TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
Saturday 10 - Saturday 17 July 2004
Saturday, 10th July
Walking through a grey Mallaig, I was hailed by Theo from the café where they make the famous prawn rolls, and where I duly repaired; the rolls are as good as ever, but I was asked to pay before I had even a bite! We all subsequently gathered at the appointed place and hour and eventually boarded the Loch Nevis. We were still close to Mallaig when we began to have the first views of the Manx Shearwaters, (closer in than I can ever recall), some fishing in groups with gulls and Gannets. I had one good view of a dolphin, which looked very like a Bottle-nosed, slightly to my surprise.
I have done this Eigg and Rum trip for a good many years, during which time not a great deal has changed, but there were lots of new things to get used to this year, including the amazing new pier on Eigg - I'm still not sure that I like it, it does seem a bit out of scale, but it all seems to work OK. We duly landed there, and, reassuringly, Davie was there with a white minibus to greet us; but even that's a change, as he told me that this one is legal, actually possessing insurance and a licence - (suppose it's progress). Marie greeted us as warmly as ever at Kildonnan, (and the food is as good as ever!), but the house is wonderfully renovated. We had some tea and cake, then went for a short walk, during which we became aware of a real lack of small birds. There were plenty of Swallows, though.
Sunday, 11th July
It was greyish in the morning, but the forecast was fair, and we decided to make the most of it, and set off towards the Sgurr. We went through the exotic grounds of the Lodge, and uphill via Galmisdale, thence on to the moorland. Here we soon had a good view of a Short-eared Owl hunting, which we were able to watch for a while.
Lunch was at the second loch, trying for a location that was not too breezy, but breezy enough to keep the midges away. We then followed the deep little glens, under the extraordinary rock formations, till we came to where the narrow path goes steeply along the hillside, above a lochan. A Red-throated Diver came abruptly off the shore as I rounded the corner, and we all had splendid views of this beautiful bird. Sharp eyes spotted the two eggs onshore. There were Magpie Moths all over the place, and we were at last seeing some Stonechats. We went to where there is an excellent view of the hills of Rum, before turning back. Some of us went up the Sgurr on the way back, from where we had, of course, quite spectacular views.
Monday, 12th July
The day was fairly breezy, with an edge to the breeze, but it was mostly bright, and dry all day. We walked over to Cleadale, with lovely views to Rum from the Bealach. The crofting area was full of flowers, including a patch with more Heath Spotted Orchids than most of us had ever seen, (and Davie was preparing to make hay with his young helpers).
We had lunch beyond Howlain (nice to see someone doing up the old house), and walked uphill to look north; just as we started, a Golden Eagle being mobbed by a Merlin was well seen by us all. It was pretty windy up there, and we returned to the sheltered side of the hill, still accompanied by the collie that had decided to attach itself to us for the day. We then descended to the famous Singing Sands, looking for Grass of Parnassus en route, but only finding buds. The Sands did at least squeak, the views were wonderful, and we had some free time before making our way back through the crofts. A really nice day.
Tuesday, 13th July
A day of transition; the group made their own way along to the pier, while I waited for Davie and heaved luggage about. The brand new Shearwater duly arrived, and we managed to find some space among the day-trippers; the visibility from the new boat is not good, although we did see some more shearwaters. It was getting increasingly grey as reached Rum, but all went well; we were duly met, walked to the Castle, settled in to our rooms (a fair amount of hilarity during this process), and went for a walk uphill to Coire Dubh. The island was noticeably dry, just as Eigg had been, (and again there were few small birds), but it became humid and damp, and the dreaded Rum midges began to make their appearance. The food was pleasant enough, (but hardly up to Marie's standard), but we had a pleasant evening all in all.
Wednesday, 14th July
It dawned wet and windy, and got worse for a while. We set out, up the rough "path" to the east coast, and plodded on; there were Stonechats and Meadow Pipits, the odd Raven, and we had quite nice views of Eigg. The day improved eventually, we found Lesser Butterfly Orchid, and quite a lot of the Pale Butterwort, but eventually decided we should turn - just as well, that rough path is worse when you are descending than it is when going uphill! That night the three of us in the (refurbished) dormitory went to bed in some dread, as there was a vociferous baby in the next room (through a connecting door), but it slept soundly and so did we.
Thursday, 15th July
We headed out along the "main road", being passed once or twice by Land Rovers being driven a wee bit fast - no wonder SNH spend a lot on vehicles! We duly marvelled at Lord Salisbury's short-lived dams, and eventually decided that the two birds of which we had wonderful, if slightly puzzling views, on the shore of the Long Loch were Red-breasted Mergansers, possibly going into eclipse, or non-breeding birds. From here, we wended our way into the "loch country", slowly gaining height, and watching the clouds lift - (for a while!)
At lunch, we again had the choice of a cold breeze, or lots of midges, and later we had nice views of deer. We decided we would ascend Barkeval ridge, and did so, enjoying the Wild Thyme, Alpine Ladies' Mantle, and Mossy Cyphel en route. The minute we gained the ridge, the mist duly came down, and stayed down, so eventually we descended into Coire Dubh - when, of course, the hill cleared again!
That night we had rather a heavy meal, and nobody had the energy to head uphill again for the shearwaters, which was a shame, but equally, a sensible decision.
Friday, 16th July
A sunny morning; we did the Castle Tour, which was, as ever, fascinating and thought-provoking. We then slowly wandered around the bay, eventually agreed we were looking at a Greenshank, and had lunch on some rocks where there was some breeze.
There then occurred a Hebridean Interlude, during which we went from pier to pier and back, awaiting the arrival of the Shearwater, (which was to take us back to Eigg), which could not get in the way of the Loch Nevis, which was due any minute, but was actually late! Once on board, the weather changed abruptly, the cloud came down, the wind got up, it started to pour, and we had a spectacular trip to Muck, with Manx Shearwaters and Gannets really close to the heaving boat - wonderful fun! There were Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills on the water, too, and in time it all calmed down, and we arrived back in Eigg, for the usual good meal and pleasant evening.
Saturday, 17th July
Once again, the group made their way to the pier, while Davie and I came along with the luggage. The Loch Nevis turned up on time, and we had a good return trip to Mallaig, with excellent groups of shearwaters along the way. So, there on the pier, we collected our luggage, and went our various ways; it had been a good week. Thanks to all concerned.
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Dolphin sp. (perhaps Bottle-nosed?)
Short-tailed Vole (dead)
Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary
(caterpillar of) Northern Eggar
Slender St. John's Wort
Heath Spotted Orchid
Birds' Foot Trefoil
(a D.Y.C., or two)
New Zealand Willowherb
Grass of Parnassus (in bud)
Northern Marsh Orchid
Alpine Ladies' Mantle
Northern Rock Cress
Lesser Butterfly Orchid
Small White Orchid