Stephen Burch's Birding & Dragonfly Website
13 - 21 July 2013
By Stephen Burch, England
Unlike in 2011, Thrifty were unhelpful and refused to give any indication of the model of car we might have had. The other main companies were very expensive, so I decided to try a local company - Arnold Clark who provided an excellent service. We were met at the terminal and taken by minibus to their site in Inverness where we were provided with a brand new Insignia - one of the models I had requested in advance. On the return we went first to their Inverness site, and were then driven to the airport in the same car for a drop off right outside the terminal. This avoided the trudge from the long stay car park we had on returning the Thrifty car 2 years ago. Arnold Clark's price was good as well.
1. Handa Island SWT reserve
The northern coast has the cliffs and sea bird colonies which can be viewed distantly from the path. All 3 auks were present in good numbers, and many could be seen on the water, in flight, or on the offshore cliffs -the Great Stack was particularly impressive. There was also a Red-throated Diver on a small loch to the east of the path as it reaches the coast, where there were several Great Skuas bathing.
The northern section of the path was good for flight shots of the plentiful Fulmar, Great Skua and Gulls that are continually cruising past. Also a good place for a picnic lunch. I had heard that the Puffins are now breeding on the mainland following the removal of the rats, but access was forbidden to their main breeding area, and so photographs were difficult.
The highlight of the return path which runs along the western shore was an amazingly obliging Great Skua sitting on mound - it just let me walk right up to it, to within frame filling range. The result was only my fifth Bird Guides Notable Photo!
The Arctic Terns can
also be seen from the final section of the path, but of course
their breeding colony is out of bounds. Waiting above the
beach for the return boat several were passing over either on
the way out to fish or returning with their catch. In the
brief time available I didn't get any good shots, but a longer
stint might have been productive.
The lighthouse NW of Stoer produced distant auks (including one Black Guillemot), Gannets and passing Manx Shearwater in strong winds. We were a couple of months late for the Collared Flycatcher that had been seen in the car park briefly!
Traigh Bad na Baighe, a muddy offshoot of Loch Laxford, is right by the A894 and at low tide produced a few waders including Greenshank and Redshank. Scourie beach produced a flock of c. 30 summer plumage Dunlin, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider and Ringed Plover in dismal conditions one day and almost nothing in better conditions on another visit! Twite was a bird I was looking for without much success until I came across a small flock by the Rubha Cadail lighthouse which is a few miles NW of Ullapool (accessed from the minor road to Rhue).The immediate surrounding to our accommodation, although spectacular scenery wise, were fairly birdless, except for the odd Common Tern from the breeding colony in the nearby loch - better views of which can be had at the nearby Kylesku hotel. Also there was a plastic duck bobbing about on the small pool by the main road - put there by the owner as a joke, who has been amused to see several groups of birders staring at it trying to work out what it was (OK so it had me fooled briefly as well)! He was mentioning something about it being joined by a similarly unnatural crocodile later this year!
1. Bridge of Grudie
By the end of our week, the conditions were completely different with hot sunny weather, which should have been ideal for dragonflies, but strangely on the hottest day (Sunday) there was hardly anything to be seen. Maybe it was too hot for these northern specialities?! But a prolonged visit on the Saturday afternoon had fortunately been better with another brief view of a settled Azure Hawker (on the almost dried up pools on the opposite side of the road from the loch) which followed a copulating pair that eluded me photographically.
On the other side of the road,
the edge of the dell on the river side again produced a Northern Emerald, but
this time it was visible after settling high up in one of
the conifers. The conditions were all wrong for photography
but this didn't stop me trying! However nothing I was able
to do resulted in anything better than a record shot (see below).
This insect stayed put for well over an hour but had then
departed when looked for again. So both my remaining two
northern targets were "bagged", although the Northern Emerald
pic could certainly do with some improvement.
2. Other dragonfly sites
The only other site where we came across any Odonata was the 3 mile circular Loch an t-Sabhail path at the Little Assynt Estate at the western end of Loch Asssynt of the A837. In barely adequate conditions, a few Highland/Common Darters and Golden Ringed Dragonflies were showing.
© All pictures copyright Stephen Burch