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A trip mainly for Cetaceans, to treat myself to a birthday present - to visit St Kilda and to get a few special sub species and the odd orchid or two and some Hebridean bumblebees.
Wednesday 1st August
After an overnight drive I arrived on Lindesfarne to search for Lindesfarne Helleborine, I could not find the ones suggested by the warden but located one other which unfortunately was well past its best. Heading south I was much more successful with Young's Helleborine although not easy to photograph in the drizzle and dark conditions. The weather improved as I headed further south to Bishop Middleham Quarry where the dark red helleborines were still flowering nicely and a few Northern brown argus were about along with a few of the commoner species. Next it was to Greatham Creek to see the seals, here the RSPB have put in a hide and viewpoint for the masses, only one seal was present, so I headed to the reserve to see the white winged black tern which was showing over one of the lakes. Little else of interest on the reserve so I headed back to the seals which were now present in good numbers, but I avoided the hide and it's attending springwatchers. Heading towards my final destination of Whitby I stopped at South Gare, one Roseate tern was present amongst the commoner birds, and I located a Garden tiger moth, here I had some news about some boat trips organised for later in the week the boat had broken down and the trips were to be cancelled but some other operators may be able to help. I met up with Simon West for some chips before joining the rest of the passengers for the Dogger Bank Pelagic.
Blue Fulmar © Mark Hows.
Thursday 2nd August
After spending all night on deck being ill (but I was far from the worst affected), I dozed on and off for a few hours before feeling human and managing a little breakfast. I had not missed much and although we had a few arctic and great skuas of note but it was generally quiet, after some lunch I was much better and was a lot more use spotting not that there was much around. An adult sabine's gull was seen quite well but did not linger, but a blue fulmar was more obliging. We had a brief view of a minke whale and some harbour porpoises just before tea, and as I was dining al fresco another minke whale showed well and all had good views at some point, a total of 4 were seen and we cruised back into Whitby after a reasonably successful trip.
Friday 3rd August
After a leisurely start I headed to Ben Lawers for butterflies but the weather was not quite good enough and I gave up and headed to Europe's oldest tree, the Fortingall Yew, then on to Loch of the Lowes, where I had just missed a beaver right in front of the hide. The red squirrel was just leaving the feeding station and did not return. After some food I headed to see some beavers, one crossed the track on the approach to one of the pools but no sign of it on arrival. The second pool was much more successful with two feeding at the edge of the pool. On returning to the first pool a beaver was present probably the one seen earlier, another was feeding but mostly obscured. I drove through the night to Skye, seeing a roe deer and 3 hedgehogs on route.
Saturday 4th August
I took the ferry from Uig to Tarbert, a white tailed eagle was fishing offshore as we departed and a large raft of manx shearwaters the only other noteworthy sighting. I drove straight to Loch Stiavapat where it was not long before the Black winged pratincole was flying over the loch. A black rabbit was feeding in the field by the hide. I drove down to the south of the island and had some food and took the ferry to North Uist.
Sunday 5th August
I was searching for orchids and it was not long before I found lots of common spotted orchids but despite searching several sites I could not find any other species. So I changed focus and hunted for the heath bumblebee which despite the less than perfect conditions were easily seen but not quite so easy to photograph, a cracking short eared owl was a bonus. With news that my trip to St Kilda had been sorted with another carrier and was due to go out on Monday I was buoyant, but that was short lived as my car refused to start and I was in the middle of nowhere. I walked and found someone to help and I managed to get it started and to a garage, but being Sunday on North Uist it was not open like most other things apart from the church. A call to the AA had someone from the garage I was outside appear and a new battery was fitted and all seemed fine and I continued my search for orchids without much success, but my bumblebee search produced a Great yellow bumblebee. I headed over the committee road over the middle of North Uist and had a cracking male hen harrier, with time moving on I caught the ferry back to Harris and drove round searching for golden eagles without success.
