Still in the grip of winter

Published: 4th March 2010

Out and about in Lochaber we have continued to fight our way through snow and ice, pretty much as soon as we gain altitude above 50m! On an exploratory mission up Loch Arkaig this week we contrived to get the minibus stuck in snow. Many thanks to visitors Dave and Rachel for helping to pull us out with their winch – obviously made of hardy stuff as they have had thier camper van here throughout the winter weather. By now we should have seen the first frog spawn, but all the smaller water bodies are still frozen, and until a couple of days ago the canal was still completely frozen over. Even the saltwater Loch Eil was frozen at the weekend, and huge plates of ice are still distorting the saltmarsh at the head. The ground is still too hard to play rugby on, so there is no sign yet of early spring flowers either. our poor little snowdrops never did open after optimistically sticking their flower buids above the ground in a brief mild interlude. For the moment we shall have to stick to mosses and evergreen ferns.

On the bird front  there is the sense that spring might be on the cards as the daylight lengthens.Our local loacl avifauna has started to sing in glorious sunshine but 5o of frost – robins, chaffinches, great tits, coal tits and wrens are all giving it laldy, but it is hard to imagine chiffchaffs singing in the near future. On a brighter note we heard a song thrush singing at Mallaig on Monday. The coast is milder, but we still enjoyed a snowy walk to a frozen loch, coming across another pair of whoopers in a patch of open water on Loch an Nostaire. Was surprised to see a small wader in a running flush – not the usual snipe, but probably a dunlin. Golden plover seem to be amassing around Loch Linnhe, in advance of dispersing to their upland breeding grounds. Great northern diver in winter plumage are present in most of the usual places around the coast, but we have not seen any inland black-throats yet.

The gorse and rough grass along the nearside towpath of the canal has been neatly cut by British Waterways. This has much improved access and will provide open, sunny rides for our local butterflies. On the downside I wonder whether the cut will seriously affect the colony of Chequered skipper we found there last May, as the larvae pupate at the base of purple moor grass. It will be interesting to see what happens this year – assuming we have enough sunshine to bring the butterflies out.

Our nightly offerings of bread and peanut butter still being appreciated by the pine marten 'boys', who still take time to play and tumble. However, they have disappeared off with with one of my fat feeders for the birds – a wire cage for fat balls – and I have yet to find out where they have taken it.

As promised, here is the link to the videos Angela took recently of Blackcock Lek (renamed  to Black Grouse lek as the list of sites brought up by Google was appalling!) and also the pine martens. playing :