As the breeze subsided, the rustling of the reeds that lined the shore of the loch was replaced with the excitable trilled calls of little grebes, pairing up for the breeding season. In the distance, small pockets of snow, not remnants of the winter, but from a recent fall clung to the hilltops, in areas shaded from the spring sunshine and warmth from it.
The waters of the loch calmed, and reflections of the surrounding trees took shape on the surface, some bearing new green leaves, others still biding their time for spring to arrive for certain, but decorated with lichens able to thrive in the clean, fresh air.
A rise in temperature allowed one of the mute swans sitting on eggs in the reed-bed to shuffle out, and glide gracefully back on to the loch; time to stretch its wings before up-ending, reaching down to the bed of the loch in search of food, its rear end pointing skywards, taking on the appearance of a feathery iceberg perhaps.
Sitting as low as I could beside the edge of the loch, I tried to drink in the tranquility and beauty of the morning. The air was filled with bird song, from the resident linnets and goldfinches, to newly arrived sedge warblers, and the distinctive call of a cuckoo, very much the indicator of spring. Overhead the chatter of swallows caught my attention, and I watched in awe as they swooped down to pick insects from the water, or to scoop a small drink from the surface.
I was in Scotland again, and was hoping to photograph a stunning bird that uses these freshwater lochs in the Highlands for breeding. While I had missed most of the courtship dances, I was within a window of opportunity to get images of them, in breeding plumage before they began to nest.
Their call, similar but slightly quieter than that of the little grebes, burst from the reeds nearby, and I held my breath. A glint of gold caught my attention, and then that ruby red eye. A Slavonian grebe had emerged from the reeds, and was busy preening for a moment, before scanning the area, and immediately diving down for some food.
I had barely opened the car door when I realised one of the divers had surfaced very close to where we’d parked, and using the door-frame for support, I was able to reel off a number of shots, capturing a sequence when the diver rose up out of the water to stretch its wings.
Calling into Ullapool on the way back, we found a sheltered spot outside a restaurant and enjoyed dinner together, laughing about the day’s trip and planning what we might do the following day, though Andy had a client booked, so some of it was sort of pre-arranged.
Thankfully there were plenty of alternatives, and after a coffee in Aviemore, and some indulgent shortbread, we found other subjects to point the cameras at, including red kites at the RSPB Tollie feeding station, a site that Andy and I had visited a number of times before.
The working week began with Andy having to concentrate on final preparations for his exhibition, so I headed out alone and chose to visit a site good for watching sand martins. I’ve never really had too many opportunities to study these birds in much detail, but was charmed by how sweet they appear facially, especially as they peer out of the sandy burrows at the outside world.
As the clouds cleared, I returned to the Slavonian grebes once more, and managed to get some reasonably close views. But the sun was making its way around me, and that wasn’t great for the shots, so I considered relocating…
Looking at a map, I picked a few lochs along a road to visit, hoping for a sight of more divers, but the further along I drove, the better the scenery became. Just a short distance along the road, according to the map was Loch Maree, a location that featured in a wildlife documentary about a year in the Highlands. With clear blue skies, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see it for myself.
And boy was it worthwhile. Not so much for wildlife, though I did see a ring ouzel along the way, and a pair of black-throated divers, but for the scenery. Wow, just wow.
As before, the dolphins failed to do much at all, and a drop in temperature tempted us to head back to base again, for my last night of the trip.
After saying our goodbyes, it was rather strange to wave Andy and Lyndsey off, as they left me at their house! They had to drop their two dogs off at the kennels before the trip for the exhibition, and I was still getting my bags together.
Rather than head straight back south, I broke the journey up with another visit to the sand martin colony, and after a quiet start, they soon started performing again. Perhaps the cooler weather meant they had to spend longer searching for insects.