For the first 2 and a bit days that we were here we could have been forgiven for thinking that someone had shifted all the islands that were normally part of our vista. Our visibility out into the Minch only extended to a few hundred metres … with everything beyond that shrouded in a constant blanket of rain cloud, it was like looking out at unchanging grey brick wall … and we hadn’t even laid eyes on any of the lighthouses that previously had been a source of intermittent illumination of an evening! All of that however was to change as we awoke at dawn to a very welcome sight – no rain and relatively light winds!! Skye was laid out in all her glory in front of us, the towering peak of An Cliseam on North Harris was once again on the horizon and the Shiants felt once more as if they were in touching distance, reassuring us that they hadn’t actually upped and moved off elsewhere!
The waters of the northern Minch gave the “appearance” of a relatively tranquil place (belying what was really going on underneath the surface), no white horses, no swell and with some intermittent cloud cover, all in all pretty ideal conditions for us to get watching! And the wildlife wasn’t to disappoint. Before breakfast we’d already encountered an otter on a mission, (carrying his/her own breakfast home) and a white-tailed sea-eagle on the prowl for an appetising snack. The sheer size of these birds make it difficult to mistake them for anything else, except another type of eagle, and the lack of a “white-tail” until they are about 5 years old can lead to some folk believing there to be Golden Eagles in these parts. There are thought to be approximately 12 sea-eagles in the vicinity, including a breeding pair and their two chicks who’ve set up home just behind the house.
As you’d expect, the other birdlife around and about is substantially different than what we were documenting back in May. There is a distinct lack of “little brown birds” (ornithologist I am not, remember!) in the garden, although some of the hardier ones are still here and one rather noisy addition are the flocks of geese (and the odd flock of swans) that keep appearing in the north heading south down through the Minch to their wintering grounds – if anyone was in doubt that the seasons had changed….listen to the Geese! They’re too far off for a positive identification however through a process of elimination we believe the swans to be of the whooper variety and the geese, Canadian. There also seems to be far fewer gannets around, although those that are here (which include a lot of youngsters) are delighting us with their constant dive-bombing – I don’t believe you could ever get bored of watching these spectacular birds! The most abundant bird by far is the shag, in fact it’s shags galore out there, everywhere you look there’s one, two or five of them flying by, there are “bottoms up” (thus shag engaged in a wee bit of diving behaviour) all over the place and there are black specks bobbing about all over the surface – great to see but slightly distracting when your trying to find fins, fins and more fins!
And fins we finally got – what is it about patience being a virtue! Just as the light was beginning to fade and our thoughts were turning to dinner a lone dolphin was spotted in the distance, close to Skye and heading south with a bit of a purpose. Then we were treated to a sighting of two minke whales much closer to shore. Both of them appeared to be focused on feeding (it was approaching dinner time after all) and as the evening light glistened off their backs when they sliced through the surface, we decided to call it a day!
Was that a most perfect end to a perfect day? We certainly thought so until we were treated to another amazing sunset (one of the perks of this part of the world) as the sky became a veritable palette of colours. As darkness fell we reacquainted ourselves with the lighthouses in the vicinity and kept our fingers crossed for a repeat of today’s weather tomorrow!