Early Summer Scorcher

Published: 10th July 2018

Along with the rest of the West Highlands, Glen Loy has been enjoying some brilliant weather so far this year. What a pleasant change that makes from the cool damp summer of last year. A lack of rain has led to a poor crop of grass, and many wildflower meadows have been allowed to flourish whilst a silage cut has been delayed. Although slow to start, this has been a great year for orchids. Hundreds, if not thousands, of greater butterfly orchids have been flowering in the meadows along lower Glen Roy, in conjunction with northern marsh orchids, heath spotted orchids and some spectacularly large hybrids. Other rarer species have included lesser butterfly orchid and heath fragrant orchid. These fields have been ablaze with colour and have included varying amounts of red clover, eyebrights, vetches, yellow rattle, ox-eye daisy and cat’s ear, with the odd patch of wood cranesbill and marsh hawksbeard in the damper areas. These fields are a joy to behold, and truly one of our few remaining wildflower spectacles. They are not alone, thankfully, as we are seeing many colourful road verges at the moment, as well as a few other bright meadows elsewhere. Foxgloves and harebells are adding to the spectacle. A particularly rich selection of wild flowers can be found along the banks of the Caledonian Canal. The knapweed is just starting to bloom, adding more colour to the otherwise rather bleached landscape. On wetter ground pink and red heathers vie with yellow asphodel, showy orchids and purple lousewort to make little of the drying bogs.

We have just completed our ‘puffins and pups’ holiday. The highlight of the trip was the puffin colonies on Lunga, as usual. Sand eels seem to be in plentiful supply and puffins were arriving under our noses beaks stuffed with these unfortunate fish. The puffins were very quick to disappear straight down their burrows, making photography a challenge. Although we could only guess at the breeding success of the puffins from the number of food visits to the burrows, good numbers of both common guillemot and kittiwake chicks could be seen on the cliffs at Harp Rock. Well grown shag chicks eyed us warily from rock crevices by the path. Amongst the seabirds and scorched vegetation a number of butterflies were flitting. There were good numbers of common blue on Lunga and Staffa as well as dark green fritillaries, plus the odd painted lady on both islands. The trip across produced a pod of around twelve bottlenose dolphins, which rode our bow waves for 15 minutes before tiring of their sport. While we were enjoying dolphins, Angela was watching an otter fishing just off the pier at Kilchoan, before venturing off to successfully find one of our rarest moths, the New Forest Burnet.

We had a couple of other good otter sightings this week. The first was seen on an early morning trip to Fort William. A large dog otter swam leisurely towards us, wandered over the rocks and then fished off the next set of rocks, coming ashore to eat larger prey. On the last day of the holiday we picked up an otter foraging along the shoreline in a surprisingly high tide. This old, scarred, lean-looking dog otter snuffled its way through the weed and rooted around the rocks at the edge of the sea, picking up the odd butterfish and scorpionfish. We followed it for some distance, amazed at how quickly it was moving despite searching at the same time. Although he must have been aware of us at such close range, he chose to ignore our presence completely. Angela has posted a nice video of him hunting on our Facebook page. Later that day we were also treated to a golden eagle soaring close to one of its eyries, and three white-tailed eagles hunting over the hills above Lochaline. One of the latter, an immature bird, was constantly harassed by buzzards, and not allowed to settle. An adult pair were much less troubled by pests.

Whilst the weather has been good we have taken the opportunity to look for insects, dragonflies and butterflies, in particular. The former are discussed in a separate blog. We walked along the path at Creag Meagidh on a very hot day and were rewarded with the sight of around eight mountain ringlets, hunting for females and not pausing in their search. These were bright red, fresh individuals.  Mountain ringlets are fickle as to when they emerge and under what conditions they will fly, but we hope some will still be flying next week when we shall be specifically looking for them. Their common cousins, the ringlet, were much more numerous further down the hill. Rather worryingly, we saw few northern brown argus about two weeks ago and none on our favourite site last week, although the sun had vanished by the time we got there. It is very early in the season for them to have finished, so hope this was just a blip. Dark green fritillaries have been notable, with a dozen seen at Allt Mhuic. There have been very few small pearl-bordered fritillaries about, however, and those we have seen have looked vey faded, suggesting that their flight season is about over. Small heath and common blue have been to the fore in the last week, but large heath started emerging at the beginning of June and may now be scarce. A hatch of speckled wood has meant that woodland walks are seldom unaccompanied.

At home guests have been enjoying the local wildlife. The red squirrels are putting a display on every day, with up to six on the feeders or ground at once.  We are amazed that the pine martens do not seem to take more youngsters, but perhaps they do, and we are not aware of this. Sadly, we are down to a single pine marten kit. We have lots of camera trap images of at least two different foxes around the garden, including one sniffing around a pine marten box. Indeed, one has taken to strolling casually past the front door. We fear that one of the marten kits has gone to feed the fox cubs. The other kit is growing rapidly and becoming more independent. Already his mother appears reluctant to feed him. He is sometimes accompanied by one of the older male martens, with little apparent rancour, so perhaps he is recognised as at least a half-sibling. The young martens are always entertaining, and vocal, so hopefully this year’s kit will survive to add to the extended family.