Heavy Weather

Published: 31st May 2011

The stormy weather that hit the West Highlands last week brought its share of challenges, even to Glenloy, with power cuts, floods and fallen trees. On the positive side a group of wildlife guests really did get to understand the meaning of the aphorism – “some of the best sightings can be had in inclement weather”! We played dodge the weather all week, and did in fact manage a couple of sunny intervals, although no completely dry days. On the night of the big storm we were very grateful for a calor gas oven in the Lodge, whilst guests seemed quite happy to sit by a roaring fire playing Scrabble by candlelight after dinner. We had already had to take the long route home via Spean Bridge to avoid road blockages that afternoon.The next day we were unable to access Loch Arkaig because of flooding, but managed some interesting alternatives instead.
On the day of the gales we had braved the Corran Ferry and were stood watching an Otter by Loch Linnhe, which had been fishing in a rough sea off rocks. Just as we were about to leave the otter turned towards us and swam for the near shore. It came out onto the rocks below us and wandered around the rocky shore for a good 5 minutes before it finally realised it was being watched, less than 10m away! Presumably the wind and rain had combined to render us invisible until it finally got downwind of us, giving a close sighting that no-one there will forget in a hurry. We also managed to see Red Squirrel, Common Seal and Red Deer in velvet that day, as well as a hoste of seabirds, despite some interesting driving conditions
The next day we were using the minibus for shelter as we drove down Loch Garry. En route we were amazed to see not only a Gannet, but on the way back, an Arctic Skua, both flying seawards – with some 20 miles to go. It is tempting to think these birds were blown off course and were making their way back, but I am reliably informed that skuas probably use the Great Glen as a thoroughfare in passage. We also managed a nice group of 8 Common Scoter, swimming in a line at some distance. Later on in the week on an exhilarating boat trip to Muck we also saw another Arctic Skua, sat on the water looking menacing, right alongside the boat. Another passage bird that seems to have been disrupted by the weather is the Dunlin. There was a sizeable flock on the beach at Callanash, scurrying about on the edge of the sea, resplendent with black tummies. These were still making their way north, and should be on their breeding grounds by now. With an increasing swell Shearwaters and Gannets appeared in numbers to skim the waves and challenge the elements.
In a lull between showers we hit another purple patch with an early 5am start. We were lucky enough to see 6 blackcock performing on the local lek site. A trio of Brown Hare chased each other through the lek, whilst a fourth looked on from the other side of the road. Returning to Lochy Mouth we were effectively greeted by another Otter, fishing just off the shore. After it vanished we still had plenty of time for a walk up the river, listening to the early morning birds. A short stroll produced Twite (right in the middle of Fort William), Whitethroat, Bullfinch, Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler, Blackcap (heard singing), the local Sand Martin colony and a pair of Spotted Flycatcher in the local BMX bowl! A Roe Deer strolled out of cover and across the path some 15m in front of us. A difficult morning to follow, and all before breakfast!
Other highlights of the week included no less than 3 cock Ring Ouzel up Glen Roy. We had several sightings of Sika Deer, and were able to assess the differences between the sika, red and roe from good views of each. The Yellowhammers performed nicely on the feeders at the Lodge, as did returning Siskin. whilst Crossbill visited the tops of conifers around the grounds. The Pine Martens are coming a little later now (it is not dark until well after 11), but are still reliable. Strangley enough Red Kite are becoming such a common sight around the country, that only I seemed excited by one at Loch Ruthven , although the Osprey that followed created a bit more interest. Just to round the week off we visited Glasdrum NNR on a dull but dryish afternnon, more in hope than expectation.We found a single Chequered Skipper, nectaring on a bluebell. The poor creature was pretty much torpid, and so posed obligingly for everyone to take their souvenir snaps. Even the butterflies are hardy in this part of the world! Another great week, – because of the weather?