First swallow of spring

Published: 11th April 2015

It’s official! – I saw the first swallow of the year, just up the road from Glenloy on Friday (10th April), so spring must be here. Strangely, there has also been an early swallow in the last couple of years – the bulk of our swallows do not arrive until the last week of April, so this early bird is probably on its way further north. Conversely, the sand martins have been very late this year, and only made their appearance on Thursday (9th), down by the River Lochy, where they have huge colonies. Unusually, we saw the first local osprey of the season along Loch Arkaig on Wednesday, before the martins arrived. This was a male, patrolling the area around a known nest site, and it should not be long before he is joined by a female. Close to where he was flying a pair of golden eagles drifted across the loch not far above our heads.  By now they should be getting down to breeding, so we hope that the cold weather has delayed things slightly.

Our first butterflies, peacock and small tortoiseshell, have also emerged from hibernation this week, and have been scouting around for any flowers with nectar, settling for some rather battered –looking primulas and lungwort. The daffodils are at their best now, but offer little to butterflies. The sun brought out a number of white-tailed bumblebees, and also honey bees plus a number of solitary bees, but other species of bumblebee are yet to emerge. Celandines are also at their peak, large numbers of coltsfoot have appeared along roadside verges, and it will surely not be long before the wood anemones appear. We have also had a couple of bumper hauls of spring moths. These included mainly commoner species, but it is always nice to see some of the beauties – oak beauty and brindled beauty, along with yellow-horned. A more unusual visitor to light was a pine beauty,however, which although common is not often seen in the trap. Clouded drab made up about a quarter of all moths caught, with Hebrew character a close second. The sunny Easter week has probably lulled us into a false sense of summer, as there has still been overnight frosts and even a good sprinkling of snow on the mountains last night.

At last, the black-throated divers have coloured-up and have appeared on at least one of their local breeding lochs. These handsome birds seem to be threatened by a number of ills locally, including mink, otters, human disturbance, rapidly-changing water levels and the severe winds indicative of climate change. If you are lucky to come across a pair in the Highlands, please leave them at a respectful distance as they have enough to cope with. Good numbers of great northern divers are gathering off the coast, particularly between Arisaig and Mallaig, but have not yet developed their breeding plumage. We saw at least a dozen together off the rocks at Camusdarrach on a rock-pooling expedition. This was timed to coincide with particularly low tides, and sure enough we found rather more than we had a couple of weeks ago. Highlights included a rather smart little nudibranch with a bluish-white body and yellow spots, several hairy spider crabs, and some deeper water anemones. Angela also found a live northern cowrie.

Back at Glenloy Lodge the female pine marten has had her kits and has secreted them somewhere safe and out of reach – sadly not one of the purpose-built boxes. We think she is now less tolerant of intruders and the feeding patterns of her older family members has been disrupted, although martens are still coming to be fed at some point during the evening. Quite often she can be seen on the bird table at the back of the house. Strangely, she and the local blackbirds are ignoring the porridge leftovers that we put out. This was a staple food of young blackbirds last year, and I am surprised that at least one of the youngsters is not still around to take over breeding duties this year. The bird feeding station has at last attracted good numbers of siskins, though these are more likely to visit when it is wet. Other welcome visitors include the great spotted woodpeckers (busy courting in the trees around the Lodge) and a pair of yellowhammers, which are attracted to spilt seeds. I am off now to hunt some rare wildlife – the elusive haggis, which has been rumoured to have been seen in the vicinity of Spean Bridge, attracted, no doubt, to the first ever Highland Haggis Festival taking place there today, Saturday 11th.