Deer and the road to Skye

Published: 22nd March 2010

The much-needed rain is beating down on Lochaber, and the lochs are filling up with snow-melt. Conversely, the ski slopes are still going strong with fresh snow above 2500 ft. The milder weather  and advancing spring are beginning to have the desired effects on the local fauna and flora. Last week I actually saw a bat out at dusk, no doubt after the numerous moths that have started to appear. The first trapping session of the season wasn't too successful, as the night typically turned rather cold, but did manage to collect two handsome moths  – a Dotted Border and an Oak Beauty. The latter was a fresh, chunky male specimen with vivid brown, black and white markings.

There are frogs spawning everywhere now, and the margins of our pond are thick with gelatinous gloop. Despite this there is still a constant chorus. Tawny owls joined in around Glenloy Lodge the other night, with a male and female calling for several hours close by. The local grapevine has indicated that at least two osprey are back (although we failed to see these when looking yesterday). Black divers are also returning to fresh water and will keep a good eye out this next couple of weeks for them. Both Angela and I have chased brown hares down the road in the car over the last few days – a rather dangerous strategy for the hares on our narrow single-ttrack roads. Fortunately have not seen any casualties yet, but hope that this period of March madness does not come to a sticky end.

Spoke at a meeting about deer and tourism, held jointly by Deer Commission Scotland and Wild Scotland at Armadale on Friday. An inteersting event, which clearly showed the value of deer to estates to be far more than the revenue from stalking activities. Deer numbers have been hit hard this winter with the harsh weather, although it appears that there is a huge amount of variability from estate to estate. On the journey across (the weather was rough so we did not chance the Mallaig ferry and went the long way around via Kyle of Lochalsh) we could have been forgiven for thnking that the local deer population had been semi-obliterated, as we saw very little. On the return journey, however, the sun shone and we saw plenty of red deer, as well as some roe, wild goats, plenty of buzzards, ravens and even a blackcock – not bad at 60mph!

We had a look up Loch Lochy yesterday and walked along the forest paths along from Clunes. Amongst the clearfell we were quite surprised to see an extensive patch of Buddleia. Have not seen much growing wild hereabouts, and assume it must have been accidentally introduced via forestry vehicles. As this is classified as an undesirable alien by SNH, I am a little surprised that it is tolerated. Perhaps this particular block of forestry is privately held rather than managed by FCS. Will be sure to return later in the year to look for butterflies here, though. A little off-path exploration took us above the forest edge to a watefall tumbling in a narrow jet down a sheer cliff of some 30m. The rock face was quite well vegetated, even at this time of year, and certainly looked interesting, if rather inaccessible. Through the binoculars could make out several cotoneater bushes in leaf, still with some red berries. These could well be a native variety. We did not see much else apart from a couple of stags high above us and a pair of ravens that were obviously uncomfortable. They flew round the path calling for some time and must have had a nest not far from where we walking. We left them in peace and returned to the larch trees around the car park, which were occupied by a huge flock of siskins.