Season’s Last Hurrah

Published: 6th November 2014

We have finally come to the end of a busy season with Glenloy Wildlife. The weather has been very kind to us all year, until we took the last lot of guests out at the end of October, sadly. This happened to coincide with an unsettled period of low fronts, Atlantic gales and driving rain, brought over with the tail end of a hurricane. Although it is fair to say that the hitherto spectacular autumn colours could not be enjoyed at their best we still managed to get out and about for four full days and enjoyed some spectacular wildlife.

Fortunately the pine martens were behaving themselves, and indeed looking for handouts during a period when foraging must have been difficult. Up to three were visiting the front of Glenloy Lodge at dusk to feed. Venturing further afield we managed to have at least one walk a day without getting too wet, and spent the rest of the time using the minibus as a mobile hide. Fortunately everyone was suitably kitted out against the cold and the wet. A trip around Loch Eil produced seals, a passing family group of whoopers, a nice herd of red stags, a variety of ducks and waders and a sea eagle (hunched miserably in a tree). A break in the rain enabled us to find some smaller birds such as treecreeper and goldcrest, with a mixed flock of finches and tits feasting on beech mast. The red squirrels at Glen Righ were particularly active, again making the most of a break in the rain.

The next day we headed down into Ardgour and Moidart. Unfortunately only Angela and I managed to glimpse a rather shy otter (but we picked another up a couple of days later), but there was again plenty of seals, herons, ducks and seabirds aroundLoch Linnheand Loch Sunart. An early unexpected treat was a couple of Greenland white-fronted geese in amongst a flock ofCanadasat Ardgour (with a pinkfoot along for good measure). We also picked up a breeding-plumaged great northern diver and a winter Slavonian grebe, bobbing in the choppy sea nearby.  A large flock of whoopers was roosting nervously in Loch Sunart. The hide at Garbh Eilean proved to be a good sheltering spot (and not as windy as feared). We also walked along the River Shiel to Castle Tioram, watching a dipper sing and fish in the high water. Wigeon, merganser, teal and curlew were encountered along the estuary, the residentred deerhind and calf below the woods, a raven perched on the castle battlements, and a sea eagle flying over.

To escape the worst of the weather the following day we made the short trip across to Speyside, passing three blackcock perched up trees by the side of the road en route. It finally stopped raining by the time we reached Loch Morlich. Crested tits were showing well in the woods there, amongst good mixed flocks of tits, finches and other birds (lots of goldcrest again). Red squirrels were also very active, with several individuals scampering about, some quite close – they can be difficult to spot here in the summer. We went up to the top station of the funicular on Cairngorm, but confined ourselves to the viewing platforms. A flock of over 20 ptarmigan was scattered either side of the path just metres from the exit to the summit. The trip down also produced a couple of red grouse, and as we left the car park traffic had to stop to allow a small herd of reindeer to cross. Further stops produced flocks of siskin and redpoll, a great view of a redwing and lots of roe deer. Harriers were elusive that day but we did see buzzards, sparrowhawk and kestrel.

The rain was rather more invasive the next day, but we made a tour of Loch Leven, hoping that eagles might fly in the odd breaks between showers (they didn’t, but could well have done at some point), before heading off to Cuil Bay. Again we managed a walk between showers (largely). There were a surprising number of small birds, considering the wind, including lots of rock pipits and a family of stonechat. We admired a grey wagtail and tracked down several waders. The geese were obviously avoiding the south-westerly winds as the usually busy fields behind the bay were largely empty. On the way back we found our elusive (and rather distant) otter, before finally managing another dryish walk along the river Lochy (goosanders, herons, seal, ducks and a dabchick). All-in-all not bad going for the worst weather of the year so far.

Since then Angela and I have managed to make a trip down to Lancashire and were able to get a fix of geese down at Marshside,Southport. Large flocks of black-tailed godwits were disporting themselves in front of one of the hides, together with flocks of lapwing (including a single golden plover). A variety of ducks were also to be seen, including good numbers of handsome pintail and shoveller, neither of which we see very often in theHighlands. The wildlife highlight of the visit, however, was a pair of tree sparrows on the feeders at my parents’ house – a first record for their garden.

Back at home, we have managed to make the most of a couple of fine days after the hurricane. Loch Eil was calm enough to take the kayak out onto and we were lucky enough to be able to approach a pair of porpoise, mostly resting on the surface and blowing – surely a last hurrah before they disappear off into deeper water for the winter. We also spotted a black grouse up a tree by the edge of the loch – the first we have seen in that area (a good year for them?), and on completing our circuit, were rewarded with a kingfisher poised on a branch at the head of the loch. The thrush flocks have continued to stream over, with fieldfare joining the earlier redwing. On a perfect autumn day, with reflections echoing in the canal we watched a merlin in the clear-fell across the water – a good record for Glen Loy, and one to keep us anticipating what the winter might bring.

Porpoise surfacing in Loch Eil

Porpoise surfacing in a mirror calm Loch Eil