Wednesday, 19 January 2022

Scottish island teams with wildlife

THE ferry to the Isle of Arran is led by three gannets flying in each other’s

THE ferry to the Isle of Arran is led by three gannets flying in each other’s slipstream like cyclists.

It is full of locals, tourists from all over the world... and dogs.

The wind turbines above Ardrossan on the mainland wave lazily goodbye.

Growth on the southern half of the island is so lush, the ragwort a foot taller than in Henley or the Highlands, with fuchsia, montbretia and rosa rugosa in the hedgerows.

The gardens are a riot of hydrangea, palm trees, buddleia and begonia.

In Lamlash Bay a pair of sea swans have five cygnets, overlooked by a holy island, a 6th century Christian hermit’s isle and now a Buddhist retreat, where earth, sky and sea are in closest conjunction. Each bay has a pair of swans as well as a peat-brown stream with grey wagtails, a pair of crows trying to teach their pathetically cawing young to feed themselves among the pebbles, bladderwrack, a teashop and children and dogs having swimming lessons in the warm shallow waters.

A walk along the shore, accompanied by a lone seal, produces a list of more than 25 different species of birds.

These include the rock pipit, which is darker than the meadow pipit with less pronounced white tail stripes and hooded crows, their glossy black heads and wings contrasting with a greyer body.

The black guillemots have carmine red feet which they splay out like puffins as they land on the rocks in family parties of three — it takes two full-time adults to raise one guillemot. They are nesting on ledges high in the yellow sandstone caves, along with swallows and bats.

This scramble over the rocks shows the complex geology of the island: red sandstone formed in relatively recent deserts overlays black basalt and granite.

Drumadoon at Blackwaterfoot is an outcrop of hexagonal columns, as in Fingal’s Cave on Staffa.

Rhins of rock extend into the sea where lava from long extinct volcanoes cooled quickly as it met the water. The island is split diagonally by the Highland fault line so that the north is mainly granite, much less fertile with heather moors and misty mountains.

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