Tuesday, 29 July 2008

200

















Many thanks to those who voted (all four of you!). Whoever voted "Other" was right. My 200th species in Denmark was a CASPIAN TERN that turned up at the fantastic wader site of Ølsemagle Revle (about 20km south of Copenhagen). These monster terns (gull-sized) are regular, albeit scarce, visitors to Denmark, usually in July/August. There have been up to three at this site over the last few days. A welcome reward for the cycle ride. Other birds seen during my visit included 30+ Dunlin, 5 Curlew Sandpipers, 2 Black-tailed Godwits, 6 "Blue-headed" Yellow Wagtails, a juvenile Black Tern, 5 Little Terns, 12 Redshank and 4 Spotted Redshank. Autumn migration is now in full swing.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Knoydart


















Photo: Inverie "high street". This was taken from the internet and will be replaced by some photos of our own once processed.

Most years I spend a few days hiking and camping in Scotland with my friend Richard, usually to the more remote parts, inaccessible by car. This year we settled on Knoydart for our trip (see here for details). It is one of the remotest peninsulas in Britain, accessible only by boat from Mallaig or by "walking in" from Loch Arkaig in the south or from Kinloch Hourn in the north. We decided to start at Loch Arkaig and take in a mountain or two on the way to the main village, Inverie (home to the remotest pub in mainland Britain, The Old Forge). Our first night was spent in a B&B at Fort William. We needed to leave the car somewhere and it was either at the end of Loch Arkaig (which would mean we would need a taxi there at the end of our walk) or in Fort William, which would mean a taxi to the start of the walk. When we enquired about fares, it would have cost us 80 pounds for a taxi from Fort William to the start of the walk. Luckily, our mad B&B landlady offered to take us and undercut the taxi by 30 quid, so we managed to get a lift there for 50 quid with the added bonus that she would let us keep the car at her B&B for the 3 days we were away. After a hair-raising drive along the remote lanes to the western tip of Loch Arkaig (her driving wouldn't have looked out of place on the Paris-Dakar) we arrived with white-knuckles at the start of the walk with only a few sheep for company.

With backpacks, including food, clothes and a tent, we set off on the 20-mile hike with the aim of camping half-way on the beach at Loch Nevis after day one and continuing over the pass at Gleann Meadail for the long gradual descent into Inverie on day two. Shortly after we started, Rich had the bright idea of veering from the main path to climb the first "Munro" (a hill of at least 3,000 feet in height above sea level) called Sgurr nan Coireachan. This was one hell of a climb with no real path, an almost vertical ascent and, to top it all, the terrain was pretty much bog all the way. With packs on it was hellish and it took us almost 3 hours to reach the summit. At this point the weather turned and all of a sudden we were in cloud with visibility down to a few feet. It was also freezing, going from t-shirt weather to needing four layers and gloves - a real illustration of just how dangerous the mountains can be. We put on our extra layers and began the descent, which was just as hard as the climb. Almost straight away I sprained my ankle, luckily only lightly but still enough to mean that I had to really concentrate on every step. The whole climb and descent took us 5 and a half hours. The weather improved by the time we reached the bottom and again we were in t-shirts and shorts. We then made our way along the difficult path along the glen towards Loch Nevis. At around 7.30pm we started looking for suitable camping spots but the whole area was a mixture of bog and rock. A good tip is to look for ruins of buildings as these are usually built on fairly firm ground. But there were none and we were both too shattered to walk on to the beach (probably two hours further). We eventually found a great spot of relatively dry moss (always makes a great bed!) between two lochs and set up camp, just off the path. The weather was still showery and it was unseasonably chilly but after cooking our fantastic meal of savoury rice with chopped haloumi and salami, washed down with a cup of hot chocolate, we felt very relaxed in a well-exercised way.. even the midges left us alone.

The night improved and by morning (I got up at about 6am) the sun was shining and it was noticeably warmer by the loch. As I poked my head out of the tent, I startled 4 Red Deer that had been grazing by our front porch! I fetched some water from the nearby burn and after a breakfast of porridge and a cup of coffee, we set off again, taking in the magnificent surroundings in splendid isolation.

