– What I called my “back garden” in Uisgebhagh, the landscape of rock, heather and bracken stretching out eastwards to the Minch, looked very bleak in some of my visitor’s eyes and one could walk for hours without meeting a living soul but midges. It is there were I found the most overwhelming silence and stillness, where I could listen to the many languages of the wind, rarely disrupted by a call, a short birdsong or the humming of a Moss Carder- or White tailed Bumblebee.
Wren, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Songthrush, Raven and Kestrel and a few Rabbits, sometimes a Deer, were resident in this poor habitat. A pair of Rock Doves had its nest into a peaty cave overlooking a small loch. Once (sadly only once) a Red Grouse flew off in front of me. Redbreasted Merganser were always to be seen below the cliffs by the sea and the Cukoo could be heard on a very few days every year.
But even the “back garden” had its hidden treasures: On a very windy, wet 30th of May 2011, after a period of strong winds, when I was walking towards a small inlet which I knew would be covered in bluebells, my cat (which used to follow me like a dog) suddenly stopped looking intensely into some heather bushes. There, hidden on the ground between the gnarled branches, was a very wet Bluethroat Luscinia svecica, probably blown in by gales, taking refuge from the weather. I know the bird well from visits in the Hardangervidda in Norway, saw distinctly the red patches on the tail and throat, but I am not able to prove this encounter. It was raining, the cat too interested, had not even a mobile phone with me to take a photo and the only reasonable thing to do was to take the cat in my arms and walk quickly away, hoping that the bird would survive. I knew I was loosing an opportunity to announce an interesting discovery, but, there you are, ornithologist’s good and bad luck in one!
In early summer 2009 and 2010 (but not 2011!) a pair of Arctic Skua (one dark, one light phase) were regularly resting on a high hillock overlooking the territory of a pair of Golden Plovers calling continuously. (I wasn’t able to prove the successful breed of this species, never found a nest nor saw young birds but I also have to say that I was attending college in Benbecula and didn’t visit the site as often as I would have liked).
Short-eared Owl and Hen Harrier were visiting regularly, as, less frequently, Golden Eagle and Sea Eagle. I witnessed a Sea Eagle being attacked by a Golden Eagle and a pair of Kestrel from my kitchen window and once had lunch sitting outside the front door, with two curious (probably young) Golden Eagles looking at me from behind a rock at about 100m. I felt very privileged!
– The kitchen windows opened out east- and westwards, overlooking my neighbours garden with grass, flowers, exotic bushes and into some marshy ground covered with Iris, with some Willows and Bog Myrtle beside the ever present rocks and heather. Primroses can be found in early Spring near the house, later some Orchids and Bog Asphodel, a few plants of the rare Centaury (C.pulchellum?) and loads and loads of Thistles. Songthrush, Blackbird, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Stonechat, Starlings where breeding regularly; some Twite, and more rarely a Swallow passing by. Occasionally a Snipe, a Wagtail, a Sparrow, the Cuckoo or a Skylark to be heard. Never a Robin to be seen or heard! In winter one Dunnock used to come to the bird feeder and one or two Lapwings started to breed in Spring but I never saw young birds.
Mute Swans reared their offspring each year in a loch near the house and regularly lost their chicks but one or two surviver to …..whom? Raptors, Mink? Otter?
The first summer an Shorteared Owl would hunt almost every evening over the ground, Hen Harrier male and female and Buzzards less frequently, sometimes a Merlin chasing a small Passerine. Down by the sea loch a Common Sandpiper would call its lonely tune.
After the harsh winter of 2010/2011 birdlife was clearly poorer. Spring and early summer 2011 didn’t bring the Short-eared Owl back nor the call of a Snipe.