Wet and Wild

Published: 7th January 2014

December in Lochaber was particularly memorable for how wet it was, and this has continued into the New Year. Despite various dire warnings we have not had any significant storm damage or flooding, but the local reservoirs are at their highest level since we have been here. Even the River Loy was probably as close to the top of its banks as I have ever seen it this morning. These conditions are not particularly conducive to wildlife watching, but we have been out and about, and indeed the wildlife continues to come to us. The feeders in the garden are becoming flocked again, particularly by coal tits (as many as 30 at a time), which seem capable of emptying a feeder of sunflower seeds in less than an hour. They have been joined by a number of other tits, with ground feeders picking up the scraps from below. Both male and female sparrowhawks also make regular appearances, Crossbills can be seen around and about the garden most days, with males singing from the tops of conifers; a strange tuneless song. Woodcock continue to probe the damp earth along either side of the drive, preferring the darkness afforded by the trees. On Christmas Eve a bird scuttled across the drive in the full glare of the car headlights, reluctant to fly in the wind and rain, and who can blame it.

 

Our pine martens do not relish the rain, and obviously look forward to an easy meal. The young male is invariably waiting for his pieces well before dark, but his sister rarely joins him before then. He took up residence in the coal shed for a while, where he made a mess. We were obliged to have a clearout and recycle the cardboard boxes he favoured, so he has been gently persuaded to move on. It has not stopped him returning for food, and all the pine martens have done quite well for Christmas left-overs, so I don’t feel too mean.

 

A little further away from Glenloy Lodge we had an unusual sighting up the glen. A flock of 30-40 bullfinch were feeding in the tree tops along the river. Uncharacteristically they did not seem as shy as bullfinch often are, and remained foraging in trees that we were standing under. I have never seen so many together before, and clearly this was not the usual family group. Presumably these were winter visitors looking for food. At any rate they had moved on later in the week. I had a good look at the bills but they did not seem particularly large, which is characteristic of northern races, so assume they were simply common bullfinch. Still, they certainly brightened up a dreich winter day. Family groups of long-tailed tit also flit up and down the river, but rarely venture into the garden. It would be great if they actually started to use the feeders as they do elsewhere.

 

Like many naturalists the New Year brings a fresh start and new annual lists. I thought it would be interesting to see how many days would pass before I was unable to add a new species of bird to the annual list. Sadly, I only made it to five; yesterday was a washout, and we didn’t see anything unusual. Family, travelling and weather have somewhat limited activities so far, but already we have had some interesting and varied sightings. A trip to the coast on New Year’s Day produced a good crop of divers (mostly great northern but also a black-throated) off the beaches at Camusdarach. Rather more unusual was the remains of a whale, washed right up the creek almost to the car park. There was little left other than back and tail vertebrae along with some stinking blubber. Presumably the carcass was broken up in the storms and bits deposited all around the local shore-line. Will keep our eyes open for more. A short wet trip up Loch Eil produced the usual suspects in terms of ducks and dabchicks but little else. Travelling around the area has yielded more of note including blackcock, red kite, whooper swan and a tawny owl. A trip down toEdinburghproduced birds that we do not really see up here, including magpie and flocks of jackdaws and rooks. It even produced the first woodpigeon of the year. We were pleased to see no less than seven kestrels along the roadsides around the city by-pass and down into the Borders. This is actually more than the number of buzzards seen this year to date. No doubt this will change, as kestrels are rather scarce up here, but it is good to see them apparently doing well elsewhere.

 

It will be a while before we see the first butterfly of the year at this rate, but this might mean that I actually manage to get my 2013 butterfly and moth records in before I start collecting the 2014 ones. This is long overdue, as usual, so I better get on with it!

Whale's tail near Camusdarroch

Whale's tail washed up by recent storms near Camusdarroch