Thursday, 31 May 2012

First Ardnamurchan-Born Llama

From Les Humphreys:

Pictured is a newborn female cria (llama calf), 36 hours old. We believe this to be the first baby llama born in Ardnamurchan.  Gestation is 355 days or more with a single cria born during daylight hours, twins being very rare. We know of only one set of twins successfully reared.

Here is the calf with her mother, Heather. Our two llamas are five year old Flora, a "Ccara" with a short to medium length coat, and three year old Heather, a "Tampuli ", which is more heavily woolled, with a coat extending down the legs.  Their fibre consists of a double fleece - an outer guard hair and a fine soft undercoat. The undercoat can be used to make wonderful garments, while the guard hairs can be used for making bags and rugs etc.  The fleece comes in many natural colours from white to black with a range browns and greys in between.

Llamas are members of the South American camelid family and were domesticated from the Guanaco some 5000 years ago.  Camelids include Camels, Llamas, Alpaca, Guanaco and the Vicuna. They all evolved in North America 50 - 60 million years ago. Around 10,000 years ago the camel family line crossed over to Asia while the remaining camelid family moved down to South America. The Inca empire was dependent upon the llama and alpaca for food, fuel, clothing, transport of goods and religious ceremonies. All lamoids were the property of the government and production of domestic species was rigidly controlled. The fibre from vicunas was for royal usage only.

Do llamas spit?  They are able to spit and do sometimes use this as a pecking order or defence mechanism within the herd. It is rare however for a correctly reared llama to spit at humans unless frightened or placed under great stress.

Many thanks to Les for the story and top two photos, and to Sue Cameron for the third photo.

Plant Identification

Can anyone identify this flower, found growing by the roadside.  Is it a mouse-ear?

Photo of the Day

On our trip out to Staffa and the Treshnish Islands last Friday, we were thrilled to find the first orchids in flower on Lunga. So the Diary was delighted to find that we now have our first orchids in flower here in Kilchoan, pictured.

Blog post about Staffa and the Treshnish Islands here.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Ardnamurchan's Fresh Water Mussels

The shells of a freshwater mussel, Margaritifera margaritifera, lie on an Ardnamurchan beach, washed down from its home in the sand and shingle of a nearby river. This specimen is small, the adults growing to the size of the average smartphone - but to reach those dimensions, the mussel has to be long-lived, reaching ages of 120 years.

Scottish Natural Heritage states that Scottish freshwater mussels are 'critically endangered'. Their decline has come through water pollution and the activities of pearl hunters - because fresh water mussels make pearls in the same way as oysters, and these gems have been their downfall. Pearl hunters are very active in the increasingly few areas where the mussel can be found, so SNH appeals in its website to anyone who sees anyone acting suspiciously in or around our streams to contact the police - even disturbing the beds where mussels live is a crime. SNH's website, which describes the mussel's plight and gives advice on how to help preserve it, is here.

Because of the rarity of the species, and its vulnerability to thieves, The Diary was wary of writing about it. However, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee is quite open about its presence on Ardnamurchan - see map here - so it seemed best to raise consciousness locally that it is seriously endangered, that we host some of the UK's best sites, and to appeal to everyone to act if they see someone taking mussels from our streams.

Photo of the Day

A Warbler.

Google Blogger is having problems with image uploads: currently, when a picture is selected, it is displayed in a small format. They are 'working on the problem'.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

A Minke Whale in the Sound

This picture, sent to The Diary by Ewan Miles who works as a guide for Sea Life Surveys, shows a minke whale against the backdrop of the Ormsaigbeg coastline - Trevor Potts' Ardnamurchan Campsite is to the left.

We don't often see minke so close to shore, and having one in so early in the season may be explained by reports that the mackerel have arrived in large numbers both on Ardnamurchan's north and south coasts - one person reported seeing the surface around his boat boil with good-sized mackerel feeding off sand eels, and substantial catches have been reported. Both sand eels and mackerel are on the minke's menu.

