Friday 8 July 2016

To West Scotland. Four Target Birds Seen

Monday 4th July fresh to strong W/WSW 12C Rain

Setting off from Forsyth, I cycle to Stirling via an old bridge over the Forth. An uneventful day of head down into the wind, a stop in a wooden bus shelter for lunch, a dry off and a read of The Big Year.
I stop cycling early once I reach Doune where, having crossed the river, I find a beech covered footpath. Here I erect my tent and read before sleep.

30.95 miles 972 feet elevation up 942 feet elevation down

Tuesday 5th July Fresh W 12 – 14C cloudy

Up early and off towards Callander along the busy A84. I stop for some cherries for breakfast at the start of a cycle path, route seven, that takes me for the first part along a disused railway track. Good quality tarmac in places, the cycle route proceeds away from the main road and into the hills of The Trossachs. A beautiful way along which I meet some wonderful people. Eric and his very chatty, can't get a word in sideways wife, a retired couple from Somerset who, despite age and arthritis, walk from Callender to the next village north. I push the bike to walk slowly with them and enjoy her conversation.
After fifteen or so miles the path zig zags its way up a steep high brackened hill. At one corner I am confronted by a mother with three children. She is delighted to meet me and I am sure quite surprised. Vicki, the Mum's name. Says that they have seen an article about me in the teenage RSPB's magazine, Wingbeat. Badges for the children and chat and fun, a selfie for facebook and a small green caterpillar with a yellow face, we eventually say goodbye after a rendition of the Duck Song (Thanks Jenna|!) Lily, the oldest was the only child who would hold the caterpillar. Alexander, the energetic and cheeky youngest, dropped it as soon as it was on his hand. It is a lovely meeting and I continue on my way pushing the bike up the hill.

After a half a mile or so I can hear someone shouting. A young man on a mountain bike stops me and passes me my coat. I had dropped it at the spot where I met the family. Inside it was my wallet with all my plastic and driving license, RSPB bird badges and a couple of Bounty chocolate bars. I am grateful for his honesty but he is off before I can ask his name.
A stop for lunch at Balquhidder, sitting on a stone wall with a view to misty mountains and hills funnelling a large loch. I continue along the route seven and am stopped by a very young effervescent girl who is practically dancing along with two women. The woman aren't dancing but they are enjoying the walk as their child prances towards me. She has an ox eye daisy in her hand and she proudly says to me, “I've got a flower.” “It's beautiful,” I reply.
You can have it.”

This is such a wonderful moment that I am quite emotional about receiving such a precious gift. I carefully place the daisy next to Oscar the Otter on the front of the bike as the little girl dances off. “I gave that man my flower,” I hear her say as the trio walk off.
Back on the main road to Crainlarich, there is no room at the youth hostel there; just a rather rude, abrupt receptionist.
Twelve miles later, with my tent up once more, I am comfortable beside a small river and asleep soon after.

    1. miles 2961 feet elevation up 2613 feet elevation down

Tuesday 6th July Light to fresh W Heavy rain!

The early morning is dry and after packing up and after a conversation with a lovely German lady from Munich about the EU and Brexit, I head off towards Oban.
It soon starts to rain and the rain gets heavier as progress along the main road takes me towards my goal. Along Loch Awe I search for osprey having seen them here in 2010. No luck I continue on my way until a wooden bus shelter, how I love them, offers me a dry place for some late lunch. I phone the youth hostel in oban and yes, there is one last bed available.
I arrive there a couple of hours later soaked to the skin in the trouser department. My torso is dry which surprises me as I had thought my coat wouldn't be waterproof enough for this sort of downpour.
The year list at this time has had a new wet and bedraggles addition to it, five hooded crows were sitting on a branch of a cherry tree just a mile before the town. Birds had been few and far between since Callander with meadow pipits being the most commonly seen bird. No corvids until this group, they are the first of the four target birds that have brought me over here. The next target bird is sitting on the low tide water in front of the hostel, black guillemots, the comical black seabird with white wing panels and over large reddish orange feet. 260 achieved with almost no effort. Who am I kidding? One hundred and thirteen miles cycled in the last three days, surely that's enough effort to allow me such easy rewards. Now for the eagles!

The hostel is full of German teenagers and a group of them sit with me for the evening; in fact two girls, Julia and Anja sit with me until midnight, telling me about their Russian ancestry and talking about the EU referendum and life in general. Julia wants to be a computer artist. She is passionate about the artwork that can be achieved for multi-levelled games and programs. The quieter of the two girls wants to be a psychiatrist. 

30.6 miles 1623 feet elevation up 2181 feet elevation down

Thursday 7th July fresh SW showers and mostly cloudy

An early morning taking carbon transport, a ferry takes me over to Craignure, Mull. Seabirds on the way include forty seven manx shearwaters, mostly sitting on the water.
Once on the road south and west I soon reach the first seawater inlet at Gorton. Scanning the distant wooded hill I can see a huge white-tailed sea eagle; bird number 261 and the first of the hoped for eagles. Now to find golden eagles, hopefully.
The road starts to go up and I have to push the bike up a hill through a conifer forest. After a dip and another rise, a car has two birders stnding beside it motioning for me to have a look and a chat. Martin, a Northern Irish birder from Carrickfergus is with his grandson, Dylan. They show me their camera screen. A large overflying golden eagle fills the frame. They delight in saying it flew over my head! I remove my helmet for uphill struggles.

The road continues through high-sided mountain passes and a policewoman in a police van stops me. PC Claire tells me that just a few miles further is a place where I will see golden eagles. I just hope she's right. Actually Claire doesn't seem to mind stopping traffic in order to tell me this.
Time goes on and with the pressure mounting to find the goldies, I see a large bird carrying sticks flying overhead. It disappears behind a rocky crag and comes out again before landing. Golden eagle, bird number 262 onto the list, I can relax and watch the close spectacle. There are two of them sitting on a ledge and I can hear the chips of a hungry youngster nearby. An excited lady stops her campervan to come and have a look, M.A. From Edinburgh tells me that she is a RSPB member and goes to the Edinburgh RSPB local group.

I go a little further along the road as I can see a couple with a telescope. Katherine and Mick are from Wigton, Cumbria and Mick gives a running commentary as the eagles sit on their ledge and the young eaglet can just be seen in a dark smiley-shaped cave some way from it's parents. This is the first time I have ever seen eagles at a nest site and an hour or so passes quickly. This is obviously a well known spot as a wildlife tour minibus stops here as well.
The hostel tonight is full of a different mass of German teenagers. They are from Berlin and memories of my time with my daughter, Rebecca there a few years ago has me listening to The Ramones for the evening. Why Ramones? Well the best museum dedicated to the band is in Berlin.

The year list now stands at 262, twenty five ahead of last year at this stage.

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