Lochaber trails and

Published: 1st March 2011

Fort William has enjoyed a relatively mild, if wet February, although as I write the tops of the mountains are once again white. The chances are that spring is actually going to arrive a little earlier this year. Frogs have been massing in our pond for several days now, although as of yet there is no sign of spawn. Conversely, we did find spawn but no frogs in track puddles near Lochaline on Feb 26th, and more locally in a ditch below the Caledonian Canal on the 27th. Larger water bodies such as our pond always seem to take a little bit longer. We also saw the first wild flower of the year at Lochaline – a coltsfoot, which was also the first to appear last year. Elsewhere, the Black Guillemot on Loch Linnhe have regained their summer plumage, and hopefully it won't be too long before they return to their nesting sites.Yesterday (28th) we also saw our first Harbour Porpoise of the year. Not a bad spot from a car travelling along the A82 at over 50mph! There were a series of large splashes in the loch, clearly visible from the road, and on pulling over, we found that these were being made by a pod of at least five porpoise, travelling very quickly towards the Corran Narrows, almost leaping out of the water, more like a dolphin, as they travelled along. After they passed we were able to intercept them again at the Corran Jetty, and confirm that they were indeed porpoise.
The end of the traditional shooting season has also brought an unusual visitor to our garden – a cock pheasant! We do not have many pheasants locally as few estates release them. We presume this one has travelled some 6 miles or so from Achnacarry, the seat of the Cameron estate, but it may have come from somewhere we do not know about across the river. It forages under the bird feeders and adds a welcomne splash of colour on a grey winter's day. We will have to see how it gets on with the pine martens.
Angela and I have been working on a possible trails leaflet for self-guided wildlife tours on behalf of Wild Lochaber, our local marketing group. This is intended to compliment the existing excellent Lochaber Geopark trails leaflets. So as the rain was meant to relent last Saturday (it didn't), we decide to kill two birds with one stone and follow the Geo Trail leaflet for Morvern, whilst simultaneously testing out a wildlife watching route of our own. The day began auspiciously, if a bit soggy, with a good view of an Otter at the Loch Eil Narrows. The Common Seals were back on the rocks on Sallachan – all sizes, shapes and colours, it seemed. We then picked up the Wild Goat on the Kingairloch Road, along with several obliging Great Northern Diver, swimming surprisingly close to the shore at high tide. We joined the Geopark Trail on the Lochaline road and were soon busy looking at rock outcrops for signs of folding, discontinuities and evidence of ancient volcanoes. We were able to easily find outcrops of Jurassic shale on a forest track, as indicated, and were pleased to find several Gryphaea (Devil's Toe-nail) fossils that the strata contained. This was dwarfed into insignificance , however, by the volume of fossils on the shore at Lochaline, below the overlying layer of pure white silica sand. These again were mostly Gryphaea, but we also managed to discover a bit of ancient wood, an ammonite impression and a fragment of crinoid shell. A walk further along the shore produced a pair of calling Red-throated Diver, and another probable Otter, which unfortunately caught sight of us too quickly. On the way back towards Strontian we were overflown by a young White-tailed Eagle, with pale head and dark tail. As the light faded the deer came down to the roadside, and the day was rounded off with several groups of stags almost on the verges – a successful trip all round.
Buoyed by our success with the Morvern Trail we decided to retrace the more local Loch Leven Geo Trail yesterday. Again the stops were easy to find and most of the indicated featuyres clearly visible. The most impressive of these were indeed the views up and down Loch Leven, particualrly as the sun was actually shining. Evidence of glaciation in the form of roche moutonees and ice-carved slabs was also readily seen. The quarry at Ballachulish is always impressive, with white veins of quartzite and specks of iron pyrites enlivening the grey cliffs. We always get distracted by raptors and corvids here, however, and indeed the Raven's nest looks to have been repaired for use, whilst a screaming Kestrel added some novelty value, while abuzzard perched serenely on a nearby conifer. High above the Mamores I caught a glimpse of a distant Golden Eagle, to complete the weekend's tally of birds of prey. The undoubted highlight of the day, however, had to be the jet-poewered porpoise.