Monday 6th August
I joined Kilda cruises for an excellent day trip to St Kilda, the weather was a little mixed and the sea a bit choppy but I was fine. A storm petrel was the only highlight on the way there. The islands appeared in the distance and we pulled into the sheltered harbour and were ferried by RIB to the shore. We were allowed to explore the island ourselves and I headed along the old street in search of the St Kilda wren a larger subspecies and it was not too long before I found one. The Soay sheep were present everywhere most ear tagged by the scientists who were around studying them, but we had little time for small talk. My dilemma was to join another birder to search for the snowy owl on the other side of the island or search for St Kilda mice in the village, I chose the latter and I put some bait out and did some searching. I had three brief views and somehow managed to miss one of my baits disappear but did see the culprit briefly in the wall. The weather closed in and I had chosen the best option the owl nowhere to be seen. We boarded the boat for the return trip and set out for a tour round Boreray and the stacs. We had a good look at the Gannets and Puffins still present and saw the Boreray black faced sheep high up on some precarious positions the whole tour was quite an awesome experience. We headed for home and some dolphins were picked up, there were two groups associating closely but it was the white beaked dolphins who showed well, the Atlantic white sided dolphins were less co-operative. Finally some Leach's petrels gave themselves up and we landed in Leverburgh after a great trip. I headed for the cafe for some chips of course and while eating them I noticed a couple of people watching something in the small marina next to the harbour. I though an otter was present and headed over, but no a small minke whale was showing very well. A boat owner came over and confirmed it had been present the previous day, it rounded off a great day. I went back to the car which would not start - magic. Another call to the AA the local agent diagnosed starter motor problem but we got it started at least. I was going to stay longer but I decided to leave the islands and head towards home.
St.Kilda Wren © Mark Hows.
Tuesday 7th August
The minke whale was still present before I set off to search for otter and Golden eagles on the way to Tarbert and the ferry back to Skye. But there was nothing and the ferry journey was quiet as well. On Skye I continued my search for otter and eagles and did have a golden eagle soaring over Raasay but no otter. A few red deer were on the high slopes as I drove to Creag Meagaidh. The weather was perfect for butterflies and I quickly found dozens of scotch argus butterflies and a few dark green fritillaries. I then headed to Fort William area to my B&B for the evening Glen Loy Lodge. After a quick sjower I settled in the conservatory to wait for the pine martens to show, but a white tailed eagle circled overhead. Minutes late a pine marten arrived and showed very well for 20 mins or so and then returned later for another 10 mins.
Wednesday 8th August
After a hearty breakfast I headed to Ardnamurchan, but not for the usual species I was searching for orchids and after some considerable effort I managed to find one Irish ladies tresses just coming into flower another few days would be better. I headed south stopping at Glasdrum woods for a late lunch and a wander to see some of the commoner butterfly species. The next part of my drive was very tedious following lots of tourist vehicles mostly foreign driving very badly and slow, I had enough and did a few touristy things and headed cross country to Crinan where I searched for the Bonaparte's gull. It took some finding but was across the estuary so I headed to Lochgilphead for a terrible haggis supper. It was then on to Knapdale to the beaver project. I headed to the viewpoint and it was not too long before I heard some munching but the beaver was very obscured and only visible briefly every now and again, it soon disappeared as some researchers put a boat in the water and paddled around. Some other people were watching the large lake and called me over to watch a beaver swim across the far end.
Thursday 9th August
After some breakfast I arrived at Low Newton where after a short walk I was with a few other birders watching the cracking stilt sandpiper and then I made one more stop at a pond in Yorkshire to see some Florida red bellied turtles - well there had not been anything else plastic on the trip, and it was off to my brothers to get the car repaired, I drove home with a brown rat the only thing of note.
Many Thanks to Bill Neill Outer Hebrides Biological Recording Project for his help. Also Thanks to Steven Duffield for some information, he runs excellent day trips which in the past I have been on Western Isles Wildlife