Like a budding theatre troupe we headed to Scotland in August. Unlike a budding theatre troupe we decide not to investigate societies perceptions of gender and sexuality on an Edinburgh stage, but instead look for scottish-centric wildlife.
Heading off from Hull at the bright and early 8pm, we had a fun 7 hour drive in near constant darkness. So besides an early barn owl we didn’t really see much on the first chunk of our journey. Who cares though. It was night. What was we meant to see at night driving (I assume) 400mph.
We pulled into the Loch of the Lowes carpark at 3am and settled down for an obviously comfortable 2 hour sleep before dawn eked itself into existence. We decided that our first efforts should be spent looking for somewhere we could look over the Loch. We didn’t very well at this. We walked down a random footpath for 10 minutes before realising it led to nowhere. So after ten minute walk back we noticed that we were parked next to a visitors centre. We information and hides and everything.
So we went into a hide. And settled in for what I could call an explosion of beaver activity. I could call it that, but it would be completely unfounded as there wasn’t any beavers like the internet promised. We sat there for what I assume was hours, but was probably about 20 minutes. A charming osprey had a brief circle of our end of the Loch. We temporarily gave up on beavers, planning to spend several hours looking at them later that day. After briefly admiring some red squirrels and pleasant birds on the feeders we drove in a direction.
What happened on that small drive I’m not entirely sure of, as I nodded off for its entirety. My best guess is that James and Jess at some point took a wrong turn down a dirt road. They pulled up to an old wooden cabin. Realising their mistake they confidently strode to the decaying building and knocked on its front door. The knock was enough to open the rickety door revealing a poorly lit corridor. ‘Hello?’ said James to the apparently empty house. Jess lets out a gasp when she notices that a pool of blood can be seen half way down the corridor. Following the flow they found a child’s arm laying limply in the hallway, its owner obscured from view by a dusty corridor. A whimper of pain is heard. Lightning flashes. The blood and arm disappear. They quickly head back to the car promising never to speak of what they saw in the wooden cabin.
Or they just made good time to our next destination. We pulled over after Jess saw a black lump on some moorland. I manage to wake myself up. A trio of red kite circled in the sky and a buzzard perched on nearby fence post. I needed a wee. An onyx-coloured gamebird erupted from behind some heather. Black grouse. Lovely. If I remember correctly none of us had seen before. I certainly hadn’t. A handful more became airborne. We had a brief walk amongst the moorland, admiring the kites wheeling about. taking advantage of our right to roam. We questioned whether we had the right to roam. We decided probably.
We carried on our merry way. I’m not entirely sure where we were, but James seemed to know so I let him be navigator for a change. I was probably too asleep to read a map or shout about signs. All of a sudden we amongst some rather stunning craggy slopes. Buzzards and kites seemed to be ever present. I noticed a small flock of jackdaw take flight. I then saw a larger bird quickly catch up and take one out of the sky. A bloody peregrine. I squealed like an excitable youth. James managed to find a thin strip of grass to pull into so we could look about for it. It’s mewling could be easily heard but the bird didn’t stand out much amongst the grey rock. Eventually it took a small flight and revealed itself. More kites flew over. That was nice.
More driving took us past a place where mountain hare supposedly abound. We didn’t see any. Being 9am I decided to cook noodles at a place with a view of mountains. I don’t see many mountains. So it was good.
More driving. Then back to loch of the lowes on a hunt for information. We spoke to the man behind the desk. He basically said everything we’ve ever wanted to see (beaver and pine marten) is dead and we should give up on existing. He was English and infinitely posh. Having been in Scotland for just over 12 hours at this point I felt I was able to feel derisive about his Englishness. He seemed to hate me for looking at the bird feeders without having paid £200 for the privilege. I hated him for hating me. I then looked at a red squirrel. It calmed the rage that grew within. We moved on, crestfallen and struggling to decide where we should go next.
