Wild Lochaber Festival
Published: 19th June 2012
Just recovering from a hectic two week’s worth of wildlife activities here at Glenloy. The first Wild Lochaber Festival took place as planned from the 1st June. The week started early with a Press Trip in Dave Findlay’s rather swish catamaran on a glorious sunny afternoon along Loch Linnhe and into Loch Leven. Euan McIlwraith from Radio Scotland’s Out of Doors programme was along and did a general interview with David, one on geology with Jim Blair and another with me as the tame ‘wildlife expert’. All we managed to see before Euan left us were a few seals and an obliging tystie – overtaking the boat at a rate of over 25 knots! At the head of Loch Leven was a pair of golden eagles and a mountain-top deer. As interviews go this wasn’t particularly stunning, but surely an improvement on a rather bizarre question and answer session held with our local radio station the previous day.
The Festival itself kicked off with a presentation by photographer Mark Hamblin on the 20:20 Vision project. Entertaining and slick though this was, it wasn’t a patch on the follow-up session on Mark’s own work. Some of the shots were truly breathtaking, – it was just a pity more people were not along to see it.
The weekend continued with a Festival Fair held at Lochaber College, with Angela and I taking it in turns to do the skivvying at home and man the Glenloy Wildlife stall (strategically positioned to help out with the Lochaber Natural History Soc and Scottish Natural Heritage stands). The venue was great, the stands attractive and levels of enthusiasm were high, but relatively few people made the short trip across from Morrisons to see it – a lesson for future events perhaps, to hold the Fair more centrally. A flurry of activity attended the results of the Schools Photography competition judged by Michael McGregor along with Angela and Ian McLeod of NevisPix.. The junior winner was a great shot of a leveret crouched in its form – a worthy victor. Elsewhere Rock Safari trips seemed to be well attended, with Jim doing good business in his ‘Geopark’ minibus.
The Festival contained over 30 organised events, including some once-in-a-lifetime specials, such as the chance to help ringing the Storm Petrels on Rum and sea-kayakking on Loch Teacuis with FCS in search of otters. There was a whole host of guided wildlife watching trips, both on land and water, photography workshops and traditional guided walks to provide plenty of opportunities to enjoy the wildlife and landscape of the area.
Glenloy Wildlife was in the thick of all this, needless to say. I ran a black grouse and otter watching trip early one morning. We were rewarded with a single blackcock, which at least had the grace to raise its tail and strut a bit, albeit half-heartedly. The otters did not play ball, much to our collective disappointment; the first time we have missed this year. However, the tide was very high, and at least 3 off the trip saw otters later that day, in or around the same area of Loch Linnhe, so all was far from a waste of time. The next scheduled GW event to Ardgour Island did not run through lack of interest, which is a shame as there were a number of good sightings from the area during the week, including otter, sea eagle and chequered skipper (all by other guests staying at Glenloy Lodge).
We had rather more success, but fewer punters, the next day, with a bat and moth evening co-hosted by the Glen Nevis ranger Service. It only really got dark after 11.30pm, but this still gave us time to catch over 30 macromoth species, including some stunning examples such as a giant Northern Eggar, the delicately oriental Peach Blossom, and the punky Coxcomb Prominent. This did, however, entail me emptying traps amongst a cloud of midges and scurrying in to the Centre where everyone else had long since retreated for hot chocolate. The bats were also very co-operative, with loads of pipistrelle, both common and soprano, flying along the River Nevis, and both clearly visible and audible with the help of a bat detector. Later in the night the Daubentons also performed right by the Centre and were easily picked out by a spotlight – no doubt much to their annoyance.
We were also involved in LNHS activities. I finally twisted Ian Strachan’s arm to run a guided plant walk up An Todhar, just outside Fort William. There were some nice flowers about, including a couple of late Early Purple Orchids, and some stunningly large Globeflower. We had a good turnout of 10 doughty naturalists – just as well as we manfully plodded through bogs and over fences into a tangled wood in search of alkaline-loving plants. This was well rewarded with the rare spectacle of the locally scarce Sanicle, flowering in profusion.
The finale of the week was a biological recording event, organised by myself and Ian and run through LNHS. A small but dedicated group of us explored the lower end of Glen Gour – a nice mixture of riverside, heathland, woodland and lochside habitats. As is the nature of these things we did not get very far as we were trying to record everything we saw, but managed to get a tally of over 180 different species of vascular plants, including a notable find of a ‘new’ colony of marsh clubmoss (looking rather parched, but nonetheless healthy). We also saw several butterflies and dragonflies, including a couple of chequered skippers and fritillaries, and several day-flying moths. A worthwhile exercise, and one to encourage more folk on on another day.
Elsewhere out and about in Wild Lochaber our Glenloy guest were literally having a field day, with lots of stunning birds, insects and flowers making the most of the glorious sunshine. We were able to point people in the direction of goodies such as Azure Hawkers, White-faced Darters, Small White Orchid, Long-leaved Helleborine, Ring Ouzel and Redstart, and took (almost) as much pleasure out of hearing other people’s reports as we would have done if we had seen them ourselves. Surely a great promotion for the bounties of Wild Lochaber!