Warm and wet in Lochaber

Published: 30th October 2009

The weather in Glenloy remains unseasonably mild, if wet. A couple of strong winds have started to strip the foliage off the trees, but many leaves remain green. We even saw a couple of red admirals out today (Friday 30th). The  warm weather has undoubtedly delayed the return of some of the autumn migrants, but now the thrushes are everywhere in their thousands, with large, noisy flocks agitatedly swarming around the local countryside. The canal is a particulalry good place to look for them – flighty fieldfares, reedy redwings, scoldinng mistle thrushes and an influx of 'foreign' blackbirds, all busily stripping the rowans. As we walked the dog this morning we were also treated to a charm of goldfinch, busy prying the seeds from Knapweed heads on the canal bank. A couple of immature male bullfinch also flitted through the alders, possibly the same birds that we watched in the Lodge garden the day before. Conversely, few siskins appear to have arrived yet, and the winter ducks have not made a serious appearance.

A foraging trip eastwards to Speyside yesterday provided the excuse to stop off at the Insch Marshes in the late afternoon. The flora here is quite different from that at home, with towering yellow aspen still in glorious leaf, whilst sprwling juniper bushes almost seem to take the place of whins. The regimented Scots Pine trees too lack the venerable grandeur of the “granny” pines up Glen Loy and Glen Nevis. At first glance from the reserve hides there appeared to be little in the way of water and even less in the way of wildlife, but careful scanning revealed some hidden treasures. The odd heron stood out amongst the yellowing grasses of ditches, whilst distant mallard and wigeon flocked in the open water pools, and a gaggle of greylag grazed the grassy fields beyond A roe deer hid amongst the dead branches of a juniper-covered mound, whilst rabiits scuttled about, given away by their white tails. Suddenly. across the marsh a female hen harrier hovered into view, flew steadily across to the juniper mound, then quartered evenly back over the open grassland, before finally coming to rest at the base of a low willow. There we left it, as the light faded and the glow of nearby Ruthven Barracks beckoned us home.

Other recent highlights included a trip to Tobermory – the joys of the off-season! Although we failed to find Elvis the otter of local, and now national fame, we did get excellent views of a large dog otter from the slipway of the Fishnish ferry. He had caught a big dogfish and dragged it onto the top of some rocks to eat it. Rather strangely the dogfish was barely touched, unless it was being cached for a future occasion, other than for a half-hearted attempt at chewing the back. Perhaps the skin was too rough and the flesh not particulalry appealing. I have also seen grey seal put up their noses at dogfish discards in Mallaig harbour (although these can perhaps afford to be fussy). Further along the coast a little estuary produced  small groups of wigeon, and a selection of waders. Amongst the ubiquitous oystercatcher and curlew was an elegant bar-tailed godwit, an unusual sighting for us, although they do occur around the coast of Mull.

A drive out to deposit a son at Glenuig provided a chance to do a bit of rockpooling at Samalaman Bay, always a good place, despite the highish tide. Some of the higher rockpools revealed the usual shore crabs, tiny fish, beadlet anemones and prawns, but we also came across a colony of less frequent anemones, with short barred, off-white tentacles on a long stalk.  Equally interesting was a collection of procumbent juniper, rich with unripe berries, clinging to the rocks above the shore. We swopped the boy for a catch of seafood, including a medium-sized ling that had foolishly swum into one of the creels after squat lobsters. A quick look at Loch nam Uamh on the way back produced a great northern diver still in breeding plumage, along with a couple of seals and a group of mergansers.