Saturday, 31 March 2012

The First....

The first butterflies have been around for about a week, ever since the weather picked up. The earliest seemed very nervous and difficult to approach close enough to get a picture, but this afternoon, with the wind round in the north and bright sunshine again after a couple of days of grey drizzle, this peacock was more settled.

A recent arrival are a pair of shelduck which are currently on the pond close to The Ferry Stores. It may be the same pair as we had here last year, who managed to raise a brood out in Kilchoan Bay. With them around the pond yesterday afternoon were half a dozen greylag geese and a heron (top right in picture).

At some point the geese moved into the field where Nan MacLachlan has her lambs. One of the older lambs seemed to be enjoying himself chasing after the new arrivals.

Meanwhile, with everything still very dry despite two damp days, some people were out setting fire to piles of brushwood which have been lying around through the winter. This bonfire became so hot that we couldn't approach within twenty metres of it. The man in charge here is a member of Kilchoan Fire Brigade, so The Diary was very confident he knew what he was doing.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Hedgehog Release

From Tony Thain:

At long last the miserable, cold and wet weather that we had been suffering for what seems years finally broke at the end of last week, and at the Old Dairy thoughts turned to releasing all the fit hedgehogs that we had been looking after since last Autumn.

When they arrived, they were cute little babies weighing about 2-300 gms; over the winter they had all grown to be monster adults weighing up to 1.4 kg. Initially all inmates were given a thorough medical, with any ticks removed and a course of wormer to treat any internal parasites. The idea is that hedgehogs hibernate over the lean and cold winter period. Unfortunately, we experienced a very mild winter with fluctuations of temperature from icy to quite warm. Our guests, being far more intelligent than some give them credit for, soon worked out that they could go to sleep during the cold snaps and then wake up when the temperature rose and there would be dishes of food and water available for them. Keeping twelve hedgehogs fed and watered became quite a logistical exercise as some were hibernating whilst others, obviously with the hooligan gene, were racing around their pens keeping each other fit.

It was quite difficult to keep the handling to a minimum, as we wanted them to retain their wild instincts when Spring finally came around. From mid February our hedgehogs had worked out that the weather was getting warmer and started to become quite a handful. Unfortunately, we could not release them as the ground was saturated and the rain was still falling; they would have drowned in the many pools around, also it would be almost impossible for them to find dry shelter.

At the end of last week it was decided that the change in the weather was resonably stable and dry, so the first batch of six [mainly the larger hooligans] were brought in, checked over, given a pedicure and marked up for later identification. They were then put into our old "generator shed" from where we soft release them. There is always food and water available, with the door left open at night. The next morning all the food was gone, so were the hedgehogs! That afternoon the same proceedure was carried out with another four and the following morning, the same; all the food was gone and the shed and boxes were empty. So far no-one has returned for a B & B stopover.

This left us with two hedgehogs, one [Zena] was a very old animal who showed no interest in leaving and Sissie who was attacked by either a dog or a pine marten last year, is very nervous and likes to be in the company of Zena or even us, as minders. Both of these are now housed in their five star accommodation and have the whole of the secure front garden to roam around at night. They will be carefully monitored and if either or both show any inclinations to leave their current, safe enclosure, they will be released as soon as we can.

We were congratulating ourselves on a successful release and the repopulation of Achnaha with fit hedgehogs when someone set light to the hills just south of the township. As hedgehogs roam considerable distances during their night foragings, we were worried that our recent releases would be injured in the fire or burnt by the embers. About midnight on Saturday night we spotted a hedgehog crossing the lawn and decided to catch it to check it out. It turned out to be one that was not from the ten released a few days earlier, but it had some soot damage to the spines on its back. So he had made it to the hospital! The injuries were not too bad, with no blistering to the skin, just sooty and singed spines. He was taken into the surgery and by one o'clock had been cleaned up; ticks removed and Aloe Vera cream brushed into the singed area and then taken down to the food for his dinner.

Releasing the hedgehogs is always a bitter sweet moment as we are sad to see all the little characters disappear, but happy that they are now out where they belong. Each one was given a talking to before release, telling them to come back if they get into trouble! Over the years many have returned to get medical attention, food or even a nights B & B. We are also sure that many of the mothers bring their late Autumn babies into the garden, leaving them for us to collect and look after over the Winter!!!

"Summer" is now approaching and we will probably be receiving injured or ill hedgehogs until Autumn comes around again and the late Autumn babies start arriving on our lawn.

The First....

The first kayaks of the year pass along the Ormsaigbeg shore.

