November update

Published: 16th November 2009

Here in Lochaber we had a couple of outings in more-or-less fair weather last week. The first was to Glen Garry to see if we could re-find the Crested Tits we had seen there previously, on a morning of rare frost. This helped firm the ground immensely – just as well as the going was quite boggy in places. We walked to the Caledonian Pine reserve and essentially did the Laddie Burn route – always a pleasure, as apart from some magnificent old pines, the burn is particularly pleasing with a long sequence of falls and rills. The first thing of note was that the Wood Ants appear to have moved – two very large old mounds appeared deserted, but a new one, closer to the burn, was a seething mass of activity. Good to see – in these parts wood ant nests do not appear to be particularly common. As is often the case with winter walks birds came in clumps. The return leg was particularly rewarding. We had some great views of a mixed sex party of Crossbills feeding in larch, whilst a large mixed tit and finch flock moved around the general area. These included a large family of Long-tailed Tit, definitely one of our favourite birds, and yes, a pair of Crested Tits. These are at the western edge of their distribution in Glen Garry, although they do occasionally come a little closer. Dave Whitaker tells me that he had a pair nest in his garden near Loch Arkaig for several years. The call, which I'm not going to try and encapsulate in writing, is distinct from that of other tits, and being different is useful in alerting you to their prescence. The tits themselves are qu9ite large and not particularly remarkable uintil a view of the crest is presented – definitely worth a trip out for. We also picked up Great-spotted Woodpecker and Woodcock on the way back to the car. There has been a recent fall of woodcock, and we are starting to find them on most country walks.

Took the opportunity to scan Loch Garry for ducks. There was relatively little about, but a scattering of Goldeneye, dotted evenly over a large expanse of water, together with a beautifully plumaged drake Merganser, enlivened the scene.

Our second trip of the week was down into deepest Morvern, where we took the Rahoy road past Loch Arienas – beautifully still and clear, with wonderful reflections. We investigated Inniemore township – site of a cleared settlement, now made accessible by the Forestry Commision. The walk up to the ruins takes in some lovely patches of oak woodland. In parts the view is down into the canopy, so this is perhaps an area to investigate in the summer for possible Purple Hairstreak (found elsewhere in this area in the not too distant past).  The setting of Innimore is dramatic with an unusual ridge of cliffs behind and views down to two lochs. Even when the Highlands were well populated this would have been a remote community, and it is difficult to imagine folk living there now. We were hoping for eagles, but scanning of the tops only produced a pair of Ravens and a single stag – albeit a handsome one. The short walk produced a good list of about 20 bird species, not bad for this time of year, including yet another Woodcock and Bullfinch, another bird that seems to be ubiquitous at the moment. Probably  it is easier to spot foraging family groups of Bullfinch now that the leaves have largely gone. We continued down the road to the end of Loch Teucais, where the birdlife was somewhat disturbed by a group of noisy, but cheerful builders, who were busy dismantling a roof. Despite this there was quite a large group of waders at the far end of the saltmarsh (Oystercatchers, Curlews and Redshank), together with good numbers of teal. A large flock of Goldfinch feeding on the strand line provided a nearer splash of colour.

On the way home we searched for Wild Goats by the shore of Loch Linnhe, which were conspicuous by their absence in the height of the summer. A single large billy was found, and further on, a reasonable-sized motley herd was spotted above the road, with individuals of all sizes, shapes and colours. Sadly the fading light defeated us shortly afterwards, reminding us that this is probably the last chance we will get to venture this far afield before spring.

The week previously I treated myself to a short stop off at Leighton Moss on the way down south, taking advantage of a lull in the almost continuous rain. I headed straight for one of the coastal hides overlooking Jenny Brown's point in the late afternoon. The number and variety of ducks, geese, swans and waders was very impressive, as these included a number of species that we rarely, if ever, see in the West Highlands. Highlights included a pair of Bewick swans, tucked in amongst distant Pinkfoot Geese, Pintail, Shoveller and Gadwall on the pools in fromnt of the hide, and sizeable flocks of both Lapwing and Black-tailed Godwit. The undoubted treat, all the more so because I had not expected to see it, was the sight of thousands of Starlings coming into roost in the reedbeds (accompanied by an obligatory Peregrine).Although this phenomenon is in danger of being done to death on TV, the sight of swirling, shape-shifting clouds of birds rising and falling in a rhythmic dance is one that every naturalist should embrace. Back at home on the same day Angela was also being treated to the sight of a young Sea Eagle, circling over the hill above Erracht on the opposite side of Glen Loy from the Lodge. This individual was still lingering about the next week, and we will hopefully be able to get some decent pictures before the winter is out.