Highlights w/c 11th October 2014

Published: 22nd October 2014

Another week with Glenloy Wildlife guests gone, and the season has simply flown away. Remarkably the weather in Lochaber stayed more or less fine all week, and we hardly had any rain whilst we were out. This meant that we could enjoy the autumn colours in full

Stunning view from Garb Eilan hide with glorious autumn colours

Stunning view from Garb Eilan hide with glorious autumn colours

sunshine, with most of the trees still having retained their leaves. There was a real feast of different shades of oranges, yellows, russets and browns, with the odd splash of red from geans thrown in for good measure. The bracken has not yet turned to dull brown and the upland grasses are all glowing in a last hurrah before the winter. Even the odd flower still graces the scene with sea mayweed by the coast and devil’s-bit scabious everywhere. The only butterflies we saw were red admirals this week, but there were still a few larger dragonflies enjoying the sunlight including a rather late golden-ringed at Port Appin.

The first migrant thrushes were heard, then seen. Flocks of redwings were piling across Cairngorm mountain, and later that day we also heard the chortle of fieldfare. A small group of whooper swans flew high above us as we crossed Loch Nevis to Knoydart, and two came to land inCuilBayas they took shelter from some blustery conditions later in the week. These were joined by a great northern diver, still in breeding plumage. All three birds were momentarily visible in a single scope view, much to the delight of a lucky guest. There are still two snow-geese showing amongst theCanadasin the fields behind the bay.  Round the first headland we inadvertently flushed a decent flock of golden plover, with some grey plover, a rare bird in these parts, hiding amongst them. Out onLoch Linnhewe had a good look at a pair of wintering Slavonian grebes, wearing their flat, black winter caps.

Red deerwere everywhere, still roaring their challenges all around us in the glens. The rut was particularly noticeable in Glen Loy, where we actually saw a stag serving one of the hinds. Deer were also prevalent, but much closer to the road when we ventured up Glen Garry. This early morning trip was even more memorable for the atmospheric misty conditions, which transformed the lower slopes and the river valleys, and from which deer emerged and disappeared at will. As it lifted and the sun broke through we saw more and more deer. During the week we also saw a sika stag with a couple of hinds, and several roe deer.

Raptors were also much in evidence during the week, although the eagles were a little shier than of late. Our best view of a golden eagle came on Knoydart, as an adult rapidly passed across several miles of hillside above Inverie village, having first circled over the tops at a distance. A nice pair of adult sea eagles circled above the minibus at in Ardgour before heading out over the loch. Perhaps our best raptor views were of hen harriers this week, however. We were watching the blackcock aboveFortWilliamand had more or less decided that they really were not that interested in lekking, when a ring-tail harrier appeared over the brow of the hill behind. We moved off as it disappeared only to find it again near the viewpoint, where it circled and quartered for a couple of minutes. An even better display was seen at Insh marshes. Another ring-tail appeared to attack a carrion crow on a fence and then pursued it for some distance as it twisted and turned away. Having escaped, the crow then appeared to mob the harrier, and this went on for some while, it being uncertain which bird was the aggressor, and which the persecuted. Other birds of prey included a single peregrine, a couple of kestrels (more!), a sparrowhawk and the inevitable buzzards.

Up to three pine martens arrived to feed in front of Glenloy Lodge at any one time. One of our guests must have offended them as a miscreant left its calling card on his car. Otters also appeared in threes, with a mother and two quite small cubs seen fishing and running about on the heronry island at Garbh Eilean. We also saw both brown hare and mountain hare. The latter have not yet changed to their winter coats on Cairngorm, and were

Some of the many ptarmigans on Cairngorm summit.

Some of the many ptarmigans on Cairngorm summit.

consequently extremely well camouflaged against the rocks and brown vegetation. Conversely the ptarmigan were becoming quite white, although are still in the process of change. Remarkably there were around sixty huddling against the side of the hill, spread across a few different groups. They must have bred well this year. Coming off the mountain we saw some splendid red grouse cocks, prominent above the heather. We also looked long and hard at a ‘was or wasn’t’ it capercaillie, possibly perched up a distant pine. We might or might not have completed our set of grouse for the week, but autumn wildlife watching certainly reaped its dividends once more.