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Please note: all photographs were taken by me. I use a compact camera that I carry in my pocket. Birds do not feature much here only because I don't have a suitable camera to capture them!  But we will see them on our walks, when I always carry a telescope and spare pairs of binoculars.

These are photo galleries. Click on one to reveal text, and click right to see more images.

Springtime

The latter half of March is when the Curlew return to the various river valleys ('straths') to breed and their song-flights are something to behold, dramatically signalling the end of winter.  Also in mid-March, and throughout April, the spectacular 'Arctic-Alpine' plant Purple Saxifrage is in flower, but there's no need to climb a mountain here - it's found just above sea-level!  Vegetation on the bogs starts to reawaken - Hare's-tail Cotton-grass and Bog Myrtle are the first to flower. The bog mosses (Sphagnum species) look great at all times of year.  Lesser Celendine, Coltsfoot and Primrose are found throughout, in beautiful locations. The star of the show, after the Purple Saxifrage, is Bearberry. 

By mid-April, the summer migrant birds have arrived on their breeding grounds in Sutherland: Arctic and Common Terns on the beaches and riversides, Dunlin, Golden Plover and Greenshank on the bogs, Red-throated Diver, Common Scoter, Teal and Wigeon on the remote lochs and pool-systems, Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl on the moors.  Some lochs hold Black-throated Diver.  Skeins of Pink-footed Goose head north, en route for their breeding grounds in Iceland.  Whooper Swans too, in much smaller numbers, can be seen throughout the period on many Highland lochs before they migrate north.  In the hillier west of Sutherland, Ring Ouzel return to rocky, sparsely-wooded hillsides.

 

Seacliffs are busy with the throngs of Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills and Fulmars.  Black Guillemots can be seen too, often in harbours.  Marauding Great Skuas frequently pass close by to the seacliffs, looking to catch any bird that is not paying attention.  Meanwhile, Great Northern Divers gather inshore, preparing to undertake their migration northward. 

Swathes of Primroses adorn hedgebanks and in woodlands, where Woodruff and Sanicle are also found.  The song of Willow Warbler is heard up and down the wooded straths.  The spectacularly-coloured Greenland race of Wheatear passes through the region, and contrasts hugely with the comparatively drab birds that nest locally. 

In late-April and early-May, fresh green leaves are only just now appearing on the broadleaved trees. Gorse, meanwhile, is in abundance on the heaths and abandoned grazing land, and flowers profusely -- the scent of 'coconut' is everywhere!  Cuckoos have arrived now, calling incessantly, and Meadow Pipits are constantly trying to chase them off.  Migrants in the form of Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat, Sand Martin, etc will be laying eggs now.  Cowslips are in flower now too, producing stunning displays here and there.

Meanwhile, the bog flora is really coming into its own, with Cotton-grasses flowering (the fluffy heads come later!) alongside Butterwort and the various Sundews. Bogbean gives spectacular displays in the bog pools.

Summertime

June...  

Early in the month the breeding season is already over half way through for many bird species, particularly the waders of the bog habitat. Hen Harriers can still be seen well though, as they quarter the moor in search of food in the form of Meadow Pipits and other songbirds. 

The seabird cliffs are a blur of activity, as eggs hatch and adults are bringing fish ashore to feed their young. Join me to witness the spectacle at a dramatic section of coast, with Puffins, Gullemots, Razorbills and Fulmars by the thousand!


Dune slacks are now full of Northern Marsh Orchid and Common Twayblade.  The many hay meadows are starting to look their best, particularly towards the end of the month.  Bell Heather is blooming on the heaths, where Heath Fragrant Orchids and Small White Orchids are to be discovered.  A careful search among the older Heather (Calluna) plants might be rewarded with the discovery of the diminutive Lesser Twayblade!

The Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterflies are now on the wing too. 

July...

In July the meadows are at their very best.   Early in the month the amazing Scottish Primrose can be found, if one looks hard enough! Concurrently, the vast areas of blanket bog too are at their most colourful. This a habitat that can be a bit daunting to walk on, but the rewards are immense.  The yellow star-like flowers of Bog Asphodel is probably the main attraction., but a closer look will reveal a multitude of other species.  Finding the tiny Bog Orchid is easy when you're with me...  The Dark Red Helleborine orchids are at their best, right alongside the tiny, scarce Hair Sedge.

Seabird chicks fledge now! This is the most spectacular part of their breeding season, as one-third grown young auks (Guillemots and Razorbills) are encouraged by their parents to leap from the nest-ledge and plunge into the sea below! The reason is that it's safer for the fledgling to be at sea, out of the reach of many of the many predators in the vicinity of the cliff ledges.  So the male leads the chick out into open waters, whilst the female guards the nest site for a few weeks.  Puffin chicks fledge at night, so we won't see that happen, but we will see the adults coming ashore with beakfuls of sandeels to feed them in their underground burrows.  Don't miss it!  I'll tell you a story about a 'puffling' that I adopted, when I once lived on a seabird island...

 

The passerine birds, meanwhile, will have stopped singing, but still be feeding a young from a second brood. 

Many very spectacular insects can be seen now: the Giant Horntail Wood Wasp, the huge Icheumonid Sabre Wasp (Rhyssa persuasoria), both found in conifer plantations.

August

Bird-wise, the quietness is almost deafening. No more seabirds on the cliffs except for Fulmars (the downy nestlings are beautiful...). Songbirds stopped singing at the end of June, most have finished their breeding season and are moulting and heading south.  But August is a great month for insects!  The splendid Dark Green Fritillary butterfly is still very much in evidence.  Black Darter dragonflies are on the wing.  But the most memorable thing about August in the far north is the flowering Heather!

Many fungi fruit now too, including the spectacular Orange Aspen Bolete.  Dwarf shrubs on heath and moor bear fruit, eg Bearberry and Crowberry.

September-October

A wholesale change, as breeding bird species migrate south, whilst winter visitors arrive.  Coastal birds can be particularly exciting, with a number of species rarely seen as easily further south - Iceland Gull, Long-tailed Duck, Great Northern Diver...  Sea Eagles can be seen flying up and down the local river.

Fungi are worth seeking, there are many spectacular species with interesting features -- careful tasting and sniffing can be revealing!   Cetacean-watching can be great too - Orcas are frequently seen.

Winter birds

Sea/shore and farmland are probably the best places for birdwatching in the winter months. Winter specialties on the water are Long-tailed Duck and Great Northern Diver, while farmland hosts large numbers of geese (Pink-footed, Greylag and White-fronted) and ducks (Wigeon).  White-tailed Sea Eagles can be seen too. 

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