Saturday, 16 June 2012

Mull Birds

During my recent tour of the west coast of Scotland, I spent an enjoyable six days on Mull. My list of birds for the sixteen days I was away numbered eighty, but the birds I saw on Mull were certainly the highlight.

In Tobermory harbour I found this Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix), feeding amongst the seaweed ...

Tobermory Harbour

At the Ulva ferry landing, I joined a small group of birdwatchers on a cruise to look for Sea Eagles on Loch na Keal.  Both the setting for the trip, and the weather, were perfect.

The view from Ulva towards Loch na Keal 
with Ben More (to the right) and surrounding mountains in the distance

Sea or White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) flying over Loch na Keal

From the boat I had good views of Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle), Great Northern Diver (Gavia immer) and Harbour Porpoise (Phocena phocena).  And though I wasn't able to visit Staffa during my stay on Mull, I did see these lava stacks, a south-shore feature of Ulva ...

While travelling along the southern coast of Mull, I found this Common Gull, nesting on the shore of Loch Spelve ...

Common Gull (Larus canus)

At Dervaig Bay, in the  north west of Mull, I found a large group of Greylag Geese feeding.

Greylag Geese (Anser anser)

Dervaig Bay

And finally, while visiting Iona, I was delighted to hear a Corncrake (Crex crex) in a field next to the abbey ...

Iona Abbey

Monday, 4 June 2012

An Atlantic Oakwood

One of the great pleasures of travelling is that you never know what you might find around the next corner. Ariundle Oakwoood, an Atlantic Oakwood on the outskirts of the pretty village of Strontian in Sunart, was one such surprise on my recent Scottish trip.  And Sunart is one of the few areas in Scotland that retain their ancient oakwoods, now so rare they are protected.

Ariundle is a precious fragment of an immense oakwood that once cloaked Europe's Atlantic coast from Portugal to Norway.  Here, the steep lochside has been wooded since the glaciers retreated some 12,000 years ago. A lush covering of mosses, lichens and liverworts flourish in this undisturbed world in the Strontian Glen.  The trees are mostly sessile oak, which do well on the acid soils that cover the granite bedrock.  Other native species include holly, hazel, birch, rowan, alder, willow, ash and wych elm.

Ancient oakwoods such as Ariundle have played an important part in the natural and human history of the area for thousands of years.  In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the trees were coppiced for charcoal burning and the remains of old charcoal burning platforms can still be found in the wood.  The fallen trees and their dead wood provide food for spiders, beetles and insects such as wood ants.

Above Left: Evidence of coppiced oaks can still be seen
Above Right: Tree Lungwort (Lobaria pulmonaria)

The oakwood in single tree:
Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) growing amongst moss with a Peltigera lichen to the left

The woodland floor: 
Primrose (Primula vulgaris) and one of my favourites, a Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica)

Cladonia squamosa

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Widdrington Tip

I paid a visit to this interesting area this week and must thank Stewart Sexton for sending a map and directions which proved most useful. I hoped to see butterflies and wasn't disappointed; Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Common Blue and a great number of Small Skippers were on the wing. And, for the first time in, let me think ... it must be thirty years, I saw and photographed a Six-spot Burnet moth.

Six-spot Burnet (Zyganena filipendulae)

Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris)

Common Blue (Polyomatus icarus)

I also came upon this Mallow growing in the track-side verge. I thought it was a Musk Mallow but it is not so hairy and the upper leaves were deeply cut so I take it to be a Cut-leaved Mallow (Malva alcea) ...

Friday, 3 June 2011

Kinloch Hourn

I wonder how many times we pass the end of a road without giving a second thought to where it might lead or what delights we might find were we to follow it? The road to Kinloch Hourn proved to be such a road during my recent Scottish trip.

Turning off the Skye road beyond Invergarry, the road to Kinloch Hourn begins in a wooded lane which hugs the northern shore of Loch Garry for five or so miles to the hamlet of Tomdoun with its delightful little church. Five miles on, when you come to the tiny settlement of Kingie at the head of Loch Garry you are already in the wilderness and amongst the high hills of Glenquoich.

Glenquoich, the River Garry above Kingie and the Knoydart hills beyond

The views in all directions and the barren remoteness of Glenquoich revived long-unvisited memories of backpacking days in the Western Highlands more than twenty years ago. On this day, however, as I dawdled on along the single track road, taking in the splendour of it all, I could happily acknowledge that the road was more easily travelled from behind the steering wheel.

A Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) on the northern bank of the River Gary

In the 1950's, the glen was dammed beyond Kingie raising the waters of the existing Loch Quoich by one hundred feet: sadly, it suffers today from the same unnatural shape and scarred, low-water shore line of many other man-made lakes. On rocky rain-washed outcrops near the dam, I found many Common Butterwort (Pinguicala vulagaris). It was the first time I had seen these stickily hairy carnivorous perennials ...

Common Butterwort (Pinguicala vulagaris)

Other plants seen included these Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica) ...

... these Thyme-leaved Milkwort (Polygala serpyllifolia)

... and these fungi

The Red Deer, featured in my last piece, were found near the head of Loch Quoich. Further on still, the steep descent to the road end at Kinloch Hourn begins (the link to the Undiscovered Scotland pages provides further information and pictures). The settlement comprises one or two houses and a farm, the latter offering food and basic accommodation for hill walkers, climbers, cyclists and exploring motorists! A path along the southern shore of Loch Hourn takes walkers to Barrisdale and on into the Knoydart peninsula while another path along the northern shore, takes walkers to Arnisdale and Glen Elg.

Near the end of my journey and before the steep descent into Kinloch Hourn, at the foot of the dark hill to the left of centre in this picture, this view over Loch Coire Shubh opened up

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Red Deer at Loch Quoich

Loch Quoich with the Knoydart hills beyond

At the western end of Loch Quoich, where the single track road rounds a headland near a burn called the Alt Nighean Eobhain, I came upon a small group of grazing Red Deer (Cervus elaphus).

I was struck at first that all of the deer in the group were stags until I read that for much of the year the stags and hinds lead separate lives, forming separate-sex herds. Male calves live with their mothers for a couple of years, but with the onset of maturity they leave to join male herds. This group were quite nervous of me but with care I was lucky enough to get close views and take the following pictures ...

A young stag with the steep slopes of Sgurr Mor, on the south side of Loch Quoich, in the background

Another of the group with Loch Quoich in the background

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Common Seals at Loch Carron

This second piece describing my recent wildlife cruise on Loch Carron looks at Common Seals (Phoca vitulina).

Shortly after leaving Plockton on the Sula Mhor, we passed a small rocky island where a group of Common Seals were basking.

The Common Seal, referred to as the Harbour Seal in other parts of the world, is associated with sheltered seas and is widespread on the east coast of England and the coasts generally around Scotland and Ireland. They have a rather friendly-looking face and are little more than half the size of the Grey Seals (Halichoerus grypus) I more commonly see on the Farne Islands and at other locations along the Northumberland coast. They tend to be rather nervous and wary animals and in most circumstances are less inquisitive than their Grey cousins.

There are believed to be over 350 Common Seals resident in the Plockton area. You can see more picture pictures of Common Seals at Loch Carron on Callum Mackenzie's website

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Common Dolphins at Loch Carron

After spending the first three months of 2011 decorating almost all of my house, and taking the time since to recover, I took myself off to Scotland for a short break last week to stay with my Invergarry friend at her home on the shores of Loch Oich. Sadly, as she is moving to the south of England in June, this was to be the last holiday I would spend with her in her Highland home.

On Wednesday we travelled to Plockton, to the north of the Kyle of Lochalsh, meeting another friend for lunch before taking a wildlife cruise on Loch Carron. The cruise turned out to be one of those never-to-be-forgotten moments.

A rather cold and damp Loch Carron seen from the departure point (cruise boat not shown in this picture)

Our cruise boat, the Sula Mhor, followed a course up Loch Carron towards a fish farm where Calum the captain told us we were almost certain to see the dolphins. We didn't but kept on cruising further up the loch towards Strome Ferry and beyond to Lochcarron village, hopeful but still without a view of them. The return trip, however, proved successful and the Loch's resident pair of female Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis), known locally as Gin and Tonic, put on a great show for us.

Above and below: the Dolphins coming to the surface

And here, in this short video, the dolphins can be seen swimming at the bow of the Sula Mhor ...

If you are travelling in the Plockton area, do take one of Culum's cruises ...

See more here at Calum's Seal and Dolphin Trips website.

More of my Scotland trip in forthcoming posts.