Arrivals and departures

Published: 21st April 2013

Well, the first good thing about spring this year has been the arrival of Glenloy Wildlife guests. We have had back to back trips for the last couple of weeks, involving three different groups, and we are now pausing to recover our breath! In between the penultimate and last holidays the weather broke. After more than 8 weeks of continual cold, dry conditions and wildfires here in Lochaber, the wind has veered at last to the west and we have been receiving much-needed rain. The last group suffered a bit from wind and rain, but we managed to get out and about every day and didn’t get too wet. The wildlife largely co-operated, but not surprisingly birds were not flying as well as they might in the face of gale force winds and driving rain!

Our otter weekend proved a success. On the first morning before breakfast we had one of our best-ever otter sightings as we watched two cubs playing, feeding, clambering onto rocks and running along the shore for a good 45 minutes. After that it was all a bit anti-climactical, but we did see plenty of other stuff and indeed had a another otter sighting the next day, albeit a rather distant one. We managed to find plenty of spraint, including some good traditional sprainting mounds to show folk, and even a couple of footprints.

The next trip was for a private family group for 5 days and we managed to cover the “Big Five” nicely during this week (and the next) – although the otter left it to the very last evening to make an appearance (but compensated with a good close view). Our local golden eagles put on a display for our guests, circling together and even doing a little interacting. They should have been on eggs by now, but along with eagles elsewhere appear to have delayed nesting, presumably because of the cold. An undoubted highlight came while we were watching a flock of redpoll feeding, when a female merlin shot through scattering them. Deer were plentiful everywhere, but have started casting their antlers, and a number of sore-looking or one-horned stags were wandering forlornly about (several approaching the minibus hopefully in search of food). The red squirrels at Glen Righ are also in transition with some still in winter coats, and others already sporting their lighter, strawberry-blonde, summer tails. Seals have also returned to their summer positions around the rocks and skerries, including those deep up Loch Linnhe.

The fields have been full of thrushes this last two weeks, allowing great views of fieldfares and redwings as they head north. These have been joined by migrant blackbirds and itinerant song thrushes, along with large flocks of meadow pipits, refuelling on farmland pasture before heading up into the glens. We also had a sizeable flock of brambling in Fort William, by far the most I have seen this winter, with some of the males starting to acquire dark heads for the summer. Great northern divers were seen in all stages of feathering from winter to full breeding plumage. Black-throated divers are now back on the usual lochs, and we have enjoyed them in their best breeding plumage. Similarly red-throats are also back in breeding condition and we had great views on a lovely sunny morning on Friday, in light that enabled us to enjoy their red throats, rarely visible in poor light. We headed off to Loch Ruthven with the most recent wildlife guests in search of sun and Slavonian grebes. The three we saw were very different – a pair with lovely dark breeding plumage and another much paler adult in transition. Back at home there was still an adult in breeding plumage on the coast. We also took in the bottlenose dolphins at Chanonry Point for good measure, and were surprised to see a newly-returned Sandwich tern, as well as several groups of auks and some gannets (the sun did finally shine that day). Also saw more sika deer on one day than I think we ever have, plus two pairs of red kites and a pair of golden plover in full breeding plumage – not bad for what started out a foul day.

The story of the last week or so has been the return of summer migrant birds, however. The ospreys were back on Loch Lochy at the end of the previous week (Sat 13th), and Angela was lucky enough to see them mating on the nest. The male and female must have arrived almost together, as we didn’t see them earlier in the week. On the Sunday 14th we saw three different birds on Loch Lochy and Loch Arkaig, and a further bird at Loch Ruthven on Wednesday 16th. The first wheatears arrived about the same time, and we have seen several in the last couple of weeks. Possibly more notable were records of swallow on the 15th at Dorlinn and 17th at Gairlochy – early for this part of the world. The first sand martin was spotted with the swallow at Gairlochy – they are usually here a good month before the latter. Large numbers have arrived on the River Lochy since then. We looked hard for ring ouzel in two visits to Glen Roy, but have yet to see them there, but did manage to find a female on the coast on Fri 19th. The bird of the week must have been the greenshank, which we saw almost everywhere along the coast and on inland lochs – very pale and elegant, with a haunting call. The first sandpipers also appeared during the latter part of the week, and are already piping away on stony shores. .A passage whimbrel was seen on the shore at Arisaig, right next to a curlew, which handily allowed us to compare and contrast. We have even had our first warbler of the year – a male blackcap at the end of Glen Etive.

A final arrival of note was porpoise, seen at great distance from Prince’s Cairn, but also reported last week from Loch Lochy. A welcome departure was the sperm whale at Oban, which finally left the bay after a nine-day stay, seemingly none the worse for wear. It left behind many happy wildlife watchers, including ourselves and the guests we sent that way.