We were headed to South Uist, in the Outer Hebrides - home of eagles, rare bumblebees, huge empty white-sand beaches, and interesting marine mammals. We drove a 9-hour stint to Loch Lomond through some fairly apocalyptic rainstorms, to be greeted by a text from the ferry company warning that our sailing might be cancelled if the weather continued. The following morning the weather had gone and the Loch was a millpond.
|This was usually a road
|Loch Lomond on a calm Saturday morning
1. the ferries were running fine;
2. we were about 4 hours early to get into the terminal;
3. there were no vacant car parking spaces in Mallaig;
we pushed off south to Morar and explored the dunes for a couple of hours (11-spot ladybird the highlight), before returning to Mallaig at a time better suited to getting on the boat.
|When choosing someone to marry, I recommend picking someone who can find you interesting wildlife
|Chugging out of Mallaig en route for Lochboisdale
We were staying about half a mile from the dunes along the western edge of South Uist, so first thing the following morning we walked down the track through the machair to the beach. Machair - intensely flower-rich wet grassland found around the coasts of northern Scotland - is a fantastic habitat for bumblebees and I couldn't resist having a bit of a look. Sure enough, the first bumblebee we came across was a Moss Carder (Bombus muscorum) - in this case the striking and beautiful island subspecies B. muscorum agricolae. This is a species which is struggling in England and Wales, but in northern Scotland - especially on the machair - it still seems to be thriving.
|Moss Carder braving the weather
|The first Great Yellow of the trip. But not the last!
We spent the rest of the week in similar fashion. Fabulous machair all over the place, stuffed with rare bumblebees. Fox Moth caterpillars wherever you looked, and one unmistakable, unforgettable Emperor Moth caterpillar at Loch Druidibeag, accompanied by Black Darters (Sympetrum danae), another local speciality. Dolphins offshore from RSPB Balranald on North Uist, Scots Lovage and 11-spot ladybirds on the beach. The remains of Bronze age terraced houses at Cladh Hallan, where the only known British mummies were found. Carnivorous plants - sundews and butterworts. A Golden Eagle looming low over the car. Huge Blue-Rayed Limpets on the strandline. Garden Tigers, Antler Moths, Gold Spots, and the exquisite dark northern form of Dark Arches in the garden moth trap (when it wasn't being blown in the direction of mainland Scotland!).
And on our last evening, I took the dog for a walk down the track to the beach again. It was trying to rain, and the winds were reaching for gale force, but the bumblebees were still out and I counted at least half a dozen Great Yellows amongst the throng. I looked up and a faint rainbow appeared over the distant hills to the east. As I watched, a huge bird flapped into view - a Sea Eagle!
It was the first time I'd ever been to the Outer Hebrides. But we're already planning a return trip.
|Black Darter, saving energy by riding the dog
|A four-inch-long Emperor Moth caterpillar, wandering off to pupate somewhere
|Gold Spot moth in the trap
|One of four Garden Tigers in pristine condition
|The beautiful Hebridean colour form of Geotrupes stercorarius, a dor beetle
|Cladh Hallan: human mummies were displayed for hundreds of years in the nearest house here
|Sundews in vast profusion
|The bee-mimic hoverfly Volucella bombylans
|Even the dog noticed the rainbow
|The world's worst picture of a Sea Eagle