Scotland is beautiful. Glasgow is beautiful is an industrial sort of way. Edinburgh is beautiful in a “holy-shit-is-that-made-from-the-skin-of-infamous-murderer-William-Burke*” kind of way, as well as the more obvious ways. Argyll is beautiful in a quaint, sleep-in-a-room-over-the-pub way. Islay is beautiful and smells of malted barley and burning peat. The ferry to Islay is beautiful and has a Little Auk floating off the port side, or at least it did when I was on it. I already knew all that.
But goddamn are the highlands beautiful.
I wanted badly to see a Capercaillie – the famous David Attenborough Attack Grouse that are as pure Scottish as the thistle and the kilt and the bottle – but I needed to see a Common Gull. I mean. Common. Gull. How embarrassing would it be to miss that?
So there we were in Invernesse. We checked into our hotel and wandered down by the river – the River Ness, that is, a shallow but wide-ish meander not far from the main tourist drag of town, which was playing host to a small flock of Mergansers and some Mallards, as well as more Pied Wagtails on the banks. And Gulls, of various kinds, but not Common.
How could this thing be?
We crossed the bridge and headed to the other side of town, a more residential neighborhood, but one where the internet promised that we could find more bikes to rent (they would turn out, as it happened, to be the best bikes that we got all trip.) We saw Turtle Doves on rooftops and House Sparrows where they belonged and an Oystercatcher high overhead and crying out for the slowly dying day (the sun took its sweet time about setting, what with being so far north.)
And then, on the roof of a house, I spotted a Common Gull.
It would be the last bird I added to my life list for the trip, so let’s talk about it a little. Larus canus is the William H. Macy of gulls – smallish and softish-looking, but still unmistakably a bird that will scavenge your trash and leave guano on your chimney, still all gray and white but for the fleshy bits, which tend to a sporty lemon-lime color. It’s conspecific with the Alaskan Mew Gull, a bird of fabulous name and some mystique for an East Coast-bound birder.
I stared at it for a long time, and the Inimitable Todd tried to get a picture (it didn’t come out.) Hopefully the people who lived in that house weren’t home, or at least weren’t inclined to paranoia.
So thus, staring at a chimeny with a seagull on it in a pleasant residential neighborhood, did my birding adventure for all practical purposes end. I still have plenty to go back for, but I can’t complain, with my life list now solidly over 300 and a new appreciation of Tits**.
*yes, it is.
**had to get one last in.