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Highlands and Islands tour. Miles and Miles of smiles.


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PeterHG

I only got round to reading your report today, @Galana and what a joy it was, with so much detailed information and great photos of wildlife and scenery. Thanks for taking the trouble to put this together. It all sounds very tempting for a future trip and we'll definitely keep it in mind! Thank you also @Dave Williamsfor adding your info and superb photos. Handa  looks like a must-see place !

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On we go. So as you can see our journey started from home in Ramsey, Isle of Man, at an ungodly hour to catch check in time for the 08.30 boat (or “The Packet” as we call it) to Heysham in Lancas

Oops. My editing skills (sic) went awry and I forgot to mention Mulls other wildlife attraction. Mull is getting a good reputation as a place to watch European Otter Lutra lutra. They can be seen

I am not sure if this is a valid Safari but I have been asked several questions in my “Birding Big Year 2021” regarding my latest trip to West Scotland and the Hebrides so perhaps some background deta

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Galana
10 hours ago, ExtraordinaryAlex said:

@GalanaI know a bit- I've spent a bit of time there-

Thanks Alexandra. I have in mind a few days there so will go prepared.

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ExtraordinaryAlex

Thought I'd add a bit on Handa as it comes up on this thread and I was there recently. The best thing to do is ring on the day to check the rib is going- the facebook page is not kept up to date and it's pretty weather dependent. The ferry runs throughout the day till about 5.30 and is a really short hop over (15 mins). It goes roughly every half an hour or so, though essentially it depends on demand- when there are enough people on either side waiting to go it will go. The walking is flat-ish (some hills, but not many) on grass/boardwalk/sand. To walk around the island takes roughly 3 hours so I'd recommend allowing at least that long as it's so pretty and there's a lot to see. Sadly I didn't get to do the whole thing (toddlers and birding not being the best combination) but it was well worth a visit- we missed the puffins but saw lots of big fat skuas. When you land you are taken for a short briefing by the staff and there are some composting loos there (currently closed due to covid).  When you get back to the ferry point on the mainland there is a small tea room/seafood restaurant there too. 

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Galana

Thanks again Alexandra.

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ExtraordinaryAlex

No worries @GalanaAlso forgot to add probably the most key piece of information- the ferry is £20 for adults and £10 for kids over 5 and this needs to be paid in cash. The nearest machine is a long way off you need to bring it with you.

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Galana
1 minute ago, ExtraordinaryAlex said:

The nearest machine is a long way off you need to bring it with you.

Ha ha.

That brings back ancient memories of waiting in the sunshine on the track to Diabeg to flag down the Bank of Scotland Mobile Bank to cash a cheque. (Remember cheques?)

 

Thanks all the same. The day my Missus cannot lay her hands on a £50 is the day I phone my Advocate.:lol:

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Dave Williams

Although the Handa ferry didn't run for three days on the trot when we were there in June because of the swell, on an average year the operator told me they lose no more than 10 days of sailings.

They don't run on Sunday either....and by next year they may well be £25!!

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Soukous

This may be of interest to anyone planning a trip to Scotland

 

Guide to Scotland’s National Parks and wildlife

 

https://www.discoverwildlife.com/holidays-days-out/guide-to-scotlands-national-parks-and-wildlife/

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Dave Williams

I might as well add a bit of further information about Scotland, and in particularly Stag Cottage which is where I stayed with a friend of mine last week. I might add that I wasn't motivated by @Galana's report. In actual fact he followed me in advance!

Anyway, back to Stag and my opinion! 

Unlike Fred's trip when he had the advantage not only of long daylight hours but the fact the PMs (Pine Marten) were coming out much earlier as the youngsters were still demanding food all day. By mid September the juveniles are largely self sufficient and independent of the parent although we were lucky and had one parent/sibling who gave us some interesting interaction shots.They didn't appear until after dark though and that brings about it's own photographic problems.

