A few facts
We are a party of friends and we have founded an association called the
Oiseaux Migrateurs. We prepared
this journey with the help of a travel agency to book hotel rooms along
a route we had carefully planned months before. As we wanted to go to
very remote places, we also had to make our own reservations for a few
B&Bs. As for transport, we had booked passage on the ferries
through the Internet and reserved a Mercedes Vito to accommodate the six of us and all our luggage.
21 July 2011 As usual we took the train to go to Paris. We were accommodated a the hotel Ibis de Roissy Pôle, which is still way too expensive but conveniently located in the airport itself.
As usual we took the train to go to Paris. We were accommodated a the hotel Ibis de Roissy Pôle, which is still way too expensive but conveniently located in the airport itself.
Two Highlanders (Photo Danielle Joannès)
At the Highland Games
Tossing the Caber
24 July 2011
Anybody going to Scotland for the first time goes to the famous Loch Ness and this is what we did. We drove around it, first on the west side then we took the road winding up the mountains on the east. We did make a stop at the Exhibition Centre in Drumnadrochit and learnt everything about the origins of the legend of the famous monster called Nessie. We stopped over at Urquart Castle without visiting it because the price of the entrance was way too high but I must admit it is beautifully located along the lake. We had a picnic lunch at Fort Augustus, near the sluices where a Pied Wagtail strutted about close to us. We came across our first Red Deer near Loch Tarff, then saw about 50 Greylag Geese feeding near a mountain road with a Canada Goose. Not far from Croachy, a Eurasian Curlew kept watch over its four young and we also saw a Stoat, and Carrion and Hooded Crows.
After we had gone round the lake we drove as far as Fort George, but did not visit the artillery fortification. I spotted about 30 Common Gulls along the beach. We had a very pleasant meal in the evening at the Castle Tavern in Inverness and enjoyed the nice view to the castle. We had haggis. It is supposed to be sheep's stomach filled with lamb trimmings and if this doesn't sound appetizing it is actually very good.
Loch Ness (Photo Danielle Joannès)
26 July 2011John O’Groats is a very windy place located right in front of the Orkney Islands where we arrived in the afternoon. A very surprising colourful fairy tale kind of a castle can be seen there. We decided to have a walk on the beach and found the usual Eurasian Oystercatchers, 3 Bean Geese, Eurasian Curlews, numerous Meadow Pipits and just one Northern Wheatear. We then took a very pleasant, although winding narrow road to Duncansby Head, a cliff covered with lush green grass which the black-faced sheep seemed to find to their taste. They run around, heedless of the cars, so you have to drive carefully there.
Duncansby Head (Photo Danielle Joannès)
Duncansby Head (Photo Danielle Joannès)
Northern Fulmar (chick)
Northern Fulmar (adult)
For once we had some time ahead so we made a short visit of Mey Castle and then drove back to Gills to board the ship. In the harbour, we observed 5 Harbour and about 60 Grey Seals resting on the rocks. We had a smooth crossing and from the bridge I saw many Atlantic Puffins, Black Guillemots and Northern Gannets. There were also 3 Guillemots, a Razorbill and several Great Skuas pestering other birds, 4 Greylag Geese and a Harbour Porpoise swimming close against the boat in the middle of Scapa Flow where so many battleships fought during both World Wars. When we arrived at St Margaret’s Hope, I spotted 5 White-winged Scoters, a Red-breasted Merganser and about 30 Common Eiders. Once we had left the boat we made a quick visit of the Orkney Museum of Kirkwall, the capital city, and settled at the St Ola Hotel, very nicely located right in front of the harbour.
Kirkwall Harbour (Photo Danielle Joannès)
We immediately went to the Hobbister
bird reserve but arrived at the same time as a woman who had come to
exercise several of her dogs on the beach and the neighbouring
moor. Bad luck, but we nevertheless saw a Bar-tailed Godwit and other very common birds. While driving we saw a Short-eared Owl perched on a fence post, about 130 Greylag Geese and 10 Eurasian Curlews in a field. Some time later, we saw yet another Short-eared Owl flying above the fields, obviously looking for a prey.
