Sea Eagles have landed

Published: 20th September 2014

Just finished a week’s wildlife holiday with Glenloy Wildlife and it did not rain once (properly!) all week. The weather in the West Highlands has been glorious for the past 10 days or so – enough to banish most thoughts of a referendum, at least.

Group on summit of Cairngorm with guide.

Group on summit of Cairngorm with guide.

The week was notable for its eagle sightings, particularly of sea eagles. We started off well, with a good look at one of this year’s juveniles perched close to its nest site. No sign of adults, but good to see they have fledged a chick successfully. Once again the call was a giveaway. We then had another immature bird, possibly a third year, flying off the cliffs on Eigg, mobbed by a pair of ravens, and defending itself acrobatically. That was a highlight of the Sheerwater trip, along with the sight of several thousand shearwaters feeding. On the next day we saw two adults from the Sileas ojn the Eagle Watch Cruise along Loch Shiel. This was a superb trip in excellent weather conditions. Both eagles were perched in trees. One was close to the water’s edge and took off as we approached. The other seemed to be trailing a wing, but looked fairly unconcerned – will hear from Jim Mitchie as to how it was, as the boat was going to have another look on the way back. Later that day we had a further sighting of a bird circling above Shona. This was possibly of a different adult that had been reported from Samalaman earlier in the day. Somewhat removed from our local patch we also picked up the sea eagles at Shieldaig this week. Spectacular scattering of gulls and shags as one flew low over the rock on which they were perched, before winging its way round the back of the island.

We also had a nice pair of goldies along Loch Shiel on Wednesday. These were hunting above a small hill opposite the jetty at Polloch, but flew down to perch on the rocks for several minutes, before moving off over the mountains. A few lucky passengers had the added bonus of a distant pair of hen harriers above a plantation. Although I saw these none of the group did, so I was grateful for excellent views of a ring-tail quartering above the reedbeds above Inch Marshes later in the week. The holiday was also remarkable for the number of kestrels seen, normally a scarce species locally, but one we saw on most days, including at the top of Glen Loy.

Mammals were surprisingly active this week. The pine martens put on a particularly good display, with up to four visiting the front of Glenloy Lodge at any one time. Other highlights of the week included a couple of otter sightings, with one large dog bringing a big fish onshore along Loch Sunart. The red squirrels at Glen Righ were also well behaved, with at least three visiting the feeding station at any one time. One ran up and down the drive at Glenloy Lodge a few days later, fortunately not pursued by pine martens. In the flat calm seas porpoises have been easy to spot, albeit at a distance, conspicuously feeding as the tide has turned. We had some rather closer sightings right along Loch Huorn yesterday, whilst pondering over the abundance of herring that used to be funnelled into the head of the loch in years gone by. A red fox provided an unexpected bonus for guests, as it crossed the Lochaline road in broad daylight and paused to look at us from a ditch. If foxes do this much round here they are likely to get shot, but this one at least seemed to be in prime condition. Another unusual sighting was a brown rat, emerging from under chicken feeders on Rum. They are supposedly plentiful there, and indeed there is a current project looking at the effect of rat predation on shearwater chick survival at the top of the Rum Cuillins. We even managed some good deer sightings (given the season and the heat), the best of which was a hind and calf feeding unconcernedly on the island at Castle Tioram. A nice roebuck was spotted just outside the village on the road back to Glen Loy, where they are often seen, sometimes in people’s gardens. As a bonus, guests photographed two reindeer, posing on the verges of Cairngorm car park! Although bats were not plentiful, it was good to pick up pipistrelles along Glenloy Lodge drive and Daubentons on the river Loy. The early nights make it easier to find these, now. Brown hare, rabbits and a bank vole were also spotted during the week.

The good weather meant that we picked up a few butterflies, including the last of the season’s Scotch Argus, notably around Castle Tioram. There are plenty of Red Admirals about and a late hatch of Speckled Wood. Late season dragonflies are on the wing in good numbers. We have had plenty of Common Hawkers, Common darters, and locally, Black Darters. Evenings have been a bit cold for moths, but some autumn species are now flying, including several of the crowd-pleasing Canary-shouldered Thorn, and a freshGreen-brindled Crescent.

 

Sea eagle perched in tree by Loch Sheil taken by Chris Franks

Sea eagle perched in tree by Loch Sheil taken by Chris Franks

Raptors aside, birds have been a bit quieter of late, with the hordes of chaffinch finally moving off the feeders and no doubt taking advantage of natural autumnal bounty. Bramble crops have been particularly good this year. The swallows and house martins are still with us but readying for departure, and pipits are gathering in huge numbers further down the glens. Careful searching produced a flock of twite, and the week before we were lucky enough to see a curious mixed flock of goldfinch, redpoll, twite and hedge sparrows!  Another unusual flock of vividly coloured grey wagtails with pied wagtails was feeding on the lawns at Brae Roy. We managed to pick up a couple of pairs of crested tits across on our Cairngorm day, along with ptarmigan on the top. Divers were harder to come by, with the odd great northern in amongst the skerries off Arisaig, and red-throated around Eigg and Rum. We watched a much closer pair of red-throats just offshore in Loch Teacuis, behind a group of four greenshank. Black-throats proved elusive, but over the last couple of days we have seen a flock of no less than forty in the bay at Applecross  – so that’s where they have all gone! These were mostly still in breeding plumage and looking splendid, but that is another story, for another day.