From the mountain tops to the sea.

Published: 26th April 2009

Had two very contrasting days out here in Lochaber in the last couple of days. On Thursday we walked up Druim Fada on the south flanks of Glen Loy, looking for early alpines. We were delighted to see some vivid patches of purple saxifrage on the corrie face – and pretty inaccessible to both sheep and deer. Some of the crags were quite verdant, and it will be interesting to see what comes up later in the year. We also spotted a tenacious juniper bush clinging on to an almost vertical slope – juniper is relatively uncommon in this area, and a good spot. Not much vegetation on the tops themselves other than abundant bearberry, alpine lady's-mantle and clubmosses (fir and alpine). An unexpected bonus was a pair of ptarmigan – both now in sombre summer plumage, and the cock only given away by its bright red eye wattle. When the birds hunkered down they were very difficult to spot amongst the bare rocks, but we were pleased to get a couple of  decent photos. A golden plover also put its head above the parapet, and a pair of ravens were obviously using the summit cairn as a perching post. Only a very distant view of an eagle today.

Yesterday we had a circular walk around the headland at Cuil Bay – one of our favourite spots. The intention was to see the early summer flowers in the dense hazel woods behind Cuil – as well as scan the sea for anything of interest. The latter took rather longer than bargained for as two great notrthern divers in full summer plumage were presenting excellent views close in to shore – as well as mergansers,  eiders, dunllin, oystercatcher, ringed-plover, a heron …… Finally departing we both heard and saw our first cuckoo of the year. Swallows perched on the telegraph wires and wheatears were everywhere, along with the ubiquitous willow warblers. Also heard two grasshopper warblers reeling – not quite the first of the season as I had already heard one at Glen Loy earlier in the morning, but exciting, nevertheless. Even fancied that I caught a glimpse of one, but given the number of pipits around I couldn't be sure as I only gort a fleeting glimpse. The woods were as spectacular as hoped, with carpets of primrose interspersed with white splashes of wood anemones and wood sorrel and yellow celandine still in flower. Bluebells are just starting to show. The mayflower are in full bloom and on one we also saw our first orange-tips of the year, a pair rather shamelessly caught in flagrante, and being bothered by another male. Stopped to have a look at the old boathouse by the small freshwater lochan – the roof is covered with mosses and sedum, along with a good specimen of rusty-back fern, a species that I imagine is quite uncommon in these parts. The light was shining on the sea and the unexpected sunshine led us to seek an outdoor refuge at the Pierhouse Hotel nearby – a fitting end to a great day.