Otter break 2015

Published: 21st April 2015

Well for once we had a stunning weekend’s weather in Lochaber for the Glenloy Wildlife otter break. Not only was the sun shining but the wind was low, meaning that anything moving on the water was easy to spot. To cut a long story short we did see otters, and had three sightings over the course of three days. The best of these was a big dog otter that swam out to some barely concealed rocks and fished for some 20 minutes,

Otter waving it's tail

Distant otter waving it’s tail

continually catching butterfish, which he then chomped on the surface. He then swam into the bank and disappeared into a holt, job done. The poorest sighting was of a nervous animal that slipped off the rocks into the water and then disappeared. The moral of this story – don’t point, no matter how excited you are! We also visited a regular sprainting site, and were rewarded with three lush green mounds of grass all topped off nicely with fresh spraint. We even set up a camera trap on a lying-up holt, but over the weekend the only images we captured were of a pair of swimming goosander.

We saw plenty more that weekend as we were travelling around the area, starting off with a great display of lekking black grouse in an early morning session prior to otter-spotting. Six blackcock were fairly flying at each other, and no doubt the animosity will increase as

Four male black grouse lekking

Blackcock squaring up on the lek – image courtesy of Chris Boothman

the peak of the lekking period is reached – feathers were literally flying. Other highlights included a juvenile sea eagle being mobbed by a raven (the size difference was remarkable). A pair of ravens hold territory at this site, where we have also seen otter in the past, and so it was furiously defended, the raven grabbing at the eagle’s tail feathers and the eagle trying to turn on its back and fend it off with its talons. We also had a couple of golden eagle sightings, and a good view of a ring-tail hen harrier, quartering remote moorland. Divers were to the fore this weekend, with good views of a lovely pair of black-throated divers in one of their usual haunts. The odd great northern diver is starting to come into breeding plumage, and we were to hear their mournful call from the sea at Arisaig. A pair of red-throated divers, also in breeding

A pair of red throated divers on Loch Sunart

A pair of beautiful red throated divers on Loch Sunart

finery, graced the tranquil waters of Loch Sunart. Other sightings included a Slavonian grebe in breeding plumage, wild goats, seals, plenty of red deer with stags just starting to shed their antlers, and of course, our local pine martens.

The good weather brought an influx of migrants into the area. The most notable were willow warbler, which are now singing in trees and bushes everywhere we go. Other warblers included blackcap (also singing in the garden) and garden warbler. We heard our first cuckoos of the year around Strontian, but have yet to see one yet. Wheatears are now ubiquitous along the coast and in the hills. The first swallows have arrived and more are coming in all the time. We also had our first sandpipers of the year – another local harbinger of spring, and great to hear their continuous piping. We were also pleased to see greenshank in several locations, presumably some of these were newly arrived birds that have yet to move up into the hills and remoter lochans. Had great views of a golden plover in breeding plumage in amongst displaying lapwing and larks. Butterflies were out in force, although to date we have only seen peacock, and a pleasingly high number of small tortoiseshells. The newts have also arrived in local ponds and ditches, although the breeding success of local frogs has been patchy, and they may find it tough to find enough tadpoles to feed upon.

Back at Glenloy, our local highlight has been a weasel that appeared one morning at the rockery behind the bird table. It nosed around for several minutes before finally disappearing. This is a first for us at Glenloy Lodge, and a rare sighting locally.  The local vole population could well be in for a hammering between pine martens and weasels, if the latter hangs around.