Eagles and Deer

Published: 14th October 2013

In the first couple of weeks of October Glenloy Wildlife have hosted a couple of  groups of wildlife watchers; one being a short break specifically to look for red deer performing on the rut and the other a general wildlife holiday week with the emphasis on deer and eagles. The weather was fickle and changeable, varying between a fierce hail storm (in which, of course, we were caught out), and snow on the Ben, to a glorious last couple of days, spent basking in autumn sunshine, and cruising on perfectly calm seas across to Knoydart and back The autumn colours have been fantastic, the bracken has turned, but most trees are still to lose their leaves. Changes in light with the weather have simply added to the magic of the West Highlands. One day produced more than a dozen rainbows!

The deer have been slow to get going this year, but by the end of last week all was going according to plan with the noise of bellowing stags being heard all around the region. At Glenloy stags appeared to competing with hooting owls at dusk! We made a couple of early morning forays and were rewarded with the sight of deer close up to the road, albeit more likely shaking the rain from their coats than seriously thinking about mating. With both groups of guests we did manage to find rutting stags at photographable distances, including a splendid ‘ royal’ that went through the whole gamut of posturing, bellowing, thrashing the vegetation with his antlers and rolling, right by the roadside. We even managed to get a distant glimpse of a stag actually serving a hind, and also of sparring males. The deer were everywhere, if often high up on the mountains, but at least this sets them in their true Highland context!

Autumn is a good time to look for eagles, as the young are now fully fledged and independent, whilst the adults can get on with building up reserves for winter, whilst there is still plenty of prey around. We were lucky enough to get great views of both golden and white-tailed eagles.  A close encounter proved that you don’t have to be big to be boss! A white-tail alighted on a log perch at a nearby sea loch and was soon joined by a hooded crow, which settled close by. Unbeknownst  to the eagle it had picked the wrong log. Whilst the much larger bird was minding its own business the crow flew up and took a crafty peck at its tail. A couple of minutes later it did the same thing again with greater vigour, achieving its goal of driving the interloper away. The hoodie then settled down on its perch looking smug, whilst the eagle flew off  to a nearby  tree then circled round the area for some time before disappearing across the mountainside. A couple of days later we were looking for otters when there was turmoil amongst the local birds, with a flock of no less than 40 herons taking to the air along with ducks, geese and gulls, which flew up high out of range. The reason was soon evident, as we spotted a white-tail circling high above. It continued to fly around the estuary for the duration of our visit, making the other residents rather flighty! We also had a golden eagle that flew low over the road in Morvern, and circled above the minibus for several minutes. One of our last sightings of the week was a goldie being pursued by a buzzard over the plantation at the back of Inverie on Knoydart.

Other birdlife showed signs of comings and goings. Few small birds remained on the hills, apart from stonechat and a few meadow pipits. Rather more pipits were seen around the coast, along with a couple of late wheatears. Other summer visitors appear to have departed, and we did not see any swallows. The first flock of about 40 whooper swans was gathered on the estuary at Appin, with Castle Stalker as a backdrop – an impressive sight. Later in the day we also found a pale-bellied brent goose nearby. There were also largish flocks of ringed plover and turnstone (a winter visitor here) at Cuil Bay, along with a nice group of golden plover on the pasture. We also picked up greenshank, whimbrel and a scoter on our travels. The divers are slow in arriving, but we did find one great northern in transition plumage. Mergansers are starting to display. Over the last weekend the first winter thrushes have started to arrive, and Angela and I also flushed our first jack snipe of the winter. Guests were very happy with photographable views of both goldcrest and treecreepers!

The last week also brought its fair share of other mammal sightings. We had great views of the wild goats at Kingairloch, including a largish herd just by the shore. Red squirrels came out to feed once the rain had stopped, and have now darkened in colour, with thick winter tails. Similarly the resident pine martens have donned their winter coats and look like fat fur balls, also with thick, dark, bushy tails. They are still feeding nightly at the Lodge and a trickle of guests still comes specifically to see them. We had a couple of otters also, although the last one was picked up by Angela and I and sadly not by the others in the party. They still seem to be difficult to spot at the present, and I wonder if this can be correlated to an increase in summer visitor numbers this year, not to mention increased kayak activity! We had a rare local visitor – a rabbit at Strone! – good news for any locally prowling wildcats. The last of the summer warmth also produced a late baby slow-worm, probably our last reptile of the year. For a memorable experience the day trip to Knoydart cannot be faulted, particularly if the sun shines as it did. We saw deer,seals, eagles, a peregrine, lots of small birds and stunning autumn foliage. On the way back two groups of porpoise were turning over in flat-calm waters. A fitting end to another good week.