Mrs D and I just spent a wild and windy week in the Outer Hebs - staying in the Locheport area of North Uist.
The wind never really dropped beneath a constant 50 miles per hour (at least that's what it felt like) and often the cloud base was below knee-level, but when the sun shone and the skies were blue, the islands were as beautiful as ever.
Although a fairly quiet time for birds, mid-March wasn't bad with at least two Glaucous Gulls (one or possibly two) individuals at the North Ford at the top of Benbecula), and a single bird on the beach at Balranald.
This was one bird I watched at the North Ford - the second shot below shows the size difference between these brutes and Herring Gulls....
I saw Glaucs here on March 10 and 16th, and had a much whiter second year bird at Balranald on March 11th.
Biggest problem was keeping the scope and camera steady in the wind, which meant that my blurry photos are even dicier than usual, such is life.
Had a nice first winter Iceland Gull drifting north near Bayhead on March 11th, when I also watched one of the two male Lesser Scaups that are on Coot Loch, Benbecula.
Hard to get a shot of it at distance as it bobbed and dived with Tufties....
Plenty of Long Tailed Ducks about, with up to 13 in the wonderfully named Stinky Bay on Benbecula.
The stormy bay gets its name from all the rotting kelp on the shore - a few feet deep and guaranteed to clear the lungs and head after too much Black Cuillin ale....and the beach east of the seaweed strand more than makes up for the stench.
And as usual, Great Northerns were the commonest diver, with a count of at least 9 birds off Berneray on March 13th.
This Red Throated Diver was a bit easier to digi-scope, in the narrow channel north of Griminis.
Raptors were a bit disappointing, with just one superb male Hen Harrier, a few Kestrels and a displaying Short Eared Owl on the Committee Road to Sollas - but the bad weather probably kept them down.
Missing out on Golden Eagle on two days was quickly forgotten there on March 15th, when a wonderful sub-adult bird came over a low hill and hunted in front of the car at no more than 100 feet for a good five minutes - absolutely magical views, but I didn't dare get out the car to try to get a pic, preferring to enjoy the bird instead - best views of a Golden Eagle I've ever had in the UK.
Wild Greylags are everywhere on the islands, but there were more Barnacles in the north west, where a few flocks of up to 100 birds fed on the wintry machair.
The Barnies on the Uists are wintering birds from the Greenland breeding population, not from Spitzbergen.
Also in the north west, around Bayhead and Paiblesgarry, I had two groups of Twite, while the usual Stonechat was further north on the road to Sollas.
Despite the strong winds I couldn't resist a few walks out to Aird an Runair, my favourite seawatching spot on the planet, although there wasn't much to see - huge waves and chasm like troughs meant anything that was out there was well hidden.
Four Snow Buntings were there too, but elusive, mind you given the screaming gales, most sensible critters were elusive out on the point......
At least 70 Fulmars past there in ten minutes on the 15th though, in force 8 winds (hooley scale force 7 - handcuff yourself to a grand piano).
Good numbers of wintering Purple Sands in the area, with up to 30 in one flock.
Oystercatchers, Redshank and Ringed Plovers were everywhere, with the former mating and the latter displaying, while on the night of March 11th I heard a Snipe drumming in the dark over the boglands of Locheport.
Small family groups of Whoopers were on any suitable lochs or marshy areas, often feeding alongside Mute Swans, and frequently stained by the peat in the water.
And while otters were hard to find in the harsh conditions, at least this one was happy to haul out on this rock in front of our digs in Locheport at dusk for a snooze, curling up like a cat on the flat stone.
One day, all islands will be made this way - a great week in a place where people still talk to you and ALWAYS wave when they drive by, as opposed to a world where people generally shout at you and if you hear the words "drive by" you best take cover....
Ferry back from Lochmaddy to Skye on March 17th was pretty good too for the middle of March....
Gannet 5; Fulmar 100+; Puffin 1 winter plumage bird; Razorbill 7; Guillemot 2; Black Guillemot 3; Great Northern Diver 1; Bonxie 1 superb flyby close to the ship; Shag; GBB; Herring Gull; Kittiwake ....plus two Bottle Nosed Dolphins.
Thanks to everyone on the islands for their usual hospitality, only a few short weeks now before the days get longer, the Corncrakes return and the Machair starts to bloom.
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies....