Whoopers, Woodcock and Wigeon

Published: 26th March 2016


We have just enjoyed the first of our 2016 breaks with Glenloy Wildlife. Guests enjoyed a fine, mainly sunny, long weekend, but were reminded by sharp frosts and keen winds that this was indeed a winter wildlife break. Local wildlife included our pine martens, still very fluffy in their warm winter coats, with up to three at a time coming to feed. Batchelor herds of stags could be seen waiting for feed by the roadside, and the boys are still fully crowned with large antlers, although beginning to lose condition as the winter takes its toll. We were even able to watch some sparring between rivals – one or two big bruisers still must feel that they have a right to be top of the pecking order.  Squirrels are out and about, and at the beginning of the month were very active at the Inchree feeding station, although we only saw one at the weekend, which was firmly ensconced in a barrel feeder, to the extent that we wondered whether it could actually get out. At this time of year squirrels should be chasing each other in a merry mating dance, so perhaps the other less rotund individuals were busy elsewhere.

We watched a family group of whooper swans feeding on a shallow lochan near Ardgour. These were accompanied by wigeon, and latterly a dabchick. On our previous visit the wigeon were feeding very close to the swans, presumably picking up tidbits that the whoopers had dislodged from the bottom with their much longer necks. On the way to see the swans a woodcock was flushed from the side of the road, a snipe was squeaking away in the reeds, and stonechat were displaying by the side of the path. More remarkable was the huge number of toads crossing the track to spawn in the adjacent flowing ditches, where gloopy strands of spawn already wafted from the weedy margins. We also saw frogs spawning in a shallower, stiller ditch. Ravens called and tumbled above us, still displaying prior to nesting. A golden eagle hunted over the tops beyond and reappeared for an encore as we returned to the van. In nearby Loch Linnhe we found several great northern divers, some of which are just starting the transition from winter plumage. A diffuse flock of Slavonian grebes was also found, again with at least one individual sporting golden ear tufts. We counted  14 birds, but there could well have been more. Wild goats, displaying goldeneye, and handsome drake mergansers were all spotted later in the day.

Good numbers of goldeneye were seen on both the sea and in the freshwater lochs. To find more winter wildfowl we ventured across to the Black Isle. Large numbers of pinkfoot geese congregated below displaying lapwings and soaring skylarks. Shelduck and wigeon mingled with curlews and oystercatchers along the shore, with mallard and teal foraging along the creeks. We had some great views of a flock of scaup, all nicely coloured, with hundreds more at much greater distances, along with long-tailed ducks in the Cromarty Firth. The latter really are beautiful birds and a favourite of ours, and it was great to see them relatively close-to and to obtain a really good feel for the differences between the drakes and ducks. Another large flock of Slavonian grebes was found, and it is sobering to reflect that we have seen as many Slavs this weekend as spend the summer in Scotland – most will return to warmer climes in central Europe.  An impressive number of auks, all guillemot and razorbills, were passing in both directions past Chanonry Point on the Moray Firth. These were accompanied by a couple of gannets, and we even spotted the odd dolphin, although the tide was on its way out. We also picked up a close juvenile red-throated diver, which caused some debate as to its identification, but fortunately we were a