| Glistening with water droplets, the black-throated diver looked almost eerie|
|The view, through the telescope, of a black-throated diver on the sea brought back vivid memories. My first close-up glimpse of this iconic breeding bird, confined in Britain to north-west Scotland, was from a tiny hide. I had erected the hide, under special licence, near a nest on an archipelago of small islands. The huge freshwater loch was north-west of Ullapool on the west coast and brooded over by three hills – the highest, Cul Mor, at 849 metres. As the bird slipped out of the loch back to its nest, its sleek black-and-white plumage resembled silk or satin. Glistening with water droplets, the diver looked almost eerie until it shook itself clear of them.|
Then its partner called, a long banshee-like wail that echoed around the loch. The sound is unearthly, almost human, and it's little wonder that divers appear so much in legends, particularly the Viking sagas. The incomer had brought a fish in from the sea and swam to the nest, presenting the catch to its mate who was incubating two eggs.
As for my Burghead bird – the family should correctly be called "loons" but I persist in the old name of "divers" – it was not alone. Around it, scattered over the seascape, were eiders, long-tailed ducks, common scoters and red-breasted mergansers. The scoters seemed to be finding food – they feed mainly on molluscs – where the waves were crashing onto the rocks. Dining amid the resulting maelstrom, these scoters perhaps mistook themselves for torrent ducks.
The red-breasted merganser, four males and a female, seemed almost out of place with the other seaducks, especially the males with their gaudy plumage complete with wispy crests and long, thin, red beaks. But the black-throated diver cast an aura of its own; aloof from all the other birds and, for me, quite mystical. There is no wilderness left in the Highlands today but these breeding birds epitomise the wildness that can still be found in many parts.