Just in from a lovely autumn walk around Embo House, Dornoch. It reminded me how wonderful wildlife in Sutherland can be.
At this time of year the barley stubble to the front of Embo House provides perfect camouflage for a huge flock of barnacle geese fresh in from the Arctic. My presence triggers a cacophony, as around a thousand of them clatter from the ground, squawking their alarm. At first they rise slowly, confused as a swarm of locusts. But higher up the vast army start to circle in formation, and the outer echelons form a classical ‘V’. It really is a breathtaking natural spectacle.
Down to the beach now where there is always some wildlife busy at work. Last winter I was awed by the vast numbers of guillemots floating close together to form living rafts on the calm sea. It is rougher today so most of the birds are either on the wing or scavenging amongst clumps of weed pulled up from the Dornoch Firth and deposited along the beach. But I am charmed by the groups of humble dunlins effortlessly dancing from rock to rock to dodge each incoming wave. Further out, a harbour seal pops her head up to keep an eye on proceedings whilst a pair of oyster catchers provide a low fly-past with their shrill ‘kleep, kleep’ call cutting through the drum-roll of the surf.
I head towards home and the bird-life provides yet more welcome distractions. The heron that lives near the burn rises and flies back towards the ponds at Embo House – its’s wing-beat as serene as an eagle but behind it’s legs trail ungainly. Our dog performs the duty of any self-respecting Labrador and puts up a couple of pheasants. This in turn agitates the swarms of geese whose clamour carries miles on the breeze as they again resume their aerial manoeuvres.
So I return grateful to have ventured out. Even on the shortest local walk, wildlife in Sutherland can provide an unmissable backdrop.