HIghlights wc 18-6-11

Published: 26th June 2011

At last! – the sun shone in Lochaber for almost a whole wildlife week. Both our guests and I were able to enjoy thew week without having to worry too much about the weather. We even managed to see some butterflies and dragonflies. Here are the week's highlights.
Wild flowers, everywhere. The flag was in full bloom, the dog rose wass blooming, whilst even a ew late bluebnells remained. The stars of the show were definitely the orchids, however, with swathes of Heath-Spotted Orchids forming patches on the hillsides. The Northern marsh orchids still stood in seried purple ranks along the roadside verges on the way into Fort William. We also found the delicate Lesser Butterfly Orchid in Glen Loy and an early specimen of its more robust cousin, the Greater Butterfly out by the coast. After much searching for Small White Orchid, in places where it was clearly visible the week before (highly selective sheep?), we found several spikes up Loch Arkaig a couple of days later. Early Marsh was a late added bonus. The verges of the new cycle path between Oban and Ballachulish are a riot of colour, and amongst the Campions, Hawkeeds, Vetches and Trefoil, a few Common Spotted Orchids could be seen.
The walk to Rhu Point producesd a pair of late cuckoos, affording great views and posing for photos. The male even sang a few times. The resulting late lunch was enlivened by a pair of young Otters, fishing and frolicing in the retreating tide.
Sharp eyes picked up a Spotted Flycatcher nest low down on an upturned root plate. Both parents were busy coming and going with food for at least a couple of yellow gaping beaks. Hopefully the youngsters fledge before predators find the rather exposed nest. Other small birds were enjoyed, with great views of both Linnet and redpoll. Whitethroat were to the fore, and we had nice sightings of Reed Bunting, Sedge warbler, Twite, and the ubiquitous Willow Warblers. Tree Pipits and Wood Warblers have more-or-less stopped singing during the day, but the Chiffchaff goes forever on.
Red Squirrels were showing well at the feeding station at Inchree now, and seem to be coming less shy. Their blonde tails and extended ear tufts were quite noticable in the morning sun. Sunflower seeds appear to have been substituted for cob nuts, with no apparant detrimental effects.
A hunt for the elusive Marsh Fritillary produced only a single female but this obligingly posed on a yellow compositae for photographs – very pretty. Small Heath have emerged in numbers, and Small Pearl -bordered Fritillary are now common. We also picked up a couple of Common Blues, a Small Copper, the first of the year's Dark-green Fritillary and one of the last of the Chequered Skippers (in Glen Loy).
We found a heavily pregnant Common Lizard, bathing in a bog pool. This could not have been far away from producing its live young. I wonder to what extent this is common behaviour?
The undoubted single highlight of the week , however, was our trip to Eigg and Muck on the Sheerwater. Under blue skies, and almost flat-calm seas below the cliffs of Eigg we hurtled off in search of a distant pod of some 30-40 Common Dolphins. Soon these were leaping out of the water all around the boat, with some joining us to bow-wave. On the next leg to Muck we were watching a pair of Harbour Porpoise rolling in the water, when a Minke Whale surfaced behind them. Again we were treated to great views of it cruising around the boat. For the birding fraternity this was joined by a Great Skua, which landed in the sea alongside us. The Dolphins were still there on the return leg, enlivened by many rafts of Shearwaters. With the sun shining, the islands glowing and the dolphins playing, there can be few finer places on earth than the Small Isles on a day like this.