Blackcock Increasing?

Published: 11th March 2015

We checked out a local black grouse lek at Fort William the other morning. Promised sunshine did not appear until after we left, leaving the birds somewhat bedraggled after pouring rain, and not entirely enthusiastic. Still, six blackcock gamely strutted their stuff. We are getting the impression that there are more blackcock about locally We actually saw four males (from the road) in the birch scrub above Banavie village the other day, and another four birds (one at least was a greyhen) in similar habitat at Muishearlich returning from the FW lek. A proliferation of young conifer plantations should be good for black grouse locally, although creeping urbanisation might reduce the chances of seeing them so close to habitation. Elsewhere in the neighbourhood of Glenloy a couple of young red deer stags have taken up residency in the fields at Strone, and are quite unperturbed by nearby building work. We also saw a nice little family group of roe deer in the field nearest to the house – mum, dad and last year’s youngster. Red deer appear to have wandered ever further down the hills towards the better grassland. Can’t say that I blame them, as the weather continues to be wintry with snow falling almost daily on the higher ground.

In search of winter wildlife in advance of the Glenloy Wildlife winter break, we made a foray to Moray, travelling east from Inverness to Lossiemouth, returning via Corbridge and Newtonmore – a long day out, but easily doable. Tremendous amount of water about. Angela got some nice video of the overflow from the Laggan Dam gushing forth, but perhaps more impressively, virtually the whole of the Spey valley was flooded, and Insh Marshes had overflown to produce a huge lake that even threatened to engulf the raised track of the railway. The road on the opposite side of the railway from the marshes was closed because of flooding, which made the sight of a train travelling over water even more surreal. Our first stop within sight of the Kessock Bridge produced a reasonable-sized flock of scaup, as well as wigeon and waders.  A wet and blustery Burghead yielded long-tailed-duck, scoter, eider, mergansers and distant gannet. In the harbour, and also at Hopeman, mixed flocks of turnstone and redshank perched on the harbour walls within the lee of the breakwaters. Travelling around, we saw several groups of whooper swans as well as flocks of pink-footed geese. On the return leg we found several red grouse, males with glowing wattles, and seemingly each with a female in tow. Little on a windswept Lochindorb apart from the odd goldeneye and a few gulls.

Yesterday the sun actually appeared and in the afternoon it actually felt positively spring-like. This was reinforced by the first frogspawn of the year, found near the coast at Rhu,  Arisaig. There were several great northern divers in the sea, including a group of six together at Rhu. Drake mergansers are looking swish, along with sleek-plumaged black guillemot. Common seals appear to have moved right up the sea lochs, presumably retreating from fierce north—westerly gales. There were very large concentrations at the head of Loch nam Uahm and close to Arisaig. We walked out to the lovely beach at Port nam Murrach, disturbing a flock of about 40 skylarks on the way. A single bird, away from the others, and presumably an early returner or resident, seemed put out by this and was the only bird to rise into the air singing. We also came across three pairs of stonechats, which have obviously successfully survived the winter. Buzzard, kestrel and raven were noted on the way out to the beach, and a group of four lapwing on the way back. It was a low spring tide, and a large expanse of sand and rockpools had been uncovered. The pools were strangely quiet, apart from some small fish and prawns amongst the usual wealth of seaweeds and bryozoans. Either these had been scoured by storms or mobile species had moved out to shelter in deep water. Back at the parking area we had a final scan of the rocks and were rewarded with a great sighting of an otter, fishing close by. Angela’s photos subsequently revealed that it was a rather skinny-looking animal, possibly a youngster, and again possibly suffering from the aftermath of a prolonged period of stormy weather. It swam some distance from one set of rocks to another and then climbed up to spraint before disappearing out of our sightline. Loads of red deer grazing in the sunshine along the Glenfinnan road on the way home. Sadly back to rain again today, as forecast.