Day Fifty Seven

Let’s just day today “a castle and seals unlimited”
Chris woke me at the crack of dawn (7am for mere mortals) with
whispered tones….“there are seals outside”. Now I find it hard to
get out of bed in the morning at the best of times, but a good
animal sighting will get me out of bed like a shot. Of course by the
time I got to the window, they were gone. Still, I have a theory that
where there is one there will be more, so I snuggled up in my
blankie, settled near a window, nursed my coffee …. and we waited.
We were right on the edge of the lake: some 20 metres out were a
series of rocks that were just out of the water, and the tide was on
its way out.
Sure enough, within a few minutes, a series of glossy little heads
started to break the lake’s surface. There were about 12 of them,
performing a seal dance, flippering the water and jumping out of it.
The zoos are right. Those “trick” jumps are a natural behaviour.
The prized positions were the exposed rocks and soon enough
there were three seals fully out of the water on one group of rocks
and one on an other a short way away.
Do I need to mention that these spots were much contested?
The seals in the water gave it their best shot, from trying to get on
where there was no space with little success, to much barking at
each other to complain about there being no space. The victors in
the mean time took full advantage of the sun as it came up by
exposing their tummies and lifting their heads and tails
simultaneously to form cute U shapes. I suspect the latter had more
to do with not getting your tail bitten in the water by someone
jealous of your spot than it did with the seal Pilates it looked like.
In between contests for the prized spots, there was much jumping
out of the water and general acrobatics and even more cuteness.
These were common seals vs grey seals – they have really pretty
little round faces.
The tide went out really quickly exposing the sandy, muddy flats
much to the other seals delight. As the flats were exposed, up they
lined in little groups taking advantage of the sun, and a rest from all
that frolicking. Funnily enough, they were all displaying this
behaviour right in front of a sign that explained it. For once,
promises of animals on a tourist poster were perfectly accurate.
We watched them for about an hour and a half before they
dissipated…just as the tourist traffic started, although we did see a
bank full sleepy seals a little further down, just as we drove away. A
gorgeous way of starting the morning and many more seals, and
closer, than our seal tour!
After seal watching we continued down the coast to the village of
Dornoch and wandered around for a while. One of the locals
stopped for a chat. He had moved to the town from London to
escape the WWII bombings and funnily enough had taught at
Geelong Grammar briefly. He shared his life story and gave us the
must see highlights, including the Dunrobin Castle which we had
been on our way to, and was to be our next stop.
The best way to describe Dunrobin would be to say that it looked
like a fairytale castle. On a hill overlooking its gardens, it was white
with turrets and 4 levels. Very pretty, and still appears to be home to
someone rather lucky. The gardens were simple, but lovely, mainly
hedged garden beds with simple en masse plantings, but the real
star of the show was the birds of prey display. Their very
knowledgeable keeper displayed different types of falcons, owls
and eagles and took us through how he trained them,their flying
ability and their history.
At one stage he flew the birds inches over the crowd to display their
skill. The large owl I was lucky to enough to sit next to at the end of
the show moved his massive frame (wingspan at least as wide as I
can hold both my arms out) completely silently above us. Little
creatures never even hear him coming, whereas the others rely on
speed alone. There was a man who loved his work.
We end the day near Loch Ness, in a forest.
A great day.