Sunday 5 June 2011

Sunshine...Scotland...really?! Surely not!

So we had a day in Oban, with passengers disembarking and embarking.  This time a crowd from Adventure Canada, and a full house at that.  So we left Oban late afternoon and headed out with some drizzly weather but the promise of an improvement...

Next morning we awoke in the Sound of Islay, with overcast conditions, but would you believe it hardly any wind!  Too good to be true, and it was, as by lunchtime the wind was back up to the customary Scottish Summer 25 knots.  But we had a great morning ashore on Islay, heading in at Port Askaig and wandering up towards Finlaggen where there are some historic ruins of note (sorry not sure exactly what note, but they were situated in some pretty lovely scenery beside a loch) and there were lots of birds around.  In fact it was one of the birdiest places we have been, with willow warbler, chiffchaff, whitethroat, and blackcap, plus meadow pipits feeding young, mute swans with cygnets, and several of the finches and tits.  I walked up the road from the port a fair way before catching the bus to the site at Finlaggen.  Raced around taking a few photos of the historic site, before then heading on back to the port to drive zodiacs.  I even convinced the bus driver to stop for a minute on the side of the road so I could quickly photograph sheep out the bus door...for some reason I keep getting comments about Kiwis and sheep??!!

So back at the port the tide had turned and the current changed direction, plus the wind was back up to 20 knots or so...surprise surprise!  So as we had lunch the ship relocated to Jura where we went ashore to see the Jura Distillery.  After the trip into Drumchork the other night my interest in single malt whisky has be slightly elevated, and the smell as we went ashore was pretty damn nice.  The wind by this stage was 25-30 knots and so it was a little wetting heading in, although some red deer and mute swans near the shoreline were nice distractions.  We ferried everyone across for the distillery tour and then a small tasting...the 10 year old was pretty good...hic...

We had dinner back onboard and the a bit of a shindig ashore at the local community hall.  The locals put on some music, a few drinks and everyone seemed to have a good time...11pm back onboard, it had been a long day.

So the next morning we had an early start with what was possibly going to be a zodiac cruise of Staffa, problem was there was still a considerable swell and it just looked a little messy.  So we headed across to Iona early and went ashore.  The corncrakes were still in fine fettle and calling in the usual spots, and as usual the birding group was one of the last to see them.  But in the end we had great views of birds ‘creeping’ around in the open, even what had to be two males fighting.  Still a lot of calling, and presumably the same cuckoo we had heard the trip before was still around and calling.  Again there were lots of other birds around, with the starlings still feeding chicks in the stone walls, and recently fledged goldfinches and blackbirds in abundance.

After lunch we then headed to Staffa (minus an anchor which ‘fell off’) and did a great zodiac cruise around Staffa.  There was this strange glowing object in the sky, that even managed to completely show itself...I wonder if it could be the sun??!!  With still some fairly decent residual swell getting into Fingle’s cave was not on the cards, but we did some great cruising around the island seeing a lot of puffins on the water, with black guillemot, shag, razorbill and guillemot being around, and even the odd eider.  The columnar basalt was glimmering in the sunshine, the waves were folding on the shore, and the local ferries were apparently oblivious to the small black zodiacs bobbing around as they powered past at close quarters not giving a damn about whom they almost swamped...prats!  Back onboard we headed back to the site of the ‘lost’ anchor and sent Costa the IT officer down to try and find it...which he did.  Wasn’t hard as Peter (Capt) had basically dropped the anchor right onto the ‘lost’ anchor.  So the deck crew managed to haul it back onboard and reattach it, and we headed off and anchored in the shelter of Lunga.

Next day we awoke as the ship came in to Mingulay..well luckily I did as somehow I overslept my alarm and the announcements and so managed to wake up just in time to put my garb on and get into a zodiac.  It happens to the best of us.  So we did a couple of zodiac cruises around the northern end of Mingulay which used to be habited until 1912.  There were small patches of guillemots and razorbills on the cliffs and shags, puffins, and black guillemots around the cliffs in the water.  We shot through a narrow gap on the first cruise and came out onto the westerly side of the island where there was still a big residual swell and it was really messy against the island and towering sea cliffs.  But pretty spectacular all the same.  The next cruise we did a slightly different route and found a big group of grey seals, with more grey seals in the water than I have seen before.  They seemed to be just arounf the breakers and there were often 10-15 seals bobbing around on the surface.  A little further along we found a beach with probably close to 100 grey seals hauled out in a tight group, again something I had never seen before with this species.