The path gradually improved and I was soon feeling confident again after my ankle sprain the day before - as long as the terrain was not too rocky, I felt I would be ok. After a couple of hours we made it to the beach Sourlies, at the eastern end of Loch Nevis. Our only company was a White-tailed Eagle that flew majestically along the glen and a few black-faced sheep. After a short chocolate stop we carried on past the ruins at Carnach and began the ascent to the mountain pass that would mark the beginning of the long, gradual descent into Inverie. Given how much we ached after the first day's climb, this was tough, too, although the climb itself was relatively easy and not so high as the Munro we climbed on day one. It was hot and slow going. As we climbed the cloud gradually set in and, just as we reached the top of the pass after an agonising climb, it started to rain. Again, in the space of a couple of minutes we went from sweating in just a t-shirt and shorts on the sheltered side of the pass to needing four layers and gloves as we reached the highest point of the pass and were exposed to the elements. After a celebratory lunch of cheese roll and salami we set off for Inverie, about 8 miles away, which we could see in the distance. Luckily the rain never really got going and the cloud offered us some respite from the blazing sun that had made our climb so difficult in the morning. The path just got better and easier as we descended into Inverie and our thoughts turned to a hot shower in our B&B and a pint of the local real ale in The Old Forge.

We arrived in Inverie but, not knowing where our B&B was, we headed straight for the pub to ask. At the bar I asked about the location of Knoydart Lodge and was immediately directed to the guy standing next to me at the bar - Bob. Bob runs Knoydart Lodge with his partner Morag and so he swiftly finished off his glass of red wine and gave us a lift to the B&B. Marvellous. A hot shower and change of clothes later we walked the short distance (which felt like floating after taking off our packs) to the pub for a well-earned pint and some home-cooked food.

The Old Forge is a magnet for locals and visitors alike and offers good food made with local produce. We started with mussels followed by roast lamb, washed down with a pint of the local ale. Top. It's quite a musical pub with a variety of instruments dotted around for the use of customers.. one guy played the recorder almost all night.

The next day Richard's brother, Charlie, arrived via boat from Mallaig for a flying visit on his way from London to his parents in Pitlochry. We spent the next two days exploring the local area with walks north to Inverguseran and Doune Bay before catching the ferry to Mallaig via Tarbet (on the banks of Loch Nevis). From there we caught the train to Fort William, which offered fantastic evening views of Skye, Rhum, Eigg and the delightfully named Muck, to pick up the car and begin the journey back to Edinburgh for the flight to Copenhagen.

A top few days and some of the hardest exercise I have done for years! But there was a real sense of achievement when we arrived at Inverie and the village with its surrounding views, did not disappoint.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

199

I visited Vestamager on Sunday for my first Danish birding for some time. I was immediately rewarded with 3 LITTLE EGRETS flying in from the east, species 199 for Denmark. Autumn migration was already in evidence with 100+ Wood Sandpipers, 30+ Ruff, 20+ Dunlin, 15 Avocets, 10+ Spotted Redshanks, 5 Temminck's Stints and 2 Common Sandpipers. What will be my 200th species? According to Netfugl.dk my "biggest misses" are Osprey, White Stork, Black-necked Grebe, Kittiwake, Red-throated Diver, White-fronted Goose and Common Crossbill. You can use the voting buttons to guess which will be my 200th.

Japan

A work trip meant I was in Japan for the end of June. Luckily, Libby was able to fly out to join me and we took a week off to explore Tokyo and then the northern island of Hokkaido. Tokyo was an incredible experience with neon lights and sound everywhere. The food was amazing, especially the seafood, although I have to say that raw fish for breakfast is something I will struggle to adapt to! What struck me most was just how respectful the Japanese are and it's not just to foreigners, it's to their fellow Japanese too. Many businesses in Europe could learn a thing of two from their Japanese counterparts about customer service. With all the bowing, I imagine you would have a tough time living in Japan if you had a bad back!

