Dotterel and Ptarmigan 2016

Published: 2nd July 2016

The latest holiday at Glenloy Wildlife was a great success, although the weather was rather variable. We managed to avoid the worst of it (and the midges) and even found a few glimmers of sunshine.  As the week was themed about upland wildlife we saved one of the better days for a trip to Cairngorm, and were able to enjoy light winds and great views from the top of the mountain. Despite loose dogs (is there really nothing that can be done about these in the breeding season at the heart of a National Park?) the wildlife also came up trumps. We had our best ever view of dotterel, including a female that wandered across the path between us, a couple of ptarmigan and a pair of crouching mountain hare, looking as ‘blue’ as their alternative name suggests. In addition we saw ring ouzel from the funicular itself, together with a further hare, a close pair of raven on the top and some obliging wheatear. Down at Loch Morlich we were able to locate a pair of crested tits, foraging in the canopy – affording good views, if rather stiff necks. Other birds included spotted flycatcher, and distant goldeneye, with chickweed wintergreen on the forest floor. On the way home we stopped off to enjoy an osprey, lordly perched above his nest.

The week was particularly good for orchids with heath-spotted at their best, together with a growing (?) number of common spotted orchids. Northern marsh orchids were also putting on a great display along the verge at Banavie. The greater butterfly orchids had started to flower as had the lesser butterfly in quite different habitats. The last of the narrow-leaved helleborine was still flowering near Loch Arkaig, and we even found some ‘mystery’ orchids (common x heath spotted?) at Lochaline. Other plants in full bloom included some magnificent melancholy thistles, cow-wheat, wood cranesbill and pale butterwort. The wild-flower meadows at Glen Roy and along the Ardgour coast were just coming to their best, with ox-eye daises dominating a sea of buttercups, red clovers and yellow-rattle.

Boat trips were very productive this week. We had an Eagle Watch Cruise down Loch Shiel and were lucky enough to pass one of the few remaining black-throated divers, before stopping to admire the male sea-eagle at its nest.  Other birds included a flock of dunlin feeding by the loch shore, together with teal in the margins. Although the cloud was too low for golden eagles along Loch Shiel, we had seen a couple the previous day. This had been a Big 5 day, although sadly only Angela managed to see the otter as it crossed the road in front of the minibus and disappeared over a bridge parapet to a rocky shore. After saying goodbye to Jim we carried on from Acharacle to the coast, where we actually managed some sunshine. This brought out the dragonflies, including a magnificent pair of scarce northern emerald, which we watched for some time hunting up and down a marshy burnside. The first of the year’s common hawkers was also flying, along with several golden-ringed dragonflies. Butterflies also made a surprise appearance with several common blue, a couple of small pearl-bordered fritillary and green-veined white.

For the third trip in a row, our venture out on the Sheerwater produced minke whales. A calm sea no doubt helps, but this does seem to have been a good year so far. We also enjoyed good views of porpoise, plenty of Manx shearwater, a couple of great skuas and a red-throated diver in Eigg harbour. There were lots of very small, dark common-seal pups, closely attending their mothers, to the extent that they were almost riding on their backs in some cases. We also saw a group of larger grey seals (that pup in the autumn), and heard the corncrakes on Muck. We didn’t even get wet!

Other baby animals seen in the week included a pair of sika calves frolicking around their mother, red deer calves, eider chicks and several groups of goslings. Our local great-spotted woodpecker had finally brought its chick to the garden feeder. Both Arctic and common terns fished continually at several locations for seemingly abundant sand eels with which to feed their chicks. No sign of the pine marten kits yet, but our resident mother kept disappearing off with mouthfuls of food, so they cannot be far away. Elsewhere last week we saw a pair of great crested grebes, the father bringing small fish to feed two stripey chicks being carried on their mother’s back. We do not see these grebes in Lochaber so this was an unexpected treat, on the back of a good holiday week.