March Highlights 2018

Published: 1st April 2018

Here at Glenloy Wildlife the new season is finally upon us. The weather, however, thinks differently and there is fresh snow on the hills in time for Easter. The snow buntings are still around the car park on Cairngorm! While everyone else has being having dollops of the white stuff throughout the month we have had prolonged cold dry periods here, and indeed water levels are low. Remarkably there has been a spate of hill fires, mostly as a consequence of muirburn getting out of control. At least some areas will have the chance to recover before the summer. We have been running some trips and pine marten breaks as well as visiting old haunts to see what there is about. Despite the inclement weather, life moves on as usual and we have seen the appropriate comings and goings over the past couple of weeks.

After a very late start because of cold and ice the frogs have finally got going and there has been an outpouring of spawn in ponds and ditches. At this time of year frogs make easy pickings for predators, and we have come across various scenes of carnage – notably near Ardgour where every pool in a rutted track seemed to be full of headless victims. Toads are also becoming active and are appearing on the road casualty list. Please watch out for toads crossing, particularly at night. We have also noticed a couple of dead hedgehogs, no doubt newly emerged from hibernation. Hedgehogs are in scarce supply hereabouts – it is several years since we have seen one in the garden, so each loss is doubly felt.

Some family groups of whoopers are moving about, and several have been seen in various of the shallower lochs throughout the area. Goldeneye are still busy displaying on most of the larger lochs and estuaries. The ring-necked duck is still keeping the tufties company on Loch Shiel. A walk through boggy woodland is still likely to flush a woodcock. On the sea lochs Slavonian grebes have started to group (we saw a flock of eight on Loch Linnhe last week), and many are now in breeding plumage. Hundreds of great northern divers have gathered around the coast, and some are starting to colour up a little. The first black-throated divers are appearing, also in breeding plumage, on freshwater lochs. Black guillemots are back on their nest boxes at Ardgour. Flocks of passerines are beginning to gather around the coast, including several groups of skylarks, one of which also contained reed buntings. Thrushes have been particularly notable, especially song and mistle thrushes, which have moved inland to their breeding grounds. The black grouse are lekking in all their finery, although numbers on our usual lek have been disappointing to date, possibly as a consequence of the cold winter. Although I have yet to see any sand martins, our first true migrants are back. I saw an osprey on a nest platform on Loch Lochy today, and another has been seen on the Woodland Trust nest at Loch Arkaig – hopefully it will not be long before these are joined by their mates.

Red deer numbers are high in places, with several hundred stags up Loch Arkaig. These are yet to shed their antlers. Unless the weather warms deer may well start to struggle for food. Elsewhere, the wild goats have produced their kids and are visible along the coast. As the year progresses these tend to move up into the hills, but at present they are particularly photogenic.

Eagles have been showing reasonably well, with several pairs of golden eagles spotted over the last two weeks. In two of these cases the cock was displaying, with dramatic plunge dives. The sea eagles have also been evident, particularly at Garbh Eilean, where both the nearby adult pair and a youngster have been landing on the islands to terrorise the gulls and herons. The whereabouts of this year’s nests is something of a mystery. It looks like the Arkaig pair have moved from their nest of the past couple of years, while the Loch Shiel pair lost theirs to winter storms.

At home the siskins have moved onto the bird feeders, along with migratory chaffinches, so that the stations are now extremely busy throughout the day. Red squirrels compete on one of the bird feeders and are now regularly visiting the squirrel feeder for peanuts, mostly in the morning. Our female marten has produced her litter of kits. We do not know how many but can hear multiple squealings. It will the end of April before these open their eyes, and probably June before they are out and about. We look forward to meeting them properly in the summer. In the meantime, last year’s male is still waiting around expectantly for food.