First butterfly – and a bat

Published: 11th March 2009

March came in like the proverbial lion in Glen Loy, putting paid to thoughts of nascent spring. A mixture of rain sleet, hail, snow and gales have meant that wildlife has been tucking itself away of late. In the first weekend of the month I ventured down to the foreshore at Caol, but didn't last long in the biting wind. The beach at Caol appears an unlikely wildlife destination at first glance, as it must be one of the filthiest places on Loch Linnhe, with a network of mud, sewage outflow pipes, rotting seaweed and a huge quantity of rubbish – an ideal site for a community clean-up if ever there was one. However, garbage aside, the conditions are ideal for waders, ducks and even passerines prepared to hunt along the strandline; and so it proved that day. There were large numbers of foraging oystercatchers and curlews, and ducks on the sea. Rooting amongst the debris was a flock of twite, fluffed up against the cold and busily scuttling about without wanting to take wing.These were joined by a lone wagtail,  but I really didn't want to look longer, the twite were a welcome bonus on a miserable day.

Yesterday (March 10th) was a fantastic warm spring day ( in between early and late showers – it is Lochaber after all), and we celebrated by heading out towards Moidart. Sea conditions were good for scanning along one of our favourite stretches of coast between Lochailort and Glenuig. The mergansers were getting frisky, with the handsome drakes flicking up their crests, putting their heads back and calling. All three species of divers were about in numbers, including a red throat that was pretty much back in breeding plumage. A seal swam purposefully by, and we had a tantalising glimpse of what might well have been a distant otter. By the side of  the road above Loch Moidart a trio of white goats were busy mucnching at the verge. These animals are often to be seen in this area, and I have always assumed them to be feral, although the coat colour is quite different from that of other 'wild' goats around the coast of Loch Linnhe, for example. If anyone knows anything about these goats, I would be interested to learn more.

We parked to do the Princes Walk at Kinlochmoidart, setting off through a massive avenue of cypresses to the little church of St Finans. We were surprised to see a bat flying around in the middle of the day, appropriately enough around the bell tower. Although we didn't get great views it was probably a pipistrelle, although what had disturbed it who knows? Continuing around the rather eccentric paths that skirt the grounds of Kinlochmoidart House we headed out on the path up to Loch nam Paitean. The stalkers' track passes steeply though a nice birchwood, zig-zagging up onto the open hillside. At just about the point where we were starting to come across the odd snow patch, at around 320m, we were again surprised to see our first butterfly of the year, a peacock. Again, what it was doing so high and where it had come from are anyone's guess. Groups of red hinds fled on our approach, although there seems to be quite a few about – could it be that they know the stalking season is over? The loch itself is well worth the sweat. It has a complex shape, surrounded by low peaks and containing wooded islands of stunted birch (free from the predation of sheep or deer). It was a lovely peaceful spot, and would probably be a great place to see red-throated divers sometime soon. We had lunch by the boathouse and watched a distant goat come and look at us, whilst a buzzard floated across and back again. Close to where we sat were both otter and pine marten scats. The return route was easier on the lungs, but no less wet. Much as I would love to show guests this spot, they would have to be a reasonably fit bunch!

Back to cloud and drizzle today. Dippers appear to be active on the River Loy, buzzing up and down the river, hugging the water and chittering away. Although the Loy appears to be ideal for dippers we have very few lingering in the lower reaches. This must be because water levels are prone to rise several metres after overnight rain, all of which is funnelled off the mountins into the glen and out towards the Lochy. Meltwater from snow adds to the rapid fluctuations in levels. Whereas this is much appreciated by mad kayakkers, all bar the highest nests are likely to be flooded out, which makes breeding on this stretch a very risky busines. There are plenty of dippers about, but we have to move a little further from our doorstep to be confident of seeing them.