Well I've been back a few days after my "sudden impulse" 6 day tour around the NW of Scotland and what a trip it was. The weather was perfect every day and the scenery was absolutely spectacular.
In all, I took 624 photos and video clips so for the next few blog posts, I'll put up a photo from the tour despite putting most of them up already on my Facebook page. I know there are blog readers who don't use Facebook so for those who do, sorry that you have to see them again !
Actually this first photo is from the first day of the tour before I actually reached Scotland. I went up the east side of England, through Newcastle to Whitley Bay, a seaside resort I'd last been to about 30 years ago. Then I drove on to Seahouses where I'd booked online to go out on a 2.5hr boat trip to Inner Farne, one of the many Farne Islands that lie just off the coast of Northumberland.
These islands are famous bird sanctuaries and my main reason for going on the boat trip was to see some puffins as it was breeding season and many thousands were on Inner Farne.
The boat was due to set sail at 2pm and after spending too much time in both Newcastle and Whitley Bay, I only just made it. Once onboard I was able to relax and soon we were passing the smaller islands, just a collection of rocks really, which were covered in both birds and their poop. A LOT of poop. In fact from a distance it seemed there was snow on the rocks !
As we approached Inner Farne, I wondered why the people from the previous boat trip were waiting at the dock with umbrellas up and wearing waterproofs. Then I noticed the people on 'my' boat were doing the same and as we disembarked, I found out why.
All along the edge of the long wooden pathway up to the main viewing area, Arctic Terns had nested and while one sat on the egg(s), its partner would dive bomb anyone passing by. They used their long needle like beaks to stab any part of our bodies that they could, usually our heads, and if that didn't work, they'd follow it up with pooping on us.
It was like the school hill scene from "The Birds" except in our case, ALL the birds were real. Parents covered their kid's heads with anything they could and I was glad I'd taken a baseball cap and a light hooded rain jacket (a golf jacket actually as I thought it might rain) as I needed both ! Maybe it was the jacket's black colour but in any case, having run the gauntlet twice, I was relieved that I avoided any poop and despite some close calls, my head was intact. Others were not so lucky and many were liberally covered in the white stuff.
Up at the viewing area on the very edge of the cliff, birds were everywhere, on every surface. From Cormorants to Black-Headed Gulls, Guillemots to Razorbills, it was a twitcher's dream ! Of all the breeding birds on the Farnes, Puffins are by far the most common with over 36,000 pairs last year. There were several Shag fights going on over nesting areas and some were pretty vicious. Eggs were bumped out of nests as parents fought for possession of a nest and residence was no guarantee. The noise was deafening and off to one side, the superior Puffins were keeping their distance and did not want to be involved with the rough stuff. Being burrow nesters, they didn't need to.
They were settled quite some distance away but with my 200mm zoom lens, being able to rest it on a solid fence and then enlarging the resulting photos via Photoshop, I got some decent photos. This one is my favourite.
Being on the rocks, the Puffins were all adults as the Pufflings would've been safe in their burrows further away. I really wanted to see and photograph Pufflings but it was not to be.
Surviving the fierce Terns on the way back to the boat, we headed to shore and then I drove up the coast and crossed into Scotland. A couple of miles further on I got to my b&b by 7pm. This was the only one I'd pre-booked as I knew they were plentiful in Scotland and I didn't want to be tied down each evening. I'd just start looking from about 6pm or 7pm and that way I was free to go as far along the route each day as I wanted.
That plan worked out perfectly as I got great b&b's every evening ranging from £25 to £35 which I thought was excellent value for money.