Sunday, 12 June 2011


The three of us had all agreed on the ferry crossing that the first morning that it was dry we would go over to Iona as we didnt know if we would get any other dry days afterwards. So when we awoke to clear skies we knew today was the day. As we were packing the car up we were welcomed by the usual call of the resident cuckoo, and this time we finally had excellent views of the bird perched on a tall conifer tree to the left of the caravan site. A very nice start to the day. On the relatively short drive to the port at Fionnphort we saw the unusual sight of a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying over the vast moorland. There wasnt a single tree for what seemed like miles around! We booked ourselves on the first ferry crossing at 8.45am and then headed off to Fidden to have a look around while killing time. Quite a few waders were feeding on the near shore, including lots of Dunlin, Ringed Plover, a couple of Whimbrel and more common stuff. A small flock of Pied Wagtails flew in and while checking through them a fine adult male White Wagtail was picked out. Time killed, we headed back to the port and boarded the ferry. At this time in the morning there were only a handful of other travellers joining us on board, which surprised me as I half expected it to be full of birders. It was only a short crossing of around 15 minutes but we still managed to do a bit of sea watching from the upper deck, seeing a few Sandwich Terns and even an Arctic Tern bound overhead. But we were soon on the island of Iona, and Steve took us to the garden of the Iona Heritage Centre in the hope of seeing our target bird the Corncrake. The garden was actually a reasonably sized walled meadow, with particularly long grass so seeing such a secretive species was gonna be extremely hard work. On approaching the garden we heard the unmistakeable call of the Corncrake coming from our destination so we picked up speed and got our binoculars ready. Within minutes we heard the call again. I couldnt believe how loud it was. It was astonishing! It took me completely by surprise and I listened in total awe. We located the area that the call was coming from and scanned, but knowing where the call came from and seeing the bird itself were two completely different things. It was hidden in the long grass and was more than happy to stay there. Every 5 or 10 minutes the bird had slightly relocated before calling again, and for almost an hour we played a game of follow the call. On one occasion the bird was calling on the far side of the field, but then Steve noticed the grass moving right in front of us. We all looked intently and finally managed to get fleeting glimpses of a Corncrake creeping silently through the foliage. We were delighted to finally see a bird but we were desperate to get better views. So we decided to stick it out for a while longer to see what we could get. It proved to be a wise move. We again heard the bird calling from the far side of the field and as I scanned along the opposite wall I came across the bird standing on a rock completely in the open calling away. I was ecstatic, and quickly called the other two over and the three of us got great views. It eventually skulked away and we all breathed a sigh of relief. We headed back to the ferry-landing area but it wasnt due for a little while so Steve took us over to the fire station garden as he had seen Corncrakes there in the past. We had only been there for about ten minutes when we heard a Corncrake calling further along the road next to the houses, so we quickly moved on to where we thought it was. We checked a couple of gardens for a while but couldnt see anything. Then as we started heading back we heard the bird calling and it was right behind us. As we turned around I saw some movement in a small clump of flowers and saw immediately it was a Corncrake. Incredibly it was completely unfazed by our attendance. In fact it almost seemed like it was posing for us as Steve and Dougie took what seemed like a million pictures. We couldnt believe how close the bird was and how it didnt seem too bothered about running for cover, but eventually thats exactly what it did and we boarded the ferry absolutely elated.
We departed the ferry, got in the car and slowly drove away happy with our mornings work. But as we drove through Fidden we heard a sound that took us all completely by surprise. We stopped the car and listened more intently. Soon enough we heard it again. It was quite distant but absolutely unmistakeable, it was another Corncrake!!! We all laughed at the irony but decided that it was too far off to try and locate it. We had an hour at a place called Ardalanish Bay where we saw our first Turnstones and Sanderlings of the week and also a small party of Twite flying around the fields behind the beach. Dougie also spent some time looking for flowers and he came across a number of new species to him including a couple of Orchids. While driving around we bumped into one of the local tour guides (I say local, he's actually from Northumberland!), Brian Raines and he told us that a couple of summer plumaged Red Throated Divers were at a nearby site called Port Uisken. So we went over and located them easily enough. That was all 3 Divers sorted now, which is not something that can be said too often. We also got another new bird for the holiday, a cracking Whinchat sitting on a fencepost along a quiet country lane. Our final stop of the day was at Loch Assapol, but the only bird seen was a Little Grebe so we headed back to the caravan to prepare for the next day.

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