Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Damselflies - maybe

The Diary has bought a new camera.  It's exactly the same as the old one, a Panasonic, so the buttons do roughly the same things as before, but it has more pixels, a faster burst speed and, perhaps most important, an amazing LCD screen on the back which twists and turns around, enabling very close pictures to be taken of very small objects.

The photographing of things which were quite impossible before has, inevitably, resulted in serious problems in identification.  The dragon fly / damsel fly groups are an example.  These pictures were all taken in the last month or so but identifying individuals in a group which have always previously remained a mystery is causing serious problems.

The one above may be one of the Demoiselles, perhaps a male Beautiful Demoiselle.  It was seen along the banks of the Sanna Burn.

This may be an Azure Damselfly but it might be a Variable Damselfly - they are, apparently, easily confused.  It stopped long enough to have its picture taken on the banks of Lochan an Dobhrain.

The identity of this superbly camouflaged damselfly remains a mystery, but it was found near Achnaha.  It may not be a damselfly but a dragonfly.

In many ways, what humans happen to call them isn't as important as the pleasure that can be found in marvelling at another of Nature's wonders.

Monday, 30 July 2012

The Crater Rim

Viewed from space, the western end of the Ardnamurchan peninsula looks as if it's been hit by a meteorite, leaving a huge crater.  In fact, this circular structure is the eroded remains of the guts of a great volcano that erupted some sixty million years ago.

In Mid-July we set off to climb the southeastern wall of the 'crater'.  As always, we had a target in mind, in this case to explore three lochans and an un-named peak.

The easiest way up the crater wall is to follow one of the burns that have eroded its slopes.  When we were there a month ago, West Ardnamurchan was in the grip of the 2012 Drought, so it was surprising that there was any water in the burn.  But the huge boulders that have been shifted are testimony to the sheer power of the water that must funnel down this glen after heavy rain.

The low water levels in the first little lochan were further evidence of the recent drought.  The hill beyond is Meall an Tarmachain, Ptarmigan Hill.

On the other side of a low ridge, this lochan was also showing signs of low water levels.  Lying in Coire nam Bothan, this is a local feature to which the Ordnance Survey hasn't given a name.

The main object of our walk was Lochan na Cloiche, which literally means lochan of stone.  Perhaps it was called this because it is so shallow.  In the distance is the northeast wall of the 'crater', with the hill called Meall an Fhir-eoin, the hill of the bird man, at centre.

The hill we climbed after visiting the lochan lies to the right of this picture, a bald, rocky outcrop with steep sides.

Near its summit, as so often happens, there is this little rock pool.  It's one of the mysteries of this place that so many such pools seem to form high in the hills, in places where one would expect them to drain away quickly.  This one even seemed unaffected by the drought.

From the summit we looked northwards to a lochan we had visited a few days before, Lochan an Dobhrain - see post here - with more un-named hills to the right and beyond it.  All of this country is formed of the hard igneous rocks of the ring dykes, the rock outcrops smoothed by the recent glaciation.

Finally, we looked westwards, straight across the 'crater' to the little township of Achnaha, lying in sunshine, and the opposite crater wall, with the summit of Meall Sanna.

We started from the Sanna road.  As the crow flies, our walk was about 6Km, but it was so up-and-down, and across such rough terrain, that it felt far more.  A map of the area is here.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Archaeologists' 2012 Programme

The Archaeologists who found the Viking boat burial last year are back in early August.  The public is invited to the following events -

Thursday 9th August, 8.00pm: A Talk

The talk takes place in Kilchoan Community Centre and is entitled 'The Ardnamurchan Viking and other discoveries: recent finds from Swordle Bay'. Speakers include Oliver Harris of the University of Leicester, Helena Gray from CFA Archaeology Ltd, and Phil Richardson from Archaeology Scotland.

Sundays 12th and 19th August: Open Days at Swordle

The Open Days are from 10.30am to 3.30pm. Follow the signs on the Swordle road.

Events are free, and everyone is very welcome.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Regatta - First Pictures

The sailing events were fought out in almost perfect weather, with the usual accompaniment of a flypast from the RAF.

Yachts are seen here working their way round the newly refurbished perch (at left) which marks a dangerous shoal.

Close encounters are part of the fun.

Rounding one of the marker buoys.

All pictures copyright Stewart Pote - many thanks for allowing The Diary to use them.

A Noisy Moth

One thinks of moths as flying silently at night.  This moth, the Six-spot Burnet, is one of many which fly during the daytime - and this one flies remarkably noisily.  It was noticed during a search in an Ormsaigbeg field for ochids when, after a rather erratic flight and a lot of time hovering while it made up its mind, it finally landed on a nearby stem.

Six-spot Burnets are common across most of the UK, but less so in Scotland.  They fly during the months between June and August.  There's a yellow-spotted version.

It's a beautiful insect, quite imperturbable even when a camera lens is almost poked into its right ear.

There's more about it here.

Friday, 27 July 2012

A Beautiful Killer

Bog Asphodel, Narthecium ossifragum, is one of the prettiest of our early summer wildflowers.  Despite its name, it seems to be able to grow on a wide range of local soils - this one was photographed on a thin, gravelly soil near Achnaha.  The flower has the most beautiful yellow to orange colours, and a close look will reveal some intricate structures along its six stamens.

It isn't a true Asphodel but a Lily, which makes it sound even more beautiful, particularly if you remove the word 'Bog'.

Something about the weather this year has suited Bog Asphodel, which is surprising since it has been so dry that many of our bogs have almost dried out.  In places there are carpets of Bog Asphodel growing in amongst the grasses.