While the weather was overcast, it was perfect kayaking weather - a light wind, a still sea, and a good forecast. This is a wonderful coast for kayaking, with miles of rugged coastline, deserted beaches, and exceptional wildlife, but the weather can change quickly, so checking the forecast is important.

There is a local kayaking club which caters for paddlers of all levels. Their first outing is on 10th April - details here.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

School Treasure Hunt

Each year Kilchoan Primary School runs a Treasure Hunt. All the children, including those from the Nursery section, accompanied by teachers, parents, grandparents, babies and dogs, cross the peninsula to the beautiful area round Fascadale. First picture shows head teacher Lynne McLuckie organising the children.

The children then spread out to find the treasure....

....disappearing into the woods. The children were wearing their 'Cycling Scotland' yellow jackets, so they were easier to find again.

As well as a treasure hunt, it's a health day, emphasising both the physical value and the pleasure of walking in Ardnmurchan's countryside. And they chose a perfect day for it, as yesterday the temperature soared to 18C.

Many thanks to Helen Ferguson and Ritchie Dinnes for the pictures.

Cock Fight

Keeping chickens can be a bloody business. Read the Craigard Croft blog at

That Fighting Chaffinch

These pictures from Helen Ferguson show that the cock chaffinch living near the parish church is prepared to attack rivals seen in any car wing mirror, not just the school minibus'.

In this super picture, he's seen taking on the resident chaffinch in Helen's 4x4.

Many thanks to Helen for the pictures.
The Sonachan's website is here.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The First....

We found the first slow worm of the year, sleeping in the warm earth under a slate which we'd moved. We thought that slow worms ate worms, but this one was bunked up with a big, fat one.

The Ardnamurchan Distillery

We woke this morning to the news that Highland Council's Planning Committee has deferred a decision on permission to develop the distillery at Glen Beg until April 17th. Amongst other things, the committee wishes to conduct a site visit.

When Donald Houston of Adelphi Distillery Ltd spoke to West Ardnamurchan Community Council, he said that any delay would result in the distillery being built in Fife. Let's hope that Adelphi are prepared to wait until mid-April before making that decision.

More about the decision to defer, which was led by Councillors Michael Foxley and Bren Gormley, is here.

Photo shows Ben Hiant at 6.50am this morning.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Today's Mystery

Can anyone identify this crab?

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the photo.

The First....

The first blossom has appeared on the old damson trees along the roadside by Achnashee croft...,

....and we've planted the first vegetables outdoors, in the beds we fertilized with seaweed back in January - account here. It's early to be planting anything outside but the weather is so good, with the temperature at midday today 18C, and yesterday evening a balmy 12C at 8.00pm, that we couldn't resist it.

Meanwhile, aerial combat took place this morning in the skies over The Ferry Stores, as two hooded crows tried to see off a raven.

And last night the youthful Ricky Clark celebrated his 50th birthday.

Crescent Moon

Last night's crescent moon, with the planet Venus, seen just before they set at about 10.30pm.

Monday, 26 March 2012

A Warm March Day

Yesterday the temperature soared to what must be a March record of 19C, and today, with the sky slightly less hazy and the wind lighter, the mercury has pushed up to 21C. We walked through the village this morning in bright sunshine, with not a cloud in the sky.

The picture looks across from Ormsaigbeg to the hill called Glas Bheinn, with the ruins of St Congan's Church at left and the old manse, now Meall mo Chridhe, a restaurant with rooms, at right. The line of white croft houses is in the township of Kilchoan.

This picture looks southwest to the huddle of building round the village shop, The Ferry Stores, and along the front of the township of Ormsaigbeg.

As we passed the parish church we came across this chaffinch alternately staring at his reflection in the wing mirror of the Kilchoan School minibus, and...

....attacking what he probably thought was a rival.

An Old Trackway

In our wanderings across West Ardnamurchan, the area we have most neglected is the Ardnamurchan Estate land to the east of Loch Mudle and its north-south running valley, an omission we set about rectifying yesterday. It's an area of bleak heather moorland, with extensive plantings of conifers which hide some of the best lochans. This picture looks across to it from the B8007 road to Kilchoan, shortly after it passes Loch Mudle, where we parked.

The steep western slope of the valley is covered by woodland of stunted oak and silver birch. Once we'd slid down that, and crossed the Allt an Doire Dharaich - fortunately low after the recent fine weather - we climbed across a much more open landscape of heather and, in patches, bracken. These areas of bracken appear to be old fields, some of them surrounded by moss-covered, broken stone walls, some unenclosed. It was here, in land which showed signs of lazy beds, that we stumbled on an adder (see yesterday's post here).

