Monday, 9 November 2009

Islay and Jura Pt 2

He wasn't going to move!
Walk around the Bay

Cloud over Islay Sound and Jura



Islay Sound

Paps of Jura

Red Deer stag, Jura

1st Nov. It rained and at times it rained very heavily! In the afternoon we were due take the five minute ferry crossing from Port Askaig to Jura, but before that we visited the area around Loch Gruinart. There was at least some shelter there to take our lunch. I saw my first Red Throated Diver of the trip today and my first Great Crested Grebe. In the main it was a morning for watch the geese again. Some in the party took a walk to find Chough which apparently roost in one of the barns nearby. I just couldn’t work up the passion for another soaking so missed out on the two Choughs that were found in bedraggled state. I’ll just have to live with the disappointment! The disappointment was eased when we found a Cattle Egret (a UK tick for me) and another ringtail Hen Harrier on the way to the ferry crossing. A flock of twenty Brent Geese (pale-bellied) was also seen today. We were soon on Jura and driving along what appears to be its one road. I’d been looking forward to spending time on the much wilder island. We were soon catching good sightings of some the islands 5,000 Red Deer. Once at the Jura Hotel at Craighouse we watched the bay for Otters. With no luck on this occasion, but as the hotel front windows overlooked the bay I thought that there would be every chance of Otter sightings at some point. I went off to bed that night in peace and quiet.

2nd Nov. We were up for a pre breakfast walk to look for Otters, and again with no luck. By now I was expecting rain and I wasn’t disappointed, although the mist and cloud soon broke up to lend a wonderful atmosphere to the island. Some of the skies over the next couple of days were magnificent, the light was wonderful and if nothing else the rain, which came only in showers now, brought out the colours in the landscape to great effect. There were numbers of Red Breasted Merganser in the bay this morning along with Eider Duck and Common Seals.

The morning and early afternoon were taken up with the drive along the western side of the island where we passed wonderful bays, the Paps of Jura at times their tops covered by cloud and at other times perfectly clear under blue skies and Loch Tarbert which attempts to cut the island in half. It was a fascinating drive with many stops and many Red Deer including numbers of impressive stags. We drove to the end of the public road and at one point almost burnt out the vehicles clutch. We found both ringtail and male Hen Harriers, both giving short, but good views. As I turned from the male bird a male Merlin flew past over the moor on the other side of the road. Again we saw numerous winter thrushes and Common Buzzards now were with us almost constantly and of course there were numbers of Raven and Hooded Crow. I also managed to get my eye on my first Goldfinch of the trip. There were loads of good photographic opportunities and I thought that given more time on Jura there would be some excellent walking to be done.

Having returned to the hotel for lunch we were driven around the bay and most of us walked back. I saw another Merlin at the start of the walk. It was good to be able to step out and walk some of the past few days meals off! The skies were wonderful with storm clouds meeting blue skies and as the afternoon went on the sun caused areas of the sky to look a bright yellow as it also shone across the water. The afternoon shower was only short lived. Still no Otters though!

3rd Nov. I decided to skip the pre breakfast walk and stay in bed as I had heard heavy downpours during the night. I couldn’t rest however, thinking what might be being found by those few who had gotten out of bed so I joined them. It was just as well I did as an Otter was performing in the bay. This was our first of the trip and everyone had excellent views as it ducked and dived whilst apparently almost constantly eating. It lay on its back on several occasions and handled what seemed to be fish and crabs. I was surprised at how long these animals are when seen at full stretch in the water. Our watch carried on into the breakfast room until the Otter finally disappeared. Mallards, Grey Herons and Red Breasted Mergansers were also about.

Now today I had been tempted to join the small party going to visit Barnhill (where George Orwell wrote 1984) and the Corryvreckan whirlpool. Once I heard we were not guaranteed to see the whirlpool in action I decide against this as it meant repeating the journey of the day before with the extra march over very wet moorland. I decided a change would be better and went along the western side of the island where a walk along the beach was planned. I’m pleased I made this choice as before the day was out we had found three more Otters, one of which finally came onto the shore giving great views. We had some magnificent Red Deer stags in close up to, none of which seem to be especially concerned about our presence. One of them was a special beast indeed with seven points on each antler. We were later told that there numbers of similar size on the island.

