Wednesday, 9 May 2012

What's better than 'Awesome' ?

May 9
At breakfast, John asked if we still wanted to go to Staffa as the Ulva Ferry boatman had rung to say that he was running a second Sea Eagle trip this afternoon. A no brainer for me...and Pam agreed ...the Ulva trip it was. It's a longish old drive but a lovely one, along the west coast, the sea in view most of the way. The road is challenging, single track of course but hugging the cliff in many areas, steep drop to the sea on one side. You just hope not too much traffic comes the other way, especially delivery vans, tractors and trailers and campavans. Mind you.. I was being driven by an awesome reverser !
With several birding stops, we reached Ulva Ferry at 12.30 - and found difficulty parking. An other boat runs trips from here and many families go across to the island of Ulva for the day. It's a pretty basic ferry......

The Lady Jane, skipper Martin and helper Richard discharged the previous trip's passengers, re-fuelled (petrol cans into a funnel), moved to let the ferry in and returned for we nine passengers. Not a big boat, the seating area was two garden seats and the top of the two foot high raised decking, behind the wheelhouse. The tide was dropping and I had difficulty getting on board, too steep a drop from the granite jetty onto the edge of the boat. My knees will not stand for that, especially the one left behind on top. Martin went off, returning with two stone blocks which he balanced on the boat to make the step down smaller. Great, he was very accommodating throughout.
The previous trip had seen an Otter about half an hour before we left. No sign for us despite careful searching. We motored south, seeing Guillemots, Razorbills, many Shags, the occasional Tystie and three Harbour Porpoises.
The coastal scenery was starkly stunning.

Martin began throwing bread to the gulls until we acquired a sizeable following. 

He then took a  fish of a fair size (John thinks that it was Horse Mackerel, looked nothing like a Mackerel though) from a covered bucket and lobbed it into the sea. Very quickly, a White-tailed Eagle left a distant cliff, made its way towards us, circled and dived for the fish. Absolutely stunning. One of my life's most memorable experiences. Seven of us had Canon cameras and the clicks were constant. Richard kept the boat positioned so that we were backing the sun. Ideal - nearly. The bird dived with its back to us and the vibration from the boat's engine was a hindrance. Brilliant though.

Not as sharp as I would have liked - at least I caught it.
Fish in talons almost discernible

Time for a welcome cuppa, produced by the 'boy' Richard (he was retirement age), both tea and coffee offered. Pam had my biscuit.
The bird returned three times in total over the next 30 minutes, taking  a total of two fish, its mate flying out to sea, before both returned to their nesting tree which was clinging to a cliffside gully. They fledged one eaglet successfully last year. 

Coming in overhead. What a bird.
Some people are objecting to the feeding, saying that it's unethical. Why? We are encouraged to feed the birds in our gardens to help them survive. The RSPB set up Kite feeding stations. Richard never feeds them enough to fill them, it must surely help the young to survive and grow. That's my opinion anyway.
A very entertaining time was had by all when Richard was attempting to retrieve the fish not taken. Especially the one half swallowed by a gull and then regurgitated a distance away. He stood like a pointer dog with his outstretched arm pointing in the general direction, swivelling as the boat changed direction. He then leapt into action, with the net outstretched at arms-length, whilst the whole boat took over the pointing and calling of directions.
A happy group made the journey back, which was enriched by four Ravens on the cliff top, more Harbour Porpoises, a handsome Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver - not yet in full summer plumage
 and 30 Common Seals lying out on the seaweed covered rocks.

I was carefully escorted off the boat, easy this time at a lower tide. The shallow stone steps up to the jetty were accessible.
A record time home despite an icecream stop - and another to eat it. Travelling the Phionnphort road behind a small Ford driven by a blonde was the  reason. She stopped for very few, oncoming traffic had no choice, she just drove straight ahead without any hesitation ! We ended up very amused by her successful  - almost aggressive - technique, we sailed through in her wake.
A last look at our much loved Fidden, numbers of Dunlin and Whimbrel increased to-night. Off to Dervaig in the morning.

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