My friend Mike and I have been taking an annual trip for the last ten years, usually, but not always, having an element of paid for "professional" wildlife hides. Without a doubt pro hides have advantages but they also have some rather big disadvantages  too! I would never have been able to take photos of Brown Bear or Bonnelli's Eagle at very close range if it hadn't been set up for me but when I look back at some of my pictures they are identical to all those who have visited before. In some cases you would never know the difference of course, a shot of a wading bird in water could just as easily be one you found yourself as one shot from a pro hide but to be honest the satisfaction of finding the subject and creating the shot beats everything else.

Stag Cottage is a mid way compromise.

You are virtually guaranteed that the subject, assuming PMs are what you are after, will turn up.After that it's up to you to decide what to do about getting them on camera and trying to make your photos more unique than those who have gone before. 

We turned up to find a few pieces of rather rotten and lifeless looking wood "stumps" and a branch suspended between two metal plant holders. They were not really what we wanted so instead we set about foraging for something new to use as a prop.It wasn't easy but we did find a suitable(?) mossy log although mossy log/branch always makes me think "set up"!

51530831426_b32f47bf77_b.jpgPine Marten by Dave Williams, on Flickr

at least the ferns made it look alive even if it was a fallen branch I'd found.

51531550109_489ac841bd_b.jpgPine Marten by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Preferable to the rotten stump!

51531756900_4114906dc5_b.jpgPine Marten by Dave Williams, on Flickr

We'd taken our own LED lighting set up having decided against the limitations of flash photography, especially where motion is concerned. Mind you we ended up having to settle for some very low shutter speeds anyway.

Each morning it was a case of checking out the previous evenings shots, waiting for a break in the weather and then tweaking our props and lighting.

We decided we were not too keen on the cluttered bokeh we were getting from our branch and decided to start all over with a new round of wood which still had a fresh look about it and had survived being chopped in to firewood size pieces...a fate which has happened to several huge trees felled earlier in the year and which had now been converted in to huge wood piles covered in a blue tarpaulin and built in one of the most obtrusive parts of what is a large garden. I am amazed that anyone could choose to do this but there you go!

Our new stump looked...like a stump! It's only when I got home I decided that I don't particularly care for a pitch black background but too late now! 

51525017261_752ee25691_b.jpgPine Marten by Dave Williams, on Flickr

We had 7 nights to play with. The first was a case of settling for what was there and getting a measure of what behaviour to expect. We then had three nights of mossy branch followed by three of the stump.

51525082936_4c0cfdf2d4_b.jpgPine Marten by Dave Williams, on Flickr

We put the hours in, usually from 7.30pm to at least 1.00am. Each night we thought things were getting a little better in terms of lighting and consequently image quality.

We finally ended with possibly the right lighting but one of the quietest nights in activity but at least some interesting poses. That's life.

51525755214_61b48b731b_b.jpgPine Marten by Dave Williams, on Flickr

As for the cottage itself, well it's different. I guess the shortcomings are overlooked because it isn't the reason I would imagine most people go and stay there. There are short comings though. It's small on bedroom space. I personally think they waste some valuable spaces with unnecessary clutter. Some things need refurbishment, or a deep clean. The musty smell in one bedroom is probably down to damp which may well be because the gutters are clogged solid with moss growth. Those thing can be forgiven, what happened in the garden though amazes me, it's as if the owners don't really value this fabulous natural asset in the wildlife it holds.

Oh well, their's to worry about, not mine I suppose.That said, reading the visitor book it's full of entries by repeat visitors who obviously don't share my opinion.

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Galana

Some great poses there @Dave Williams. I can't imagine what the latter one is about. I think it is the pair with the black background but stand to be corrected.

As you know I had the benefit of longer hours as well as a higher angle of view and just let what will be, be.

Like you, and having spoken to the owner twice on other matters, I don't think she cares about the treasure on her doorstep. Maybe a few of her guests care a lot but again from the visitors book many of them just use the cottage as a base for touring and don't know much about wildlife.

I did re-arrange some of the garden 'scenery' if only to remove bright brass screws sticking in timbers from spoiling my pictures.

