Carna – Day Five

Species seen:  

  • Chaffinch – Fringilla coelebs
  • Common Porpoise – Phocoena phocoena
  • Common Seal – Phoca vitulina
  • Common Shag – Phalacrocorax aristotelis
  • Common Tern – Sterna hirundo
  • Golden eagle – Aquila chrysaetos
  • Grey Heron – Ardea cinerea
  • Herring Gull – Larus argentatus
  • Hooded Crow – Corvus cornix
  • Lesser Redpoll – Acanthis cabaret
  • Oystercatcher – Haematopus ostralegus
  • Song thrush – Turdus philomelos
  • White-tailed eagle – Haliaeetus albicilla
  • Wood mouse – Apodemus sylvaticus

This morning Heather woke us all up with a real treat; last night the Longworth trap had caught a wood mouse. As quietly as we could, we took some brief photos then sexed the animal. The nipples were clearly visible, meaning our mouse was a breeding female.

Heather assured us the use of a plastic bag was standard procedure and it was held open for the very short time the mouse was inside. After releasing the animal back at the trap site, it scuttled away safely and unharmed.

After a few more hours sleep we visited what Heather described as a ‘sweet shop’. The shed beside the house was full of barn owl pellets which we had the opportunity to dissect. After some initial apprehension we got to work and I found myself enjoying pulling apart what a barn owl regurgitated many months previously. In my pellet I found both a mouse skull and a vole’s skull, as well as numerous minuscule jaws and ribs. It was yet another new experience for me and it was fantastic to analyse what an owl on Carna had been eating.

Shortly after we’d finished with the pellets Andy came to pick us up on the boat for a trip around the islands. Unbelievably we had another fantastic day of sunshine, so conditions were great for photography. For a while we watched common terns mating, and their stark white feathers contrasted with the rich colours of the moss clinging to the rock.



Once in open water we saw two more porpoises breaking through the waves. The tide was choppy and negotiating tripods and telephoto lenses while the boat tilted from side to side was a challenge we had to overcome. Once again Lequane was first to notice the white-tailed eagle far up in the sky, but almost immediately after we noticed a different bird above the hills. As it descended and came within binocular range we saw the rich hazel hue of the golden eagle’s wingspan. It dipped low and landed amongst the trees so we lost it, but this bird was near the top of my wish list and it was so satisfying ticking it off.


On the way back to the house we spotted some of the wild goats that had made the rocky coast of Carna their home. We also stopped off at the shag’s nesting site again. Not many people are aware of these birds but I find them extremely handsome with their sharp yellow eyes and the green sheen in their feathers.


When we got back Cain and Heather had gone to pick up the camera traps and we all gathered at the kitchen table to see what we’d captured. It was nothing short of a success. In the first trap we had several clips of an otter trotting in and out of a small cave mouth and sprainting at the entrance. In the same spot a few hours later the whole frame was filled with two pricked up ears and a pair of antlers that were unmistakably a roe deer’s. Heather and Cain informed us that this was the first official footage of a roe deer on Carna so this was fantastic news. By using the camera traps we can find out new information about just how diverse Carna is.

Footage from the next trap showed a vole that we were unable to identify. It could have been either a bank vole or field vole sub-species. Either way, it was great watching the rodent feast on the apple and seeds we’d left, although it did manage to shift the trap so we could no longer see anything but out of focus rock.

Yet more treats were to follow. The next trap had been set in the bluebell wood and a fox had visited late one night. Though it didn’t linger, we still got to see the mammal’s gorgeous fluffy tail as it trotted through the bracken.

Seeing the wildlife on the Isle of Carna on the camera traps was a great end to an unforgettable experience. In only four and a half days I have learnt so much about tracking and field craft and got an insight into the ecology of an island rich in wildlife. It was so refreshing being around people who get as excited as I do when I hear a cuckoo or glimpse an otter swimming across the loch. By being separated from technology I have had the chance to enjoy the outdoors even more. I’ve been out of breath on numerous occasions during our hikes and scrambles but it’s been worth it every time. I even did some sketching, a pastime I haven’t enjoyed in years.

