The Tale of the Cormorotterant

The Tale of the Cormorotterant.

In the summer of 2021 my wife and I, along with another couple rented a self-catering holiday cottage on the island of South Uist. It was a first visit to this part of the Outer Hebrides and so there was that mix of anticipation and excitement that comes with the exploration of places new.

The cottage was right down at the southern edge of South Uist with spectacular views across the vivid turquoise waters to the island of Eriskay and also of the causeway that connects the two island communities.

The large lounge was fitted with floor to ceiling windows along the length of its southern and eastern walls, making the most of the wonderful vista and that amazing Hebridean light.

Panoramic views from the lounge

Most mornings, five beautiful Eriskay white ponies would come and pay us a visit. I would raid the fridge of some carrots and go outside to feed them. The most dominant of the ponies was quick to sample what was on offer and eagerly took a piece of carrot from my outstretched hand. Just as quickly, it snorted and spat the carrot out again. The others were not so fussy and appreciated the chance to munch on something other than the rough grasses growing along the shoreline.

Eriskay ponies on the shore

Apart from the ponies, there were always black faced sheep to be seen. The ground sloped away from the cottage to the shoreline about 150 metres below. Several small islands dotted the shore, and at low tide the sheep would cross the mud and move from island to island grazing on the rich green grass fertilized by the droppings of sea birds. The tide would slowly start to flood into the channels between the small islands and the sheep would settle down to chew the cud, stranded until the water once again drained away from the channels and they could move to pastures new.

Sheep resting on an island with Eriskay in the distance

Bird life was abundant. There were masses to be seen, busily going about their lives… redshanks, gulls, shell ducks, oyster catchers, snipe, sanderling, turnstones to name but a few. There was always something to be seen. We had several sightings of golden eagles above the hills to the rear of the cottage. One day a pair of marsh harriers flew past the front of the cottage being mobbed by crows. The most vocal of the birds however was the cuckoo. They were everywhere. We saw them every day and often two or three at a time. Blackbirds, starlings and an assortment of small birds visited the garden daily where we had put out some bird food and fat balls.

On the rocks out in the deeper waters the occasional seal would haul itself out for a bit of sunbathing. Malcolm and I always had our binoculars at the ready and took great enjoyment from watching the great array of wildlife.

One afternoon, Malcolm and I were relaxing and enjoying a light refreshment, or two. I happened to glance out of the huge windows to the shoreline. The usual characters were all there but something caught my eye. A sudden movement behind a large boulder at the water’s edge did not register as something I recognised. Whatever I had seen, it was only the briefest of glimpses, and certainly not enough to identify the creature behind the boulder.

I pointed out to Malcolm where I had seen the mysterious movement. He took another sip of his dram and reached for his binoculars. He focused on the boulder in question, ready to identify the mystery creature. I had another sip of my dram and picked up my binoculars. We both watched intently for any sign of further movement – but nothing.

Time for another sip – and there it was, another fleeting movement. We both locked on to the position of the boulder speculating what might be behind it as we stared through the binoculars. A few more minutes passed and then, there it was, another tantalising movement. It was not even enough to say that we had seen the arching back of an animal, or maybe the crown of a head.

“I think it is an otter.” Malcolm proclaimed confidently.

But I was not sure. I thought that it was more likely that it was a cormorant.

We maintained observations on the boulder but there were no further sightings and eventually we laid the binoculars down and picked up our drams.

We never did find out what was lurking behind that boulder, but I kept wandering which of us was right. Was it an otter, or was it a cormorant?

Then, with the contents of the whisky bottle rapidly diminishing, we amicably agreed that the mystery creature was probably… a ‘Cormorotterant’.

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