High Summer 2016

Published: 1st September 2016

It was with some trepidation that we organised a Glenloy Wildlife holiday for the end of August. On the one hand this is prime time for whale watching, and all raptors should have fledged young by now. Conversely, August weather in Fort William can be somewhat mixed and small birds tend to be conspicuous by their absence. In the end we need not have worried, we had some great sightings of all the main species that we expected to see, and even the weather proved kind to us for the most part. It was also the little things that added something special to a late summer holiday; for example, clouds of Scotch Argus when the sun came out, and a resting common hawker that allowed close examination for several minutes.

The undoubted highlight of the week was a fine day out to Eigg and Rum, with a calm sea and fair sky. The Rum Cuillins were fully clear and visibility was excellent right across to Skye. The glassy waters were covered with birds – large rafts of juvenile and guillemots and razorbills, alongside  Manx shearwaters and diving gannets.  Bonus species such as bonxies, divers and terns added some additional interest.  Stars of the show were Minke whales, at least four of them, which stirred as soon as the tide was on the turn, and showed well close to the boat. Everywhere we went small pods of porpoise were turning in the water, some even demonstrating dolphin-like ambition with leaps that took them clear of the water. The various rocks and skerries were covered in seals, including this year’s common seal youngsters. The midges on Rum were something else, however, forcing us to take advantage of the community café, and a welcome cup of tea. Fortunately, these were soon left behind as we left the shore. The day was so good that Ronnie of the Sheerwater was half an hour late home for his tea, and so therefore, were we!

Eagles also performed well. We had good views of a hunting goldie in Glen Loy, and a pair of white-tailed adults over the hills at Lochaline. Both species were re-encountered during a trip up Loch Arkaig. To this we could add plenty of buzzards, a sparrowhawk, a couple of hovering kestrel, a fishing osprey and four red kites. Other birds that were showing well were the local blackcock, with eight males on the lekking ground, even doing a little bit of displaying, probably more for our benefit than theirs. Amongst distant views of divers, we managed to find a really close red throated diver in Cuil Bay, which even looked as if it had a red breast. Slavonian grebes were still riding the waves at Loch Ruthven in their breeding plumage, along with tantalising glimpses of a well-grown juvenile. Lots of dabchicks were also present, although it is interesting to see that good numbers are starting to form again around Loch Eil. Small birds were admittedly a little more difficult, but amongst others we had good views of goldcrest, spotted flycatcher, stonechat, blackcap and a flock of twite.

We had feared that deer might be difficult to spot as the red stags are shedding the velvet from their antlers now and tend to retreat to the high tops to avoid the flies. We need not have worried as we saw red deer most days. Some were indeed high on the skyline, but many were further down by the roads in some of the less-travelled places, and the stately herd of stags along Loch Sunart was still posing close to the shore. On one day we were lucky enough to see all four species of deer found locally, including a skulking roe deer, a sika hind with calf on an island, and a rather tame herd of fallow. An early morning trip produced a good sighting of one of our local dog otters, who swam in front of us, and climbed rocks to eat a fish. At this time of year there is no need for a 4.30am start, however! The red squirrels were performing well at the feeding station at Inchree, entertaining as ever as they chased each other off the nut boxes. A pair of sharp eyes picked up a brown hare and we also saw bats, rabbits, voles and mice. Our pine martens arrived on cue each day in various numbers and combinations, but on at least one evening all three grown kits were busy feeding with their mother.

A further excursion that proved popular was a rocky shore hunt at Ballachulish. It always brings out the inner child in adults of all ages, turning over seaweed and rocks to hunt for marine creatures. We were able to show folks the butterfish that the otter had been previously devouring, along with a wealth of organisms that quite often pass people by. These included the obvious crabs, starfish and urchins, but also chitons, scale worms and sea squirts. Throw a bit of sun into the mix and this could have been a proper old fashioned summer holiday! I am not sure that guests appreciated being tested on the names of plants, but we did see quite a variety still in flower, and if only the name of bog asphodel has stuck in the memory then we will have achieved something this week.