Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The Peanut Challenge - 2

Larger peanuts in the dispenser tubes don't seem to have defeated the blue tit. By mid-afternoon yesterday, some five hours after the contraption was put out, he had discovered how to pull out a match to access a peanut - and this blue tit throws the matches around the place.

We had to take the dispenser in overnight as the local pine martens are very partial to peanuts, but within an hour of it being out again this morning a peanut had gone, and....

....this has continued all day.

Sadly, the blue tit which is doing this - and we assume that it is a blue tit each time - is avoiding us, so only one fleeting opportunity has occurred in which I might have got a picture, but he was too quick.

Many thanks to Derryck for providing us with so much enjoyment - and frustration.

The Most Westerly Burns Night?

From Alasdair Thornton:
Around the turn of the century, celebrations of Scotland’s greatest poet, Robert Burns, found their way along the Ardnamurchan Peninsula.

Details of exactly when they started are somewhat blurred, we do know however that Selkirk Builder Alan Tough (Toughie) was instrumental in setting things up and remains heavily involved to this day.

The first gatherings were held at Sonachan and moved to Glenborrodale Castle for the last couple of years.

Tickets were invariably scarce and to meet ever increasing demand the venue this year will be the Kilchoan Community Centre where, with the considerable help of the Community Centre Board, we hope to accommodate over sixty guests.

The Bill O’ Fare includes beer and cheese from the Isle Of Mull, May McNicol’s famous tablet, and award winning haggis all the way from Selkirk with an escort of 29 of Selkirk’s finest.

Songs, poems and traditional speeches are all planned with all proceeds from the tickets, at £20, going towards local community projects via the Community Centre.

In addition a raffle, for which donations are welcome, will be held and funds split between good causes in Kilchoan and Selkirk.

Tickets for the event, on 3rd February at 7pm, are available from the Steading Holidays Office in Kilchoan.

Monday, 23 January 2017

The Peanut Challenge

The other day a parcel arrived from Derryck Morton, a frequent visitor to Ardnamurchan. It's a peanut challenge for small birds and, with it, Derryck sent a video from which the following is a clip:

Amazed at the intelligence of Devon blue tits, we went onto the internet to find out where this neat little machine came from, but Derryck is an engineer and had built it himself. As he explained, "the body comes from a carbon fibre ice hockey stick handle which is a product we manufacture and the polycarbonate tubes are packaging for our measuring machine probes, with the corresponding endcaps."

Derryck had his machine in a tree at his house in Devon, but for our local birds the site is much more exposed - but with a fine view down the Sound of Mull. But the challenge was - are the Ardnamurchan birds quicker at solving a problem than the Devon ones?

We waited for a fine day, built the machine very easily, set the timer going, and sat down to watch. Interest was immediate, though it's possible that the robin and dunnock were more intent on the seeds left when previous feeders were removed to make way for Derryck's device.

The dunnock and robin were joined by a blackbird, and the robin did have a go at one of the tubes, but then a blue tit arrived. What happened next was so quick....

....that I didn't get a picture of it - but one of the peanuts has gone.

This took less than half an hour but there was a problem. The blue tit hadn't actually removed the matchstick. He'd pecked at it, and the peanut I'd used was so small it had slipped down past the matchstick.

The peanuts have been replaced with larger ones. The blue tit has come back, but the nuts haven't moved. It's now three and a half hours since the challenge was re-set, and none of the peanuts has gone.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Beinn Dubh

The weather doesn't seem capable of remaining sunny for more than a day at a time so we woke to low cloud across the hilltops and a light rain. Looking for a walk which kept us at lower levels we took the Achosnich school house track and then branched off onto....

....the old path that the Achnaha and Glendrian children used to follow to school, which passes through the gap called Bealach Ruadh.

The ridge to the left of the track is Beinn Dubh, the black hill, one of those unassuming hills which hardly seems worth the trouble of climbing but, as is so often true, the unassuming hides surprises.

With the weather looking marginally better we decided to climb to the ridge which, as soon as one reaches the ridge line, starts to give some superb views even on a misty day, this one southeastwards to Beinn na h-Imeilte on the right and through to Kilchoan.

To the east lies the circle formed by the Ardnamurchan volcanic ring dykes with the township of Achnaha at their centre and, to the left of Achnaha, Glendrian Moss, the area of land drained by Sir Alexander Murray in the eighteenth century.

To reach the summit of the ridge one works one's way northwestwards, with Portuairk away to the left and, once one reaches the summit cairn....

....the whole of Sanna with its multiple beaches is laid out below.

This is one of western Ardnamurchan's best walks for anyone who enjoys panoramic views but has only a couple of hours to spare.

Map courtesy Bing Maps.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

East Portuairk

From the roadside at the top of the steep hill down into Portuairk there's a view across a series of ridges to Sanna, and from the summit of the ridge in the right middle distance of this picture....

....marked here by an arrow, there a some of the best views of Portuairk itself, particularly if one happens to have the great good fortune to be on this hill on a sunny morning like this morning.

It's an interesting hill, almost vertically sided except to the left in this picture, the northwest side, and even from this side the approach is rocky and steep. It's a natural hill fort, a place to which, in times of trouble - such as the arrival of Viking longships - the people of Portuairk could have taken refuge. In the bowl-shaped area on its summit there's even a damp area which might have been developed as a water supply.

From this summit one can look down into the centre of Portuairk, with its protected beaches, rock-surrounded harbour, and the flower-filled fields after which the place is named, the -uairce being, according to Angus Henderson, shobhrag, primroses.

But just to the east of Portuairk itself is another but much smaller harbour, Port Maggie, with its....

....narrow entrance and channel leading through to....

....an area of thin machair to the right of which is a curved line of stones which may be the site of a temporary Viking camp, the men upturning their boats behind the stones to form shelters.

Even if these walls aren't Viking in age - and it is difficult to believe that these seafarers didn't use this wonderfully sheltered little bay - Port Maggie is filled with history.

A little further up the burn which flows down to the sea here, there are several stone structures. The one in the left foreground is probably an animal enclosure or, possibly, a kaleyard, a place where vegetables were grown. Just to its right is a standing stone, though there is no way of telling its age. To the right of this are....

....several walled structures, interpreted as a house with a yard around it in which there are the circular footings for a haystack. With the exception of the standing stone, these are 19th century, dating to the time when the Estate had moved people to Portuairk after they had been cleared from places like Swordle.

The first OS map of the area, dated 1856, shows Port Maggie's importance. There are no buildings in the main part of Portuairk, and five on either side of the Port Maggie burn, along with two a little further east, on the present path to Sanna. Thus Port Maggie pre-dates Portuairk.

Many thanks to Dave Brown for his company and help, and to Jim for access.