Otters and Eagles 2016

Published: 6th April 2016

Glenloy Wildlife have just held their annual ‘otter and eagle’ break, and very successful it was too, despite rather mixed weather. The first day of the break coincided with ideal conditions for eagle spotting, with fine, sunny weather coming on the back of heavy, continuous rain the previous day. We had a great start when an adult white-tailed eagle flew low above us, being mobbed by a raven. We caught up with presumably the same bird further down the road, where it flew down onto a rocky islet at the edge of Loch Linnhe, this time bombarded by gulls. The eagle rested there for some time, its wickedly curved bill clearly prominent. Soon after we saw a golden eagle flying high over the hill tops, again being mobbed, before it disappeared into the last remaining mists. Two further sightings were added that day, again with golden eagles being mobbed above distant mountains. The next day was variable, and the Glen Loy eagles failed to show (a worrying development, but assuming the female is on eggs the male could have been hunting anywhere over a very large area). A pair of goldies over the tops at Braeroy later that afternoon made up for this – our second sighting in Glen Roy over the last 4 days. The third day was pretty miserable weather-wise, but we still managed to find another white-tailed eagle, this time being mobbed by a pair of hoodies. It perched on a high crag, before swooping down over the side of the hill and giving an effortless display of rapid flight.

Slight panic bells were beginning to sound when we failed to find otters on the first day, despite covering a lot of coastline, but our patience was rewarded in spades on the second morning. Straight after enjoying the blackcock lekking in full sunshine, we spotted two well-grown youngsters fishing as soon as we approached the edge of Loch Linnhe. They both dived continuously right in front of us, and repeatedly came up with small fish that were soon crunched up and swallowed. We continued to watch this pair for the best part of an hour. Eventually they tired of feeding and came up onto the rocks, where they rolled and sprainted.  Not content with this they swam to another set of rocks and had a protracted play-fight both on and off the rocks, at a very comfortable distance for watching with binoculars. As this was all going on a mother with a much smaller cub swam right past us underneath our feet – no need for binoculars this time. The cub paused and partly came up onto the rocks below to have a good nosey at us. Mum eventually collected her errand charge and shooed it away under the water and they disappeared into a holt, again directly below us.  We could almost be forgiven for being ‘ottered out’, but we managed to find another pair of feeding otters at a very different location on Loch Linnhe the next day. On both occasions tidal conditions were perfect for feeding otters, and sea conditions allowed good visibility. Timing, as they say, is everything, although luck also plays a large part in otter spotting. To cap it all we found some nice (fragrant?) spraints and great examples of sprainting mounds.

The otter sighting completed our ‘Big Five’ sightings in a 24 hour period! Other wildlife included the required red squirrels, red deer and common seals, as well as all three species of diver (red-throated now in breeding plumage), Slavonian grebes, wild goats, pine martens and our first porpoise of the season. We caught a good view of the Loch Sunart pod travelling rapidly away from Strontian, in mirror-calm sea conditions. Meadow pipits were particularly notable this weekend, gathering in large flocks at the foot of various glens. Slavonian grebes were also still gathering, but most now were displaying breeding plumage. Greenshank were seen in good numbers, with a flock of 8 present on Loch Eil, presumably prior to dispersal. The first of the spring migrants was found – a chiffchaff singing (and located!) at the foot of Loch Sunart. The next day a pair of wheatears were spotted squabbling over the beach near Kingairloch. Yesterday Angela and I found our first sand martins back on the sand banks of the River Lochy. Conversely, a flock of redwing was congregated on the rugby pitch at Banavie.

This morning, we had more good views of our local blackcock, and found a couple of distant fishing otters (somewhat of a bonus given the weather forecast and high tidal conditions). The find of the day was made by a keen-eyed guest, however, who spotted a female long-tailed duck landing in the water at the far side of Loch Linnhe. This bird spent most of its time underwater, surrounded on the surface by a flotilla of eider and a couple of pairs of goldeneye, but eventually it settled to afford reasonable scope viewing for all of us. The long-tailed duck was a first for us in Lochaber, and just goes to show that you never know what you might see when out wildlife watching.