There's more about minke whales here, Sea Life Surveys website is here, and Ewan keeps a wildlife enthusiast's blog here. And the Craigard blog tells of the continued work on the Cuvier's Beaked Whale display at the Ardnamurchan Campsite - here.

This photo taken earlier in the month shows a boat sailing serenely into Kilchoan Bay. In fact, the entrance to Kilchoan Bay is deceptive because....

....there's a nasty shoal right in the place where an unwary seaman would least expect it. For years there has been a marker pole - a 'perch' - on the shoal, but it was destroyed during last winter's bad weather.

Fortunately, keen sailors on West Ardnamurchan, led by Alasdair MacColl of Portuairk, have made it their business to maintain the perch. The damage was inspected recently and a replacement ordered. All being well, it should be in place shortly.

West Ardnamurchan is fortunate that it doesn't suffer too badly from washed-up flotsam and, where our beaches are concerned, an annual clean-up led by stalwarts like Geoff Campbell and Chris Gane does much to keep them pristine. Inevitably, however, there are places along the coast which collect rubbish. This is a deep gully to the west of Ormsaigbeg which is a natural trap for it. One item found there was a Croc in almost mint condition.

Many thanks to Ewan Miles for the minke picture.

Photo of the Day

Sunset from Ardnamurchan's beautiful north coast.
Muck on the left, Rum on the right,
and the trees of Achateny Steading in silhouette.

Many thanks to Tony Swift for the picture.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Photo of the Day

Speedwell - so easy to identify until we looked up the plant in our Wild Flowers book, where there are no less than eighteen different 'speedwells' identified. We think this is 'Common Field Speedwell', but....

Temperature of the Day

When we checked the thermometer at 1.15pm today, it showed 29.5C, and seemed to stick there...

....but when we looked again later in the afternoon the mercury had obviously managed the final push to reach what must be a May record, at just over 30C.

Ships in the Sound

For a change, this month's 'Ships in the Sound' has a theme - Adventure. So we start off with a ship named after one of the world's great adventurers and explorers - Marco Polo. We've seen the Marco Polo in previous years, the only importance of her visit this year being that, as a special adventure for her passengers, she called at Fort William, one of the first cruise ships to do so. While there's little for tourists to do and see in the Fort itself, the area around it, well within reach for day or half-day trips by coach, is full of interest. For a start, there's Glenfinnan, where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard at the beginning of that great adventure - the '45 rebellion.

The Marco Polo, like so many cruise ships that pass in the Sound, is old. She was built in East Germany in 1965 as the Alexandr Pushkin for the Soviet Union Shipping Company, and was used both on the Trans-Atlantic route to Montreal and for cruising.

This is Saga's Quest for Adventure, which carries up to 450 passengers. It seems an appropriate name for a ship catering for the older tourist, the sort for whom a quest for adventure is probably a bit safer than actually finding it. Built in 1981 to a high spec for the German Hadag Cruise Line, she had serious mechanical problems in 2008 before being bought by Saga, who named her Saga Pearl II. Soon after, her name was changed to its present one. Saga's website is here.

The Clipper Adventurer is a polar adventure ship owned by Quark Expeditions. Carrying up to 122 guests, she's even older than Saga's Quest for Adventure, having been built in Yogoslavia in 1975 as the Alla Tarasova. She had a real adventure in 2010 when she grounded in the Arctic - more details here.

The Ocean Nova is another Quark Expeditions ship, but smaller than the Clipper Adventurer, carrying 73 passengers. Both ships are ice-strengthened and cruise in polar regions. The Ocean Nova also had an adventure, this time in bitter Antarctic waters, in February 2009, ending up stranded until refloated by the next high tide - story here. Quark Expeditions' website is here.

Still on the expedition adventure front, this is the National Geographic Explorer, owned by Lindblad Expeditions. They trumpet her as a 'state of the art expedition ship', but in fact she's almost as old as the other adventurous cruise ships, having been built in 1982 as the Midnatsol, later renamed Lyngen. Her website entry is here.

On a much smaller and more local adventure scale, this is the Majestic Line's sturdy Glen Masson, which offers eleven guests cruises along the Scottish west coast. She's seen here passing in very un-Highland weather. More about her and the company here.