Everybody should spend time in a place like Carna, especially those who don’t fully appreciate the natural world. Sharing a loch with seals, otters and porpoises is something everybody should experience. While I am the last person to criticise books, sometimes the best way to learn about wildlife is to be a part of it. Get your hands dirty lifting rocks to see the starfish underneath, wade ankle deep in mud to set a camera trap and get a crick in your neck gazing at eagles. It really does change you.

Carna – Day Four

Species seen:

  • Barn Owl – Tyto alba
  • Bladder-wrack – Fucus vesiculosus
  • Butterfish – Pholis gunnellus
  • Chaffinch – Fringilla coelebs
  • Common Blenny – Lipophrys pholis
  • Common Hermit crab – Pagurus bernhardus
  • Common Pipistrelle – Pipistrellus pipistrellus
  • Common Sandpiper – Actitis hypoleucos
  • Common Tern – Sterna hirundo
  • Eurasian Otter – Lutra lutra
  • Eurasian Rock Pipit – Anthus petrosus
  • Flat-wrack – Fucus spiralis
  • Grey Heron – Ardea cinerea
  • Hare’s Tail – Lagurus ovatus
  • Hooded Crow – Corvus cornix
  • Knotted-wrack – Ascophyllum nodosum
  • Lesser Redpoll – Acanthis cabaret
  • Saw-wrack – Fucus serratus
  • Sea-mat – Victorella pavida
  • Serpulid worm – Serpulidae
  • Shore crab – Carcinus maenas
  • Small winkle – Littorina littorea
  • Song Thrush – Turdus philomelos
  • White-Tailed Eagle – Haliaeetus albicilla
  • Willow Warbler – Phylloscopus trochilus
  • Wren – Troglodytes troglodytes
  • (Cuckoo – Cuculus canorus)
  • (Robin – Erithacus rubecula)

We were woken at the tender hour of 5am this morning for a wander through the dew-soaked grass. Tiny droplets clung to the hare’s tail and made them look like teasels instead of their usual fluffy tops. There was a fine mist rolling over the hills which looked beautiful with the weak sunlight shining through. We spent some time listening to birdsong and trying to untangle the many different voices. Cain described the descending tone of the willow warbler and the drilling call of the lesser redpoll. I would love to improve my knowledge of birdsong; it’s at the very centre of the morning routine for all wildlife.


A willow warbler high in the trees

After a break we began the scramble up Crachan Chárna, the tallest hill on Carna standing 170m tall. Once again the sun was shining, which we certainly shouldn’t be ungrateful for, but the heat made the climb just that little bit more challenging. Luckily the path up was well trodden, so we didn’t have to battle through knee high bracken or wade through too many sodden swamps.

Partway up we came across a muddy puddle stuffed with grey and black feathers, clearly the scene of a crime. Cain explained how he knew the culprit was a bird not a mammal. When foxes feed they chew the feathers off the carcass, splintering the feather shafts. Birds of prey pluck the feathers so leave them relatively undamaged. It was then a case of determining the exact species; this involved identifying the prey. When viewed in direct sunlight the black feathers glimmered, the dark green sheen of a shag. The size of this bird meant the predator had to be an eagle; a buzzard wouldn’t have the size over seabirds such as shags. It was so interesting deducing what happened based on the evidence; I’m noticing so much more now I’ve got some field knowledge.


In less than half an hour we’d reached the summit, only stumbling a handful of times. After we’d caught our breath we could fully appreciate the beauty of the island. For miles in every direction sprawled the surrounding isles, smaller patches of rocky terrain jutting out of the loch and the open sea to the west. We spent a long time at the summit, eating lunch and twisting and turning to see every view. Common terns swept overhead, turning into the wind and flapping furiously. Far down below a heron stood poised, neck braced to strike. After enjoying some lunch we made our slow descent back to the ground.


