August weather – a proper Scottish experience

Published: 29th August 2017

Here at Glenloy, August is always a between month. It is usually the wettest month of the year in the vicinity of Fort William, apart from February, and this year has been no exception. All hopes of looking for late summer butterflies and emergent dragonflies have all been washed away, and the moth trap has sat there soggy and forlorn. Fortunately, we have some rather resilient wildlife in the area. Bedraggled pine martens have still been coming to feed nightly, the red squirrels have been dodging the pine martens, and the ospreys have just sat tight in the worst of the weather. Huge flocks of scraggy-looking merganser and eider gather in the middle of Loch Linnhe to moult and sulk. There they are joined by rafts of young auks, learning to feed in the quieter waters of the sea lochs. When the sun does peep out from behind a cloud, the truly resilient butterfly species such as scotch argus, green-veined white and speckled wood make an appearance. Those continental visitors escaping the heatwaves and droughts at home surely have been in paradise here – so long as they remembered their midge repellent!

Wildlife watching can still be good, and we enjoyed another successful ‘Big Five’ day with guests earlier this week. A large group of magnificent stags we have been watching all year is still gathered on lower ground, and now some of their antlers have lost their velvet. It will not be long before they disperse to their rutting grounds and friendly camaraderie will cease. Common seal numbers have been swollen by this year’s pups. Whilst the adults doze on rocks these youngsters often play in the water, chasing each other and porpoising. We watched a golden eagle glide effortlessly over Loch Sunart, and circle the nearby hillside several times before landing. Although its flight feathers were looking a bit raggy, this was still a spectacular sighting.  Behind us an otter popped its head out of the weed and started to climb onto the shore before it was unfortunately dissuaded by an over-excited guest. Although we had a further glimpse, it did not linger. Red squirrels were showing at home, but also behind the viewing wall at Inchree, where one huge individual was lording it over a feeder. We were distracted by flocks of siskins and crossbills busily flitting between the large mature conifers around the car park. Other sightings included greenshank, which has been dependable of late, and a pair of red-throated divers. The black guillemots have finally left their nest boxes at Ardgour and moved out into the main loch, some starting to change to winter plumage.

Half-day trips in August have also produced some good sightings. Two wild nanny goats escorted a kid across the road in front of us. An early returning Slavonian grebe, still in breeding plumage, was fishing on Loch Linnhe. Porpoises have been active here and in the Sound of Arisaig, with feeding gannets for company, and even the odd shearwater. Seal and deer are almost guaranteed, while usually the squirrels are active, provided there is food available in the feeders. Otters and eagles can never be guaranteed, although we look hard for these. As recently fledged eaglets become more confident the latter (both golden and white-tailed) are becoming easier to spot. We have also had some good merlin sightings recently; up the glen (being mobbed by mistle thrushes), from the cash and carry car park in Oban (mobbing a buzzard), and even from the Lodge itself (a lucky guest saw a merlin being mobbed by sand martins from the sun lounge window). The local buzzards are very vocal, as are the young ospreys, which continue to be fed by their parents on the nest, despite having fledged some time ago (the Woodland Trust webcam is still well worth watching).

At the beginning of the month we were far from home, attending a son’s wedding in Northern Ireland. Although we did not have a great deal of time for wildlife watching we managed to visit some lovely places. Foremost of these was a splendid bit of dune habitat at Murlough Bay.  Whilst the beach itself was spectacular, the vegetated dunes behind were fantastic; richly carpeted in plants with a predominance of bell heather and ragwort, but also full of wood sage, cranesbill, bugloss, pansies and centaury. More butterflies and burnet moths were flying in the sunshine than I have seen all year, even if most were meadow browns.  Apparently, these dunes hold a good population of marsh fritillary, and one of bee orchids, so well worth a return visit earlier in the year. The most interesting find we made however, was that of a fungus, the aptly named devil’s-fingers, Clathrus archeri. This was a lurid red, be-tentacled, alien affair with a gaping maw that you would not want to stick a finger in. It is an introduced species, rarely seen but not readily forgotten. The trip served to remind us there is plenty yet to discover in the British Isles, even if we do have a bias for the West Highlands.