This is a ship which has featured often enough before, the Northern Lighthouse Board's Pharos. She spends her life servicing the many lighthouses, beacons and buoys along our coast. The only reason she's included today is that, in this picture, she has a helicopter on board, stowed neatly on a helideck above the bow of the ship - which must considerably reduce the adventures the crew now have compared to the past, when they would have had to land by boat on some very nasty coastlines.

This picture shows just one of many cargo ships which have been plying the Sound in the last month. She's the Arklow Fern, butting into a stiff northwester. In front of her is the Sula Beag, which belongs to SeaWild Scotland, and offers the excitement of whale-watching cruises. She's another old ship, having been built in 1985. More about her here.

Far too many of the yachts which we see in the Sound are using their motors, even in ideal sailing weather. So it's so good to see a yacht heeling to a stiff breeze as she comes powering down the Sound under sail. Now that is REAL adventure.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Temperature of the Day

This was the temperature at 12.44 this afternoon, but it rose further, to just over 29C, some time before 2.00pm. Can we break the 30C barrier tomorrow?

Photo of the Day

An underwater shot of a sea urchin, Echinus esculentus, taken off the rocks below Ormsaigbeg. Urchins frequently capture a piece of seaweed and hold it over them as camouflage.

Artist's Whale Painting

From Trevor Potts:

Famous Dundee artist Stephen French is seen at work creating his latest masterpiece in the style of Shepard Fairey at Ardnamurchan Campsite. The new painting, using graffiti spray paints, depicts a diving Cuvier’s Beaked whale.

Finishing touches to the head and will be done on Monday and the skeleton will be mounted back onto the wall over the painting later in the week, when it will be possible to see the full artistic effect.

Stephen French’s one man show at Resipole Gallery opened on Saturday and can be seen until 20th June.

The Ardnamurchan Campsite website is here.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Temperatures Soar

The air temperature hit a new high of 28C around midday today, very exhausting for those in woolly coats.

Views over Swordle

It is a privilege to live out here on West Ardamurchan when the weather turns fine and we can take to the hills and walk for miles enjoying views like this, with little chance of meeting anyone, and rich wildlife all around. Today, an eagle flew low over our house, chased by a seagull, and an otter has been working along the Ormsaigbeg shore the last few days.

This picture is from the north coast. It looks down to Swordle Bay, with the Swordle Bay House to the right. Skye lies away in the distance.

This closer view of the Bay House shows the white sand beach which visitors can enjoy. The house is one of Ardnamurchan Estate's and is available to rent - website here.

To the right is Ardnamurchan Estate's Swordle Farm House, with the old steading converted to bothy accommodation to the left.

Slightly further along the coast is the tiny crofting township of Ockle, almost lost in the wild scenery. At the end of a winding, single-track road are three houses which are available to rent in this gem of a place, with wonderful walking all around. They can be booked through Ockle Holidays, website here.

All pictures were taken from the slopes of Dun Mor.
A map of the area is here.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Staffa and the Treshnish Islands

We had the pleasure today of a trip out to Staffa and the Treshnish Islands aboard Staffa Tours' new Tobermory-based MV Islander. She's a catamaran, built for the company last year, and a well-found, fast, but stable boat, ideal for trips out into the Atlantic. Better still, Staffa Tours organised the weather for us - wall-to-wall sunshine, flat calm as we left, then a pleasant breeze once we were out beyond Mull.

The highlight of the trip wasn't, as we had anticipated, Staffa, impressive as it was, but the main island of the Treshnish Islands, Lunga, our first stop. We could have wandered the island for hours, enjoying the bird life, of which the puffins took the limelight...,

....the flowers - we saw the first wild orchids of the year - and....

....the history of the place, which was inhabited until 1824 - the houses are still there, roofless, staring out to sea.

Staffa, however, has the magnificent columnar basalt, an awe-inspiring sight. Fingal's Cave is only a small part of the structure, and some of the smaller columns, above the main ones, form intruiging shapes.