In the afternoon we spent time exploring the coast outside the house. While the tide was out we could forage the seaweed to our heart’s content. I discovered many different species including bladder wrack, sea mat and flat-wrack. In addition we saw many creatures beneath the weed-choked rocks such as edible winkles, barnacles and shore crabs. As well as this we saw butterfish, common blennies, whelks and starfish. We all lay on our fronts on the pontoon and watched a common hermit crab creep along the lakebed.

A species in the mollusc family, specifically Nudibranchia
A whelk feeding on a crab carcass


A common blenny with eggs

Later, once the sun had finally set, we headed out to see if we could pick up any bat calls on the detector. We could determine the species by what frequency their call was recorded at. After only a short walk the detector picked up a series of clicking calls at 45Hz, and sure enough a tiny black bullet shot through the night, leathery wings beating the air. Once we’d consulted the identification key we discovered that the common pipistrelle was picked up at 45Hz, so concluded that this was the bat we’d found.

We wandered on and picked up another common pipistrelle further down the path, then suddenly Verity noticed a flash of white above and we all celebrated in hushed tones as the barn owl swept over our heads. By now it was late so we headed back to the house, pleased we’d got the opportunity to use such great tracking equipment.

Carna – Day One

Species seen (heard):

  • Barn Owl – Tyto alba
  • Common Frog – Rana temporaria
  • Common Tern – Sterna hirundo
  • Eurasian Otter – Lutra lutra
  • Hooded Crow – Corvus cornix
  • Lesser Redpoll – Acanthis cabaret
  • Red-Breasted Merganser – Mergus serrator
  • (Cuckoo – Cuculus canorus)
  • (Snipe – Gallinago gallinago)
  • (Tawny Owl – Strix aluco)

From May 21st to 26th, I joined four other Wildlife Media students for an unforgettable expedition to the Isle of Carna, a beautiful remote island on Loch Sunart on the west coast of Scotland. Our aim was to rewild ourselves by taking part in conservation activities like conducting bat surveys, setting up camera traps and recording wildlife using journals.

By mid afternoon we arrived at Ardnamurchan Charters, eager to see the island where we’d be spending the next five days. Andy Jackson, owner of the Charters, met us with his dog Tag and we began loading our kit onto the boat. There was a surprising amount for such a small group!

The day was overcast but Carna still looked impressive as we sped towards the island. The cottage came into view, a quaint white building with a conservatory that we knew would be perfect for observing wildlife on the loch. Sure enough, in the first few hours we saw red-breasted mergansers, chaffinches, song thrushes and a lesser redpoll.

Loch Sunart
The pontoon where we waited for Andy

After settling in, we noticed how beautiful the evening sky was and armed ourselves with cameras and binoculars, eager to find out what we would see when the sun went down. After capturing a radiant pink sunset we retrieved the camera traps Heather and Cain had previously put out. The first was at the end of the pontoon, and immediately we saw evidence of otter sprainting, a sign of territory marking. Otters will use their faeces in this way to make their presence known to others in the area. At the pontoon there were several patches, so we were hopeful that the camera had caught the night-time visitor.

The second camera was in a wooded area up the hill. We knew the long grass would be full of ticks, but we’d bought tweezers and knew this was one of the many sacrifices a wildlife enthusiast has to make! Eventually we found the camera and made our way back down the hill.

A peculiar sound made us stop and listen. Heather quietly told us they were snipe, which make an extraordinary drumming noise with their tail feathers. Although we never saw them, they must have been wheeling around our heads, as the noise reverberated in every direction. Amongst the snipe’s commotion, we also heard the distant calls of a tawny owl and a cuckoo.

Carna at dusk

Just as we were heading back to the cottage, Cain and I decided to check the pontoon with our binoculars. I made out a black blob in the gloom and suddenly the blob moved. As silently as possible, we alerted the others and watched the otter wander across the pontoon. This was my first ever wild otter so I was thrilled to see one on my first night here. I was so excited I almost missed a barn owl swoop across the loch, screeching into the night.

Studying the water for otters

I couldn’t believe how much we’d managed to see in the first night alone. I got into bed tired after the long journey but excited for the following days.

Stunning sunset