High Season 2015

Published: 5th September 2015

According to meteorological circles, summer in Scotland officially ended at the end of July, which is rather a pity, as it never really began here this year. The weather continues to be unseasonably cool, as well as predictably wet. There is a distinct absence of insects around this year, other than midges, but the odd glimmer of sun does have the desired effect of bringing the butterflies scurrying out. We were also amazed to see large numbers of dragonflies responding to the merest glimmer of sun in a rather unpromising bit of clear-fell yesterday. They livened up an otherwise rather dreich and depressing walk (nothing like a recently cleared woodland with muddy tacks to dampen the spirits). The dragonflies included a number of presumably newly emerged southern hawkers, as well as several golden-ringed. A mixed tit flock, including a family of long-tailed tits and accompanying tree-creeper also made a welcome appearance. Returning the same way, the patch of boggy clear-fell was being patrolled by house martins, and the dragonflies were lying low.  A flock of around twenty crossbill, plus stragglers, also flew overhead.  Crossbills are routinely visiting the tops of the trees around Glenloy Lodge, and appear to have bred well in the area.  Hopefully they will be more visible over the winter.

We continue to struggle with our butterfly transect in Glen Loy. Finding windows of sunshine has been difficult, particularly as we can only get out of the house for a very limited time during the afternoon at present. We were delighted, therefore, to actually manage to pick a sunny period, during which we saw about a dozen common blues, one of the target species of the Big Butterfly count, and therefore doubly welcome. The first pristine Scotch argus of the year were also on the wing, along with second-brood speckled woods. We have also managed to find our first local ringlet along the Caledonian Canal at the foot of Glen Loy. The nearest we have seen them before is at Creag Meagidh, some distance to the east, but on consultation of the distribution maps it appears there are old records of ringlets in our part of the Highlands. The vanessids are yet to arrive in any force, although the odd red admiral has paid a visit. It looks like being another painted lady – free year for Lochaber.

On another rare outing along the canal we were stuck by a stunning floral display both on the canal banks, but particularly in the adjacent wet meadows between Banavie and Corpach. In this case the cold weather has no doubt helped, as many different species of flower are blooming together, whereas in a normal year they might well be staggered. So knapweed and fireweed are flourishing alongside foxgloves, meadow vetchling, tufted vetch and marsh woundwort, whilst the meadowsweet and valerian are in full flower. Local patches of colour are provided by water forget-me-not and marsh ragwort. A number of unusual species for the area, including some dreaded ‘invasive aliens’ add further interest to this stretch, including monkey-flower,  Himalayan balsam, goatsbeard, and, as yet, unidentified St John’s-wort and hawkweeds.  We even found a small patch of woody nightshade, which I only know elsewhere in Lochaber from Lochaline, in the base-rich area of silica sand. This would make a good area for a spot of wildflower identification. Back at home there are still heath-spotted orchids flowering amongst the rush pasture at Strone. The ditching efforts there only seems to have encouraged soft-rush, which now dominates many of the fields.

The constant stream of mainly overseas guests to Glenloy Lodge have been entertained each evening by the pine martens, with up to four appearing at any one time. Those from Germanic countries are often paranoid about martens chewing cables and hoses under their car bonnets (which I always attribute to stone martens, and not the ‘nice’ Scottish pine martens). This is not helped by the fact that the martens are particularly fond of a warm bonnet, and often make a bee-line for a newly parked car. The two kits, now a pair of large bruisers, can often be seen tussling on the bonnet of our car, which is tucked away in the corner, before inevitably sliding off the edge – always good for a chortle. No-one that has arrived actually looking for martens and being prepared to wait (the few microseconds it takes for a marten to suss out whether food is likely to appear) have gone home disappointed.  If this ever comes to the attention of Countryfile’s Tom Heap, then we can help him get his pine marten fix.

Finally, a mystery is solved. The large, unidentified pellet brought to our attention by a local naturalist has been recognised as one of deer hair, regurgitated by an eagle. Many thanks to Dave Whittaker for clearing this up.