Last gasp of summer

Published: 30th August 2013

Summer is almost over here in the West Highlands, the kids are long back at school, and the annual influx of tourists has slowed to a trickle after the last hurrah of the bank holiday. Here at Glenloy our thoughts turn back to wildlife holidays and what there is about. The flowers are looking bedraggled, battered by August rains and a freshening breeze. The knapweed is almost over and the scabious well into its prime. Even the heather is beginning to look a little sad. The only flower that seems unaffected by the passing of the season is eyebright, which has been in full bloom since June and still graces us with its modest white blooms and their twinkling cores. Fungi are coming into their own. We harvested the first of the season’s chanterelles this week, and have started to see waxcaps by the canal.

Throughout the summer guests have been lucky to be entertained by our young pine martens, whether they wanted to or not, which are still operating as a pair and mooching about looking for food (albeit not as persistently as they were). I doubt that anyone who came with the intention of seeing the martens has missed out, and they have been showing both reliably and well at sociable hours. When not scrounging they loaf about (often on nice warm car bonnets) or play – although the brother often seems to have a strange idea of what playing means in respect of his sister. A favourite trick is sliding down the minibus windscreen, another balancing on the handrail of the front steps. The male is still gauche and clumsy compared to the more compact and agile female. They often huddle together and (sort of) share each others’ food. Mum has apparently abandoned them and now does her own thing.

There has been a good hatch of peacock butterflies in the last week, to complement the small tortoiseshells that have been nectaring in the flower beds for a couple of weeks now; it seems to have been a good year for the latter. Scotch argus are still around in good numbers, although appearing a little raggy now, and the ubiquitous green veined white seem as fresh as ever. Wandering along the canal towpath on a cool and not particularly sunny day this week we put up three small coppers, my first of the year, and never common in this area. On the same walk we came across a dynamic vapourer moth caterpillar, all hair and horns, moving across the towpath at a fair lick. A very striking beast, and also uncommon locally. Nearby was a fox moth caterpillar – larger,  hairier, with  discrete yellow stripes, and altogether more likely to be seen. Weather and work has put a limit on moth trapping activities recently, but will attempt to do some this next week.

Another first for the year, long overdue, was a kingfisher, seen at the mouth of the burn flowing into Loch Eil at Kinlocheil. This handsome bird hung around for a couple of minutes on a sturdy bank-side plant before flying off in the rain. The tide that day was very low, exposing large areas of mudflats. A good selection of waders and other birds was also reminiscent of winter. These included a trio of dabchicks, offshore, along with a flock of goosander. The golden plovers were back, in the sort of low numbers that seem to persist all year there. A party of dunlin, still with black tummies, was overlooked by larger ringed plover, who in turn were dwarfed by curlew. Always worth a look here, as anything can turn up.

A welcome piece of news was an orca sighting, reported yesterday by HWDT off nearby Soay. Killer whales are still very much on the wish list, and if it is fine we hope to get in a couple of boat trips before the season is over. Today south-westerly gales make that a distant possibility, but it is time we saw a whale or two whilst out with guests this year, and that would do nicely!