Red Deer Rut 2016

Published: 31st October 2016

The autumn is well upon us in Glen Loy, there is a distinct chill in the air, the bracken is dying back and the trees are turning well, although most still retain their leaves. Clear nights are accompanied by misty mornings. There is a bumper crop of rowan berries this year, which looks like being matched by a wealth of holly berries. The Indian summer we have just enjoyed for the last couple of weeks has continued to ripen the brambles, and we have picked more this year than we have for some time – we hope that our guests have been enjoying Angela’s bramble crumbles. In the last week we have seen many flocks of winter thrushes, all stoking up on the fruity bonanza. We also found the first of the winter’s great northern divers, still in breeding plumage. Large numbers of little grebes have returned to the coast along with smaller numbers of Slavonian grebes, mostly now in winter plumage. The Glenloy pine martens are visiting ever earlier as the nights draw in. They have now acquired very thick winter coats and bushy tails; noses poking out of fluffy faces, and look very different than they have for most of the summer. Local squirrels have also become much darker and fluffier, with thick tails. Despite the super-abundance of food at the Inchree feeders, they still instinctively scurry off with nuts to cache them for the winter. The roe deer appear dapper, their white scuts contrasting sharply with the dark chocolate brown of their rumps.
The red deer rut has been late this year, although the action is now in full swing. For the third year we made a pilgrimage across to Rum to see the rut. Once again we were blessed with superb sunny weather at the beginning of October. The crossing produced seals and porpoise with rafts of young auks and fishing gannets. Clothes were progressively shed as we walked across to the rutting grounds at Kilmory. Several groups of hinds were being attended to by vocal stags, although there was some cross pollination of harems, with hinds dashing off to join a more suitable mate. Stags attempted to herd them, whilst chasing off nosy youngsters that were creeping too close for comfort. One rolled repeatedly in a peat hag and thrashed his antlers in the vegetation, no doubt expressing his frustration. We sat in the sun on the bank above the hide, which provided a more panoramic view of the rutting grounds and the stunning bay beyond. A flock of golden plover wheeled between groups of deer. Expert interpretation of what we were seeing was provided by Ali, from the long-running research project, who also revealed the secrets of the bone cave. We also had an insight into deer management on Rum from Dave. An eagle was glimpsed on the way back and, having built up a healthy appetite, we ate a specially prepared meal at the community café. Thanks to ranger Trudi, Ali, Dave and Kim for helping us make it an unforgettable day for all.
We have not neglected the deer elsewhere. Early morning trips to Glen Garry have provided great views of groups of deer right next to the road, and many photos have been taken. The oranges and yellows of the grass on the hills highlighted in the breaking sun above lochs painted with swirls of mist provided a stunning backdrop to the deer. Again stags ran around chasing recalcitrant hinds and seeing off intruders, whilst the intensity of roaring increased over the last couple of weeks. During one trip the wall of a dam was completely shrouded by mist, whilst the sun shone brightly immediately above it. Descending again the mist had thickened, but we were able to stand by the minibus listening to invisible stags roaring all around us. There have also been plenty of deer in Glen Loy, although to date these have remained high on the mountains. More deer are appearing at the sides of the road in the evening, and even in the late afternoon one or two groups are beginning to appear much lower down. With the delay in the rut this year, there is still plenty of opportunity to come and see the deer in action, whilst the autumn colours are at their best!
Plenty of other wildlife has been enjoyed over the last month. We have had several day trips, with several lucky guests enjoying Scotland’s Big Five in a day! Otters have generally been showing well. A highlight was a memorable trip to the Garbh Eilean wildlife hide where we were sheltering from the rain over lunchtime. We saw a pair of otters that fished for a while before swimming behind one of the islands, shortly to be replaced by a mother with two cubs that we watched for over an hour, running over the rocks, grooming in a heap and rootling around the weeds. This has been a good spot for otter sightings recently, although we have seen them in several other locations. The one exception on a wet and windy day, typically, was when taking two Swiss guests out who were desperate to see them, after having ducked out during a week on Ardnamurchan. It just goes to show that wildlife cannot be guaranteed. The local blackcock have started to lek again, with as many as ten birds seen one morning in perfect light. Young birds that had joined the lek soon learned the hard way to avoid confrontations. Eagles have also been flying in the usual places, with golden eagles showing well over the last month. Other interesting sightings have included several brown hare, a peregrine and a newly returned goosander drake. Dragonflies are still out and about and there has even been a late influx of red admirals. There is plenty to look forward to with geese and swans yet to arrive in the area.