Anchored in the Shiant Islands with thousands of birds

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Sun 23 May 2010 12:10
57:53.704N 006:21.379W Saturday

An amazing day - my favourite so far.

Set out this morning from our snug little nest in Wizard Pool. It was great to see Andrea zooming around in the tender setting Kali onto the rocks to undo our mooring lines. Kali was abseiling up and down to release the knots and then they got back to Saxon Blue and hauled the anchor up while I tried to keep us heading the right way so we could reverse out into the deeper water. It worked but I'm glad there wasn't any more wind - we'll have to be a bit more careful if there's a side-wind blowing.

Kali was still feeling rough so she went to bed and Andrea and I tidied up the boat. We had to put the mooring lines away again, wash the decks, make the water, navigate - all the everyday things that go on. The good bit was that it felt normal. We just pottered around and it got done and the boat went along and the day was lovely.

The highlight of the whole day, though, has been the wildlife. We saw a dolphin almost as soon as we left the loch and continued to see them all day. I reckon about 25 in all, usually singly but once we saw a group of 4 together. We also saw Great Skuas which are a cross between a seagull and a crow. Very smart looking with charcoal feathers and dashing white flashes on their wings. I think they're a terror to the other birds but they are lovely to look at.

Also saw some Divers - not sure which variety as my book of Arctic wildlife showed similar ones but not quite the same. They were lovely black coloured with checkerboard feathers on their backs and a white necklace. Jet black bills, too. They look like a small goose with a beautiful curved neck.

The whole day was flat calm - which is why we saw so many dolphins - so we were going faster than I anticipated. We'd already gone past most of the stopping places that I'd read up on so I looked at the book again and it mentioned the Shiants in passing as only suitable in calm weather. Well, that's what we had so that's where I decided to go. They're a group of 2 small and many tiny islands in the Minch off the East coast of Harris. The anchorage is between the two islands, just off an isthmus of boulders that only just keeps the sea at bay.

As we came in along the cliffs, we could see hundreds of nesting sea birds. Cormorants stared out from the rocks at sea level and there are loads of them nesting amongst the boulders. Gulls are perched on every leadge and wheeling around between them, arguing about who is allowed to land on which rock. Every so often, a group of Guillemots stand like penguins, chattering to each other. The sea is covered in rafts of Guillemots, Razor Bills and Puffins with the occasional Skua making a fuss.

Andrea and I jumped straight into the tender to explore the other island as I could see the guano from where we are 3/4 of a mile away. We passed loads of seals, then saw the Guillemots all in a line with a slope of Puffins above them. The Puffins have colonised a whole hillside and it's pockmarked with holes. They don't hang around and just hurtle out of their hole and off to sea with others coming in the other way flying straight into their personal missile silo in the ground. It took us a while to realise what was going on as we couldn't see any birds on the ground, just flying into and out of it.

We zoomed over to a huge sea-arch on our island. It goes right through the hill, about the size of a large church with the water flowing hard through it. It was thrilling to be in the tender under a hill. On the other side were a load more seals who were very curious to see what we were up to and came right up to us for a look. I think they're now making a roaring noise but it's hard to tell as we're a long way away. Just looked in the wildlife book and it says that female Grey Seals make an eerie howling so that's confirmed.

As we finished our dinner (baked spuds and Chilli with coleslaw) Andrea looked out and exclaimed "there's a massive ship coming". This seemed very unlikely but indeed there is a cruise ship anchored half a mile away. He's small by cruise standards but massive compared to us and he's had 4 Zodiacs buzzing around looking at the birds. It's good to know that they've come all this way to see the birds and we were already here.

So that's it, a fantastic day and now we're going to start watching "6-feet Under" on the DVD.

PS after the DVD, Andrea realised that she'd caught a fish! A lovely silver one but a bit small to eat so she decided to throw it back. She's very pleased but a bit traumatised at having to decide on its fate. I think she could become a sport angler as I think she'll always struggle to kill and eat such beautiful creatures. Can't say I blame her. I'd much rather that the fish were swimming around below us but then I'm OK about eating them when they're served up in a curry so what sort of hypocrite am I? I can see this debate taking some time to resolve.


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