North Uist: Post-Dusk Chorus

Standing on the doorstep, the moon shining down and lighting up the nocturnal world, it is my hearing that draws attention not my sight; silence but for the birds.

Sheltered from the strong wind but it has ceased and I walk out, crunching on gravel, to the edge of the plot. Overlooking the low, shallow bays, I listen to the post-dusk chorus.

There’s a nervous lapwing out in the dark, wary around its nest and the skittish redshank piping alarm at some movement on the shore.

Further from the water, a harsh growl is let out by the short-eared owl and the snipe drums its wing feathers as it floats to the ground. Back to the sea and the oystercatchers join the lapwing and redshank in calling at an unseen peril.

The sounds of the wild are completed by the mournful curlew as it lifts and glides off into the distance, its crying echoing around the bays.

5R0A6499

North Uist: A Day Exploring

My first full day on North Uist and I spent it travelling around the island and getting my bearings. It’s not a huge place, so after a day spent driving and walking, I’m already familiar with the geography.

One of the main reasons I like to come to places like this is for the remoteness and lack of the hustle and bustle of my usual working week in the centre of Manchester.  However, today was exceptionally quiet.  There were very few people about and I didn’t come across many cars – maybe it’s always like this; I’ll have to wait and see tomorrow!

I spent the morning at RSPB Balranald, out on the western coast of the island.  It has contrasting landscapes with wide, open and flat pasture, sandy beaches and rocky shorelines.  The weather out there changed by the minute; to-ing and fro-ing between rain and bright sunshine, the strong wind blew clouds over so quickly that it was difficult to keep up!  The rain didn’t spoil my visit, however, and I think the weather is all part of the experience and certainly made it memorable.

5R0A2602

I’m a bit early in the year for some of the highlights at the reserve such as rasping corncrakes and the wildflowers of the Machir but I did get some good views of the local wildlife and passing migrants.  There were flocks of golden plover moving from field to field, a couple of great skuas flew along the coast and a small group of barnacle geese lifted and headed north as I rounded of the shoreline.

5R0A2673.jpg

After walking along the white sand beaches of the reserve, I headed off on more wanderings around the island and came across the chambered cairn and standing stones at  Beinn Langais.  I walked up to the cairn, then to the top of the hill and round, back via the standing stones, with the weather just as changeable as it was in the morning. From the top of the hill, despite the cloud, there were great views across much of the island and down to the south towards Benbecula and South Uist; on a clear days the sights much be amazing.

5R0A2772.jpg

For the last part of the day, I travelled across the minor road that almost splits the island in half (well, more like one third to two thirds) and then headed up to Berneray to what the landscapes were like in the north.  I wasn’t disappointed as the beaches, hills and small lochs were just as photogenic as they were elsewhere during the day.

5R0A2808.jpg

Today has certainly whetted my appetite for more wanderings around the island.  After a guided wildlife tour tomorrow, I’ve got a few ideas of where to visit next. I certainly want to visit the islands to the south but there’s so much more to do on North Uist that I may not get around to going to Harris and Lewis at all – perhaps that’s another trip up here already in the planning!

 

Scottish Islands: Outer Hebrides

Following on from my trip to Skye last autumn (as well as a number of other trips before), I’m carrying on with my aim to visit all of the main islands, or groups of islands, around the coast of Scotland. This time, I’m staying on North Uist for a week.

After travelling as far as Fort William yesterday, I made the second leg of the outward journey today. I woke after a pretty poor night’s sleep, having been kept awake by a nearby fairground, then woken at 1:15am by the fire alarm and hotel evacuation, and then delayed from getting back to sleep by the overly loud bathroom extractor fan! However, the freshness of the morning, the bright light and the excitement of the journey ahead soon knocked me out of my drowsiness once I’d had breakfast.

My outward trip to Skye last year used the Mallaig ferry and my homeward journey was mostly in the dark before I passed Fort William. I had therefore never driven the route between Fort William and the Kyle of Lochalsh in daylight; today showed what I had missed! I use the word ‘stunning’ quite a lot in my blogging but it’s a truly perfect word to describe the journey. For someone who enjoys a good, long drive on demanding roads, the journey was just about perfect. As I had set off early, there was little traffic along the way although the intermittent snow, sleet and hail made it ‘interesting’ at times. However, I will remember the journey more for the sheer beauty of the landscapes, washed in early morning light, with dark but broken clouds allowing the sun to break over the deep valleys and the newly snow-dusted mountaintops.

5R0A2080.jpg

I arrived on Skye in plenty of time before I had to be at Uig for the ferry, so I drove a little further into the Trotternish area and retraced some of my autumnal steps. Unfortunately, the sea was too rough to allow much of a chance of catching a glimpse of a cetacean or two.

I love a ferry journey and the trip from Uig to Lochmaddy didn’t let me down. I stayed on deck for the whole 1hr45mins; it was cold but the views were worth it. On arriving on North Uist, it was only a short trip to my accommodation for the week; a newly rebuilt stone and thatch cottage, right on the coast. I don’t think I’ve ever been made to feel more welcome by owners of a holiday cottage and the place itself is pretty special; I might be a bit spoilt this week!

I didn’t do too much exploring before unpacking but I did pop out to the shop and slowly drove back, scanning the landscape for interesting wildlife – I was rewarded with a view of a short-eared owl right by the roadside. Unfortunately, by the time I got my camera ready it had flown off somewhat but I still managed to get some shots. As I write this post, there’s actually another one flying past the cottage!

5R0A2426.jpg

I can’t wait to see what the week brings!