Christmas 2016

Published: 6th January 2017

Here at Glen Loy we can never be too sure what the weather will bring over the Festive Season. For the past few years wind and rain seem to have been the norm, with variable amounts of snow and ice. This year has been very similar. We had a lovely cold spell with a good covering of snow at the end of November, but come the second week of December this had all gone and the weather had turned increasingly wet and windy. We had a light cover of snow on Christmas night, but the weather since has oscillated between rain and mild south-westerlies to colder brighter periods, in which we have been much more motivated to get out and about! As I write today we have six degrees of frost. Whatever the weather there is always something to see, and it is great to share this with family and friends over Christmas.

Close to home the pine martens have made short work of the turkey carcass, eked out on the bird table over a period of days. Up to three are visiting nightly, and do not seem to have been put off by the Christmas lights hanging in front of their usual feeding station. The bird feeders have been mobbed by tits, mainly, with up to thirty coal tits at a given time. These have made an obvious target for our local sparrowhawks, who once again have taken to using me as a blind when I put the food out. I happened just to turn as a sparrowhawk was swooping, and felt its wingtips brush past my face. The great spotted woodpeckers are also regularly feeding, along with the usual chaffinches, sparrows, dunnocks and the occasional novelty such as goldfinch or treecreeper. A cock pheasant is also visiting at the moment, our first for a couple of years.

Slightly further afield a recent jaunt along the canal produced our first kingfisher of the year. Although we had good views of the bird, which flew off in a series of short stops, the day was so grey that even its bright blue plumage appeared muted. On the same walk, we had a very close encounter with a goldcrest that was flitting about brambles just above ground level. There are plenty of woodcock around, and these can easily be seen at night in car headlights at the side of the road, but may also be flushed from wet patches almost anywhere whilst walking. Most of our winter thrushes seem to have moved on this year, but a few redwing are still exploiting berries further up the glen. We were pleased to see a golden eagle at the top of Glen Loy, which did a couple of half-hearted plunges, perhaps a pre-cursor to courtship display. Buzzards, hooded crows, ravens and deer were the only other signs of life there.

New Year’s Day was beautiful and warranted a trip out to the coast. We chose the walk at Smirisary through a deserted village along the rocky coast out to a white sand beach.  A number of seabirds kicked off the annual list including great northern diver, merganser, razorbill and shag. We watched a seal porpoising in the surf and enjoyed the tranquillity of the view across to the Small Isles. A male stonechat watched us from the top of dead bracken, along with a deer sitting on top of the hill above us.  On the way home we saw wild goat by the side of the road at Roshven. All-in-all a good start to the year. Other trips included a long walk from Kinlochleven to Loch Eilde.  We had stopped to see the red squirrels at Inchree, which were there but unfortunately scared off the feeders by a rather antisocial family – the viewing wall is there for a reason! Red grouse and a woodcock were the main bird highlights of the walk itself. The views were spectacular, but the new hydro works are not at all attractive.

Over Christmas we heard the great news that the Loch Arkaig pinewoods have finally been bought from the Forestry Commission by Arkaig Community Forest in conjunction with the Woodland Trust. Angela went along with other committee members to have a specially commissioned gin from the Gin Bothy to celebrate.! We were both able to visit on a fact-finding jaunt later in the week. We climbed almost up to the top boundary fence and were able to look down over large areas of native pine and birchwood as well as untreed areas of bog. There was a particularly nice area of pines there from which we flushed a black grouse. Angela had already put up a pair of red grouse from the heather. We were able to look into a splendid osprey nest, having seen the occupants (but not seen the nest) on a previous trip. As the day was still nice we drove along the loch to see if the sea eagles were still about, passing groups of stags by the side of the road. One eagle was perched at the top of a small tree by the side of the loch. Far above it a golden eagle landed on a skyline rock. On our side of the loch a sparrowhawk flashed through the trees.  Driving back we saw jay, buzzard, goosander and dippers. A great end to the festive season, and confirmation, if any were needed, that the Loch Arkaig forest is a great purchase for the nation.  We look forward to taking to you there!