Sunday, 30 April 2017

Passing Birds

Ritchie Dinnes reports this group of curlews which he spotted on the north coast passing through on their annual migration.

He also sends this picture. He says, "I was enjoying the birdlife on Orkney two weeks ago when I captured this image of a bird which I could not identify." He thinks he may now know what it is, but can anyone help?

And I am rather at a loss as to what this is, seen bobbing around in the waves off the Ormsaigbeg shore this evening.

Many thanks to Ritchie for the pictures.

A Thrush Tragedy?

All day yesterday the back garden rang with the tap-tap-tap of thrush parents murdering the local snail population to satisfy....

....the ravenous hunger of the four fledglings in their nest under the lean-to at the back of the house.

At about nine last night, with the light almost gone, we were alerted to something going on in the back yard by the agitated call of the female thrush. We investigated - to find our neighbour's cat standing under the nest, but all the fledglings gone.

The cat 'discouraged', we set about finding the fledglings, three of which were scattered around the area under the lean-to, one of them wedged in amongst the garden implements. Afraid to leave them because the cat would almost certainly return, we carried those we'd found up into the vegetable garden, where their mother was beside herself with anxiety.

Two of the three managed to fly off, in an uncontrolled way, crashing into the ground about ten metres away. The third sat, absolutely still, in one of the vegetable beds.

We checked that the nest was empty, and did a final, unsuccessful search for the fourth fledgling, before leaving them to whatever fate would bring.

There was no sign of them in the back garden today, nor any sign of the parents.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Small Bird News

Every now and again, and usually on its own, a greenfinch appears in our garden. They used to be fairly common, but an outbreak of trichomonosis, a parasite-bourne disease, almost wiped them out around here, and they have been terribly slow to recover. Thank goodness we no longer find desperately sick birds dying around the feeding areas.

There is no shortage of goldfinches. They stay with us all the way through the year, and seem to be one of the earliest to make their nests and produce their young - the first of which were coming to the feeders a few days ago.

This migrant, the pied wagtail, seems to spend the least time away of all the migrants, so is one of the first to return in spring. He was using a chimney pot as a lookout point but.... least he did it without the noise which came from this wren, who sat on our chimney pot on a bright, warm evening and scolded everyone and everything.

The willow warblers are having another very good year. Each little coppice of woodland, however modest, has a male willow warbler singing in it. Weighing just 10gm, and with a mean life span of only two years, some two million pairs of these plucky little birds migrate to and from Africa each year.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Dead Calm

This was the view from the side bedroom window this morning looking east into Kilchoan Bay, with the two local creel boats at right and left, and a visiting yacht at centre, while....

....from the bedroom's front window we watched CalMac's Clansman coming up the Sound of Mull with a bone in her teeth.

With hardly a breath of wind it was a perfect morning for....

....a gentle wander along the coast below the house, a couple of hours spent as much sitting on sundry rocks as anything else, sitting and watching what came by, which included....

 ....a pair of greylag geese and....

....half a dozen chattering oystercatchers, of which these were two.

Three great northern divers were patrolling offshore, well spaced-out along the coast. They were obviously very aware that they were being watched and therefore unwilling to close the shore. Several times they called, a haunting sound which makes the American name 'loon' seem much more appropriate.

The thrift is coming into flower all along the coast, and some of the tussocks seem even closer to the high-tide mark than usual, perhaps encouraged by a winter which has lacked the usual series of storms.

It's a great time of year because, each time we walk along this coast, something new has appeared. This morning, just behind the high-tide mark but on better soil than the thrift, it was the delicate flowers of common scurvy-grass.

Thrushes Thriving

The thrush family is thriving, with the nestlings doing well, though it's noticeable that two of them are rather bigger than the other two.

We had a bad moment when the neighbour's cat was seen round the back of the house but we've now built an entanglement of wire around the area below the nest which should deter him.

That their young are doing well is down to the ceaseless foraging of the two adults. The flagstone path up to the vegetable garden is littered with broken snail shells, one of the thrush's favourite meals.

The male is definitely pulling his weight. At times both of them are around the nest. One thing we miss: he's so busy he hasn't time to sit in the tops of the trees and sing.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Primary Pupils Visit Mingary Castle

Our local primary school has thirteen pupils of all age ranges who follow a curriculum which encourages expeditions into the surrounding area. So the Ardnamurchan History and Heritage Association was able to accompany the pupils and their teachers to Mingary Castle yesterday to describe something of its history.

To reach the castle from the school is quite a walk but these young people set a brisk pace.

The pupils were welcomed by Sarah Houston and manager Sarah McInnes, and were made to feel very much at home - even though there was a lunch party going on in the dining room. They explored the chapel and secret passageway hidden within the curtain walls, the battlements (above), had a look at the 13th century toilet facilities (a garderobe hanging over the outside of the wall) and heard some of the many stories which a great castle like Mingary accumulates over hundreds of years of history.

