Otter and Eagles 2017

Published: 7th April 2017

We have just completed our annual otter and eagle break, and have enjoyed a successful few days, looking for these and a wealth of other wildlife. Coming soon after the clocks change, this is a good time to look for otters, without having to get up too early in the morning. Tides are still more important than times for coastal otters, but in Fort William the otters do become a little shyer during the day.  It was about 7am when we quietly walked down to the edge of the shore in the usual Lochy Mouth location, to see a mother and well-grown cub swimming very close to the shore. These disappeared almost straight away and I was afraid we had disturbed them. They soon reappeared slightly further out, however, and we were able to watch them for 20 minutes fishing, sprainting and running along the far shore before they leisurely swimming upstream and around the river bend out of sight.  A few days later we also saw a dog otter swimming in the same location at the same time. This fished again for quite a while before swimming straight towards us and disappearing into the holt under our feet – no doubt to sleep off the huge number of butterfish it had just consumed. On a wild, windy and wet day we spent some time in the hide at Garbh Eilean, unsuccessfully waiting for otters to appear. Almost as soon as we left though I spotted one from the minibus, fishing just round the corner from the hide! The downside was that we had to watch this in the rain, but it also climbed up onto the rocks to feed, and gave a good show, so it was worthwhile stopping.  Another otter was spotted later that day in Loch Ailort, but this was heading towards shore and had disappeared by the time we had found somewhere safe to park. A further possible distant sighting (doesn’t count as only I saw it!) was made on Loch Aline.  We also found some great examples of spraint mounds, glaringly green against the other vegetation, and introduced our guest to the delights of the smell and feel of fresh spraint!

Eagles can be a little difficult at this time of year, as the hens should be on eggs by now, and the cocks are often wary about flying near any eyries. To offset this, the days are still relatively short, and the eagles need to find food after the long Highland winter.  We were lucky enough to spot a pair of golden eagles near Loch Sunart that spent some time soaring quite low above a ridge. For the reasons above this a little worrying, but there is still time yet for them to lay eggs.  As it was, they were close enough to clearly show the difference in size between the sexes, and to admire the beautiful golden heads as these glinted in the sun. The eagles were mobbed by a pair of ravens, which always gives a perspective on size. Our local eagle in Glen Loy was also on fine form. As the ridge here is quite low the eagles are usually relatively close, unless they decide to catch a thermal and go spiralling up thousands of feet. We spotted a golden eagle hunting along Druim Laoigh, dark against the side of the hill or silhouetted in the sunlight as it crested the tops. This same eagle seemed to disappear around the back of the hill into Glen Mallie and then reappear a few minutes later further east. In this way it made four traverses of the ridge while we were watching over a period of an hour. No sign of it catching anything, however.  We also managed to find a white-tailed eagle after quite a bit of searching. An adult eagle flew out of a tree and gave us a brief glimpse of its size and plumage before turning and flying out of sight down the loch. I suspect that its mate was sat close on its nest nearby. The Arkaig sea eagles are busy incubating, and the hen is barely visible, at a great distance, in its huge nest.

Other wildlife was also enjoyed. The Glenloy Lodge pine martens were still appearing regularly, with up to three feeding at once.  Our resident female was not at all pleased with this and a couple of dramatic fights ensued.  The red squirrel in the garden continues to hoover up hazelnuts from the feeder, but has not learned the trick of appearing when guests are about yet – one did get a brief view of it before breakfast. There were several Slavonian grebes in Loch Linnhe, now almost all in breeding plumage. The great northern divers are also starting to colour up.  We found a handsome pair of black-throated divers and a distant pair of red-throats. Other notable birds included some late redwings, a pair of whooper swans and many displaying goldeneye. Good numbers of black grouse – at least 10 cocks – were seen on the local lek. Angela and I had a glimpse of a merlin hunting pipits, but unfortunately this was not seen by all.  Sika deer were spotted still in their dark winter coats. We saw many red deer, with a fair number of stags having cast either one or both antlers.

Migrants continue to appear. We saw our first osprey last week, which looks like setting up a new nest in a visible location along Loch Lochy. Unfortunately it was off doing osprey things when I took guest along to see it, but was back again two days later, and the nest had grown. Today, another 2 days later, I saw a mating pair on the nest. Other ospreys have been seen along Loch Arkaig at one known nest site, but nothing has yet appeared in the newly refurbished nest on which the Woodland Trust have placed a webcam. (Typical, as I have signed up to review footage! – there is plenty of time yet.) In the last couple of days the sand martins have reappeared, and are investigating their old nest burrows in the banks of the River Lochy. We also saw another chiffchaff, this time very close to the martins by the canal, and I had the first willow warbler of the year today (7th). Meadow pipits are appearing in greater numbers in the glens and wheatear have also made it far up Glen Roy. This is an exciting time of year, and we keep watching out for what might arrive next.