In a narrow window of calm weather with reasonable road conditions, I managed a short paddle on the Moray Firth. Initial weather signs weren't encouraging - freezing fog at home and thick mist and drizzle at my launch spot at Rosemarkie on the Black Isle (which isn't actually an island). However, as I was preparing the boat the cloud thinned to give a view of the coastline ahead.
I planned to paddle northeast along the coast to the entrance of the Cromarty Firth and back, around 15 kilometres each way.
This part of the coast is a series of cliffs and headlands all the way. There are few landing places and the shoreline is inaccessible by foot for much of the way, with other parts accessible only at lower states of the tide.
Across the Moray firth, the low cloud giving mist and fog was still very much in evidence. The skyscape was one of contrasts as the moist northerly air was forced upslope and condensed to cloud.
On the north side of the firth, the occasional blink of low winter sun lit up the dead bracken on the slopes and created a lovely warm light. Only the light was warm though; it was still pretty cold! No snow was lying here at the coast in contrast to the banks still on the ground at home in Aberdeenshire.
I was at least sheltered from the cold wind here, it was calm except for the low swell which is rarely absent from the Moray Firth.
Near this spot I was surprised to see a Red Kite circling above the shore. These beautiful birds have been reintroduced to several areas of Scotland after being hunted to extinction in the UK apart from a tiny population in Wales. Primarily a carrion feeder, they will also take small live prey such as amphibians, voles and small birds. The Black Isle is a stronghold for the species, but I'd always associated them with farmland and wooded areas rather than the shore.
Soon after, I spotted an Otter fishing. I waited to try and get a photograph, but it went ashore to devour a crab - and then had a face-off with a Fox which had been waiting on the beach - a fascinating wildlife experience.
It was turning out to be an unexpectedly fine day!