My fingertips are telling me that the seasons are turning. Whilst I sat on the rocks this morning and looked out across the Loch, it’s waters flecked with gold as the morning sun began to climb; electric pulses of cold tickling through my hands. I tucked them into my fleece sleeves and brought the binoculars to my face, through the slight mist of condensation I could make out the shape of a curlew in the distance. It’s long sickle shaped beak, probing and picking through the rich mud in a swinging motion like a scythe cutting crops. The birds are changing. The turn of the summer birds is over, long gone are the terns that flit over the water, and the woods are no longer filled with the cascading sounds of warblers. The robin rules again. That’s not to say it’s any less busy, the woods and lochs are still quivering with creatures, it’s just now they are on the mission to stock up for winter, as opposed to rearing their demanding young.
With the turn of the wheel comes the longer nights and the 18 hours of sunlight that graced us on the summer solstice is far from where we are now. Now, we are sat in the van of an evening with heaters on, and an extra blanket on the bed. My fingertips are right, the temperature has dropped considerably, and I don’t imagine it will be long before the roaring of stags on the whiskey coloured hills will float down to greet us. I like it though, Autumn always has and always will be my favourite season. Crisp days, long walks and incredible wildlife watching opportunities; deer ruts, winter waders starting to appear, huge flocks of geese against inspiring sunrises and sets. Autumn has it all, plus those longer nights where the evenings draw in swiftly, chasing you back inside are perfect for a bit of reflection. They offer us a chance to put together and take stock of all the experiences, adventures and encounters that took place over the summer.
We’ve been in the van for a year now, this will be our tenth month officially on the road, and October marks the start of the seventh month we have been working on the campsite. Campsite seasons don’t last forever, and we will very shortly be back on the road heading south for the winter, ready to travel on again. But, boy have we had a good season. It’s been an incredible experience, not just the campsite but the whole journey that got us here. It’s incredibly hard to pinpoint all of our favourite bits because actually they are all meld together to create the whole experience. However, in the name of nature and Seeking Wild Sights, I’d like to very briefly just bullet point a few of those experiences that have really stood out from a wildlife watcher’s perspective;
· The otters on Mull. Yes, we’ve started to see otters on an almost daily basis now that it is quieter, but I will never forget that first really up-close experience laid up against a rock whilst an otter fished so tangibly close.
· A Muntjac deer that casually ambled out into the road in Norfolk, it stared down the van and then sauntered back off from whence it came. I’ve never seen one in the wild before and was taken aback at how much it resembled a fox on the first glance.
· Obviously, the seals at Donna Nook. Not just the fact that you could see every tiny little whisker on their Labrador like faces, but the whaling song of a seething mass of them scattered on the very distant shorelines.
· Fulmars at Latheron Wheel Harbour. We arrived here just before the breeding season and these beautiful ghosts of birds were already holing up in the cliff face, claiming their spot. You could pick a spot on the cliff top and watched as they wheeled effortlessly underneath you. Stiff wings commanding the air just an arms reach away. It was a pretty picturesque spot as well.
· The Mink and the Minke at Ardnamurchan point are something I will never forget, purely because of the odds of it happening and the look on Bill’s face as he moved out of the path of the oncoming mustelid.
· We very recently had our best sighting of a golden eagle, stood tall (incredibly tall for a bird) on the ground by a clump of bog myrtle. Luckily, we were right next to a passing place so were able to take in the sheer size and majesty of a beast that had just teased at the edge of our peripheral vision all summer. Hairs stood on end and the binoculars couldn’t get out their case quick enough, what a find! We could finally tick off a proper golden eagle encounter.
Those are just a stand out few, I couldn’t possibly put everything into one blog post. Between us, we have managed to tick off so many different wildlife encounters this trip and are already bursting at the seams with ideas for more. Chasing wildness is addictive. And we are incredibly lucky. The turning of summer into Autumn is just a new opportunity for us to seek out new wild sights in different locations. So, it’s not just cold fingertips that Autumn brings, and like the curlew it’s our turn to head out to our wintering grounds. But everything’s circular, and as the curlew’s leave to make way for the arctic terns, or the robin’s song is once again drowned out by the warblers, we will also come back to our summer grounds – Ardnamurchan.