2013 Wild Lochaber Festival

Published: 1st July 2013

By the time you read this the Wild Lochaber Festival will have long been and gone, but I thought it high time that I gave an update of what happened this year, as far as Glenloy Wildlife was concerned. This is not the end of the story, however, as this year saw the launch of the OCUK Wild Lochaber Trails – a series of self-guide leaflets designed to show visitors and residents the best of the region’s wildlife and landscapes. Angela and I had a big hand in producing these, so we know they are good J. They certainly seem to have been well-received locally, so we are starting to feel better about all the work put in. The trails indicate the best places to stop and admire the scenery and look for wildlife, with an indication of what you might find there. There are eight trails in all covering the whole of the Lochaber area that is readily accessible. These are all intended for use with a car, but could equally be used someone on a bike, or as an indication for setting off places for walks. Trail 8 cover Fort William as far west as Corpach, and is intended for use by walkers and cyclists. The Wild Lochaber Trails leaflets are free, and are either available from the local Tourist Information Centres, or as a download from the OCUK website (www.outdoorcapital.co.uk).

A number of events locally featured locations in and around Fort William. Sadly the weather put paid to an intended Glenloy Wildlife Butterfly Hunt, but sunshine the day before, 19th May, produced the first chequered skipper of the year at Corriebeg, and Green Hairstreak were on the wing in Glen Loy, along with lots of heath moths. Glenloy Wildlife also held a bat and moth night at Glenfinnan with Dan Watson of the NTS. We watched pipistrelles emerging from the roost in the Visitor Centre, and later heard Daubenton’s passing under the Callop bridge. Although the night was cool, a total of 44 moths of 11 different species were caught overnight, including the beautiful Clouded Silver, and the cryptically camouflaged Early Thorn. Even more exciting was the sighting of a large feline, tabby with a thick, stripey tail that crossed the road between Kinlocheil and Corriebeg on the way back from the event. Has anyone else seen any possible wildcat in this area?


The Lochaber Natural History Society, which we are closely involved in, was persuaded to hold a couple of Festival outings. The first of these was a well attended seashore ramble under Ballachulish Bridge. Ian Strachan manfully tried to identify things as miscreants such as myself and Angela busily pulled out creatures for him to look at. There was an amazing amount of stuff in the weedy rocks including a surprising number of starfish, sea urchins, different crab species, isopods, and even a blenny, hiding in the seaweed. A stroll along the beach revealed a number of specialist shingle plants, while common terns and seals performed out across Loch Leven. Later in the week LNHS also held a biological recording event at the coast at Smirisary. The trip produced a good number of birds, including red throated diver and gannet, a few interesting butterflies and moths, such as green hairstreak and my first pearl-bordered fritillary of the season, and an extensive plant list. The highlight was a good display of early purple orchids. Another unusual plant for the region that we found was the small umbellifer, sanicle.  The tide was very low, uncovering the specialist eel-grass beds of the region, and searching the rocky shore below the wrack produced even more interesting marine species, including hairy crab, broad-clawed porcelain crab, king ragworm and a huge butterfish. A great day out in lovely spring sunshine, only marred by a tumble taken by our leader. Hope the wrist get’s better soon, Ian.

Angela and I joined Crannog Cruises for a wildlife cruise along Loch Eil aboard the Soutars Lass. It is hoped that this will be a regular evening trip during the summer. Despite a cold and wet start to the cruise we all had a good time spotting, and managed a total of 25 different species of bird from the boat. As we passed through the Narrows we had good views of the heronry, with birds stood on their nests; we passed large numbers of eider, huddled up on the islands; and we were joined by a curious seal on the return leg. Highlight of the trip was undoubtedly an osprey, which flew right across the boat with a fish in its talons, no doubt heading home to its nest.

The next morning saw an early rise to look for blackcock and the otters at Lochy Mouth. Glenloy Wildlife were successful with both, although the black grouse are at the tail end of the lekking season, and were becoming decidedly unenthusiastic by 5.30am! We watched an otter fishing for about thirty minutes, and were distracted by an osprey also fishing in the same area. Other early morning goodies included a pair of twite on the fence before the shinty pitch, wheatear on the pitch, a cuckoo, and a pair of roe deer by the path to Inverlochy Castle.

Other events that had a bearing on proceedings locally included a press trip from the BBC. Chris Sleight from BBC Scotland’s Out of Doors joined me for a look at the ospreys on Loch Lochy and then returned to Glen Loy to watch the pine martens being fed. If anyone caught the programme then you will have heard the sound of a pine marten chomping on bread and peanut butter! For once the wildlife behaved beautifully with a good view of the male osprey joining the female on the nest, and the pine martens appearing on cue. We also talked about Lochaber as a wildlife tourism destination, the Festival and the Wild Lochaber Trails, so hopefully someone will be inspired to visit. There was also a very good discussion on local biodiversity in the Alexandra in Fort William on the Monday night, with a lively panel debate, following a presentation on the threats to local biodiversity. Local topics of interest included the perennial problem of littering up Loch Arkaig, muirburn and its long term effects (the consensus was that in this are it is largely inappropriate to be burning at all), and the issues relating to large birds of prey in the region. The Festival Shop in Fort William High Street also featured much interesting and relevant local information about wildlife. Angela and I dutifully did our stints at manning it and hopefully passed on some tips to visitors.

Other species seen in the week included dolphins,  seabirds, plenty of deer, divers, eagles and hen harriers. If you missed out on the 2013 Festival you do not have to wait until next year, although it will probably take us until then to recover! Come along to the Lochaber Natural History Society meetings this winter, or join LNHS for one of the popular outdoor excursions. Please contact me on info@glenloylodge.co.uk for details. Failing that you could always join Glenloy Wildlife for an action-packed wildlife watching break!