We visited the sacred temple at Asakusa, where the air was filled with incense and the myriad stalls were selling all manner of typically Japanese wares, including pottery, plastic food (yes, really) and lots of cute toys. After wandering the streets for several hours we met up with a friend who has been living in Tokyo for the last 10 months. He took us to a fantastic traditional Japanese restaurant where you must exchange your shoes for slippers and sit on cushions on the floor.. We were served several rice and noodle dishes, including fish, chicken and tofu, all washed down with some Asahi beer. Fantastic.

We then travelled north to Hokkaido for a week, hiring a car at Kushiro Airport. We drove north to the Akan National Park where volcanic activity is still commonplace and we treated ourselves to a fantastic hot spa. The traditional Japanese spa was a little unnerving for me at first but I soon overcame my apprehensions and thoroughly enjoyed it. The spas are usually split into male and female baths and one must wash thoroughly before entering the water. This involves sitting on a stool, completely naked, next to fellow bathers while showering with soap and water before immersing oneself into the hot water. The idea is that this keeps the hot water clean and pure. For the self-conscious, a small towel (actually more like a flanel) is provided to cover your private bits while walking around. Of course in the pool itself you must be naked and the flanel must not enter the water - the usual practice is to place it on your head. Once fully soaked in the bath you are provided with a gown and slippers which many people wear to dinner. I have to say the first time felt quite odd to go to dinner in what felt like my jim-jams and slippers...!

After our volcanic experience in Akan we drove north to the Shiretoko National Park. This is a pristine wilderness consisting of a heavily forested peninsula that juts out into the Sea of Okhotsk, just south of Russia's Sakhalin Island. It is said to home the largest concentration of brown bears in the world and is also famous for Sea Eagles and Japanese Cranes. We saw several of the latter by the roadside during the drive north and, of course, one of our aims was to see Brown Bear.

On our first morning we stopped at a small cafe for a coffee and sitting on the next table was a Japanese wildlife photographer who specialised in brown bears. I asked him what our chances were of seeing brown bear and he said "50/50" as we were there for several days. He drew us a map and pinpointed the best spots to see Brown Bears, saying that early evening or early morning were the best times. At our first attempt we were delighted to be treated to a ten minute encounter with a very young bear, probably only 1-2 years old as it made its way along the roadside, turning over stones to look for ants. We were captivated as it walked slowly past our car, only two to three metres away. A really awesome experience. As I did not have my camera with me you will have to make do with the poor quality video (shot sideways with my mobile phone). Can you tell what it is??

Spectacularly, on the morning we decided to hike up Mount Rausu (complete with hip-bell to warn bears of our presence), we came across a second bear, this one much bigger, complete with a radio collar and ear-tags. This one was in the middle of the road before climbing a tree to reach the berries in the upper branches. It seemed precariously balanced as it stretched to reach the outer branches and, at one point, I felt certain it would fall. But, of course, it didn't and expertly climbed down, back first, and wandered off into the forest. It was slightly unnerving to be walking along trails as we ascended Mount Rausu shortly afterwards, especially as we saw several trees with claw-marks on their trunks, but bear encounters are uncommon - generally bears are very shy creatures and will move out of sight if they sense humans approaching. The walk treated us to stunning views of the peninsula and the surrounding waters. A truly magical place.

At one of our guest houses as we were waiting on the balcony before dinner, a local fisherman stopped his van and threw out a load of by-catch onto the beach right below our balcony. Normally, I wouldn't have appreciated that very much but the smell immediately attracted a host of Slaty-backed Gulls that fought over the bits of fish. And it got better when, just as I was getting bored with the Slaty-backs, not one but two White-tailed Eagles swooped down to take the leftovers, literally feet away from our balcony... dwarfing the not to be sniffed at Slaty-backs. They made several passes before settling on nearby rocks to gorge themselves. A stunning backdrop of the setting sun over the Sea of Okhotsk made the perfect pre-dinner entertainment!

PS I can't believe how posh Libby sounds on this video...!!

video