Highlights w/c 5th September 2015

Published: 19th September 2015

Finally, we have seen the sun in Lochaber. Guests on the latest wildlife holiday week just didn’t know how lucky they were. Not only did it stay dry all week, but there were even butterflies and dragonflies out. What’s more, as everything is so late this week they even had the chance to see things that normally would not be around at this time of year. These were plenty of scotch argus butterflies flying, and even a couple of late dark-green fritillaries. Dragonflies included lots of late golden-ringed, along with plentiful common hawker, black darter, and the first of the (strangely scarcer) common darters. The knapweed was well in flower, the scabious at its best, and the hills still purple with heather. We even found odd bits of heath-spotted orchid and bog asphodel in bloom. Despite the change in temperature, however, the days are still getting shorter, and both soprano and common pipistrelle bats could be seen around Glenloy Lodge straight after dinner. On the up side, we did not have to rise too early in order to watch the black grouse lekking – in fact we actually beat them to it: it was rather a relief to watch five males fly onto the lek site and starting to strut their stuff, after getting folk out of bed!

Minke Whale taken by Barry Dyson

Minke Whale taken by Barry Dyson

Amongst many highlights of the week were two boat trips. Once again we have to thank the crew of the Sheerwater for a red letter day, out from Arisaig to Eigg and Muck. On the crossings to and from Eigg we had a couple of very good minke whales, one of which continued to surface by the side of the boat. We also picked up a pod of around 40 common dolphin, which rather delayed our return to port, not that anyone was complaining.  To this could be added lots of porpoise, loads of seals, huge rafts of manx shearwaters, good numbers of auks (particularly guillemots), feeding gannets and even a couple of great skuas. On our time ashore on Muck we had some more treats, chief of which was a couple of basking sharks cruising about the mouth of Gallanach Bay (and being unduly bothered by kayaks). We also found autumn gentians on the brink of flowering, and had an unexpected sighting of a feeding black-tailed godwit, still resplendent in its brick-red breeding plumage. A great trip.

A rather different boat trip on the Eagle Watch Cruise along Loch Shiel from Glenfinnan to Acharacle, also proved very successful. We saw several golden eagles, including a nice pair flying relatively low, as well as a juvenile sea eagle, the result of a good breeding season for the Loch Shiel pair. To this could be added buzzard, kestrel, raven, ducks, and several red deer, along with the stunning scenery along the loch. Thanks to Jim for a great trip. The fishing pools on the Shiel were scanned whilst having lunch and proved to be full of salmon, as well as grey wagtails, one of the birds of the week, as they were seen all over the place. The walk along the Shiel estuary to Castle Tioram was also stunning, if not terribly productive (if you don’t count dragonflies, rock pigeons and deer), but we had another great goldie on the way home.

Other wildlife also showed well, although we had to wait until the last day for another of our highlights – a pair of large otter cubs that spent ages fishing and rolling around together in the seaweed at the head of a sea loch. The close views were also enjoyed by the occupants of a passing car – it always pays to ask! We had another otter that day as well as a pair of Slavonian grebes, newly arrived back in Loch Linnhe, a peregrine and three more excellent views of golden eagles (we reckoned eleven different birds for the week in total, as well as three sea eagles!). Red squirrels were also feeding well at Inchree.  Although it is very difficult to count the number of individuals present with all the coming and goings at least 5 were gadding about at any one time. We also had a really nice view of some crossbill that day, and an unexpected wild goat on the scenic trip around Loch

Crossbill feeding in scots pine taken by Barry Dyson

Crossbill feeding in scots pine taken by Barry Dyson

Leven. Another wonderfully picturesque lunch stop produced dipper and wagtail in a small series of waterfalls along Glen Etive.  A rather unexpected find in the same location was a good-sized colony of whorled caraway, a rather delicate umbellifer. More golden eagles and deer were found in Glen Roy, as well as yet another bird of the week, the kestrel. Pine martens, of course, were a given for the week, and entertained guests every evening.

The real winner of the week was the stunning landscape of Lochaber, seen in glorious sunshine. Who needs whales and otters? … and did I mention the wildcat?