In the evening we had Yorkshire
for a change and found it very tasty. As the sun sets very late at
such latitudes, we had a pleasant walk along the quays before going to
leaving our hotel we started to look for the Cottascarth Bird Reserve and
it took us quite a long time to find it. It is at the back of
beyond and there are very few sign-posts. We had to park in a
farmyard, climb over a barrier and walk in the moor before we found the
hide from which we saw two Hen Harriers flying above the meadows, a Merlin and a Common Cuckoo.
Ring of Brodgar (Photo Danielle Joannès)
In the neighbourhood of Loons, we found around 500 Greylag Geese but stayed in the car so as not to frighten them away. Such precautions were not necessary at Maerwick Head where Northern Fulmars nest. There were also Rock Pigeons and Great Skuas trying as usual to rob other sea birds from the fish they had caught. We were pleased to see that there were still many Atlantic Puffins in the impressive cliffs and we lay down in the grass to take pictures. Walking down towards the parking place, we saw yet another Short-eared Owl and a Rock Pipit. Near Birsay, where we made a short pause on the beach, we found one Arctic and five Great Skuas keeping an eye on the Northern Gannets.
Maerwick Head (Photo Danielle Joannès)
The weather was
overcast and we visited the Kirkwall Cathedral just before leaving the
Orkneys. This religious building displays a lot of
historical memorials like the tomb of explorer John Rae, the bell of
the Royal Oak (the ship sunk by the Germans in the bay of Scapa Flow)
and a reminder of the links with Norway and its Vikings. The stained
glass windows and the woodwork are splendid but the sandstone pillars
are unfortunately much eroded. Just before crossing the channel
back to the mainland we made a short stop to have a look at the
Italian Chapel near Holm.
We saw the same birds we had seen on our way to the Orkneys but they seemed to be less numerous. At the Dunnet Head bird reserve, once more we found Great Skua, Atlantic Puffin, Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake and 2 Twites.
The weather being very nice again, we walked round a small lake in a
peat bog where we found cotton grass, this beautiful white plant which
seems to be forever moving in the wind and droseras, carnivorous
plants, which are more difficult to see but still very beautiful.
In the sky, a Common Raven was mobbed by two Arctic Skuas.
Drosera (Photo Danielle Joannès)
In the evening, we arrived at the Royal Hotel in Thurso. It looked a bit old but was OK. After we had made a walk around in the streets, we felt the whole town gave the same i mpression.
29 July 2011
We were now driving along the northern coast of Scotland and heading for Strathy Point where there were only a few of the usual sea birds: Great Skua, Northern Fulmar, a few Northern Gannets, one Great-ringed Plover, Black-legged Kittiwake, Atlantic Puffin and Black Guillemot. We had a nice picnic at the sea-side and drove as far as Tongue where we were accommodated at the Tongue Hotel.
Who could have thought of a more appropriate name? Still, the
hotel is very pleasant and they have a top class restaurant.
As we had some time ahead, we visited the area around the Kyle of Tongue and once more took a very small road. There are "passing places" every few hundred metres and if people always thank you when you let them pass, they sometimes drive too quickly so you have to be careful. Of course, we stopped here and there to take pictures and saw many birds: about forty Greylag Geese, Eurasian Oystercatchers, numerous Meadow Pipits and 2 Rock Pipits. We also stopped at a marvelous little sand beach but the water was far too cold to have a swim. Climbing up the dunes to return to our cars was a bit difficult but the landscape was really pleasant.
Near Skerray (Photo Danielle Joannès)
30 July 2011
Near Unapool (Photo Danielle Joannès)
Near Achiltibuie (Photo Danielle Joannès)
The day was rainy and windy in the beginning but the sky soon cleared up. We stopped at the Corrieshaloch Gorges and from a suspended bridge, we looked down at the Measach Falls and then drove on to Inverewe to visit its famous gardens. All sorts of flowers and trees grow around a huge manor and it was a real pleasure to look at them but there were very few birds. On the car-park, I found a Common Hawker and took close pictures. This insect does not live in my usual surroundings. There were also other insects but we did not welcome them. As we arrived near Loch Maree and Loch Torridon, we were pestered by Midges but as it was the first time, we soon got over that.
