Winter Wonderland

Published: 31st December 2009

In mid December, we were bemoaning the lack of a decent cold spell in Glen Loy, and now the old adage of “be careful what you wish for” applies. We have had a truly White Christmas, snow has dripped from all the trees and rhodedendrons surrounding the Lodge, and the Caledonian Canal has been frozen over, along with various pipes and gas appliances. There has been a constant throng of some 50 birds or more around the bird feeders in front of the Lodge, of at least a dozen different species. A pair of great-spotted woodpecker have been daily visitors, elbowing all the others off the peanuts. Chaffinches still dominate, with tits prefering the peanuts at the back of the house.There is an abundance of robins and blackbirds, most of which we suspect are foreign visitors. We have also enjoyed reguar sightings of woodcock, exploding from under the trees lining our drive. Cock crossbills occasionally sing from the tops of our conifres, whilst large flocks of siskins are still mainly passing through rather than descending on the feeders (still pllenty of cones to go at). Slightly further afield flocks of fieldfare and frequent jays are foraging amongst the trees by the River Lochy. One cannot but help think that the prolonged cold is taking its toll on small birds, although we rarely see casualties. Interestingly our pine martens have beome much less reliable since the advent of the snow. Whereas one individual was always waiting for me to put out feed in the evening, it now saunters along in its own good time and merely licks at the peanut butter, often leaving a good deal of treats until much later in the evening. I do suspect that 'our marten' is taking his fill of small birds that are too torpid to escape, and therefore his need for butties is not as great.

Tracking is always fun in the snow, and we can see that deer have been visiting our front flower bed.  – not particularly successfully, thank goodness. Other highlights of the month have also been bird related. We had a very good view of an adult sea eagle flying out of the freezing fog above the River Loy and up the Glen – good to know they are still around. We also had a couple of nice walks during which we kept tallies of birds that will be sent in as 'roving records' for the BTO Atlas. One was a repeat of a tour around Arisaig, which was last completed in the spring and yielded an imnpressive total of over 50 species. The same walk in winter produced 39 species, also a very creditable total for this time of year. (and there were sevceral species that should have been around but which we just didn't see on the day). Perhaps the most interesting records were those of reed buntings, an uncommon species in this part of the HIghlands, togehter with a family group of Whooper swans on a small loch, and quite a large flock of some20-30 teal on another small loch close by. Stonechats were also on the list, and we continure to see these in Glen Loy, even in the cold weather. The other trip took in a circular tour of lower Glen Nevis, with a very pleasing return leg by the fast-flowing, tree-lined River Nevis. We followed a dipper for a considerable period. The bird tally was not great but the dipper, large flocks of sikins and long-tailed tit more than compensated for this.

On a rather sad note we have just lost our dog, Meg, who took ill at Christmas. It will be very strange not having a dog to walk, getting us out in all weather. It will be interesting to see if we start to see more wildlife as a consequence, however.

Happy New Year to all!