Brilliant Beinn Bhan

Published: 5th May 2014

Ptarmigan in Beinn Bhan

Ptarmigan in Beinn BhanDotterel on Beinn Bhan


The highest mountain in Glen Loy is a Corbett, Beinn Bahn, which dominates the northern side of the lower glen. Although we have been up several times we had not previously taken the long route in from the west, and so to celebrate the first day of May (already) we set off to put that right. I thought we might find a pair or two of Golden Plover and perhaps a few Ptarmigan, which would justify the trek. Driving to our start point along the glen a Redwing in full breeding plumage flew across the road, leading us to speculate as to whether it was actually remaining to breed in Glen Loy. There is plenty of suitable habitat. Sadly it was rather cold and dull, which meant that few insects were flying, with the exception of a few hardy bumblebees. We were therefore surprised to find a large female Common Lizard out and about. Other than that there was little about other than a couple of deer, a cock Wheatear, the odd pipit and a curious Raven, flying low. As we finally cleared the peat hags and approached the drier stonier ground of the summit plateau we were in for a treat, however.


On the rock field was a pair of Ptarmigan (that flew off) and beyond them a pair of Dotterel. The female, in particular, was resplendent in stunning breeding plumage with an orange belly delineated by a black stripe and sharp black and white stripes above the eye. The dotterel ran about pausing to forage and kept annoyingly distant from the camera, but we were able to enjoy great views. Further around the plateau we came across another pair, as well as three more Ptarmigan, including a male with its bright red comb nestling on the lip of the corrie. Although I have not heard of Dotterel nesting on Beinn Bahn, and this is still early in the breeding season, it may be that they do occasionally nest here, as the plateau is quite large and has a good mixture of open ground and vegetation. Amongst the plants starting to show were three species of clubmoss, lots of Bearberry and Crowberry plus small patches of Trailing Azalea, just about to flower. Also on the tops were several Wheatear and yes, a lovely pair of Golden Plover, equally handsome in gold and black livery. To round the day off nicely, as we made our descent the Golden Eagle did a turn around the summit before vanishing into Glen Mallie. Definitely worth the trek!


Other migrants continue to arrive in good numbers. Cuckoos are calling everywhere and sandpipers complaining noisily by the water’s edge. Grasshopper warblers are starting to reel, and Tree Pipits are displaying all about the glen. This morning we saw our first Whinchat of the season, also in Glen Loy. Greenshanks have also moved onto their nesting grounds and we had a good sighting of a pair from the kayak along the edge of Loch Arkaig. It looks like our local Osprey have failed to return to their usual site, but we have continued to see individuals flying in the area, and watched one fishing in Loch Linnhe from An Aird in Fort William last night.


Out on a trip with wildlife guests a few days ago we also had a couple of pairs of Greenshank, and glimpses of distant eagles. The most spectacular sights, however, were the colony of Tysties, back on the rusty old nest boxes at Ardgour, and impressive numbers of wild goats scattered along the road to Kingairloch, and even beyond.


As the sun shone last weekend it brought the flowers into bloom and the butterflies out at last (together with more huge catches of moths). The Bluebells are starting to flower, and both the sundews and Common Butterworts are coming up in profusion, the latter even with flower stalks starting to appear. To add to the overwintering Peacock and Small Tortoiseshells, newly  emerged Green Veined White have been flying, along with the first of the year’s Orange-Tips, somewhat later than the first date on which Cuckoo Flower blossomed in numbers. The next time the weather warms up we will have a look for the first Green Hairstreak up the glen.


Another expedition east to look for alternative sites to visit produced a wonderful pair of Slavonian Grebe performing a courtship display, including a ‘waggle dance’, and exchange of weed gifts.  The day also produced a couple of Red Squirrels, three Ospreys (including one which soared very close, fishing), several newly-arrived migrants and a couple of Bank Voles. Plenty to think about for the forthcoming wildlife holiday.