Otters and Eagles 2018
Published: 8th May 2018
After a number of false starts, spring is finally on its way in Lochaber. We actually saw our first butterfly of the year (a peacock in the garden) on Wednesday, and the temperature rose to a heady 16oC. Today we heard the first willow warbler of the spring, and the sand martins were flying above their nest holes in the sandy cliffs of the River Lochy. Lesser celandines and wood anemones were flowering along the banks, along with early opposite-leaved golden saxifrage. We photographed purple saxifrage in gaudy flower up the glen last week, but it is still under snow on the tops.
Spring brings with it Glenloy Wildlife’s annual ‘Otters and Eagles’ break. We had a good crowd of spotters to look for things, even if the actual otters and eagles proved the more elusive of the creatures we encountered over three days of pretty good weather. Our patience was rewarded with a great display from a mother otter with a large cub, which lasted a good 45 minutes. These were first picked up at some distance in rough water, but then they swam towards us, emerging onto strips of reef and rocky islets to spraint and roll along the way. They then did a swim past, fishing as they went, before disappearing, possibly into a holt. Less than five minutes later they mysteriously reappeared on the opposite side of the channel, running along the bank and then moving slowly upstream, once more leisurely fishing. Coming on the back of displaying blackcock this was a very satisfactory trip. Some good pictures were obtained along the way.
Later that day we managed to find a distant golden eagle in Glen Roy and were able to get the scope on it to demonstrate its ‘fingers’ and effortless flight. This surpassed a ‘was it or wasn’t it’ bird perched on top of a mountain the previous day (probably was). In turn the Glen Roy bird was bettered by a large hen eagle flying over the lower slopes of Beinn Bhan in Glen Loy, which was hunting over the ridge. Ravens mobbed this bird as it flew, but it ignored these to continue its search along the hillside, giving good views to all. The next day we picked up a perching sea eagle on a distant tree close to a known nest site. This soon took off to wheel around the top of the island, where it was joined briefly by its mate. The white tails of the adults were clearly visible. We went to look for the Loch Shiel birds and could clearly hear one calling but were unable to locate it. As we did not wish to get too close in case this was on a nest site, we left it alone. The day finished on a literal high, with another distant goldie soaring over the tops of Glen Moidart. On a subsequent trip, I took a couple up Loch Arkaig and was delighted to spot another sea eagle on the nest. This pair had seemingly moved as they had not been seen around the existing site, but this bird was clearly sitting, only its head visible above the deep nest.
Guests have also been treated to a number of osprey sightings. A pair has now returned to the regular site on Loch Lochy. These have sensibly shunned their own rather decrepit and perilous nest, for a spanking new des-res platform constructed close-by. Hopefully they will be just as successful on the new nest. The famous pair on the Woodland Trust site on Loch Arkaig, Louis and Aila, have also returned and are once more starring on the live nest camera. Further down the loch the other known osprey site is also occupied. While looking hard for eagles last weekend we were fortunate enough to spot two hen harriers, albeit briefly. One was a superb cock bird that flew across Loch Aline before quartering the hill on the far side. Buzzards and sparrowhawks made up our complement of raptors for the weekend.
Other wildlife showed well, particularly ‘ducky-things’. I worked hard to raise some interest in a breeding plumage black-throated diver accompanied by a red-throat and a razorbill on Loch Aline, but folk were more distracted by fossils. Great northern divers were present right around the coast in numbers. Almost all the Slavonian grebes we saw (with eight in one dispersed flock) were now in breeding plumage with golden horns. Goldeneye continued to display, as did merganser and we also saw paired goosander and eider. A flock of 23 whooper swans was still present on Loch Arienas, and we saw smaller numbers elsewhere, so these had yet to depart by 9th April. Goats reappeared along with their kids, having vanished for a day the previous week. The red deer stags have mostly lost their antlers and are close to the road still. We also had good views of a dark sika stag, with antlers intact, and roebuck. Squirrels were feeding nicely in the garden at Glenloy Lodge and pine martens disported themselves around the front of the house. Brighter evenings have provided more opportunities for pine marten pictures.
If you haven’t seen it, go to our Facebook page for Angela’s footage of toads crawling up a snowy slope to the lip of a cornice. Something to be said for the mating imperative! We also saw both frogs and a lizard out on the snow that day, cold underfoot, but warm in the sun.