In the Gardens of Inverewe (Photo Danielle Joannès)
Common Hawker (male)
We reached the isle of Skye in the evening and settled in the Kings Arms Hotel in Kyleakin.
01 August 2011
We spent the day touring the island and drove northwards as far as the "Old Man of Stor", along the Bay of Staffin and stopped at the Kilt Rock for the view. We had a nice picnic under the ruins of Duntulm Castle, watching the Grey Seals and the sea-birds before going on to Dunvegan Castle and its gardens. Just before returning to the hotel, we saw about 20 Greylag Geese near Harrapool.
02 August 2011
still very lucky with the weather and this enhanced the beauty of the
landscape. We made a short stop at the very picturesque Eilean
Donan Castle which was built on a small island in one of the numerous
lakes around there. A nice stone bridge connects it to the
mainland. Driving was smooth on the good roads and the mountains
around were splendid. We had planned a short hike in the
mountains and took a cable-car which brought us up to a point called Aonach
Mor from which we could see the summit of Ben
Nevis and other mountains still surrounded with clouds. After this pleasant walk, we stopped at the sluices of Neptune’s Staircase
on the Caledonian Canal and chose to take small winding roads to reach
Lochaline where we took the ferry to the isle of Mull. It was drizzling
when we reached the
Isle of Mull and Spa hotel in Craignure.
This hotel was pretty expensive for the service it offered, especially
since they employ young students instead of professionals. After
we had asked for the sheets to be changed, everything was fine.
Eilean Donan Castle (Photo Danielle Joannès)
We had reserved a
We had reserved aWildlife Tour with David Woodhouse through the Internet. Well, let's face it, we were disappointed and paid way too much for what it was. We left at 10.30 a.m., which is far too late and our trip ended far too early in the afternoon.
We saw a few Grey Seals, which are very common in Scotland together with other birds we had found very easily elsewhere. Still, we were glad to have some time to watch two White-tailed Eagles, an adult and a juvenile. Nature is not a zoological garden so we knew we could not get too close to them but photographers were a bit disappointed. We also spotted Red Deer in several places in the mountains, a Hen Harrier and a Golden Eagle flying above a mountain ridge about 3 miles away. It took us a lot of time to find 3 European Otters and I was greatly surprised to learn that they do not live in fresh water the way they do in France but in brackish or salt water, although they are not Sea Otters. As for insects, David showed us a small brown butterfly telling us it was endemic. As a matter of fact, the Scotch Argus is only a subspecies of an argus also present in England.
As we were late, our
driver tried to overtake another car by all means, driving very
recklessly on the small winding roads. Unfortunately, his
incessant hooting irritated the other driver and this brought about a
violent quarrel. As for us, we were happy to have reached
Craignure without a scratch.
As we still had a lot of time left we took advantage of this to visit the rest of this very nice island. We were now used to driving on those small roads and we finally reached the picturesque small town of Tobermory. The view from the hills above the harbour was really something unforgettable. We spent a nice evening in a pub called The Mishnish where we had a good meal in a very lively atmosphere. We drove back to Craignure following the coast road, which was much narrower than what was indicated on our road map. As night had fallen, we were very careful and seeing a female Red Deer by the roadside, ready to cross, proved we were right to do so. We also saw a Barn Owl a few miles before arriving at the hotel.
Tobermory (Photo Danielle Joannès)
Glasgow (Photo Danielle Joannès)
05 August 2011
We left Glasgow and stopped in Stirling for a visit of its magnificent castle perched at the top of a hill and we also took a stroll in the streets of the old town. We should have spent more time there but we had to go to Edinburgh.
Stirling Castle (Photo Danielle Joannès)
We were very happy to have a GPS device because we had to cross the whole city to reach the Pollock Halls
where we had booked our rooms. As this building is above all made
to accommodate students, it is not exactly a hotel in the usual sense
of the term but we were very happy with it. We took the bus to go
down-town because we had been allowed to park our car on the campus. As
the bus driver did not give the change, we had to calculate everything
in advance to pay the exact fare and that was not always easy.
