Over the sea to Skye

Published: 5th October 2009

Had a change and a Grand Day Out last week, taking visitors to Skye for the day. We were blessed with a rare day of good weather, and a flat calm sea. The day got off to a flying start with Grey Seal at Mallaig Hrbour mouth, from the ferry. I then saw something I thought might be an Otter, but turned into a seal as an animal surfaced in almost exactly the same spot. A few seconds later though an Otter  (presumably the same one!) did surface a little way away, this time munching on a fish. We had plenty of time for our guests to get a good look through binoculars, but I'm not sure how many of our fellow passengers picked it up. Conditions were perfect for seeing Porpoise, and sure enough not far out of Mallaig we began to see them , mostly in 2s and 3s, in the deeper channels, arching and turning in the sea. There were plenty about and lots of others saw them too, (mostly accompanied by the inevitable cries of “dolphin!”).

We paused at Armadale and enjoyed views of Common Seals basking on the rocks, with small troops of guillemot floating in the water. We set off for Elgol, enjoying the sunshine and the scenery. The mountains en route were dramatic, but the reedy shallow lochs looked almost as inviting, and well worth a closer look on a longer trip. The Black Cuillins were exposed in their jagged grandeur, and simply cried out for an eagle or two, although all we managed were a couple of Buzzards and a pair of Kestrels at Elgol village.Pottered around on the beach admiring the wierd patterns caused by erosion of the softer rock strata, and the parallel ridges in the horizontal bedrock. I even found a fossil shell imprint for good measure. The local tea shop was sampled and is to be thoroughly recommended for tea and a good choice of scones.

By now the weather had closed in and we had a misty and atmospheric drive out to Kylerhea, where the ferry was still ploughing across the choppier seas. Walked along to the Otter haven to push our luck for more sightings. Heard and saw fleeting glimpses of Crossbills on our way down to the hide. Did not see any Otter, but picked up more seals and seabirds and admired the stunning scenery. The ambience was enlivened by the occasional bellowing of stags, signalling the start of the rutting season (first we have heard this year). Although we scanned the rather mirky hillside on leaving the hide we didn't pick any deer up, but did see a group close to the road in Glen Shiel on our way back to Glenloy. The Skye Bridge and Eilean Donan were duly admired in the fading light. A long but successful day.

Closer to home the rut is picking up, but has still a long way to go. Spent a couple of hours in Glen Roy on Saturday, in what can be only described as 'mixed' weather conditions (generally from bad to awful), and managed to pick up a couple of groups of Red Deer on the northern flanks. Hinds were not looking particularly herded, and a couple of bewildered looking young bucks were mixing freely in one of the groups, despite the prescence of a large and intense alpha stag. He would strut around bellowing and occasionally chase off his not-so-serious rivals, but any attempts to mate were quickly shunned by fleeing females. This led to a lot of antler thrashing in the long grass. Things seemed even further behind in Glen Loy on Sunday, where hinds were strung out preety well across the hillside and nothing much was happening apart from some preliminary roaring. There has been some concerted stalking effort this last week, and that may well have given the deer somethig else to think about – certainly they were still pretty high up on the hillsides. A couple of nights of recent frost may well bring them down.

Crossbills are enjoying the better cone crop, and we were treated to the sight of a huge male, respendent in red and green, preening and feeding off a dead larch amongst a patch of clearfell. The trees there have been felled over a year now, so how much seed he obtained is debatable. Eventually he was joined by a small flock of females and they all flew off into nearby sitkas. The size difference was much greater than usual, however, leading to speculation on how much variation there is in males.

Read with interest that a fellow tour operator is going to go vehicle free – a bold move, indeed. I hope it works well for him. Difficult to see how it can be applied here on our current holiday model; at least we try to encourage people to arrive using public transport.