Migrants trickling in

Published: 12th April 2010

The weather in the West Highlands has been absolutely glorious over the weekend, and we have even managed to catch the sun a little whilst taking the opportunity to welcome this rare visitor. All of a sudden the local wildlife has started to come out of hiding.

The migrants are starting to trickle back, although things are desparately slow. Even the sand martins have not yet reached our local river bank, although Angela was fairly confident that she saw a swallow on Saturday (9th April) – obviously one with a mission. I have only seen one willow-chiff so far, and that was skulking in the cold last Monday, making nothing but plaintive contact calls. On Saturday there was a fall of wheatear at Elgol on Skye, with several around the harbour area. Similarly there have been large numbers of pied wagtails everywhere. Out on the hills the meadow pipits have returned in numbers and skylarks are also singing lustily. Singing wrens have also been conspicuous – a good sign, as this is one of the species that might have fared badly in the harsh weather. We even heard a snipe drumming close to Loch Lochy yesterday. Even closer to home the osprey nest has been repaired and has now grown in stature – the female appeared to be sitting today. Conversely, we managed to get really close to a redwing. It was on the ground in oak woodland, and probably on its way back up north. The colours were striking, and it was good to see it at close quarters.

We have had a great few days for raptors. On Friday we walked out to a deserted village along a promontory off the Road to the Isles. Above the hillside before the coastal plain a female peregrine was flying, with what appeared to be nesting material dangling from her talons. We had another sighting later on, of presumably the same bird, this time flying fast and hard across a sea loch – the speed in straight flight, not a stoop, was something else. On Saturday we sampled one of the boat trips from Elgol, and were pleased to see another peregrine, which took off from the cliffs above Prince Charlie's cave as we approached from the sea. Cruising towards the Black Cuilin I spotted a golden eagle quartering the hill side. The light was just right to catch its plumage against the black volcanic rock, and everyone managed to get a look before it sailed off over the ridge -a spectacular bird in a magnificent setting!.Yesterday we had a hot, but rewarding walk up Ben Tee. Another golden eagle was being harried by a crow above the summit. It had long gone by the time we reached the top, but two pairs of ptarmigan were hiding in the rocks well above 2,500 feet. Scattered feathers suggested that not all birds had escaped the eagle's attention.

The sun has also brought out some flowers – primroses and celandines are starting to open on the woodland floor. There were also quite a few day-flying moths and butterflies about at the weekend. Not many hung around long enough for great identification, but we definitely saw several peacocks and small tortoiseshells, as well as what were possibly ruby tigers. We even had a tortoiseshell flutter by as we were eating lunch right at the top of Ben Tee! The other noticeable players on Sunday were lizards, which seemed to be everywhere, even to heights above 2000 feet. This is a good time of year to see them as they are still quite sluggish.Common lizards seem to come in all sorts of size and colours, but most were only a rustle in the dry bracken.