Edinburgh was very busy because we were there at the time of its Fringe Festival which took place at the same time as the famous military Tattoo. The old historic buildings of the city were particularly adapted to the various shows taking place in the streets and we watched and listened to all those artists with great interest. You could see Highwaymen wearing kilts walking about along with artists wearing all sorts of eccentric garments and entertaining people, dancing and chanting. There were street shows everywhere.Visiting St Giles' Cathedral was much more restful and we took our time to have a look at the magnificent sculptures and stained glass windows.
St-Giles' Cathedral (Photo Danielle Joannès)
Late in the afternoon, we had haggis
once more before attending the military Tattoo. Contrary to what we had thought
the best seats, except for those reserved to the officials, were close
to the castle entrance, where the musicians come in and they were less
expensive than the ones we had booked. We nevertheless had a good
view of the parades and we made the most of this. The Tattoo
was very well organized and the musicians playing their bagpipes did
not look anything at all like blood-thirsty soldiers. The
costumes were splendid and the crowd participated, chanting and
clapping their hands in a very peaceful and friendly atmosphere.
Scotland is a civilized country and at the end of the show everybody
left their seats and went out without pushing or shoving their
Military Tattoo (Photo Danielle Joannès)
06 August 2011
We had yet
another full day to visit Edinburgh so we went to the castle, one the
most famous touristic venues in the city. In the afternoon, we
met our Scottish friends, Jackie and Gordon, who spoke of their country
with much pride yet avoiding any kind of jingoism. It rained a
lot but Scotland without any rain would have been very surprising so we
didn't care and went on visiting various touristic places and arrived
at Holyrood Palace just
before closing time. We should have spent more time there but
there are so many things to see in Edinburgh that this just proved
07 August 2011
It was still raining when we left the Pollock Halls heading for the two famous bridges on the Firth of Forth. We
had crossed the firth on the white one when we started our journey so
we concentrated on the red one, which is used by trains. We then
went to Leith to see yet another famous means of transport. The Britannia was
actually less glamorous than what we had expected, especially the bunks
of the ordinary crew, but is is nevertheless a royal yacht. After
that, we drove to Rosslyn, south of Edinburgh. This is where you
can find a jewel of a chapel where the secret of Dan Brown's Da Vinci
is revealed. Whatever you may think of Dan Brown's novel, if you
happen to be in Edinburgh you have to go and see the magnificent
stonework of this religious building.
One of the bridges on the Firth of Forth (Photo Danielle Joannès)
We ended our visit of Scotland at our friends' home and benefited from their Scottish hospitality. Thanks again for the flapjacks, Jackie. After tea, they took us to the bird reserve of Aberlady Bay, east of Edinburgh where we saw Eurasian Oystercatchers and Canada Geese.
|01||Mute Swan||Cygnus olor||Common.|
|02||Bean Goose||Anser fabalis||3 individuals.|
|03||Greylag Goose||Anser anser||Common.|
|04||Canada Goose||Branta canadensis||Several, especially on Mull.|
|05||Mallard||Anas platyrhynchos|| Very common.
|06||Eurasian Wigeon||Anas penelope||Some.|
|07||Tufted Duck||Aythya fuligula||One only.|
|08||Common Eider||Somateria mollissima||Common.|
|09||White-winged Scoter||Melanitta fusca||5 birds.
