Glenloy Wildlife news January 2009

Published: 30th January 2009

January dawned cold and icey in Lochaber. Overall the weather hasn't been too bad – i.e. it hasn't poured with rain every day. So we've been able to get out and about more than last year. Got off to a good start with a cople of interesting sightings.

After an absence of some months saw a brown hare near the power station at Mucomir  – at least it confirms they haven't all been shot out. There is quite a nice grassy corridor between the Caledonian Canal and the River Lochy that offers good feeding for hares, and a year ago they were seen regularly here. The pasture also makes a good foraging ground for flocks of winter thrushes. The redwings today appeared to be colouring up, but maybe this is just wistful thinking on my part. The kingfisher has also been active, showing that it too has survived the cold weather. Suspect there are two pairs at least along our stretch of the Great Glen. Also heard a dipper singing on the Lochy today; quite a flow of  consciousness, the babbling echoing the rush of the water – dippers start early, but again this is a sign that spring may not be that far off.

Early in the month was able to drive to the top of Loch Arkaig. Plenty of deer by the side of the road, mostly feeding in the long-abandoned pastures associated with former farm steadings – now consigned to holiday cottage status or worse. Just as the light was fading saw two black grouse flying unhurriedly, and surprisingly quietly, along the side of a hill. They dropped into cover and a few seconds later an eagle appeared over the ridge, quartering the ground where they had been. Worth the long trip up the glen. I was also able to tick a pair of whoopers off my new annual list.

A couple of days later also managed to find an eagle up our glen – quite a distance from the public road. It was hunting low over a hillside and afforded good views. Suspect our local eagles have been pushed further up the glen by human activity lower down, a heady combination of fencing, foorestry and fabrication.

The head of Loch Eil is always good for waders, but was surprised to see two purple sandpipers amongst a small flock of golden plover. These little birds were hard to pick out against the wrack- covered mud at the head of the salt flats.Heavy rain precluded much further watching there, but did spot a black throated diver further along the loch, along with the usual quota for dabchicks. Loch Eil seems to be a magnet for these little birds over the winter. They can prove quite entertaining when spotting for otters as often all that can be seen is a little blck blob that disappears, and only resurfaces sometime later. Have also already had both great northern and red throated divers this year at various locations along the coast – Cuil Bay is always pretty reliable, as are sheltered bays in the Sound of Arisaig.

Earlier in the week had quite a red letter day whilst giving the minibus an airing. Spotted an otter in Loch Linnhe just offshore still within Fort William from the relatively busy A82 (I wasn't driving, honest). We were able to park and then watch it fishing for some 20 minutes – seemed to be hard going but it did catch a couple of fish, one of which was large enough for it to drag onto a shoreline rock and munch on for a while. Angela got a good sequence of photos, but all a bit distant.We continued to drive along Glen Etive to the loch at the end . A merlin flew up from close by the side of the road over the hillside and gave a reasonable view. Loch Etive itself was glassy calm and refleted the snow-capped hills around it, including distant images of the Buchailles – very picturesque. A number of goldeneyes were floating off the jetty, but as is there wont, moved some distance away when we approached; they are amongst the most nervous of ducks. A subsequent traipse up the hill to the Robbers Waterfall was invigorating, but yielded very little life other than deer.

Out walking the dog yesterday, we saw a pair of bullfinch in the depths of a conifer plantation  far up the glen. Locally this is not uncommon, they seem to be quite at home amongst mixed forestry. Made a note to add these to Bird Atlas sightings, as they may not have been recorded in this particular 10km square before – not a natural haunt of many birdwatchers. Also added dunnock to the square total.
Finally caught up with wildlife records and now have them all entered on Recorder, and distributed to 3rd parties. Must make more of these this season and encourage guests to contribute. In the meantime please see the website www.glenloy-wildlife.org for an edited list of 2008 sightings.