Whale at Last

Published: 9th July 2014

Have been busy with Glenloy Wildlife trips

Watching a Minke whale from the Sheerwater

Watching a Minke whale from the Sheerwater

over the last couple of weeks, and places, sightings and people are beginning to blur somewhat! The weather in Lochaber has been kind, but finally broke yesterday (3rd July), providing some much needed water for the flowerbeds at Glenloy Lodge. I do recall we have had some great wildlife experiences recently, so here are some of the best bits.

 

Out with the Sheerwater from Arisaig to Eigg and Rum, we managed to pick a flat-calm day, during which the sun actually broke through for most of the afternoon. The seas were teeming with life, which was great to see after a long quietish period. Undoubted star was a Minke Whale that provided great views accompanying the boat for some distance, and lots of photo opportunities. On the way back from Eigg we also had a small pod of Common Dolphin that rode the bow waves for a considerable distance and at great speed. We also saw more Porpoise that day than I have ever seen in a single journey, some sadly ignored in the shadow of the whale! Indeed the first mammals of note we saw were a trio of Common Seals with their recently born black pups, out for a training swim with mum. Birds were everywhere, with large rafts of Manx Shearwaters and auks, particularly Common Guillemot. There were also unprecedented numbers of Puffin on the water, perhaps between 25 and 30, which is rare in these waters. The shearwater flotillas were joined by diving Gannets and a pair of Great Skua. Other birds we saw that day included Red-throated Diver, Hen Harrier, crèches of Eider ducklings, Arctic Tern, and, unusually, Sandwich Tern back in Arisaig harbour. We even saw a handsome stag feeding by theshoreofLoch Scresorton Rum. What a fantastic day – thanks again to Ronnie.

 

Other highlights that week included a pair of Ring Ouzel in Glen Roy that flitted on and off a fence line, for once allowing good sightings. On an unpromising day an Otter with two cubs was seen feeding in Loch Eil. After watching at a reasonable scope distance for 15 minutes over lunch the family headed round a corner, but we followed in the van and were able to find them again, this time almost underneath our feet. They were still busy fishing and playing (not mum!), coming out periodically onto the rocks to feed on large butterfish or crabs, and apparently quite unaware of us. Later on the same trip we saw a pair of Sea Eagles, one mobbed by Common Gulls as it flew into roost next to its mate.

 

We also had fantastic sightings of a group of four more Sea Eagles. These comprised 2 adults and 2 probable first-year juveniles, one with particularly raggy wings.  An adult at one point seemed to bring down some carrion for one of the youngsters, although this may just have been coincidence. The birds glided over the tops of the nearby hills that surrounded us, and then landed singly, or in pairs on the hillsides. As the adults should have been hunting for their current youngsters, who are unlikely to have fledged yet, it was a bit difficult to work out what was going on. I have recently bought a copy of John Love’s book on Sea eagles, so will read it with interest.

 

Not to be outdone, our local Golden Eagles have also been performing, particularly those up the glen. It is always gratifying to point at a distant dot perched high on a prominent rock and say “that’s an eagle”, only to have it take off and soar over the tops – even better when joined by its mate! Similarly a pair in Morvern entertained us yesterday – the speed with which one of a pair covered a mile across the ridges was something to behold.  This pair seemed particularly interested in a group of deer. Although adult Red Deer have little to fear from eagles (although they can be spooked by them into falling off craigs), goldies will soon takeRed Deercalves. We were fortunate to see a group of 4 hinds not far from Glen Loy with at least 3 youngsters, still spotted and virtually hidden in the long grass. The previous day we had also spotted a female Roe with a playful little kid, and I was actually able to take a photo or two from the van.

 

Our second butterfly break of the year met with some great success. Fortunately we were blessed with one really nice day out of three, so took the opportunity to go looking for Mountain Ringlet at Creag Meagidh. We found around a dozen flying, mostly males in search of a mate, but were able to take a few photos. The Large Heath and Small Heath were also flying in numbers and were rather more obliging, as were the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, one of which posed nicely on a clump of thyme. This time last year the Scotch Argus were already flying at Creag Meagidh, along with good numbers of Dark Green Fritillary, but we only saw a single DGF this time around. There were, however, loads of Ringlets in the meadow. We also visited a site for Northern Brown Argus later that afternoon, and as soon as the sun shone, these were also out in good numbers, with more than a hundred in total, including a nice mating pair. On a much duller day yesterday we went in search of Speckled Wood, and were delighted to find that large numbers of the pale-spotted Scottish variant were on the wing. These were landing on the path to warm up and were very obliging, so some great photos were taken again. A walk at Fassfern likewise produced large numbers of Meadow Brown, but no Scotch Argus yet, which begs the question of why these emerged so early last year, after a particularly long, cold spell in Spring. We also found loads of Peacock caterpillars on nettles that morning, which augurs well for later in the summer.

 

Some great news! Three pine marten kits were seen with their mother (and filmed!) at the front of Glenloy Lodge last week, so we haven’t lost one yet. One kit was apparently rather smaller than the others and is likely to be a female. These tend not to be as adventurous as the males, so perhaps it was simply keeping well out of the way previously. We look forward to seeing more of them.

Mountain ringlet on CreagMeagaidh taken by Mike Nellist