Some how we decided on another loch. I couldn’t honestly tell you what we intended on seeing. We got to loch leven after I slept in the back of the car for a bit. I’m guessing I was tired. We made our way to the visitors centre and enquired about what delights their reserve held. Firecrest was managed. I got giddy. We briefly talked with the man at the place. James pointed to a painting of a sea eagle on a nearby wall. “What’s the chance of seeing them?” he enquired, enquiringly. We were on tenterhooks, having come to the entirely wrong conclusion that every sea eagle in the UK was on the other side of Scotland. “Well they fly over occasionally” he replied, replyingly. We got amazingly giddy. He then said something about seeing them more regularly at other places nearby. We set fire to every other plan we ever had and decided to focus all our intentions on sea eagles. Except we had a little look around the reserve first, which allowed jess to have presumably sexist and patronising things said to her by the most Scottish birdwatcher in existence. We think he was sexist and patronising but I honestly had no idea what he was saying. I’m not sure he did. In the place with the sexist birdman we also saw a piece of fungus that had been left on a shelf. It was maggoty. Hopefully they’ll read this and do something about it. Seems the most efficient way to contact them.
Upon getting back to the visitors centre we enquired about exact locations to see/sea eagles. We were told by some lovely people with thick accents who didn’t seem to hate women.
We got to the first of the locations. I think we listened to they might be giants on the way. That last sentence was setting the scene. I can only imagine it worked brilliantly. After standing next to a chunk of estuary for half an hour we realised that all the buzzards we were seeing were definitely buzzards and not eagles. Then it rained. I say rained when I actually mean that Scotland seemed to have decided to get rid of all its people and animals besides two examples of each on a boat somewhere. I bet sea ducks would have been fine during the whole Noah’s ark thing. That’s probably the biggest problem with the bible.
We then looked for eagles for somewhere else. We saw just as many as we did before. So we went somewhere else. Not for eagles, but for sea birds. Which was largely unsuccessful besides large helpings of gannets and a smattering of fulmar but I see them quite regularly at home. Not on the bird feeders quite, but sort of near home. I had chosen this spot for sea watching as it is supposedly quite good for seeing cetaceans. It wasn’t.
With night becoming ever more evident we decided to find ourselves somewhere to sleep. We set off for the place we planned to begin the next day. Unfortunately the sat nav thought that place was in the middle of one of the most intimidating industrial estates known to man. It’s main feature was a tower of flame which bathed most of the surrounding land in an inescapable eerie glow. To look directly into would be to see your own death. When we tried to take pictures of it cameras malfunction and the viewfinders exploded.
After being in the presence of satan incarnate we decided to sleep near an old railway bridge. It seemed the sort of location vagrants would use for love making. Either they weren’t present that night or they were very understanding of our tiredness and kept their howls of passion to a minimum.
At first light (ish) we headed to a petite nature reserve. Cant remember if it had a name. I imagine it did. Regardless it was a short but productive visit, with spoonbill and a resplendunce(?) of waders on show. Spoonbill are fantastic, as is every bird named after cutlery. James looked for a ring billed gull that was supposedly there. It wasn’t.
Feeling marginally buoyed by spoonbil,l we headed to yet another place (after some googling, I believe it was Cockenzie and Port Seton), to see yet another thing. The thing we wanted to see was a roseate tern. They are apparently very similar to common and arctic tern, except for some features that are different. I might even remember what they were if we had seen some. But we did see some nice other things. If memory serves me correctly, the other things included golden plover, sandwich tern, godwit and ringed plover. There was also an incident involving a man and rules about parking which I’ll let James handle when he decides that teaching is a lost cause and full-time blogging is the way forward.
To another place we went, like people who go to places. This time we went to sent St. Abbs to find Jess a raven and find me an influx of unusual migrants. We did a small circular path from the car park which not only allowed for some nice vistas of the cliffs, but also meant we could get ice creams. After good views of peregrines and passable views of ravens for Jess, the road began to beckon yet again.