|10||Common Goldeneye||Bucephala clangula||One bird at Loch Garten.|
|11||Red-breasted Merganser||Mergus serrator||A few.|
|12||Common Pheasant||Phasianus colchicus||A few birds, among which one had a chick.|
|13||Red-throated Loon||Gavia stellata||One bird only.|
|14||Little Grebe||Tachybaptus ruficollis||About 15 on a small lake.|
|15||Northern Fulmar||Fulmarus glacialis||Still nesting, especially in the north.|
|16||Northern Gannet||Morus bassanus||Observed several times. One of them being pestered by a Great Skua had to land on the water.|
|17||Great Cormorant||Phalacrocorax carbo||Common.|
|18||European Shag||Phalacrocorax aristotelis||Common.|
|19||Grey Heron||Ardea cinerea||Common.|
|20||Osprey||Pandion halieatus||One nesting couple with a juvenile at Loch Garten.|
|21||White-tailed Eagle||Haliaeetus albicilla||2 adults at least and an immature on Mull.|
|22||Golden Eagle||Aquila chrysaetos||On Mull. Seen from afar.|
|23||Red Kite||Milvus milvus||One just before arriving at the Glenmorangie distillery. No comments please.|
|24||Hen Harrier||Circus cyaneus||Not many.|
|25||Common Buzzard||Buteo buteo||Some.|
|26||Eurasian Sparrowhawk||Accipiter nisus||2 or 3 birds.|
|27||Common Kestrel||Falco tinnunculus||Some.|
|29||Eurasian Oystercatcher||Haematopus ostralegus||Common.|
|30||Great Ringed Plover||Charadrius hiaticula||Some, one of which with a chick.|
|31||Northern Lapwing||Vanellus vanellus||Not many.|
|32||Ruddy Turnstone||Arenaria interpres||Fairly common.|
|33||Dunlin||Calidris alpina||A few birds.|
|34||Common Sandpiper||Tringa hypoleucos||Several.|
|35||Common Redshank||Tringa totanus||Several.|
One bird only.
||Eurasian Curlew||Numenius arquata||Common. 2 adults with 4 chicks.|
A few birds.
|39||Great Skua||Stercorarius skua||Fairly common in the north. Local name: Bonxie.
Far less common than Great Skua.
|41||Black-headed Gull||Larus ridibundus||Very common.|
|Larus argentatus argenteus.||
|Larus fuscus graellsii.||
|46||Black-legged Kittiwake||Rissa tridactyla||Some in the north.|
|47||Sandwich Tern||Sterna sandvicensis||Some.|
|50||Atlantic Puffin||Fratercula arctica||Nests in various colonies in the Orkneys.|
|51||Black Guillemot||Cepphus grylle||Fairly common and closer to the coasts than the Guillemot.|
Very common and not feral in many cliffs in the north, especially in the Orkneys.
|56||Eurasian Collared-Dove||Streptopelia decaocto||Common.|
3 birds in the Orkneys.
|59||Barn Owl||Tyto alba||One bird seen in flight near Tobermory.|
At the beginning of our stay.
|61||Sky Lark||Alauda arvensis||Some.|
Seen several times.
|65||Anthus petrosus littoralis||
Very common in the moors.
Common. The young look a lot like young White Wagtails.
|68||Grey Wagtail||Motacilla cinerea||Not many.|
|69||Dunnock||Prunella modularis||One heard only.|
|70||European Robin||Erithacus rubecula||Common.|
|71||Northern Wheatear||Oenanthe oenanthe||Common in the mountains.|
|72||Common Stonechat||Saxicola torquatus||Some.|
|73||Song Thrush||Turdus philomelos||A few.|
|74||Eurasian Blackbird||Turdus merula||Common.|
|76||Willow Warbler||Phylloscopus trochilus||One migrating bird sitting on a on fence post.|
|77||Common Chiffchaff||Phylloscopus collybita||Observed a few times.|
|78||Winter Wren||Troglodytes troglodytes||Heard singing here and there.
|79||Great Tit||Parus major||Common.|
|80||Coal Tit||Parus ater||A few times but we did not visit many forests.|
|81||Blue Tit||Cyanistes caeruleus||Common.|
|82||Marsh Tit||Poecile palustris||Seen once.|
|86||Hooded Crow||Corvus cornix||Fairly common, especially in the north. There are places where they hybridize with Carrion Crows.|
|87||Carrion Crow||Corvus corone||Very common.|
Some, among which one attacked by Arctic Skuas.
|92||Eurasian Linnet||Carduelis cannabina||A few.|
|93||Twite||Carduelis flavirostris||Not very common.|
|95||Eurasian Siskin||Carduelis spinus||A few birds here and there.|
|96||Eurasian Bullfinch||Pyrrhula pyrrhyla||One couple only.