Whooper swans make landfall on the coast of Scotland. Photograph: Simon Grosset/Rex/Shutterstock
Cresting the rise at the finish of the machair track I catch my breath at the very first sight of the scene just before me. Exactly where generally there are miles of beach there is virtually practically nothing but sea.
As far as the eye can see there is line soon after broken line of wild, tumbling rollers, the wind streaming a fine mist of spray from their foam topped crests … and at the prime of this highest of tides the wind driven waves are surging onwards virtually to the foot of the low dunes.
In the currently fading light of the late afternoon it’s a seascape painted in muted silver-greys and slate greens, its distant reaches further softened by the haze of airborne spray.
I set out along the dune-leading path walking till eventually it appears that perhaps the tide, if not on the turn, is at least reaching no higher and that, wellie clad, it will be feasible to stroll back safely along the narrow strip of sand.
Connected: Sophisticated whoopers come to Swan Loch
Down at beach level there is an even greater sense of the energy of the waves as each builds and then crashes, each one adding to the volume of the continuous background roar. Properly out beyond the breaking waters, nearly on the horizon, a line of white birds is flying low above the consistently shifting turbulence of the restless sea.
I lift my binoculars expecting to uncover a troop of hardy gannets on a fishing expedition but am awed to see instead a modest flock of whooper swans heading straight for landfall. Once more and again I drop sight of them behind a curtain of spray, but every single time they reappear closer than before as beat right after beat of their potent elegant wings drives them onward towards the finish of their journey from Iceland.
Only as they near the chaos of salt-laden air above the unceasing rollers do they seek to gain height, their perfect V-shaped line becoming a scattered group as the smoothness of their flight suddenly becomes ragged and effortful in the buffeting wind. And then, above the land at last, they come together once a lot more, flying purposefully in the direction of the loch now just a field or two away.