Sunday, 24 April 2011

Warblers at Leighton Moss

Warblers were out in force at Leighton Moss with numerous sightings of reed warblers and black caps. We also heard a few grasshopper warblers that were well hidden in the reeds. The photos are of a reed warbler (top)and a black cap.

I was particularly pleased to get the photos of the reed warbler in the reeds, as it's very difficult to get the camera to focus where you want it too when there are so many reeds that the camera wants to focus on instead.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Busy days at Leighton Moss

Went up to Leighton Moss on Tuesday and decided to camp nearby so we could get up early on Weds and see what was about at 6am.
Had a fantastic couple of days watching Marsh Harriers (about 3 pairs) dancing, seeing off attacks from buzzards, gathering nesting materials etc. Also Great Crested Grebes doing their beautiful courtship displays, deer, black caps, bearded tits, reed warblers, the mad antics of the black headed gulls and ultra exciting for us at 6.25am on Wednesday morning- an otter!! Our first English otter and our first in fresh waters. It was right on the other side of the lake so the photos are the worst we've ever taken and simply act as a proof to the viewing but we got better look through the bins. A grey lag goose drew my attention to the otter by flying in circles around where it swam. Though there was a Canada goose and a moorhen quietly sitting at the reed edge not freaking out at all. It looked to me as though the otter was having a last play before bed - not too intent on hunting -so perhaps the birds could sense this. Many greylags have young at the moment so perhaps this accounts for the more panicked reaction of the goose.
Anyway we'll stick some pictures up in batches over the coming days. To start with here are some Marsh Harriers snaps.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Ring of Bright Water

Our pals Pete and Charlie came up on Thursday evening to stay at the Applecross Inn for a few nights and to hang out. Simon and I woke up early on Friday morning to what promised to be a stunning day. The sea was mirror calm and everything was completely still and quiet. We decided to hop up and get out for some early morning otter spotting before we met with Pete and Charlie.
Toscaig was a different place than on Monday when we'd seen our little otter in the choppy waters. It was so peaceful and still and a great start to the day to be stood there scanning around with our bins. After about half an hour with no sign of an otter Simon thought to photograph a boat picturesquely mirrored in the water and discovered that the SD card he'd put in his camera earlier was faulty. I could hear him cursing and mucking about with it near the car as I lined up a picture of a seagull sitting on a nearby rock.
I'd just taken the shot when my heart stopped as I noticed a little head swimming towards the rock! "Where did you spring from?" I stooped down and began snapping the otter as he peacefully cruised about occasionally taking a leisurely dive- at which points I whisper shouted at Pants and made mad arm wavings to indicate what I was about. Poor Pants managed one photo on a smaller setting but at least he got to watch with me as the otter cruised around in the still water.
As usual he seemed to notice us and came to investigate. I was shaking like a leaf with sheer adrenelin- it was so exciting to be so close to this beautiful wild animal and realise he was obviously feeling safe and confident and very curious about us. He came over to have a look twice before eventually calmly swimming away across the bay ultimately diving down and leaving us with an example of what Gavin Maxwell meant when he described "A Ring of Bright Water"
Otters! I love them to bits. It was such a great priviledge to again get to see them on our annual excursion to Applecross (my favourite place in the world)
It has taken me quite a long time to shake off my mope after this holiday - I really have missed waking early to look out the window at the sea. To know that each day offers a genuine possibility of gazing on one of the most engaging, charming and characterful animals we have in UK. (Apart from Simon obviously)
As always the food and crack at the Applecross Inn was fantastic too (thanks to Judith and gang) Can't wait for next year!!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Otter in choppy waters

Jess came over to see us for a few days early in our holiday and was hopeful that we would be able to provide her with her first sight of a wild otter. Big pressure particularly as we hadn't seen one ourselves this year and were going through the usual fearful thoughts of "Maybe we have just been REALLY lucky over the last few years having seen 6 otters!"
The weather was grim, freezing and rainy and the waters really choppy. We went to a few hotspots to no avail and then headed to Toscaig. The tide was on the way in but it was still fairly low. Simon was intending picking mussels for tea and this spot seemed as good as any for that exercise.
Whilst he bravely slipped and staggered over the rocks to pick said fare, Jess and I stood watching through our bins the coast around the bay for signs of otters. It really was grey and grim and after about 20 mins or so our hands were feeling the bite of wet coldness. We had just agreed to wait in the car and warm up a bit when out of the corner of my eye I saw a shape and said "Hang on a minute" raising my bins and declaring in unison with Jess "It's an otter"
This little fella was bobbing along on his back riding the waves and then twisting around to swim in a kind of rolling way. He seemed to see us quite early on and swam sraight towards us. This has happened in a few of the sightings we've had in the past- we're convinced they must see us there but they swim towards us anyway. Jess very honourably ran to atract Simon's attention but I thought he was so far down on the rocks and I know how otters can just dive under and completely disappear. To this end I got photographing the best I could given the wind buffeting the lens about. The otter disappeared at one point and I thought he's gone but he popped up again really close to me and continued to approach the rocks below me. I was sat down now to try and avoid creating a big lumbering outline on his horizon. I was aware that Jess and Simon were coming up behind me and turned my attention away from the otter to try and signal that they should get down. When I looked back I couldn't see him for a split second and then became aware that he had his front feet on a rock directly in front of me- we locked eyes for just a fraction of a minute whilst I thought about moving my camera up to my face and then he pushed himself back into the water and that was the last we saw of him.
Sadly Simon missed him completely but Jess was pleased as punch with her viewing. We celebrated that evening with a meal the otter himself would have thoroughly enjoyed.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Common seals off the Applecross coast

Just off the coast of the Applecross Peninsula near Ard-Dhubh lies a small island that appears when the tide goes out. It's soon used by common (harbour)seals wanting a place to rest and bask in the sun, often contorting into bizarre banana shapes in order to keep their extremities out of the water. (Well, that's my theory anyway!) At one point, we counted 33 seals on this tiny island.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


The first evening we spent at the cottage we watched two gannets hunting over the bay. They turn to position themselves in mid air and enter the water arrow shaped & at huge speeds. Jess told us the next day that their young are often found washed up with broken necks (a costly misjudgement and a mistake they don't get to learn from sadly)
Also, we were told by the people who owned the cottage that people from Ness have special permission to cull upto 2000 young gannets a year for the purposes of eating them! These young gannets are called Guga and apparently the tradition goes way back with the Guga Hunters of Ness travelling to the remote Sulesgeir (near Isle of Lewis)to bring back this delicacy. Apparently it tastes like fishy rubbery chicken! Yuck! Would rather watch the gannets hunting than see them being hunted myself.