Sep 22nd, 2014
We were up again at 6am – this time to go to the tree top hide where we were told we could see the red and roe deer coming up out of the woods at dawn to spend their day on the high moor. We waited about half an hour with no luck – and then one by one they started to emerge, first the quivering ears and nose of a hind and her half-grown fawn, then more hinds and yearlings, and finally a five point red stag, obviously the patriarch of his little tribe. We saw at least three more groups of red deer and one of roe before the procession ended about 7:15. While this was going on, the tree near the hide was alive with small birds, including many crossbills (strange hooked beak specializing in getting seeds out of pine cones) which I have never seen before.
After lunch, we went out in a mini-bus to Avoch point, which interestingly was directly over a narrow strait for Fort George which we had visited last year for J’s birthday. It was very cold (well not very but felt pretty cold compared to the day before). This was not only a great place to see birds, but also the premier place in the UK to look for marine mammals (particularly dolphins) from the shore. We saw some interesting birds (including a whitear – I didn’t know that this was a Victorian euphemism for ‘white arse’ because – well basically it has one), and then just as I was getting seriously chilly – four dolphins made their way through the strait, coming in quite close to land
We had a packed lunch at another RSPB sanctuary where we saw huge numbers of ducks, gulls and herons. I should have mentioned this earlier – but Aigas have a good way of doing packed lunches. Basically the night before they tell you what the main ingredient in the next day’s sandwiches will be (e.g. tuna or cheese) and give you a chance to choose something else if you don’t like it. Then on the morning, they lay the sandwiches and a load of other stuff like packets of crisps, cheese, fruit, crackers, chocolate, biscuits etc out on the table in the common room and you pack your own brown paper bag with the things you like. This avoids a lot of waste (for example I always seem to get a chocolate biscuit which I am not fond of in packed lunches, equally for R and bananas), plus ensures you get what you like.
We then went on for the highlight of the day which was the dolphin watching boat trip from Cromarty. The boat company was Eco-Ventures and they use a fast rubber motor boat which takes up to 12 people. First they gave us a complete set of waterproofs to wear. By the time I had put these over the extra layers I was already wearing because I knew how cold it gets on boats, I looked like the Michelin man (or as someone else put it a blue Teletubby with piles). R and I sat right at the front of the boat on a seat rather like a saddle with one leg to either side and a handle at the front, and off we went at speed. We stopped to look at Cromarty waterfront, the site of a wreck, and (most interestingly) a half-demolished oil rig which was being ‘parked’ in the bay by its owner during a dispute, and had become the nesting place for gulls, shags, and a peregrine falcon pursuing pigeons. Then we headed for the Moray Firth and the cetaceans.
First we met with a pod of harbour porpoise which are like a ‘miniature dolphin’. These aren’t often seen in the Moray Firth for the rather sad reason that the local dolphins (which are bigger and nastier than most bottlenose dolphins – forget Flipper here) attack and kill them. Then a little later on we met with the first of several pods of dolphin – up to six individuals in each and several juveniles which were a lighter colour and stuck closely to their mother. We saw them fishing, jumping clean out of the water, and at one point they came in so close that I could literally have reached over the side and touched them. Quite thrilling, and on the way back we had hot chocolate and shortbread which we needed because as suspected it was damn cold.
By the time we got back to Aigas I was feeling a bit jaded from lack of exercise, plus not to put too fine a point on it, had a bit of a sore backside from the ‘ride ‘em cowboy’ seat in the boat, so I went for a walk round the loch on my own before dinner.
Walking past the beaver lodge, I heard a mysterious splosh and saw a large ring in the water which could have been a fleeing beaver, but although I stood silently for ten minutes or so, he didn’t return. I watched a pair of wrens hunting insects around the base of a tree and then walked back past the field holding a number of domesticated guinea fowl (discovering as I did so that disturbed guinea fowl make a noise like someone sawing concrete).
Dinner was spinach soup, duck in mango and blackcurrant sauce and chocolate and brandy ice cream. None I must admit entirely to my taste or what I would have chosen in a restaurant – so it must be R bribing the chef by way of revenge as I made all those remarks about him being a fussy eater.
We then went out for our ranger led visit to a hide. Unfortunately, this was a complete failure. Although there had been badgers visiting every night in the previous week, and pine martens most nights, on our night we saw nothing apart from bats and insects. The next day Sir John Lister-Kaye informed us that the reason for this was probably that when it rains for the first time after a long dry period, badgers go nuts looking for earthworms, and don’t have their normal interest in peanuts. Who knew (me now)…. Still, plenty more time for people to see badgers and marten…
Back at 10pm and off to bed immediately so can get up early next day for another try at the beavers – R expresses a desire not to join me which I will scrupulously respect.