In the distance stands the bulk of Beinn an Leathaid.

We came across a well-defined trackway running along the top of the hill. From its line, it must have connected the settlements around Camas nan Geall and Bourblaige with Kilmory and the north coast. It made good walking.

At one point it passes the remains of what may have been a small stone house. The building was tucked into the angle of a well-constructed stone wall, so the track is confined between the wall and the steep slope from which this picture was taken.

This picture shows the wall, covered with dead bracken, on the right, and the trackway as it drops towards the small crofting township of Branault. In its time the wall must have been a very substantial structure.

The trackway ends at this gate, where it enters the croft land of Branault.

There must be hundreds of these old trackways criss-crossing the peninsula. We've explored a few of them - the old lighthouse road, which runs from Ormsaigmore northwards, the tracks which connect the Achosnich school house to its surrounding villages, and the track which connects Glendrian to the north coast - but we need to find and walk some of the others.

A map of the area is here.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The First....

A warm welcome back to the first pied wagtail of the spring. Wagtails move south during the winter, spending the colder months either in the southern half of the UK, or crossing the Channel to France.

This character was spotted on a dry-stone wall below Grianan in Ormsaigmore.

A much less warm welcome to the first adder of the year, lying in a run through thick heather just to the north of Loch Mudle. He was about two foot long, and so wonderfully camouflaged that he was nearly trodden on.

Fortunately, as it was only ten in the morning and the sun only just warming him, he was so torpid he made no attempt to strike.

More Hill-Fire Pictures

The Kilchoan team were first on scene, followed by Strontian and Lochaline. Acharacle, although nearer, arrived later as they have been having trouble getting enough members to keep the station active throughout the day. Finally, the Spean Bridge team arrived, making five altogether.

The fire was out by about 6.30pm. Although a large area of hill grazing had been burnt, no other damage was done to property.

Many thanks again to Stewart Pote for the pictures.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Hill Fire at Achnaha

Many thanks to Stewart Pote for pictures of this afternoon's hill fire near Achnaha.

The area affected was to the north of the Wishing Rock and to the east of Achnaha Township.

At this time of year, with dead bracken and heather drying out quickly in the sunshine, it only takes a few days for the hills to become tinder-dry.

Four fire appliances were on scene....

....with firemen working well into the evening to put out the blaze.

The First....

This is a wonderful time of year to be out walking in the Ardnamurchan countryside as there are so many plants, animals and insects appearing again after our long, wet winter. Yesterday it was the first bees, both honey bees and big, yellow bumblebees; today it's the first violet, tucked into a bank under a hedge. Somehow the first ones often seem to be the most perfect ones.

On the matter of 'firsts', it's the first time The Diary has come across a sea mouse. Many thanks to Emma S who identified yesterday's mystery animal as Aphrodita arcuelata, and provided this link. The beast is named after Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

There's an interesting comment too from an Anonymous reader who says his/her father caught them in his creels, and called them 'gamets'.


Avid readers of The Diary will recognise this rusting tank. It's what the Kilchoan pigs live in, and it arrived in the field below our house this afternoon. Which means, of course, that some pigs will be arriving shortly. Small pigs. Fifteen of them, if rumour is true, plus one large sow. Right outside our front gate. 'Neighbours'.

The Diary saw the tank passing and rushed out to record the event. That's Hughie MacLachlan on the right. The Diary did go over and have a word or two with him.

This shot shows the conspirators looking at a job well done. Well, two can play at conspiracy games. The nice man driving the tractor has agreed, for a small price, to pick up the tank this evening, under cover of darkness, and drop it into the Sound of Mull.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Today's Mystery

Many thanks to 'Kilchoan Early Bird' for sending in this photograph which he has entitled 'Sea Caterpillar'.

What is it? A caterpillar that lives in the sea? A sea creature that mimics a land caterpillar? A land caterpillar that has fallen into the sea - or perhaps, in view of the lovely weather, decided to take a swim? A hoax - look at the size of it relative to a fisherman's glove?

Suddenly it Might be Summer

With the sun rising across the right shoulder of Ben Hiant, winter is suddenly behind us, we're past the equinox and well into Spring - and the weather here, after what must have been one of the wettest winters on record, has suddenly turned warm and sunny.

The bees are out, this one a honey bee from either the Kilchoan Campsite or Craigard Croft making the most of some garden heather which has been flowering for much of the winter.

But the most noticeable change is in the birds. The peanut feeders are deserted, the grain lies out on the terrace wall all day, and the countryside is suffused with the sound of birdsong. They're intent on the mating game.