Scottish Wildlife near and far

Published: 8th March 2012

Here at Glenloy Lodge the birds are singing, including newly reappeared song thrushes, a sure sign that spring is on its way. February was remarkably mild for the most part and we have even seen the first wild primroses out along the forest tracks at Erracht. Frogs have spawned very early, with the first clumps appearing in our pond by 23rd. On Sunday (4th March) we even saw our first Common Lizard of the year, basking in the sun at an altitude of some 250m. More and more animals are making their presence felt, and our resident Pine Marten is looking more and more longingly at the house with a view to sharing it with us. As we usually do at this time of year we have explored a little further afield with a view to investigating the potential of new locations for Glenloy Wildlife guests.
We had a mixed walk based around the Corrieyairack Pass, near Fort Augustus. The first part, high above the River Tarff, was delightful, with nice woods full of the promise of spring flowers. A young Red Squirrel scampered along a wall in front of us before disappearing into broadleaved woods at the other side of the road. The next stretch was less impressive – a newly engineered superhighway along the route of the old Wade military road (ironically with a sign at the start informing us that it was illegal to damage the Historical Ancient Monument in any way). This new road provides access to the Beauly –Denny power line, intended to make Scotland’s fortune, but cutting wide swathes through some of our most iconic scenery. There is a further downside to these access roads, whether for power lines, windfarms or hydro schemes, in that they allow far easier direct access to remote parts of the country. In those places where raptors are still being illegally persecuted it becomes all too easy to access roosting birds and their nests. Indeed, we found the remains of one unidentified raptor, or at least its leg, on the side of this new road, and suspiciously close to several Red-legged Partridge and their release pens. Away from the roads the path was beautiful, following the Tarth through wooded hillsides. We saw a party of Sika deer – very dark with striking white rumps, a Roe buck and also Red Deer. We were also lucky enough to see a Peregrine – hopefully it will find some out of the way corner in which to breed.
There are no White-tailed Eagles on Mull! – or at least not while we are there. We again failed to see any during a short stay on Mull at the end of February, but did manage one in Morvern on the road to Lochaline. The Feral Goats at Kingairloch also seem to be thriving. In fairness we had a beautiful drive to the Treshnish Cottages on a sunny afternoon with snow on the hills (but not the roads). Close to our destination we stopped to watch a pair of Short-eared Owls hunting, surprisingly large and visible in the twilight. The car was also buzzed by a male Golden Eagle near to the farm, but for the next two days it rained and blew, and that pretty much was that.
We were more successful with Eagles on a walk up Glen Beasdale, a lovely glen with a series of cascading falls and remnant oak woodland on the southern flanks. A pair of Goldies appeared towards the top of the glen and hunted to and fro for quite some time. The deer were high up on the hill. We were surprised to find the newly dead carcases of 3 young females, presumably culled just prior to the end of the shooting season, and left out on the hill – no doubt to the benefit of the eagles and other scavengers. There were plenty of signs of Badger activity along the way, so these too must be included in that category. On the return a male Stonechat was singing; quite a melodious little tune, and rather unlike the usual harsh scratching.
Saturday saw us down in old stomping grounds in the Borders, enjoying a coffee and a chat with old friends. Their new conservatory, as well as allowing panoramic vistas across the countryside, has greatly improved the view of their bird feeders. As we watched I was delighted to see a flock of no less than nine Tree Sparrows on these; a bird we do not get as far north as Fort William. These have been encouraged by painstaking and judicious planting on the edge of farmland. We were also treated to the sight of a pair of Great-spotted Woodpecker, a pair of Bulfinch and a Nuthatch – one bird that we do hope to see on our own feeders someday soon.