Half-day Trip Anyone?

Published: 10th February 2017

We have had a number of requests for half-day trips with Glenloy Wildlife recently, so as it was fine yesterday we decided to test out a route that we cover in full day safaris, but adapt this to see what we could see in four hours.  Other half days with less driving are possible, particularly to see deer, look for eagles, and enjoy some magnificent scenery, but this route provides a fair chance of spotting otters, so we thought we would give it a go.

The day started auspiciously, with a dipper on the River Loy just outside our gate – not a regular place for them.  We had just enough time before catching the Corran Ferry to see if the squirrels were active at Inchree. Fortunately, they were, with two rather dark individuals chasing each other around the trunk of a tree before settling on to different feeders at a discrete distance. At this time of year the ear tufts are very prominent. There were a number of black guillemots in the water at the Corran Narrows, mostly in black breeding plumage with a white wing bar.  In contrast one individual still sported the whites and greys of winter. On the other side at Ardgour, Canada geese grazed in the crofts by the road, accompanied by a rather handsome red deer stag. Oystercatchers and curlews flitted between foreshore and fields. A pair of ravens flew over as we carried on round the coastal road, and their local nest site appeared to be in good order, with recent signs of repair. A number of stops along the side of Loch Linnhe produced mergansers, herons and gulls, along with a passing buzzard and roadside stonechat. In search of more so we headed across Glen Tarbert to Loch Sunart.

The tide here was still low, with waders and herons spread out across a large expanse of mudflat. We followed the side of the loch for a few miles before we were rewarded with the sight of a mother otter and well-grown cub swimming along the edge of the kelp. Despite progressing purposefully nose to tail they did stop to hunt from time to time and crunch the odd fish while sitting up in the water. We watched these for some time until they swam out of view. After a quick stop for refreshments while we scanned the hills around Loch Sunart, we continued south into Morvern and took the windy Kingairloch Road back towards Loch Linnhe. A herd of hinds looked down on us from on high, and various other groups of deer were encountered along the way, including some silhouetted stags on the mountain tops. All along we were scanning the tops for raptors, and finally spotted a golden eagle carrying a stick in its beak. As we stopped to look it disappeared into a ravine, but soon re-appeared without its burden, so obviously was doing some nest repairs of its own. Soon after it was joined by its mate and we watched the eagle pair soaring above the hills, before they finally separated, one to disappear back into the ravine and the other to glide effortlessly across to the other side of the glen. A great sight.

Negotiating the tiny road that hugged the coast between towering cliffs and choppy seas we looked out for the next species on our list. Wild goats frequent this coastline, and are often very visible in winter.  We were not disappointed, spotting first ones and twos up on the steep slopes, followed soon after by a group of nannies and some very small kids. It seems strange that they should choose to give birth in late January when the weather can be at its cruellest and food supplies short, but these were healthy youngsters, extremely cute, playing king of the castle and running between their mothers’ legs. Billies were seen separately, large hairy brutes, with massive curved horns, munching happily on bramble by the side of the road.  Further nannies and another kid were seen over a long distance along the road, more than we would have expected, so the population must be flourishing. Almost overlooked in the adjacent sea, several glossy, pink-white drake goosanders sported themselves, along with a pair of mergansers. More stonechats flitted from the tops of gorse bushes by the shore.

Still hoping to catch sight of a common seal we paused again at the rocks at Sallachan on the return trip to the ferry. No seals here, but a Slavonian grebe was quietly fishing in the bay, and a great northern diver had drifted closer to the rocks with the tide. Sandwiched between a double trailer carrying portacabins and similar-sized timber trucks we watched the channel while waiting briefly for the ferry. Remarkably, the elusive seal swam right past us, making it a Scottish ‘Big Five’ day! Better still, we had had good sightings of all these species, and even better from my point of view we were back in Fort William pretty much on the four-hour mark. A fantastic trip to be recommended to anyone, but we can’t promise that you will see all that we saw today!

Back at Glenloy Lodge I had barely time to pause for a coffee before setting off to pick up a guest from the Commando Memorial for an evening’s pine marten viewing. A marten streaked across the yard just as we pulled in. Three different individuals visited the feeding station in the next hour, all clad in thick winter coats with bushy tails. At this time of year it is too dark by the time the martens arrive for good shots of them foraging in the ‘natural’ setting further out in the garden, although the martens did pose nicely there. The spotlights by the house still provide some nice opportunities for marten photography, however. In the last few weeks we have had several red squirrels running around the beech trees in the garden, possibly displaced by forestry elsewhere across the glen. Optimistically I have placed a squirrel feeder out for them, baited with phenomenally expensive hazel nuts (pine martens will scoff any peanuts). To date they have not yet found this, but it would be fantastic if we could offer photo opportunities for both squirrels and pine martens from the Lodge.