Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Gairloch area (19/03/13)...

Yesterday was my birthday and my girlfriend and I had planned a day trip to the Gairloch area to try and spot my first ever eagle believe it or not. The weather at home however was pretty horrendous with heavy snow and blizzard like conditions. The forecase for Gairloch was completely different being sunny and clear. So we decided to give it a go. Driving up through Contin then on to Garve the conditions were pretty horrible, most of the road was covered with snow falling towards us making driving not the easiest. After Garve we turned off for Gairloch and conditions weren't changing. But by the time we got to the Queen's View car park, where we stopped to scan for eagles, above the East end of Loch Maree the weather was really starting to clear up and the snow was easing off.

We didn't spot any eagles but plenty of red deer on the slopes then we headed on down to road past the main Ben Eighe visitor centre to the Coille na Glas Leitre carpark where the woodland walk starts through the Pine wood in the National Nature Reserve. I was hoping for Scottish Crossbill but not only did I not see at Scotbills we didn't see anything at all not even a Great Tit, the woods appeared empty. The sun was out fully now though and the views across Loch Maree to the peaks on the otherside really were stunning.

I am surprised I didn't start to get a sore neck as I was constantly scanning the sky and ridges for a glimpse of my first eagle but I wasn't having any luck. We stopped at a couple more car parks along the shores of Loch Maree but still no signs although there was plenty of buzzards around. The scenery was so stunning we couldn't take our eyes of it, no matter where you were there was something impressive to see. We moved on passing on through Gairloch itself and up to Gruinard Bay where I was told would be my best chance of seeing a eagle.

After what seemed miles upon miles of of winding coastal roads and more stunning scenery we came to a rather normal looking layby which is actually the best place to scan across Gruinard Bay, it's beach 3 rather large and obvious fields on the point of land sticking out on the other side. We pulled up and I starting scanning, my girlfriend was too. There didn't seem to be anything on the beach so I worked the fields. I could see the odd gull, a few hooded crows and a couple of ravens but nothing eagle shaped. I set my binoculars on the dashboard when all of a sudden my girlfriend starting shouting "look! look! what's that!?". I looked up to see a group of about 30 Barnacle Geese flying up into the air as a massive shape flew low over the fields. I had just enough time to get my binoculars on it and see the gigantic wings and bright white tail in the sun, I had seen my first ever wild eagle, a White-tailed Eagle! But it quickly crossed the fields and went over and down the otherside of the headland.

Gruinard Bay
We had a look at the map and even though the main road went off in the opposite direction, a few miles further on my girlfriend noticed a small single track road that curved around the otherside of the headland towards the area the eagle seemed to fly. I knew it could be a long shot because by the time we would get there the eagle could have covered miles.

We drove over to the other side of the headland which gave superb views of Little Loch Broom and the surrounding hills. We crawled along the road scanning when all of a sudden it flew up from behind the houses and trees on the hill side. Although it was huge it was easily lost against the backdrop of vast water and hills in the sunlight. We thought we lost but further up the road we saw it again and watched it soaring and being harrassed by some gulls and crows for a good few minutes. Then it was gone. We stayed in the same place for half an hour but never saw it again with a distant buzzard setting alarm bells ringing for a few seconds. I did try and get some distant photos but you will just have to believe me!

Look across Little Loch Broom
Very distant White-Tailed Eagle
We then headed back round to the previous layby for another check, no eagle but it did produce my first Gannets of the year plus a distant lone Great Northern Diver.

Great Northern Diver.
We followed pretty much the same route back home with a short stop at the Queen's view car park again for a quick scan and to look at the view in the fading light. All in all a fantastic day.

Year List Additions:
89. White-Tailed Eagle (Lifer)
90. Gannet
91. Great Northern Diver

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