It was CJW's long weekend off and following a difficult week, we decided we'd go on a jolly. Following a post by LGRE, I suggested we went to Applecross, a place neither of us had visited before. The main target bird was PTARMIGAN, a bird I had not seen since 1988. It had been longer for CJW, and during the long journey north, he showed me a photograph when he last saw PTARMIGAN all those years ago.
We set off at just after 20:00hrs on Friday night and I drove up to the services at Stirling. CJW then took over and gallantly battled through torrential rain on the A9. At about 04:00hrs we stopped somewhere in the early morning light. We got out of the car, stretched our legs and smelt the early morning damp Scottish air. It was a truly wonderful experience. One which we'll never forget. Because we then realised the air was full of little biting midges. We jumped back into the car and discovered the car was now full of the little biting b**tards. We spent the next five hours battling against them - squashing as many as we could before the next stop where we filled the car up again. Oh what joy.
En route, we changed our plans and headed up towards Ullapool. Along the road we stopped at the first loch we came to and there was a Black-throated Diver with two juveniles. It was 04:30hrs in the morning.
We arrived at Ullapool Harbour at 05:00hrs and CJW soon located our first target bird - a juvenile Glaucous Gull. It showed very well, feeding on the shore line. It was now 05:00hrs and time was getting on.
|Ullapool Harbour. We didn't see another sole here|
|Black-throated Diver with chick|
|Juv Glaucous Gull in Ullapool Harbour. A June tick for me|
|The route we followed|
We continued to stop along the way, and spent quite a bit of time in Gruinard Bay looking for White-tailed Eagle. Eventually CJW picked one up flying across the bay at Gairloch. Another target bird in the midge infested bag.
We found another Black-throated Diver with young further down the road as well before we finally arrived at the start of the Applecross Pass. Unfortunately, our fears were confirmed; the pass was shrouded in low cloud
|The road up the Applecross Pass. Truly scary hey!|
We parked at what we thought was the top, put on our mountain gear and survival suits and headed off towards the weather station situated on the highest point of the pass. Well actually we saw a path heading off and climbing so we walked up it, and in the mist we saw an aerial.
We searched all over the area, slowly climbing higher and higher. We had virtually reached the top when I saw a bird run away from the path. Altitude sickness was taking its toll on me, and I simply pointed and shouted the word "grouse" for some reason.
|Ptarmigan at Applecross|
As we walked back down, the clouds started to clear, again revealing some stunning scenery.
We headed down to the other side, and to the village of Applecross and started to drive to the north. We stopped at Kenmore at the top of the Applecross peninsular, watching several Black Guillemots, an Otter swimming past all with a back drop of blue sky and turquoise sea. Honestly, this is all totally true.
|The bay at Kenmore|
|Eilean Donan Castle - a familar landmark when you head out to the Uists|
It was our original intention to head back home in the morning from Fort William, but during the evening news broke from Aberdeen that the WHITE-WINGED SCOTER had returned again with the Scoter flock. It was a tick for CJW but I'd seen the 2011 bird. So I let him make the decision. Oh the agony as he ummed, and the arghs, went one way and then the next, until he decided we go for it. The alarm went off at 05:00hrs and we were soon on the road through the Scottish Highlands. It took us about three and a half hours to get to Aberdeen, and by the time we had arrived, the sun was out, the sky was blue and the crowd watching the Scoter flock was quite small now. Unfortunately, with the sun directly overhead now, the light wasn't very good. We were basically looking at silhouettes, and when you can't see the yellow beaks on the Common Scoter, you know you are in trouble. We waited an hour and there were still no clouds, and the flock had drifted out even further. We headed for home at 10:30hrs. I was driving, the tank was full and so I just carried on. Seven hours later we arrived in Stoke, the fuel light was on and we'd got about twenty miles of fuel left. But I'd driven from Aberdeen to Stoke non stop!
There's so much I've missed out. The Pine Marten that ran across the road, the Red Squirrel, the Osprey over the A9, the Great Skuas in Ullapool harbour, Seals galore, flocks of Eider and Red-breasted Mergansers, Whinchat, midges, a stringy Dipper....