Hi everyone, and apologies for a period of inactivity in my blog. First I was travelling, then I was a bit unwell, then it was Christmas... and all of a sudden it has been four weeks since my last post. Now that I have made my excuses, perhaps I can tell about my trip to Scotland for 12 days in December. As some of you will realise, this trip took me to my country of origin. My intention this time was to split my days between exploring with my camera and catching up with friends and family - my parents, brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews all still live in Scotland and it was high time for a visit.
My journey to Inverness was somewhat more complicated than it should have been due to unfavourable weather conditions. Firstly my flight from Helsinki to Amsterdam had to divert to a small military airport in Groningen for refuelling, Amsterdam was reduced to a single operating runway by fog and wind and we did not have enough fuel to go round in circles waiting our turn. After a 2 hour wait in the plane on the tarmac in Groningen we finally made the short hop to Amsterdam. My second flight, from Amsterdam to Inverness, went without incident until we were above Inverness, at which point the captain informed us that the airport was currently closed due to heavy snow... so we went round in circles overhead for 90 minutes while they cleared the runways. This did however offer some great views of the snow-covered city.
The weather which disrupted my flights, would also disrupt many of my other plans. Living in Finland I am very used to freezing conditions and driving on snowy or icy roads, but I felt like it was wise to be a bit more cautious when driving an unfamiliar car on unfamiliar roads without the benefit of winter tyres. I had hoped to travel all around the north and west of Scotland, including the Isle of Skye, but instead I stayed within a couple of hours drive of my parents house near to Inverness for most of my trip. Luckily there was plenty of interesting things to point my camera at without travelling more widely.
I decided to visit the lighthouse at Tarbat Ness, an impressive 53m tall specimen built in 1830 by Robert Stevenson (the grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson) as part of the response to a great storm in 1826 which had resulted in the loss of 16 vessels in the Moray Firth. The lighthouse still operates today, fully automated, and it's light can be seen for over 40 kilometres (on the rare clear days in this part of the world). The location is somewhat remote on the end of a peninsula, ideal lighthouse locations are not always the most convenient to journey to.
Tarbat Ness was also a good place to observe birds, I spotted chaffinches, robins, dunnocks, rock pipits and blue tits as well as being almost continually accompanied by the sound of wrens as a I explored the area. There were noticeably more birds than there are in Finland at this time of year.
Over the course of the following few days I spent some time walking with my camera near to Kilmuir, in search of bird species that I had not previously photographed. There were two particular prizes that I was seeking, the red kite (a bird of prey which is rather hard to find in Finland) and the red-legged partridge (a small game bird that can't be found in Finland at all). The red kite is historically a native bird in Scotland but had disappeared from these parts until a successful effort to reintroduce it at the end of the last century, relocating 93 birds from Sweden for the purpose. Thankfully, nowadays, it is possible to see these beautiful birds more regularly, I was able to see one or more of them at least every second day during my trip.
When it comes to the red-legged partridge, my hunt for that prize was not so straight-forward, every time I went out with my camera I would come back empty handed. After one such failed search I sat at the kitchen table having coffee, only for a red legged partridge to walk slowly past on the street outside, about 1 metre away... unfortunately my camera was not with me. Sometimes that's how things go.
My next lighthouse was at Chanonry Point, a narrow spit of land in-between the villages of Fortrose and Rosemarkie which is one of the best places in the world to observe dolphins from the shore. This lighthouse was also built by a Stevenson, this time Alan Stevenson (son of Robert, uncle of Robert Louis), and it was completed in 1846. It still operates, fully automated since 1984.
I was not lucky enough to see any dolphins while at Chanonry Point but there were many birds in the immediate area including oystercatchers, robins, dunnocks, sparrows and a goldcrest - but the most interesting species I saw was a stonechat, the 167th species I have photographed this year.
From Chanonry Point I continued round the coast to Rosemarkie where I spotted a flock of Brent Geese on the beach... species 168.
From Rosemarkie beach I followed a path through the forest to some fairy pools. The sign promised that it was 500m to my destination so after walking up a hill for 25 minutes I started to have some doubts about whether I was on the right path, but when turning the next corner they were right in front of me.
It was a bit curious that this area was almost free of snow while lower down in the valley there was a thick white blanket covering everything.
The lighthouse project continued as my father and I took a day trip, following the Moray coast east to the town of Lossiemouth where the impressive Covesea Skerries lighthouse can be found. Another Stevenson design (Alan once again), this lighthouse was built in 1846 as another part of the recommended response to the storm of 1826, it's light was finally extinguished in 2012 but the iconic structure remains.
From Lossiemouth we continued east to the town of Portknockie where the quartzite rock that makes up the local coastline has eroded into interesting shapes, the most famous of which is Bow Fiddle Rock, an interesting protrusion about 50 metres away from the coastal cliffs.
As we returned from our trip to Portknockie I was again taunted by the elusive red-legged partridge. This time there were a pair of them sitting on the neighbours doorstep. They were very close and not that concerned by our presence... but it was about 2 hours after sunset and way too dark to take bird photographs.
On the second weekend of my trip I headed south to Leven, near Edinburgh, to visit my nephews. It was a particular highlight to be able to watch the new Star Wars movie with them in St Andrews after visiting their favourite bookshop.
After returning to Kilmuir again the red-legged partridge was on my mind. Time was running short to get a photograph. Wondering around with my camera brought all kinds of birds into view, but not the one I was looking for... as compensation I was at least treated to a nice sunset.
Although I didn't find the partridge, I had a lucky encounter with another Kilmuir resident who gave me a tip about where I might see some partridges early the next morning, before my flight back to Finland. A dawn stakeout, hiding under some tall bushes, was finally rewarded (after 80 cold minutes) with the sight of a pair of nervous red-legged partridges. They were a bit smaller than I expected, about the size of a pigeon, and behaved in a similar way to pheasants, preferring to walk or run away from any perceived danger instead of using their wings and taking to the air. The bird was a bit distant and the sun was below the horizon so the picture is no masterpiece, but at least it gives an idea how these distinctive birds look, and also takes my 2017 photographed species count to 169.
Thanks to all who have shown an interest in my blog and my photographs during 2017, I wish you a happy new year and a great 2018.
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