Friday, 10 June 2016

Ardnamurchan photo-dump - part 1 (Treshnish Isles and Staffa)

OK, it's time to blog about our mid-May week in Ardnamurchan - first off, our day out with Staffa Tours to the Treshnish Isles and Staffa.

We walked down to the port at Kilchoan, and while waiting for the boat enjoyed watching Meadow Pipits, Rock Doves and whatnot.

Then I spotted an apparently dead Sea Slater on the harbour wall. I was just lining up a photo when it jumped to its many feet and scuttled across the wall, back towards the sea.

The boat showed up soon afterwards, already busy with passengers (it starts at Mull). We boarded, took our places on the top viewing deck, and chugged off alongside the Ardnamurchan peninsula, soon saying goodbye to the Herring Gulls and hello to the Kittiwakes.

The seawatch from the boat wasn't all that exciting - a few auks, a few Gannets, one or two Manx Shearwaters that shot by without letting me photograph them. As we neared our first stop, Lunga in the Treshnish islands, we started meeting Puffins.

Lunga is a small, steep-sided grassy island, with no human inhabitants but lots of seabirds, most notably a shedload of Puffins. These were what most folk had come to see - many for the first time and there was much excitement on board.

The boat crew grabbed a floating pontoon and we towed it to the rocky beach. Getting across that was a trial (VERY uneven and slippery). Then there was a very, very steep loose-gravel path up to the high grassy bits. Once we got up that, we were in Puffin City.

The cliff edge was full of burrows and the burrows were full of Puffins. This shows how close you can get... Although shots of flying birds were much more difficult to get than on the Farnes, the scenery made for more pleasant backdrops.

A bit of green and a bit of blue, and a mellow-looking posing Puffin.

This one's doing its best 'cuddle me?' face and having a flap.

I've never seen Puffin courtship before. Pairs walked towards each other in an exaggeratedly slow, high-stepping gait with heads bowed, before tenderly bumping bills.

A slightly less adorable side of Puffin-ness - this one has spotted the remains of a Rabbit...

... and decided to have a bit of a chew. Maybe it was after nesting material. I did see others carrying pebbles and bits of grass around.

My best try of a flying Puffin. They would appear just at the cliff edge and immediately land - none were going overhead (they didn't need to).

An alive-and-kicking Rabbit, thinking I can't see it. Rabbits and Puffins compete for underground real estate here. I discovered afterwards that Lunga has a fair few black Rabbits and I wished I'd tried to find one.

Fulmars were skimming along the cliffs. Down below, rafts of Guillemots and Razorbills sat on the water, and a big bad Bonxie flapped slowly by.

A Lunga Wren showing off what his lungs can do. There were also Rock and Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails on the island.

We stayed a couple of hours, then it was back across the Beach of Doom and back onto the boat. We chugged out of the Treshnish zone (having a Shag on the way, as it were), and out into open sea towards Staffa.

Somewhere between Lunga and Staffa, we were joined by a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins - a UK tick for me! They quickly surrounded us, making photography very hard indeed with my long lens, but I managed a few shots.

This one was pure fluke - it just popped up in my viewfinder as I was flailing about trying to follow a different one.

At Staffa, we lingered in front of Fingal's Cave - stunning, a deep elliptical aperture in the rock with its surround of hexagonal pillars. I didn't change lenses though, because I spotted this Purple Sandpiper making its way along the rocks in front of the cave. None of the photos I can find online of the cave do it justice, so chances are I wouldn't have, either. Here's a shot of it from a Staffa Tours boat, anyway.

Staffa itself, a larger island with a grassy top and undulating profile, didn't have a lot of wildlife - a few Shags and Fulmars on the cliffs... but we passed a pleasant hour yomping across it.

Then it was back on the boat and back to Kilchoan, adding a fourth auk (Black Guillemot) on the way.

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