A touch of the exotic

Published: 22nd September 2009

Time for a busman's holiday. Always a good excuse to suss out the local landscape for Glenloy guests. So, we had a couple of day off last week and amongst other things we went in search of beavers. We have been following the progress of the Scottish beaver re-introduction trial avidly, since the idea was first mooted over 10 years ago. At that time, before SNH got cold feet about the whole thing, the beavers were supposed to be on their way and I was duped into adopting one of the supposed immigrants as a Valentine's Day gift (remember that scheme SWT?). To cut a long story short said beavers did not appear and we had to go to Norway to see some instead. So as beavers have now finally been re-introduced into Knapdale (in May of this year), we thought that it was high time we went to pay our respects. They have had time to settle in a bit, and better to go before they are all shot or poisoned. We only had time for a day trip, so were not really confident of seeing the beasts themselves, but were interested in seeing the habitat into which they had been released and seeing the release sites for ourselves. These proved to be remarkably accessible.

We first visited the most easterly of the three release lochs,  and were able to carefully access the loch side without too much of a problem. We were delighted to find a chewed ash tree stump and partly submerged knawed branches in the water at the edge of the loch. Plenty of club-rush fringing this particular loch, and pretty well wooded all around with mixed deciduous wood, mainly birch, and conifer plantations. Lots of dragonflies around the forest paths as well – Common Hawkers and Common Darters. All the woodland hereabouts also appeared to be full of crossbills. We also found several cone-shaped scats full of compacted granular vegetable material, about the size of a large pine cone. The guide books suggest that these are not beaver droppings, but not sure what they were – not pine marten or deer – possibly badger?? This loch was accessed from the Crinan canal – a beautiful walk along
the Add estuary, enlivened each way by an osprey that had not yet left,
but was still busy fishing.

The second stop was at Barnsluagan Interpretation Centre. Pleased to see an information board about the trial, together with a short exhibition (complete with model beaver and beaver fur to paw), and a sightings board. Apparantly there has been good activity late evenings and early mornings. As it was still only late afternoon we took the Caledonian woodland trail. Another beautiful mixed woodland walk through strange landscape of ridges and troughs, with good distant views of the second release sight. Careful scanning revealed a glimpse of a large something turning in the water and then disappearing – was this the elusive beaver? Lots of evidence of squirrels on the track, and flocks of young crossbill, feeding in alder. This, together with the fact that the cross on the bills was poorly developed threw us for a while.

Sadly, the beaver trail itself around the largest of the release lochs, Loch Coille-Bharr, was closed, ostensibly due to flooding. We did sneak a peek from the car park, and a also a clearer view from the small jetty – lovely still loch fringed with trees and reeds and plenty of fish jumpiong (not all been eaten yet, then!). No sign of beaver, but looked tempting for another look on another, more leisurely evening.

Most dramatic sighting of the day – a free-flying Scarlet Macaw, perched on a fence by the side of the road in Crinan. A magnificent bird, completely catching us by surprise. A great day out.