Black rabbits and red kangaroos

Published: 29th June 2015


Glenloy Wildlife has been very busy with two full wildlife holidays in the last three weeks – so am getting behind with my reporting (and we start a butterfly break tonight!).  This is a quick summary of some of the highlights of these two tours, therefore. Both were held in what might be best described as changeable weather, and as I write the weather continues to be cold and damp. This has meant that insects have not been really showing well, and plants are very late. The first heath spotted orchids only appeared last week, and the bluebells are still well in flower and it is almost July. Not surprisingly some of the attendant insect species have been in short supply.  Roll on the heatwave we are supposed to be having this week!

The first of the two holidays took place w/c 6th June – and yes, we did manage to find a few chequered skippers, along with the first small pearl-bordered fritillary and golden-ringed dragonfly of the year, during a break in the clouds along Glen Loy. Otherwise treats seemed to come in pairs. We had blackcock and hare close to Fort William, ring ouzel and a pine marten in Glen Roy, golden eagle and sika deer in Glen Gloy, osprey and black-throated diver near Loch Arkaig, wood warbler and redstart at Ariundle, otter and lots of seals on our Ardnamurchan day and minke whale plus singing corncrake on a trip to Muck. Perhaps the standout sighting of the week were the ring ouzel – two hens and a cock, in short grass at easy binocular range that we watched whilst having a picnic lunch. We also saw a merlin that morning. Elsewhere, the sword-leaved helleborine were in full bloom (again about 3 weeks later than normal), and despite my fears of a decline, I counted at least 17 spikes, which is about the norm for this site. Fantastic close views were enjoyed of a male hen harrier quartering and being mobbed briefly by a cuckoo, also while having lunch.

A different set of wildlife was seen in the next holiday commencing 20thJune. We were treated to various sets of youngsters this week – red deer calves, a sika calf, common seal pups, oystercatcher and lapwing chicks, not to mention the two young pine martens around Glenloy Lodge. The trip out on the Sheerwater provided excellent close-up views of a kittiwake colony with attendant guillemots, plus great skua, a few puffins and porpoise around Rum, as well as red-throated divers in Kinloch Bay, and a sea eagle being mobbed over the cliffs of Eigg. Calm seas certainly helped, and also made otter spotting easier later in the week, when we watched one fishing and another dashing off the beach and into the sea. Great views were obtained of golden eagles, with a pair flying low over relatively small hills, landing on the top not far from the minibus, then taking off again. We managed very close views of the Slavonian grebes

Slavonian Grebe amongst reeds

Slavonian Grebe amongst the reeds at Loch Ruthven

on Loch Ruthven, seemingly nest-building just below the hide. Apparently they have not yet bred this year, so let’s hope that is them getting on with things. Two cuckoos on telephone wires and a herd of sika in glowing red-spotted summer coats also made the day memorable. Orchids were starting to appear, with northern marsh finally blooming in profusion along the verges, small white in full flower, early marsh and lesser butterfly starting to flower and greater butterfly almost in flower close to the coast. Much to my surprise we also found the first of the year’s beautiful demoiselle on a cool, damp day in Morvern, with the added bonus that they were much easier to photograph than usual!

In terms of entertainment value, however, the most interesting sighting of the last trip was that of a grey heron killing and eating an eel. The eel was close to 90cm in length and took a lot of subduing. The heron repeatedly stabbed it as it tried to wriggle away on the ground, and after several minutes, during which the eel wrapped itself around the dagger-like bill, the heron started to swallow the eel. This took a further few minutes and left the heron with a bulging crop and deformed neck. We drove off only to return about three hours later where we saw the same heron standing roughly where we left it and looking stuffed, possibly unable to move! A black rabbit was seen several times during the course of the week near Banavie – there seems to be a small population of black bunnies around here and Caol, mixed in with the regular wild rabbits, and probably a result of cross-breeding with domestic pets. The kangaroos were rather more dubious – sets of long twitchy ears poking out above some big googly eyes in the long grass. I have a sneaking suspicion that these were red deer hinds, but Jane kept telling me otherwise! We had one other, albeit fleeting, sighting of interest. A large tabby cat with a thick, bushy, black-tipped tail ran up the road for a short while in front of me as we came home one evening. I think this was probably our ‘local’ wildcat, which is seen periodically in the area, but this pronouncement was so unexpected that no one else in the front of the van that saw it seemed to believe me. I am still putting it down as a probable, however!