Here comes the rain again …..

Published: 6th May 2013

Well it had to happen, after 8 weeks of cold, dry and largely sunny weather, the April showers finally arrived at Glenloy, and have been with us ever since. Even the pine martens are looking fed up, and our ‘mum’ is appearing wet and bedraggled at feeding time. She is out hunting during the day to feed her growing kits and presumably small birds and mammals are making life difficult by keeping out of the rain. The season remains a strange one, and migrants are still slow to arrive.

Nevertheless, life goes on. I was very pleased to hear my first grasshopper warbler  of the year last week, reeling away amongst cleared forestry along Glen Roy. They were few and far between in 2012. A patch of sunshine proved quite productive that afternoon. Walking through Brae Roy we saw a pine marten in the middle of the day – an unusual sighting. It seemed as interested in us as we were in it, and disappeared under a shed only after several minutes of contemplation. Further along the valley floor was a beautiful golden plover, resplendent in its subtle golden breeding plumage, with black tummy. A pair of grey wagtails wagged along the small burn cum ditch by the side of the road, while willow warblers sang stoically from the trees above. Wheatears were everywhere, singing their scratchy warbling tunes, and posing on the tops of suitable rocks. Sandpipers piped and flitted along the edge of the Roy and oystercatchers scolded noisily. We came across a mosaic of toad spawn chains in a weedy pool through which the water flows, and a single female looking huge and warty. Further along the track a posse of newts were browsing on newly hatched frog tadpoles – tiny black commas, meeting an untimely end.  A distant eagle floated across snow-clad mountains, yet deer stuck to the higher ground. Amazing what a bit of sun can do for stuff. On the way home I spotted, rather than heard, my first cuckoo of the season, perched on a telegraph wire looking rather hawk-like.

Closer to home there has been considerable felling work in the woods on the opposite side of the glen. Subsequently paths have been closed, but we had a look-see on Sunday, sadly not avoiding another downpour. Although we saw and heard little in the way of migrant birds other than willow warblers, we did startle three roe deer on the forest path, including a handsome buck.  They seemed surprised to see us. We also saw a nice pair of bullfinches, always active at this time of year on the lookout for buds. Despite the creation of turning places for forest vehicles the oakwoods and their surrounds have been largely untouched, so as soon as the impressive mountain of stacked timber is cleared, life should get back to normal for the forest dwellers.

Plants are starting to make an appearance, along with attendant bees (hardy wee souls, flying even in light rain and wind). One of my favourite flowers, the wood anemone is starting to grace the forest floor, and clumps of primroses and dog violets enliven the still largely brown hillsides. Dog’s mercury is also flowering in its own feeble way, while the golden saxifrage is luxuriating in the damp. Cuckoo flowers are flourishing in the ditch along the side of the A830, but have not matched the fabulous display that they put on last spring. Further afield the ramsons are growing thick and lush, and it will not be long before their white flowers carpet the woods around Fort Augustus and Onich. Wild garlic is thinly distributed in the soils of Lochaber, but well worth searching out.  The bluebells are still a way off flowering, at least around Fort William.

As I got out of bed the other day I thought I heard a corncrake calling in the garden. Despite listening and looking there was no further trace, but this is not impossible. There are previous recent records of corncrakes  at Erracht, across the glen, and as migrants arrive the first thing they do is sing, even if only passing through.