Red Deer Rut forays

Published: 20th October 2011

Rutting activity in the Glen Loy area has been carrying on throughout the month. Often all that can be perceived is the distant sound of bellowing through the mist and rain. Stag stalking continues to about the middle of the month in these parts. Naturally the deer are somewhat shy of humans. and the best viewing is often first thing in the morning, and late in the afternoon when the deer start to come down from the tops. For these reasons the rut can be quite tricky to observe, apart from at a distance, and more difficult to photograph, without resorting to stalking. The thought of some of our more senior guests (game though they might be) crawling on their bellies coverd in camaflague gear does not stand up to serious scrutiny. We are therefore always on the look out for accessible locations where the deer might approach the road. Unfortunately, as stags follow the hinds in search of good grazing, the rutting grounds are neither reliable or consistent, so one can only look afresh each season.
On a tip from some guests who were well armed with camera gear, we took a long drive out along the Ardnamurchan peninsula to the area around Ben Hiant, where they had enjoyed the sight of rutting deer on either side of the road from their vehicle earlier in the week. For once the weather was good, and the autumn colours superb along the shores of Loch Moidart and Loch Sunart. We did not see much on the way out, but on the top section of the road across Ben Hiant we had a good view of a ring-tail Hen Harrier, quartering the side the of the mountain. Sadly the deer were quite high up the hills also and well away from the road, so there was no chance for photos, but it was clear that they had been down previously, and there may have been more further on. On the return trip we spotted two Otters close to the shore at Glenborrodale. These were playing, rolling over in the water in tangled ottery clumps, and heading along the rocky shore towards the road. Every so often they would clamber out onto the rocks before sliding back in for more fun. Afternoons like this go a long way towards compensating for the usual Lochaber weather.
Other trips in the same week produced similar results in terms of deer, sadly. The rut in Glen Loy was impressive, in that there were plenty of deer about, and lots of noise, but the animals themselves were all pretty high and best viewed through a scope. Stags appear to be maintaining quite large groups of 20 or more hinds. Trips up Glen Loy invariably provide the added bonus of a Golden Eagle, so it is always a pleasure to make this effort. We also ventured along Glen Garry, where deer can be lower down, although time constraints meant that our visit was on a wet and dreich afternoon, and the deer were largely absent until later in the day. The next week, however, we targetted a fine morning and teamed up with Ian Mcleod of Wild West for an early trip up Glen Garry to try and get some photos. This time the deer were behaving themselves nicely, with several groups within camera range of the van. An obliging stag bellowed in the near distance, and Angela managed some pictures. Further along the road there was a site with real action. Quite a large gathering of stags were milling about some small groups of hinds, with their attendant males chasing and generally acting in an agitated way. As well they might have been, as on at least two occasions interlopers managed to cut off and isolate hjinds. There was plenty of posturing, roaring and chasing going on, including a spectacular dash through the river in which a challenger was roundly chastised. Whilst watching we heard a dipper singing, the first of the winter, whilst a pair of Stonchat graced the fading bracken, oblivius to the commotion below. Later that afternoon I was able to watch more rutting activity from our kitchen window at Glenloy Lodge on the hillside above Erracht – typical!
Ian also kindly took us to see the site in the Loch Garry woods where a feeding station has been created for Red Squirrel. He is busy filling up feeders with hazel nuts, in advance of the creation of public viewing facilities there. Whilst we approached the feeders a squirrel did indeed scurry up a tree and sat chattering crossly at us. This initiative on Forestry Commission Scotland land should provide opportunities for squirrel photography, and it would be great if it came to fruition.
Winter has arrived this week with snow well down on Aonach Mor, well past the Snowgoose Restaurant. The van windscreen was also coverd in ice the other morning. Flocks of winter thrushes are starting to arrive with the colder weather, and I heard the chuckling of a flock of Fieldfare whilst working outside the Lodge. With the snow, there seems to have been an influx of Goldcrest. It was once thought that these tiny birds hitched a ride on the backs ofWoodcock, and it is easy to see why. We watched a couple of Goldcrest flitting througfh the branches of the cherry at the front of the house and a birch at the rear, busily hunting for small insects and spiders. The bird feeders are looking very busy again, with large flocks of Greenfinch and House Sparrow in the mornings, and a significant increase in the nukmbers of Coal Tits. The Pine Martens are all bundled up in their winter coats now, and look quite differnt beasts to the svelte mustelids of summer. Feeding times are very predictable at this time of year, and the martens sit waiting for me to get my act together. A good time of year to visit.