.

We didn't take the White Tailed Eagle sea trip from Portree, so no new tick for me, but an excuse (not that we need one) for another visit sometime. Someone who had taken the Aros trip was told that none of the Skye birds had bred this year, so they were much less active than usual.

Back down to earth, I see that I have missed an opportunity for a first UK Marsh Warbler and perhaps a sighting and not just song coming from a bush. I wouldn't swap the joy that the Eagle gave us for anything.

1 comment:

  1. Super post.
    I was just going to offer you a swop with the Marsh Warbler untill the last paragraph. It did show very well. You must have just missed it............always the case.