Isle of Harris - Edd Cottell

Isle of Harris

The Isle of Harris is a very rocky place, and the first thing you notice are the huge numbers of Stonechat and Wheatear living among the rocks. The West has these incredible white sand beaches with tropical looking blue waters. The Machair is a very colourful habitat, with its rich ground home to a wealth of flowers, including Orchids in all shades of purple.

Our cottage in Luskentyre is a short walk from the beach, which at first glance appears quiet, but standing still, you can see Ringed Plover running between the dunes, Oystercatcher probing the wet sand, and Gannet plunging into the sea.

Heading down the West coast to the South of the island, the white beaches and Machair continue. It is an amazing sight to see white beaches, wild flower meadows, and mountains all so close together. With no ground predators, the Machair provides wonderful habitat for ground breeding birds, like Sandpiper, Lapwing, Redshank, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Greylag Geese, Curlew, Tufted Duck, and Mallard. Another common sight are Outer Hebridean Song Thrush, Raven, Hooded Crow, Swallow, and House Martin. Driving up to Loch Longabhat, we saw a Red Throated Diver in the middle of the Loch. Stunning birds to look at in their summer plumage, albeit at a distance.

Later in the week, we went into the North Harris hills in search of upland wildlife. The peak of choice was Tiorga Mor. Parking near Amhuinnsuidhe castle, the walk starts at a gentle pace past the Salmon fisheries, before breaking off and up to Loch Braigh Bheagarais. Throughout the walk, there was the distinct pewing sound of the Golden Plover, which has the most wonderful white, black, and gold speckled plumage. Harris has one of the highest densities of Golden Eagle in Europe, and it certainly delivered. The resident pair of eagle soared along the ridges constantly through the day. Even a White Tailed Eagle made an appearance! From the small Loch, there was no messing around with a steep ascent to the top of Tiorga Mor, where the silhouettes of Red Deer broke the skyline, and Mountain Hare sheltered between the rocks. It was a fantastic celebration of Scottish mountain wildlife.

To St. Kilda! Its a three hour boat journey to the remote islands, and its well worth it if you love your history, birds, or both. Arriving at the bay at Hirta, the main island, I couldn't help but feel a bit saddened. The historic ruins of the village remain, but what the brochure doesn't show is the heavy presence of the Ministry of Defence (MOD), with their green coloured and functional looking buildings, and if the cloud not been so low, the missile tracking RADAR station. None the less, I headed for an area known as "the gap", which looks straight down a cliff into the sea. The MOD's presence was soon forgotten, as I looked down to see hundreds of Fulmar nesting on the cliff, Gannets skimming the water, and Great Skuas (described as sea psychos!) looking for an easy meal. A Kilda Wren landed so close, I couldn't get a picture, but they are noticeably larger than their mainland counterparts. The weather continued to deteriorate as we left Hirta, and with the MOD buildings, I was starting to wonder why people raved about the islands.

The boat then headed for Boreray and it's surrounding sea stacks, and my goodness it was worth the wait! The cliffs and stacks had enormous numbers of birds; thousands of Gannets, Razorbills, Guillemots, and Puffins. The low cloud added to the spectacle. It was certainly the most challenging conditions I've ever taken picture in, as the boat heaved and lurched in the swell. The day was nicely rounded off by hearing a Corncrake calling at Northton.

Harris is a lovely place, the wide of variety habitats, iconic wildlife, and superb vistas make it a great place to visit. My favourite thing to do was to watch the sun setting on the beach and on the headland at Luskentyre. Watching all the sea birds (Terns, Cormorants, Shags, Eiders, Oystercatchers, Gulls) returning to roost in the warm glow of the orange sun. The rigors and hecticness of modern life just disappear.

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