Eagles Galore w/c 16/9/17

Published: 3rd October 2017

Finally, the eagles have appeared in numbers here in Lochaber. Both golden and sea eagles gave dazzling displays during the latest Glenloy Wildlife holiday, with both adults and juveniles showing well. These included birds flying in areas we knew to be occupied, but have seen little of over the summer, which is very reassuring. At least two young golden eagles were flying, probably first year juveniles, including one in Glen Loy and another at Kingairloch, together with a further older youngster which produced a low fly-by at Lochaline.  This year’s fledglings are rather dark birds with a sharp contrasting white patch on the tails. On one memorable day, we saw no less than eight goldies (with a possible glimpse of a ninth), well distributed across Ardgour and Morvern. A pair of adults perched side by side on the top of a low hill, which is not a common sighting. Not to be outdone we also had several white-tailed eagles during the week. A pair of adults flew from perches on the point of Ardgour (one actually on the monument) to the rocks at Sallachan, where they landed for a while (much to the concern of a young seal). One then made a fruitless stoop at a fish before both flew low over our heads to the ridge behind us. We also saw a pair (the same birds?) at Inversacaddle, one on Eigg, and a further adult at Kingairloch. The latter bird appeared at the same time as three goldies, so we could appreciate the contrast in outline and size. The effortless gliding flight of eagles is always a thrill and the sight of the light catching the golden head of an adult eagle is a special memory for guests to take away.

Other raptors also made their own appearances, including several buzzards each day. We saw kestrel in Glen Roy, several sparrowhawks, a pair of peregrine from the boat on Eigg and a hunting ring-tailed hen harrier further east. Pipits have largely left the glens, although there seemed to be more still present in the uplands further across in the Cairngorms. Swallows and martins had largely disappeared by the end of the week and we saw no sign of any warblers. The shearwaters had also mostly started their long migration south, leaving the odd youngster still to follow. The first returning great northern divers were seen around the coast of Loch Linnhe, and we also had some great sightings of red throated divers, one still in breeding plumage. Numbers of wintering little and Slavonian grebes continue to grow. There were several skeins of geese on the move, albeit mostly greylag and Canadas. Eider are starting to regain their breeding plumage. The black grouse are back on their leks, with seven cocks on our local stomping ground.

The highlight of our mammal sightings had to be minke whale, with at least ten individuals spotted in beautifully calm seas from the Sheerwater, some quite close to the boat. We saw a large pod of common dolphin from Muck, seen splashing and jumping at some distance towards Eigg. Several porpoise were also seen, some joining in a feeding frenzy of gannets. Seals were present on most of the usual rocks, although it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a good view of the ones on the skerries at Arisaig because of the continued rise in the number of kayakers. Sadly, the red squirrels seem to have disappeared from around the Lodge, although we hope that this might just be temporary. We had several good sightings elsewhere, including one that was collecting lichen, subsequently taken to its dray. As the days shorten the number of brown hares becoming visible in the late afternoon has risen, with several seen in Glen Roy. We also had a good view of mountain hare, spectral amongst the mist of Cairngorm. We had three otter sightings, the last one, a big dog that fished continuously for over half an hour, before we left it in peace. The pine martens are increasingly doing their own thing, visiting in seemingly random groups of one, two or three, this year’s youngster no longer routinely accompanying his mother. The red deer have started to roar, and stags can now be seen with groups of hinds, although this is just the start of the rutting season. A large group of bachelor stags was still seen happily grazing together, so these, at least, have yet to feel the urge.

Other points of interest at this time of year include fungi, which have benefitted from the mild, damp weather. Old grassland, abundant in this area, produces a wealth of colourful waxcaps. Milk-caps and russulas are also appearing in numbers, as are the destructive honey fungi. The inclement weather has resulted in inserts being in short supply. Peacock butterflies have been in short supply, but there are quite a few red admirals around together with a few lingering green-veined whites. We managed to pick up a few common hawker dragonflies, along with black and common darter, but again the opportunity to fly was limited. A forest bug provided a welcome distraction on a dreich day.

Finally, a busman’s break in search of Scottish beavers finally met with success. Many thanks to Bob Smith for showing us one of his local families. We saw probably four individuals, close-to and in natural light, together with their extensive engineering works. Well worth a trip across to Highland Perthshire!