Happy New Year for 2018!

Published: 3rd January 2018

Happy New Year for 2018!

We have experienced some real winter weather here in Lochaber, and as I write the mountains are still coated with snow. Although wildlife watching activities have taken something of a back seat in the Festive period, there has been plenty about, and a few highlights are presented here.

One of our best sightings was from the promenade at Fort William, just as we were setting off to have our ‘works’ Christmas lunch. A large dog otter had just come ashore onto the snowy rocks with a skate and was in no hurry to move with its dinner, despite a gathering audience just above it. It proceeded to munch its way right through the fish in the next 20 minutes or so, leaving just a few scraps and the cartilaginous tail. It then swam back into Loch Linnhe, eagerly watched by a herring gull, that swooped down soon afterwards. We were late for lunch, but Angela did manage to get a nice video of the encounter.

The snow lingered for quite some time around Glenloy Lodge, and the local wildlife responded accordingly. All the berries from the holly earmarked for Christmas were stripped in the first late-November snows. A mistle thrush had been defending the big bush next to the house, but we suspect he might have had some competition. The bird feeders have been very popular, and our regulars have been joined by flocks of wintering blackbirds and a visiting cock pheasant. The coal tits do not wait for the feeders even to be hung up! Even the squirrel feeder has been in use again, with a top-up of hazelnuts vanishing overnight. Tawny owls have been active in the trees around the garden and can be quite spooky on a still night when the snow glows in the moonlight. On a less seasonal note cock crossbills have been singing from the tops of the conifers around us, advertising their wares, whilst small flocks flit over the Lodge.

On Christmas morning Angela pulled back the bedroom curtains to see a roe deer passing the window. This is a first for us as we have a long drive with nothing to attract deer, and the rest of the garden is protected by a high deer fence. I was able to track the slots in the snow, and it seems that the deer must have jumped across the wooden fence from next door’s garden. Slightly further afield we saw a group of sika deer feeding in a woodland clearing by the Commando Memorial, no doubt driven closer to the road by the snow. In Glencoe the stags have gathered once more by the Kingshouse Hotel, and were seen approaching tourists for titbits by the side of the road. On Hogmanay morning the bedroom curtains revealed a red squirrel scampering along the ground. The pine martens continue to visit each evening, with up to three often waiting to be fed by 5pm. I have had to balance bits of bread and peanut butter on several inches of snow topping the pillars at the top of the front steps. They made short work of the turkey carcass.

New Year saw us with friends down in the Borders. The first bird of the year was a tree sparrow – with a flock of around 20 busily using the feeders. This was soon followed by another rare treat of a nuthatch sighting – another bird we do not see up here (although there have been a few reports). Back at home it was reassuring to see goldeneye and merganser on Loch Lochy, pied and grey wagtail by the shore and a lovely flock of long-tailed tits flitting amongst the bracken. An American wigeon has been reported from Loch Linnhe at Caol, so we never know what 2018 will bring. We hope you all your wildlife wishes come true this year.