The Islander - seen here re-embarking passengers at Staffa - sails seven days a week from Tobermory and Kilchoan, and alternates two trips: on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays she goes further north, to look for whales, dolphins and basking sharks, and often also visits Lunga. On the other four days she does the trip we so enjoyed today, to Lunga and Staffa. She'll pick up from Kilchoan whenever there is demand - just phone 01681 700 338 to book, or go to Staffa Tours' website, here.

This is a new service, and the trip is a must, not only for the many visitors to West Ardnamurchan, who will love it, but for any residents who haven't seen the Treshnish Islands. The boat leaves Kilchoan at 9.45am, and is back at the Pier by 4.00pm - a great day out.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Heat Wave

We are very accustomed to our wonderful West Ardnamurchan panoramas being obscured, but not by a heat haze. This is the view across Kilchoan Bay at 7.00am this morning, on a day when the temperature hit 27C - yes, twenty-seven degrees Celsius in May!

This is hotter than Algiers, Athens, Melbourne (it is winter there), Nairobi, Jerusalem, London and Palma, and almost as hot as Accra in Ghana, West Africa.

It was so hot that the family, and a friend, in a moment of madness, decided they ought to go swimming. Or, rather, the women did, the men, being a little more wise, felt that a first dabble at the mackerel, off a kayak, might be a better idea.

The women survived the experience, just, and the men didn't catch any mackerel. But the temperature tomorrow is forecast to be even higher.

Photo of the Day

The Sylvia T moored this morning at the Kilchoan slipway for her annual
service. She's a creel boat which works out of Kilchoan.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Photo of the Day

The Sound of Mull and Caliach Point at the northwest tip of Mull, photographed from Beinn na h-Urchrach.

It's Thrift Time.... Again

The Diary makes no apology for featuring this lovely little flower..... again. It isn't just its beauty that makes it so remarkable, it's thrift's ability to produce a profusion of blooms from seemingly nothing.

Thrift grows on rock just above the high-tide mark, in places which the spray of winter storms easily reaches, putting its roots down into the tiniest of cracks to gain nourishment. As a result, the coastline is littered with these flowers at this time of year, making even the most barren of shores a pleasure to walk along.

The plant seems to grow best along this coast where the rock is limestone. It's not fussy about the orientation of its home, growing equally happily on vertical faces as on flat, but prefers open, sunny locations. This flower was hanging grimly on to an otherwise bare basalt cliff.

There's considerable variation in colour. The brightest pinks are startling, the palest almost white. And thrift is good value for money, as flowering lasts for some weeks.

There's more about thrift on this useful website, which describes the wildflowers of the Western Isles, here.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Adder Bite

We are seeing more adders in the hills at the moment, so it seemed a good idea to get some advice on what to do in the very rare event that someone is bitten. What follows is based on detailed information provided by one of our Emergency Responders, Sam Harding. His full document is available for download at the end of this post.

For most people, an adder bite is little worse than a severe bee sting. But symptoms may include
  • severe pain at the location of the bite

  • swelling, redness and bruising at the location of the bite

  • nausea (feeling sick), vomiting, diarrhoea

  • itchy lumps on the skin, swelling of the lips, tongue and gums

  • breathing difficulties with wheezing

  • mental confusion, dizziness or fainting

  • irregular heartbeat

If someone is bitten
  • Do not panic and try to remain calm. Snake bites, particularly those that occur in the UK, are rarely serious and very rarely fatal

  • Keep the bitten body part as still as possible, this will prevent the venom spreading around your body. You may want to secure the bitten part with a sling. However, do not make sling or splint so tight that it restricts the blood flow

  • Try to remember the shape, size, and colour of the snake

  • Remove jewellery and watches from the bitten limb

Sam's advice is to contact the emergency services even if the bite is 'dry' - that is, no poison seems to have been injected. The problem with snake bite is that the patient may go into shock, and even suffer anaphylaxis - that is, a severe allergic reaction - some time after the event. It is particularly important to contact the emergency services if the victim is a child as, the smaller the body volume, the more concentrated the venom is in the bloodstream.

Sam's document (PDF, 790KB) is available for download here.