Published: 27th April 2016
As I write at Glenloy Lodge it is snowing outside, and a north wind is howling around the yard. Nevertheless, the signs of spring continue to arrive. We heard our first cuckoos of the year last week in Glenfinnan and at Arisaig, and by the weekend they were calling in Glen Loy. The first tree pipit was found in Glen Mallie on Sunday, the first sandpipers were piping on the shore of Loch Arkaig and we were serenaded by willow warblers everywhere. Even a bat emerged in mid-daylight to hunt around the tree canopy. We saw our first local swallow just along the road at Muirshearlich on Thursday 22nd. April, a full week after the first house martins in Ardnamurchan. The martins were hawking around the Ardnamurchan distillery, which we were investigating, purely in the line of duty, in advance of our intended ‘Whisky and Wildlife Tour’, scheduled for the last Saturday of the Wild Lochaber Festival (28th. May). For the record we had a great tour of the distillery, and can thoroughly recommend the product – promises to be a grand day out!
Best of all we had great views of a cock ring ouzel on Friday. It had evidently just arrived and was hungrily feeding on the ground, busy working its way around the cow pats. Although ring ouzels are usually shy, this bird was oblivious to our presence and continued to hop around while Angela took some great photos. Ospreys are another long-awaited arrival. We helped some local members of the Raptor Study Group to build an osprey nest platform in a mature pine situated on a peninsula of Loch Lochy. Ospreys used to breed regularly here before their preferred tree snapped in a gale, and it would be great to get them back, as they were enjoyed by many folk over several years. Although I say ‘helped’, this largely involved hanging around the base of the tree avoiding falling branches. However, I heard an osprey calling overhead, and was able to spot the bird, our first of the year, which circled around the tree watching Lewis busy in the crown, before departing up the loch. We would like to think that birds will eventually spot this great new residential opportunity, with its irresistible fake white splashes.
The next week I watched three ospreys chasing each other around another nest site, this time half-way along Loch Arkaig. I was accompanied by the ‘Bestjobbers’ a French couple who blog for a living. They in turn had a TV crew in tow, who were filming their exploits. I had promised them a safari with deer, and we were able to deliver these in spades. Somewhat incongruously the deer were trying to find us – in the expectation we had food. Several bachelor groups of stags were waiting to be fed, as they are supplemented in the spring to help regain condition. Rather embarrassingly we were watching the stags when an estate vehicle rolled up with their own guests, who then helped put some food out on the lawn in front of their holiday cottages! Thanks Alex. The stags dashed across the road to lap it all up, hopefully all providing some great camera footage. More stags were vying for the attention of the Bestjobbers while the ospreys were doing their stuff, but everyone got to see them in the end, fortunately. The stags have largely cast their antlers by now, but a few still have impressive racks and remain photogenic.
Other signs of spring include our first butterflies of the year – at last. The first, rather surprisingly as this would be newly emerged, was a green-veined white near the Prince’s cairn at Loch nan Uamh. We did not see the first peacocks until later in the week. The weather last week was warm and sunny, and whilst excellent for butterflies it has dried up several ditches and temporary pools, which has not done the tadpoles any good. There has been a great display of primroses and celandines in the woods, along with the first of the wood anemones. Bluebells are a way off yet. Closer to home the expected mewling of tiny pine martens has been in the air. Our resourceful mother has managed to find bit of roof cavity that we did not know even existed in which to produce her litter. It is virtually unassailable, so we shall have to enjoy being serenaded whilst watching TV for the next few weeks. It will be fascinating to see how many kits appear eventually. This will hopefully be a real treat for guests wanting to see this ‘shy and elusive’ creature. Last night a family group enjoyed watching one of her old kits feeding, and then were able to see the star attraction herself after he had left (all the while enjoying some yummy cake – guests, not martens). Evening pine marten viewing will be available to non-residents all year round, subject to availability, so please enquire before booking.