Crossbills feeding on ash?

Published: 11th February 2010

Still cold at Glenloy and the mountains are white-capped. The canal continues to periodically freeze over, so the water temperature must still be low – at the height of the cold snap the ice was said to be 14″ (35cm) thick. Fortunately the cold does not appear to have been too catastrophic – we have seen the local kingfisher a couple of times in the last week, so one at least has survived. In periods of milder weather the local birds forage further afield than our bird feeders, which saves us a little on bird food! A recent walk in Glenfinnan revealed next to no birds, apart from within a 100m  radius of the feeders at the keeper's cottage.

We shook off the winter blues the other day and walked to the top of Beinn Bhan, traversing the ridge in deepish snow. Did not see hoped-for ptarmigan, but did see piles of droppings in some deep footprints near the summit – the birds had obviouisly been using these for shelter against the admittedly Arctic blast. There were a couple of snow-buntings at the edge of the snow line, but very little else apart from the odd raven, and somewhat surprisingly, a woodcock, which flew out of a wooded gully about half way up.

The cold weather is delaying signs of spring, and probably has put birds off nesting for a while. Ravens are still calling to each other and flying in pairs, so are not sat on nests yet. Similarly there are still good numbers of mixed flocks of crossbills about. Descending from Beinn Bhan we watched a group of crossbill feeding on ash buds (amongst much twittering and calling – presumably food was not the only thing on their minds). The next day I saw the same thing happen some distance away by the River Lochy – again on a large, mature ash. I hadn't realised that ash buds were utilised much as a food source, and find this a bit strange as there is still plenty of cones about. Later on that day I flushed a tawny owl from one of the big beech lining the canal bank. Tawnies seem to be calling all around us at the present and Angela also saw one sat on a fence-post by the Banavie road.

One welcome sign of spring was the sight of three goldeneye drakes, displaying on Loch Eil. They were gliding along in a row, in pursuit of a solitary duck, throwing their heads right back along their backs and then launching them up with a whistling call. Very evocative on glassy clear water. Further along the loch was a wintering Slavonian grebe – a rare sight in these parts, and a welcome change from the many little grebe that spend the winter on Loch Eil.

No sign of any snowdrops yet, but all of a sudden we are starting to notice celandine leaves, hopefully the flowers are not too far off.