A four otter day

Published: 9th March 2010

Have been enjoying the continung spell of bright sunshine here in Lochaber.The temperature reached a heady 9oC on Saturday (although it froze again at night)! This was enough to bring out the first of the season's bees – a sound it took me a while to recognize when I first heard it.

I took myself off in search of otters that day, with the intention of spending a few hours in the hide at Garh Eilean to see how reliable sightings might be. As it happens, en route I just missed the Corran Ferry and so had a 20 minute wait, which was spent scanning the loch.There was plenty abnout, including seals, eider and black guillemot. Typically, just as the ferry was returning I saw an otter swimming to rocks along from the jetty. It clambered up with a large fish, however it was pretty distant, so I didn't linger. There appears to be a sizeable housing developmnet underway on either side of the jetty, so I hope that this does not put an end to sightings from the ferry – at present a beautiful spot. Safely across to Ardgour, several stops were made to scan the glassy calm seas, on which even the faintest ripples stood out invitingly. Lots of seabird activity, with several divers – mostly great northern, although there was also a couple of pairs of (again distant) red-throats, along with eider and merganser.

By the time I reached Garbh Eilean it was well after midday and the tide was on the turn. There were lots of common seals on the rocks, and about a dozen herons hiding in the branches of the small heronry. Scanning round, there was movement in the water to the left of the island, further up Loch Sunart. Two otters clambered out of the water onto a small rock, displacing a crow in the process. They had it in for this crow, which was chased off a couple of times, finally giving the rock up as a bad job. Tumbling activity soon revealed that there was a mother otter and two cubs, who were intent on playing. Along with a couple of visitors who I was able to point in the right direction, we were treated to a display of  rolling and fighting, along with the sudden 'cork-popping' of heads shooting out of the water, before mum led her charges in procession around the back of the island. As I hadn't had to wait for otters at all I decided to scan the far hill-tops for activity, and had a distant glimpse of a golden eagle, its size given perspective by the tiny figures of deer silhouetted on the summits (and I still had not spent more than an hour and a half there). Cossbills and siskins called on the walk back to the car.

Yesterday Angela and I went on a squirrel hunt in Glen Righ. There was lots of forestry activity and a preponderence of larch in areas the path went through, so we were not too hopeful. However, ascending past the waterfalls and up onto the forestry track, Angela saw a rare Lochaber red squirrel, which scrambled up off the side of the road into the nearby sitkas. Although she got a couple more glimpses as it ascended the trunk, I managed to miss it completely, which was rather annoying. We did manage to find a couple of well-maintained dreys in the forest, but no more squirrels. On the way back to Glenloy we stopped off at the large picnic site by the side of Loch Linnhe, and had another good look at the water – again flat calm. Far in the distance out from Inverscaddle Bay was a flock of 9 black-throated divers, still in winter plumage. Unusual to see so many together. Behind them there was more activity in the water. After watching for some time it became evident that this was a porpoise  popping its nose out of the water and repeatedly blowing. We both eventually managed to see it 'roll' in the water, its small black dorsal fin confirming its identity. This was our first porpoise of the season, and a sure sign that spring is on its way.