Squirrels don’t hibernate

Published: 1st March 2016

Back at Glenloy Lodge, convalescing after an unexpected week’s sojourn in the Raigmore Hospital, Inverness. Fortunately I had a bed next to a large panoramic window on the 4th floor. The weather was such that I enjoyed some spectacular dawns. Distant skeins of geese could be just about be made out travelling along the Moray Firth and into the countryside to forage. Closer to home, the main residents of the campus were gulls, corvids and pigeons, with odd flock of starlings for company. At night I could hear the piping of oystercatchers, possibly roosting on some of the mossy roofs, and once I imagined I heard a peregrine calling. I am sure that being able to keep in some sort of contact with nature helped me to make a speedy recovery – thanks to all of you who sent their good wishes.

The weather broke for the better on Monday and we have enjoyed a glorious week of frosty days and snow covered mountains. Consequently I have been able to get out and about, walking a little further each day. The birds in the garden have been ravenous, and have been stripping a large peanut feeder in a couple of days, along with the rest of their usual treats. When not hammering on trees the woodpeckers have been helping with this. The sparrowhawks are still in attendance. Although the pine martens were fed at some funny times in the last week they are still waiting every evening.  The resident female has been poking around the house and scratching around under the floorboards – a sure sign that she is looking for somewhere to den and produce her kits. So far we think we are still secure! Today Angela flushed a woodcock from the bottom of the drive, presumably where there is still a bit of unfrozen ground.

Had a good range of local wildlife; dipper on the Loy, presumably driven there by high water levels in the lochs and River Lochy, a kingfisher along the canal, oystercatcher in the fields below, several buzzards, plenty of deer on the mountains below the snow line. A trip to Inchree produced at least four red squirrels feeding, along with a nice goldcrest and an otter in Loch Linnhe on the way back. Today we had a walk along the Great Glen Way by the side of Loch Lochy. There were plenty of goldeneye at Bunarkaig, and a pair of goosander further along. Saw a handsome pair of bullfinch and were teased by a flock of long-tailed tit that never quite stayed still for long enough to obtain any decent photos. Also came across a large mound of squirrel-chewed cones, some of the very fresh, but did not see the perpetrator.

On a more worrying note, building work is taking place at the top end of Glen Loy, almost a mile from the end of the public road, presumably the foundations of a lambing shed to accompany the area of fenced in-bye land that was created last year. Sadly this is almost directly opposite one of our golden eagle eyries – no more than half a mile as the eagle flies.  This pair have had very little, if any breeding success in the last eight years, and this is not going to help them. Sadly there is also further potential for conflict, particularly if stillborn or sickly lambs are predated. An apparent cessation of the local fox hunt will not help matters in this remote location. Whilst farmers have every right to earn a living, this should not be at the expense of other users of the glen (particularly as hill farming is heavily subsidised by taxpayers, anyway). Golden eagles are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside (Scotland) Act, and I am sure this extends to disturbance.  It would be a huge loss if the eagles were finally driven out of this part of Glen Loy. Time to spread some feelers, and keep a watching eye on the situation. Fortunately, as we watched a digger at work a goldie hunted leisurely over the hillside above, so possibly all is not lost.