Day 5 |
Jun 03, 2012

Iona and Lunga, Scottish Isles 

By Toby Musgrave, Botanist

Co-ordinates: N 59º19'03", W 06º30'00"
Weather: Sunny with scattered clouds, clouding over in the afternoon Air Temperature: 15ºC Pressure: 1015 hPa
 Wind: 15 knots

After a most comfortable night spent at anchor in the Sound of Iona, it was reassuring to wake to sunny skies, although a quick tour of the outer deck suggested that suitable layers would be requited: a fact confirmed by Robin’s wake-up call at 07:30, which informed all that the air temperature was a brisk 8 degrees Celsius.

Following breakfast, the day’s operations began with the Scout Boat skimming away to the ferry jetty on the island of Iona, followed shortly afterwards by the rest of the staff. Disembarkation began at 08:30 with guests being offered the opportunity to explore this most beautiful of islands by themselves before 10:30, at which time the Sunday service began in the Abbey.

Chris, Hans-Peter and I took a botany and bird walk to see what was to be found.

However, for a lucky few, the journey ashore was interrupted by a great sighting of a group of frolicking marine mammals, which, after some debate and discussion and the study of a superb photograph taken by a guest, were definitely identified as Bottlenose Dolphins.

From the cultural and historical perspective, Iona is famed for its Abbey, which is a most tranquil and special place, and which was enjoyed by all who visited. From a natural history perspective, Iona is famed as a location where the illusive corn crake (a bird!) may (and I emphasise ‘may’) be seen. Chris got off to a great start seeing three and two guests also managed a glimpse on our walk, but the rest of us returned having heard but not seen. From a botanical perspective, the highlight of the walk was the beautiful group of Northern Marsh Orchids that we found next to the Fire Station.

All aboard was 12:00 and over lunch we repositioned around the west coast of Iona and headed north towards the Treshnish Islands and our afternoon destination, the isle of Lunga. Due to the wind, the Captain anchored off the southern coast of the island and after Robin had scouted the area, he reported back that this was going to be another bird highlight. Over the preceding days many guests had made comments about puffins and their BIG desire to see them. And Lunga was not to disappoint.

Departing at 14:30 and 15:45, the four Zodiac groups set off on an hour’s Zodiac cruise around the island before landing on a rocky shore from which there was a short walk over the beach and up a small slope. And there they were. As if the sightings of puffins in the air and rafted up bobbing in the sea had not been enough, then the sight of literally hundreds of puffins going about their daily lives, oblivious or trusting of the humans, standing not more than a metre away, was truly unforgettable. Even Chris had never seen anything like it. This was up-close-and-personal with puffins in a truly remarkable way. From a botany point-of-view there were some lovely Primroses, Bluebells, Sea Campion, Roseroot and a Common Spotted Orchid, but they just could not compete with the special puffin experience that those who climbed the hill all enjoyed.

Last Zodiac back to the ship was at 18:00, and at 18:15 Robin hosted the First Timer’s reception, followed at 18:45 by our Recap & Briefing and then dinner. And then, for most, a relatively early night as tomorrow we arrive at St. Kilda at 06:00 in order to circumnavigate the island before landing at 08:30.