Skye and Islay 2013
|The Cuillin Hills, from Sligachan, Skye|
|Looking across the Sound of Sleat at Armadale|
We arrived on Skye via the bridge early evening and headed for the Ardvasar Hotel, our home for the next three nights. Ardvasar is a hamlet located next to the village of Armadale on the Sleat Pensinsular. One of the first birds on Skye was a Buzzard, and a short scan of the Sound (of Sleat) after dinner revealed two Arctic Terns, two Gannets, a Shag, several 100 Guillemot, and two Harbour Porpoises. Two Common Sandpipers and five Oystercatchers were along the shoreline, and other birds around Ardvasar/Armadale included two Whitethroats, a Willow Warbler, four Swallows and a Lesser Redpoll.
I woke up the the sound of a Cuckoo calling, but soon my thoughts turned to a boat trip from Portree. The drive to Portree took us through some of the most scenic landscape on the island (or anywhere?), the rugged beauty of the Cuillins looking stunning in the sun. We chose the Brigadoon and made a booking for midday. The main object of the trip for me was White-tailed Eagle, and I wasn't disappointed. We had great views of two of these very impressive birds, plus a good range of other birds including a Great Skua, a Black Guillemot, a Puffin, two drake Eider, a Razorbill, a Kittiwake, a Peregrine, Rock Doves, Shags, Cormorants, four Ravens, and a Cuckoo; and also 1-2 Harbour Porpoises. Back on dry land, a Hooded Crow flew along Portree High Street. I can recommend Café Arriba, near the harbour for a nice slice of cake!
|White-tailed Eagle, Portree, Skye|
|Common Sandpiper, Armadale, Skye|
Linda told me she had heard a Tawny Owl calling very near the hotel in the early hours. I had been sound asleep and insisted she wake me up if she heard it again. We both slept too soundly the next night!
It was another glorious day. Before breakfast two Arctic Terns were fishing offshore again, a male Siskin was singing near the hotel and c15 Green-veined Whites were in the same area.
After breakfast we walked to nearby Armadale Castle to spend most of the day in the gardens there. I have to mention some of the flora at this point. The late spring meant that things like Bluebells were still in full flower, and in amongst the Pignut, Red Campion, Ramsoms and Buttercup the effect was stunning. A pair of Spotted Flycatchers were along the walk on the way to Armadale and in the castle grounds I noted a further three. Also of note, a Garden Warbler, three Goldcrests, three Chiffchaffs, four Willow Warblers, three Coal Tits, a pair of Bullfinches, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, 15+ Siskins and 10+ Lesser Redpolls. Near one of the ponds Linda pointed out a dragonfly resting on the vegetation, an Azure Hawker, which flew off as I reached for the camera. The longer walk took us into open moorland and up Armadale Hill. Around a boggy pond were 10 Four-spotted Chasers plus Large Red, Azure and Common Blue Damselflies. A further two Azure Hawkers were seen in flight away from the pond. A pair of Stonechats were seen nearer the hill, and around eight Meadow Pipits. As for Butterflies. two Small Heaths and many Green-veined Whites were on the wilder hill area, and an Orange Tip back near the restaurant.
|Spotted Flycatcher, Armadale, Skye|
A day of increasing cloud turned to light drizzle by the time we reached Glasdrum Wood, north of Oban, on the journey between Skye and Islay. I gave Glasdrum a good go nevertheless for Chequered Skipper but there were none to be had. Linda did a sterling effort too to look for butterflies, and found the first of three Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, which provided some consolation. Before long we had to press on to make sure we didn't miss the six o'clock evening sailing from Kennacraig to Port Ellen.
|Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Glasdrum Wood|
|Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Glasdrum Wood|
And so we were on Islay for the second part of our holiday, staying at Duich on Linda's sister and bother-in-law's farm.The weather had become cooler and was more changeable during our stay on the second island. It was nice seeing five Rock Doves on the garden feeders, with the more familiar House Sparrows, Greenfinches, and Starlings. At RSPB Loch Gruinart later I needed some Corncrake information. After passing a Merlin and two House Martins on the way we arrived at the visitor centre to learn that a Corncrake had been seen singing in open view just minutes before. It didn't repeat its performance in the next half an hour, but at least I knew where they were. The sun shone for us on the new moorland walk which links to the woodland walk. Birds on the walk included c40 Rooks, three Willow Warblers, 2+ Lesser Redpolls, two Siskins, three Cuckoos (including a female), four Curlews, 4+ Redshanks, six Greylags, two Shovelers and c40 Mallards. Three Small Coppers and 10+ Green-veined Whites were on the moorland area, also a Red Deer.
|Looking across Corncrake habitat from the visitor centre, RSPB Loch Gruinart|
|Red Deer, Loch Gruinart|
|Grey Seal, Portnahaven|
In the morning, brother-in-law Brian took me down in the 4x4 to Laggan Bay to see the carcass of a young Sperm Whale he had found a few days before. Nearby were breeding Arctic and Little Terns, along with Oystercatchers and a few of Kittiwake and Ringed Plover. A small number of Sand Martins also breed in the area, though numbers were well down on previous years. A couple of Rock Pipts were foraging among the rocks, and a roost of c150 Eider present included many juveniles. Around the dune areas were two Wheatears.
|Arctic Tern, Laggan Bay|
|Little Tern, Laggan Bay|
|Eider flock, Laggan Bay|
|Ringed Plover, Laggan Bay|
|Rock Pipit, Laggan Bay|
|Sperm Whale carcass, Laggan Bay|
|Northern Marsh Orchid, The Oa|
The ferry wasn't until 6.00pm so we had most of the day on the island. In the morning I roamed the area between the farm and the dunes. A recently fledged Wheatear was nice but the best birds were three confiding Twite.
|Juvenile Wheatear, Duich|
The afternoon turned to showers, but I still had some free time so returned to Loch Gruinart. I was rewarded with close views of a male Hen Harrier. Other birds noted were Cuckoo, a Sedge Warbler, at least one Spotted Flycatcher, three Willow Warblers and a Blackcap. Also Heath Spotted Orchid. Continuing on to Ardnave I only picked up Tufted Duck and Mute Swan.
|Heath Spotted Orchid, Loch Gruinart|
I wanted another try for Chequered Skipper and so we made the small detour to Allt Mhuic en route back to Inverness airport. Despite ideal conditions, 17oC and sunny, I could not nail this species, just a quick fly-by possible. Still, it was a very pleasant site and we saw lots of other stuff. Butterflies included five Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries and four Green Hairstreaks. Two Golden-ringed Dragonflies were also nice, plus two Large Red Damselflies. Also an Adder basking by the path, which soon slithered into cover. Birds included a Spotted Flycatcher, a Buzzard, a Blackcap, a Willow Warbler and a Cuckoo. A nice end to the holiday.
|Adder, Allt Mhuic|
|Green Hairstreak, Allt Mhuic|
Ardvasar Hotel, Isle of Skye: http://www.ardvasarhotel.com/
Brigadoon boat trips at Portree, Isle of Skye: http://www.portree-boat-trips.co.uk/
Café Arriba, Portree, Isle of Skye: http://www.cafearriba.co.uk/