The walk along the beach was a refreshing one with wonderful lichens and some interesting plants I have yet to identify. Kestrels and Common Buzzards were around in number. I reckon we saw thirty plus Common Buzzards today and that is probably well underestimated. We also had another excellent sighting of Great Northern Diver on Islay Sound. There were more Common and Grey Seals about too. One bird which surprised us was a lone Arctic Tern as it seemed so late for this bird to be still about. Gulls seen were Black Headed, Common, Herring, Great Black Backed and Kittiwake. Black Guillemot was also seen, and the shoreline gave me good sightings of Rock Pipit and more Stonechat. As we watched one of the Otters the ferryman told us he had seen two White Tailed Sea Eagles the previous day. This made us decide to return in the afternoon. Some of the rainbows seen today were magnificent. On our return for lunch we had a sighting of one of the birds of the trip as a Golden Eagle flew directly towards us from the hills and flew quite low over our heads giving great views.

We were soon heading back to the same area. White Tailed Sea Eagles on the mind, but to be honest I wasn’t really confident about seeing any. Then I got my eye on two large birds flying in front of us and over the Sound. They were quickly confirmed as White Tailed Sea Eagles as we quickly got ourselves in a good position to watch them. I had great scope views. I seem to remember the birds were tagged L and D (or was it H?). We watched them for about thirty minutes as they flew together over the Sound then eventually landed and perched in the trees on Islay. Our intended walk was forgotten by now as we also found an Otter and Red Deer. One of the Red Deer stags came down to the Sound to drink and taste the seaweed. It wasn’t perturbed by us at all. I felt that I could almost have touched it. Any walk along the beach was in any case out of the question now as the tide was high. It had been an excellent day and I’d hardly been wet at all! Again there were some wonderful skies and lighting conditions.

4th Nov. Today was our day to return to the mainland and onwards to home. An early breakfast was had and we were off at 7.00am towards the ferry for Islay. On reaching Islay we made for the ferry to the mainland which left from Port Ellen. The crossing was smooth and some good views were had especially of Jura. Birds seen on the crossing included Black Throated Diver (the first of the trip), Manx Shearwater (the first of the trip), Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill and Black Guillemot. On one side of us the skies were dark grey and stormy, and on the other bright with white cloud and large blue areas. This seemed to sum up the weather on the trip. The crossing on this mill pond in daylight was very enjoyable after the initial crossing had been taking in heavy rain, wind and darkness. We were soon heading for Glasgow and I managed quick sightings of some wildlife on Loch Fyne which included a very brief view of another Otter and a Little Grebe.
It had been an excellent trip despite the odd soaking. In my eyes the weather had added to the atmosphere. If it had been drier I’m not so sure we would have seen many more bird species. Perhaps a few woodland birds would have been added to the list as we never ever made the woodland area. My only disappointment was not adding Chough to my UK list. Another time perhaps, but in any event I’m not complaining. Islay and Jura are two very different islands so I would find it impossible to really say which one I preferred. Each one has its strong points, but I did really appreciate the wildness of Jura and a bedroom on it that was not over a noisy public bar!


  1. Cheers Killy for that colourful account of your trip. Both islands are on the list as a must visit. A smashing collection of atmospheric images. But i've got to say, that last one of the Red Deer stag is a beaut.
    I know there was one species you missed out on but you must have been chuffed ( choughed ) with what you did see. Cracking

  2. Thanks for the comments John. Yes chuffed indeed. ;-) The atmosphere was wonderful indeed and I supose without the rain it wouldn't have been quite the same. I do think I broke my record for wetness! Certainly a great trip. Cheers Brian.

  3. Just got a chance to read this section of your trip report. 2 White-tailed Eagles!!!!!! Why didn't I hear about this sooner? We have much to discuss....

  4. Now I thought for some reason which is beyond me that you might note the WTSEs Andrew.;-) I did see that you had some encounters with them yourself recently! Yes much to discuss...Cheers Brian.