October Sunshine

Published: 9th October 2012

Enjoying beautiful weather here in Lochaber over the last weekend, and continuing today – somewhat making up for a soggy September. The autumn colours are spectacular, and getting better every day. The bracken is golden, cherries and acers are red, ash and the suddenly visiple aspens pale yellow, whilst oak, birch and rowan contribute a changing melee of greens, yellows, russets and bronzes. All this is augmented by a truly magnificent crop of rowan berries that the thrushes have not yet made many inroads into (leaving pine martens to distribute almost everywjere). It also promises to be a bumper year for holly berries. All this may augur badly for a cold, snowy winter, but for the moment we can continue to enjoy the spectacle. Skeins of geese are moving around and we have seen the first of the winter thrushes, but winter migration has still to begin in earnest to these parts. The last swallows were still flitting around Neptune’s Staircase last week, and we saw a lingering wheatear at tthe weekend, along with sizeable flocks of goldfinch and twite. We are also starting to see great northern divers off the coast again, and the pine martens are magnificently bushy, a sure sign that summer is over.

Along with the colder, settled weather, the air has cleared, providing fabulous views over the mountains and coast. The Ben stands out clear with a frosty top. We walked from Camus na Geall in Arnamurchan up Ben Hiant yesterday and were rewarded with panoramic views of the islands and lochs, all the way out to the Outer Hebrides and along to the Treshnish Islands. By the shoreline were a number of ant hills, unusual for these parts, with the odd black ant still foraging. The grasslands  were also pocked with the deliquescing remains of waxcaps, another sign of old, unimproved pasture. The area looks well worth a return to look for plants in the spring. Half way up the mountain we came upon a badger sett, as well as a latrine site, with droppings full of beetle elytra. The mountain-dwellling badgers of the west must be a hardy race. Our walk was accompanied by the roaring of stags, with several groups of hinds corralled by dominant males. Later in the day we watched a magnificant 14-point stag ‘managing’ his group of around 25 hinds, continually on the move, keeping them in order and ever watchful for rivals. A couple of lesser stags remained at a respectful distance, but the activities of the monarch were interesting enough – he even found time to mount a couple of hinds for his troubles! It must be an exhausting couple of weeks for the dominant stags, with no time to rest.

The previous day had produced equally stunning views on a trip to Plockton. A walk by the coast at Drumbuie was rewarded with a pair of otters, fishing in a choppy sea, and popping up like corks each time they caught something. Closer to home we saw a kingfisher along the Caledonian Canal at Gairlochy – our first sighting this year, and most welcome. There are said to be breeding slightly further north, so are still in the area, but we have not seen them recently along the River Lochy. There were also plenty of waxcaps on the canal banks, but these had also largely gone over.

The last guests that we took out for a couple of days were not quite so fortunate with the weather, but still enjoyed the magnificent local scenery, along with deer, seals, a variety of waterfowl and one of the Loch Arkaig sea eagles. Golden eagles have been unexpectedly somewhat scarce in the past few weeks, and we worry that persecution is driving down numbers, even in this, rather marginal, sporting area. We will maintain a watch as far as possible and hope that we are mistaken. In the meantime, visitors staying away from Glenloy really don’t know what they are missing.