The weather was warm and sunny, the children behaved perfectly, and the members of AHHA who accompanied them thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  Many thanks to teacher Alison Munro and to the two Sarahs for making the visit possible.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Garden Tasks

Almost all the beds in our terraced vegetable garden have now been dug over and fertilised with seaweed, the only remaining ones being those which still have some of the winter crops such as broccoli, leeks and spinach. Meanwhile, the greenhouse is filling up with seedlings, all of which seemed to have survived the recent cold weather even though the greenhouse is unheated.

As well as the seaweed, our proximity to the sea is good for washed-up fish boxes, which are an ideal size for growing crops like mixed salad leaves and radishes.

Four sections of the beds are down to strawberries, which seem to have survived well through the winter, and the raspberries and gooseberries are shooting - though the raspberries are still in need of a final prune to take the tops off the canes.

The garden is watered using unchlorinated water which is brought down in blue pipes from the neighbouring burn. There are two standpipes and the green water butt which holds reserves for the occasional dry spell.

It's an ideal site for a vegetable garden being southeast-facing and sloping to aid drainage. Building up the beds behind the terraces, and ten years of feeding the thin croft soil with compost and seaweed, has made a huge difference to the garden's productivity - this productivity including the number of worms, much appreciated by the local robins.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Fishing Activity

With the wind staying firmly in the north the Vervine has continued to fish off Ormsaigbeg. At one point while she was hove to we watched Ceol na Mara, OB5, approach her and wondered whether they were exchanging prawns for scallops - but someone has suggested it was a less amicable meeting, that Vervine had snagged one of Ceol na Mara's creel strings.

At times during the last forty-eight hours snow showers have reduced visibility to under a mile and, with the wind working its way towards gale force in offshore waters, Vervine....

....was soon joined in the calmer waters of the Sound of Mull by at least three other dredgers - this is Cynosure, CN4.

With such a concentration of fishing boats it was almost inevitable that the law would turn up, which it did in the shape of Scottish Fisheries Protection's Jura, though she didn't do more than steam past all the trawlers in a stately fashion.

Wisely, the two local creel boats have stayed firmly in Kilchoan Bay, to which, in anticipation of improving weather, they had recently moved from their winter anchorage in Camas Fearna. This is Harvester, CN200.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Return of Winter

We woke to a stiff northwester and to see the Tobermory-based clam boat Vervine BA842 coming close under the Ormsaigbeg shore where she would be able to fish in the calmer waters in the lee of Ardnamurchan.

By mid-morning the showers had turned wintery, varying from hail through to powdery snow, along with....

 ....sunny intervals, although in this one Nan's strimming was interrupted by snow. She says she has never started the strimming 'season' in such cold weather: it's rare that one sees Nan wearing gloves.

By the afternoon snow was accumulating on the distant hills such as Beinn Tallaidh on Mull, and the Isle of Lewis coming up the Sound was butting into a choppy sea.

None of which bothers Mrs Thrush sitting on a nest which is tucked under the polypropylene roof of the lean-to at the back of the house. She has four nestlings, of which two are visible here, all with their eyes now open.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

A Super Day!

Some days start out well and just keep getting better - and yesterday was an example. We started with an encounter with an otter in the bay below the house, then spent three hours on what is one of our favourite walks....

....along the coastline to the south of Torr na Moine and Bourblaige. The sun wasn't out as much as it could have been but the sky cleared in the afternoon and by eleven in the evening the northern sky was pale with the northern lights. They weren't strong enough for a photograph but there's an event happening now which may carry through to this evening.

Annual Events

This year's West Ardnamurchan Show and Sports is on Friday 21 July. The Competition List can be downloaded here.

The Pram Race is on Friday 28th July with a theme of Pop Stars.

The West Ardnamurchan Regatta is on Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th August.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Red Deer

The red deer stags are looking rather less impressive at the moment, having shed their antlers and only grown the stumps of the new ones. This stag was grazing alone at the southern end of Loch Mudle this morning, but we saw others in small bachelor groups.

What we took from a distance to be a small herd of hinds turned out to be a mixture of hinds and young stags. In a few weeks' time, the hinds will start giving birth to their calves.

Tea Time

We've had to curtain off one of the windows in the utility room at the back of the house so our movements don't disturb Mrs Thrush but we can watch her, and she can watch us, through a gap at the top of the curtain. We've also had to stop using a section of the yard at the back of the house.

The first bit of good news is that Mr Thrush is helping to feed his young, and he's now singing very cheerfully in the mornings from the top of the conifer opposite our house.

Mrs Thrush spends a great deal of her time on the nest but yesterday afternoon we spotted that she was out, so we were able to get a quick photo. The second bit of good news is that their four very healthy young are growing at a fast rate.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Long-Distance Heron

Kilchoan Early Bird writes, "This ring was found near the lighthouse by a crofter who told me that he'd taken it from a heron who'd come a long way west to die."

It was easy to report the ring as it belonged to Stavanger Museum in Norway. Within two days they had emailed back with this report:

The main points are that it was a grey heron ringed in its nest in May 2016 in Karsto, Norway. It was one of a brood of four. To reach the point of its demise, it had travelled 744km - nearly 500 miles.

The British population doesn't migrate but Wikipedia states that, "some populations from the more northern parts migrate southwards in autumn." So it may be that the heron had been on Ardnamurchan for some time.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for pictures and story.