As we had lunch the ship repositioned into Barra for an afternoon landing exploring the town and a local castle.  I was driving most of the afternoon, but had a little opportunity for a nap in the sun, before Peter and I had dinner ashore.  Nice little pub overlooking the bay and ship.  Then it was time to drive again and get everyone ashore for another shindig at a local pub.  They had organised a few local acts including a fantastic fiddler, some local ladies singing local songs, and then a local band.  Some of our gys did various performances with bagpipes, french horn, and voice, before it was then time to get everyone back to the ship...would have been a good time for an overnight in port!

But St Kilda was calling, and as we roused bright and breezy in the morning, it was the former, but not the latter!  Low swells, light breezes and spectacular views of the stacks at Boreray, Stac Lee and Stac an Armin.  We were so damn close you could almost taste the gannets and had absolutely awesome views of the place as we circumnavigated them and cruised between Boreray and Stac Lee.  Just awesome, with thousands of gannets, great skuas bombing them, and Soay sheep clinging to the grassy slopes (yeah yeah...sheep again).  We then headed across to Hirta (the main island of St Kilda) and landed in almost no wind, blue sky conditions, what a place.  I lead a bird walk, and we had good views of St Kilda wren, wheatear, and pied wagtail, and eventually got awesome shots of St Kilda wrens singing in the sunshine.  I had really been hoping for some good opportunities and sure got that, so very happy.  Also some nice photos of the fulmars resting on the roves of the cleats, over-flying, etc.  So all in all a pretty excellent morning ashore.  The locals were pretty happy as well as this was one of the first nice days out here in the last one and a half months.

We then cruised throughout the afternoon on pretty smooth seas, heading up towards Orkney.  I spent a fair bit of time on the bridge, but no good bird sightings or cetaceans.  Had hoped for a Leach’s stormie or something, but puffins and gannets were it...oh well!  Time for a G&T!

Port Askaig on Islay

The boat harbour

Ruins at Finlaggen

Black-faced sheep on Islay...the bus stopped for this one!

6,000 barrels of single malt!

Barrels, barrels and more barrels..Jura Distillery

Mute swan off Jura
Spot the corn crake!

Slightly better view of the elusive corn crake

Blackbird with food for chicks on Iona

Song thrush

The cliffs of Staffa with people on the top for reference

Mingulay on a nice sunny morning

Zodiacs waiting to be loaded off Mingulay, MV Clipper Odyssey in the background

Mingulay coastline

Grey seals in the surf off Mingulay

Grey seal

Grey seal - one of my favourites from the day

Grey seals hauled out on the beach on Mingulay

Common guillemots against the sun

Northern fulmar in flight

These boots are made for walking...and driving zodiacs, standing on ice, and generally wicked footwear!

The Castletown, Barra

Juvenile shag

And again

The church at Castletown, Barra

Coming in to Boreray (right) and Stac Lee (left)

Stac Lee

The north side of Boreray

Sheeps and gannets and lichens, on Boreray

Stac an Armin (right) and Stac Lee (left) with Hirta in the background

The top of Boreray

The side of Stac an Armin

The top of Stac Lee with clouds of gannets

We canne' get any closer Captain!

Top of Stac Lee

Nesting fulmars

On Hirta

Northern fulmar in flight

My first photo of St Kilda wren today

Grave stone in the Hirta cemetary

Says it on St Kilda towards the end

From the cemetary on Hirta

From the cemetary on Hirta

Northern fulmar calling

Pair of northen fulmars calling to each other

Strutting his stuff, a male St Kilda wren singing

St Kilda wren (left) and wheatear (right)

Oh yeah - male St Kilda wren in full song

Meadow pipit song posting

Pair of northern fulmars

My favourite fulmar shot of the day

Northern fulmar calling from the top of a cleat

Northern fulmar with a salt droplet on the bill

Starling with food for its babies

Looking out over the village on Hirta

Northern wheatear taking off


  1. Great Photos Brent,good to see you're still getting around and about.

  2. Cheers Hamish. Yep travel travel...all good! Got another few months up here so looking forward to the nice weather continuing!
    Cheers, Brent

  3. I think I have just made a virtual trip there. Very nice blog post.
    Best, Szimi

  4. Nice pics Brent. You'll be pleased to note the only thing flaming about Flaming June in Glos today was the flaming rain and wind.

  5. Love the birds you find, Brent, singing away to their little heart's content. As usual, we are enjoying your blog, and travelling vicariously with you. Dot

  6. Thanks for all the nice comments! Will be uploading my next blog tomorrow whilst we have the day in Montrose (near Edinburgh). End of one cruise and start of another...incredible puffin shots yesterday at Fair Isle!

  7. When we went for corryvreckan boat trips, The place was really awesome. The wildlife is rich and the scenery is so captivating. I love to go back there.