Winter sunshine

Published: 3rd February 2012

Here at Glenloy it has been, remarkably, dry for almost a week now. As an added bonus we have had, as we did today, some of those rare winter days when all is calm, the sun adds sparkle to the hoar frost and the snow-covered mountains stand out cool, clear and crisp against a brilliant blue sky. The Caledonian Canal has frozen over in places, although it is a long way off being thick enough to bear weight, and even some of the winter waterfowl appears to have returned. I counted 12 goldeneye on the Lochy at Gairlochy today, and there were 6 goosander, including a hansdsome drake. We found a further drake, or at least the carcass of one, hidden under some gorse bushes, presumably dragged there by a fox. This surely must have been disturbed, as the plump breast was as yet untouched. More goldeneye were on the loch at Bunarkaig together with several Dabchicks – all very easy to spot on the still water. Sadly, the Osprey nest has gone, together with the branch on which it sat, presumably victims of the December storms. The last time this happened the nest was speedily rebuilt, so we can only hope that the same approach is taken by the birds this year. A nice spot was a grey wagtail on the Lochy – the second we have seen locally of late – these were in short supply last year, so hopefully this augurs well for 2012.
We had an outing to the Acharacle area the other day to look for Crested Tit, reputedly still hanging on in the area (way out of their normal range) and being seen on local feeders. We had a good look round the small pine plantation where they are thought to live and peered as surruptitiously as we could at feeders in nearby gardens. Although there were lots of tits and other birds around there was no sign of the cresties. The day was far from wasted, however. We saw our first Otter of the year swimming parallel to the shore in the Sound of Arisaig, and watched it fishing. Behind were a pair of Black-throated Divers, and further out from that some Common Seals. Deer were everywhere. We had a walk along the shore at Arivegaig, admiring the large expanse of exposed mudflats and salt marsh. Along the channels there was a lone Greenshank. We subsequently saw and heard another, its plaintive call distinguishable from that of nearby Redshank. The bay also held several Oystercatchers, Curlew, a few Godwits and a flock of Dunlin, together with a couple of pairs of Shelduck – all very nice to see.
We were away for a good chunk of January, deep in the South-West of England. Although we did not do a great deal of wildlife watching, we managed to squeeze in a visit to the Somerset Levels to watch the Starlings come in to roost at Hamm Walls. The day was grey and murky and to be honest there was not a great deal of aerial displaying, but wave after wave of starlings winged into the reedbeds like the proverbial plague of locusts. Numbers were so dense that the tops of the vegetation just appeared black. As time went on birds redistributed themselves along the reeds, but the numbers were incredible and the spectacle well worth seeing. For good measure Angela also spotted a Water Vole scuttling between channels, and an Egret was disturbed by the onrush of starlings. Elsewhere we obseved Peregrines hunting vast flocks of waders and ducks at Slimbridge. Although we did not see the kill we did watch a peregrine pluck and eat an unfortunate victim in the middle of an otherwise emptied field. Again, we saw nuthtches everywhere, even in the middle of Bristol. I miss their strident piping here in Lochaber.
Back at home there was always the fear that our residents had deserted us. We were soon rejoined by the Pine Marten, however – could not have traken more than 2 hours since the car drew in. Bird numbers have also quickly re-esatblished themselves. There are even more Chaffinches back, and one feeder had no fewer than 12 Coal Tits hanging off it. Out and about today there were even a few winter thrushes about. We have had good numbers of Blackbirds that have hung around, but few Fieldfares or Redwings. Presumably as the cold starts to bite these start to move, but still nothing like the numbers we saw down south.