As for cottage clutter I take my rent as authority to de clutter to my tastes and all those bloody pot plants etc., got to enjoy a different eco sytem.

The musty smell in the twin room may be due to roosting un housetrained bats in the attic. I have heard of the Martens going up on the roof to grab a few as they emerge at dusk.

Some of those Martens were new to me although I recognise Domino in the pose with the stump.

I would go back, indeed probably will, as I have unfinished business with them but there are lots of other places to go too. I have just read two books  on PMs, Johnny Birk's as part of the British Mammal Society series is excellent. "A richness of Pine Martens" by Polly Pullar was interesting but more of a wistful narrative than hard facts. Indeed I enjoyed Johnny Birk's Marten book so much I splashed out another £7 on his Polecats too. Another fantastic British mammal that has managed to make a surprising comeback from the brink of extinction and unlike PMs they seem to have done this under the radar of scientists.

They are doing to introduced Mink what the Martens are doing to the Grey Squirrel and that gets my vote.

I digress.

Good to see you back and with  results to be envied.

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TonyQ

@Dave Williamsyou have some lovely photos there. I think your dedication paid off.

Did you take your photos through glass, or were you outside?

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Dave Williams
3 minutes ago, TonyQ said:

@Dave Williamsyou have some lovely photos there. I think your dedication paid off.

Did you take your photos through glass, or were you outside?

Sat in my tent hide for the first 5 nights which was pretty damn cold ( went to 1°C one night) then we had severe rain and high winds. The hide was near getting blown away so I retreated inside and photographed through an open door or window. If I'd known that in the first place the hide would never have been used!

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Soukous
6 hours ago, Dave Williams said:

It's only when I got home I decided that I don't particularly care for a pitch black background but too late now! 

 

I actually do like them. They make the shots look a bit like studio shots, but they are stunning all the same. Very dramatic, and we can see the Pine Martens without any distractions (mossy branches, stumps etc)

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Zim Girl

I think all the pictures are fabulous but I agree with Martin, the ones with black backgrounds make the features on the Pine Martens really stand out.  The one with two martens on is my favourite.

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Dave Williams

Well it doesn't look like the owners of Stag Cottage take to criticism kindly!!! They asked me for a review and this is what I sent them.

828982027_Screenshot2021-09-27at09.47copy.jpg.5dcf75214b4d036aa21fcc9bcb8b5e2b.jpg

 

They thanked me for it and said it was now published.

Where I wouldn't know and doubt it has been BUT, although it was meant to be constructive they obviously don't see it that way as they deleted my membership of their Facebook group two weeks after!! I hadn't posted anything at all but no doubt they wanted to make sure I didn't.

That of course is a red rag to a bull so I'll share it here instead!!

 

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Galana

A badge of honour to be banned from a Facebook Group. It never happens to me coz I don't join in the first place. All those folk who get cancelled over a twitstorm from POTUS down (or maybe that is 'Up'? ) have only one person to blame.

 

But it does say something about Debbie at Stag Cottage too.

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Soukous
20 hours ago, Dave Williams said:

Well it doesn't look like the owners of Stag Cottage take to criticism kindly!!! They asked me for a review and this is what I sent them.

828982027_Screenshot2021-09-27at09.47copy.jpg.5dcf75214b4d036aa21fcc9bcb8b5e2b.jpg

 

They thanked me for it and said it was now published.

Where I wouldn't know and doubt it has been BUT, although it was meant to be constructive they obviously don't see it that way as they deleted my membership of their Facebook group two weeks after!! I hadn't posted anything at all but no doubt they wanted to make sure I didn't.

That of course is a red rag to a bull so I'll share it here instead!!

 

 

No excuse for a poorly maintained property. I am sure you are not the first person to point out the things that need attention. If they choose to 'shoot the messenger' rather than accept the criticism and deal with the problems then they won't be in business for long. 

This year they are lucky as demand for UK properties ensures they will be well booked, but looking forward .......

 

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