All The Diary's affection for the plant has been destroyed by some very bad news from Millburn croft.  The Millburn flock is tended with great care by Alayne and Gillespie Cameron.  But this year their lambs have suffered as a result of eating Bog Asphodel.

Bog Asphodel causes sheep serious kidney problems and a photosensitivity disorder called 'yellowses' or 'plochteach'.  The symptoms include swelling of the face, eyelids, lips and limbs, which causes the animal to shake its head or kick at it with its hind limbs; it also rubs itself against gate and fence posts.  The wool falls off, the tips of the ears begin to die, and the ear becomes bloody and call also fall off.  The animal becomes extremely distressed and very ill.  Treatment is difficult, but the discomforts can be eased by keeping the animal in a dark place.

The Camerons' flock was badly hit.  Two of their lambs became seriously ill.  The one in the photograph subsequently died.

Read all about the chemistry of this poison here, and some veterinary details here.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Beach Sand

For a long time we wondered what the sands of West Ardamurchan's beautiful white beaches were made of, until Rachael did a Highers Geography project in which she looked at the profiles of the beaches, which change constantly with storms and tides, and their composition.

We had assumed that most of the beach sand came from the erosion of the local rocks by the fast-running burns, and therefore that they would largely be formed of bits of eroded rock and minerals such as quartz and felspar.  We were wrong. When Rachael studied them under the school microscope she found they are formed almost entirely of the smashed remains of millions upon millions of shells.

This picture shows a sample of the sort of sea creatures which contribute: tops, cockles, mussels, winkles, sea urchins, the calcerous tubeworm serpula, limpets, oysters, cowries, and numerous other species of bivalves and snails.

We also tried to work out why there are sandy beaches in some places, particularly along the north coast and at Sanna, and pebble beaches elsewhere, but we came to no firm answers.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Red Deer Stags

Walking in the hills on Ardnamurchan Estate land near Meall an Tarmachain we disturbed a small group of about a dozen red deer stags.  At this time of year they are growing their new antlers, which are covered in velvet.

This individual stopped and watched us for a few moments before....

....setting off up the hill after his companions.

This stag has six 'points' or 'tines' on his antlers, three on either side, so he's at least two years old.

The last to move away were a stag with very small antlers, and another stag, behind and to the left, with a much better pair.  The stag at the front is young, with only two points, and in some places he's called a 'knobbler'.  The one beyond has at least four points on each side, including the 'brow' which sticks out forward from the top of his head, the 'bay' which is further up, and the tray which is higher still.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012


Following the entry called 'Clachans, Clearances and Crofts', I have now started a short history of Ormsaigbeg.  It's available through a link in the right-hand column of The Diary, under the heading 'West Ardnamurchan Histories', or here.

The idea of these histories is to update and republish them as more information becomes available.  I appeal to anyone who can help in any way - particularly by adding to what I have found out or criticising what I have written - to contact me through the 'Comment' system or The Diary's email address.

The Perch - Latest Activity

From Chris Gane:

What a great response from the community to the appeal for bolts. I have received bolts or offers from David Norrie, Richie Dinnes, Alasdair MacColl, Dave Cash and especially Trevor Potts who went off to Newco Engineering in Fort William. We now have enough to fix the upper half to the lower part until the full marine spec versions arrive.

There was a big effort today to get the lower part cemented into the concrete block on the reef. The on-shore party consisted of John Chapple (who lent his mixer), Richard O'Connor, Angus Gane and Grant Cameron (who had come up to Kilchoan with the Ganes for a quiet holiday but ended up on concrete mixing duty). Lauren and I went out to the reef on a boat laden down with the perch, supporting blocks, buckets, cement and anything else we might need. As usual, Commodore MacColl was making sure everyone did everything right. Out on the concrete block we dropped the lower part in to the pre-drilled hole and braced it with stone wedges. Then we cemented in an old feed bucket (donated by Pat McPhail) upsidedown around the base using fast setting cement donated by Dave Cash.

Then the on-shore team got to work with the mixer and made 3 batches of a very strong cement that is usually used to make bridges and flyovers. This was ferried out to the perch by Angus in another boat and hauled onto the reef where it was poured into the hole and pushed down into every crevice.

As the concrete started to go off we wrapped the whole block and perch in a type of industrial clingfilm to try and stop the actions of the waves during the incoming tide from washing the soft concrete away.

We won't know how successful we've been for another couple of days when we will go back out to fix the upper section to the base. If all goes well we'll have a perch ready for the Regatta and something in place to help all boaters come into Kilchoan Bay safely.

Once more, thank you to everyone who has provided materials, tools, equipment, help and support to the project so far - a great community project!

Many thanks to Chris Gane for story and pictures.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Best in Show

Picture © Stewart Pote
Rosie Curtis with her blackface tup which won Best in Show at Friday's West Ardnamurchan Show and Sports.

As Gus MacLean reports over on the West Ardnamurchan news site, here, one of the rising stars of the Ardnamurchan crofting world is seven-year old Stewart MacLachlan who, as well as winning the Under-18 blackface competition, also won the young sheep handler cup.

Many thanks to Stewart Pote for the picture.

Colourful Yachts

Most yachts have white or off-white hulls.  There must be good reason for this - perhaps yacht manufacturers subscribe to a similar dictum to Henry Ford's, "A customer can have his car painted any color he wants as long as it's black."  So it was refreshing to see that the three yachts moored in the bay last Thursday were all different colours, and very smart they were.

The first was the Gulliver.  She looked to be a boat of mature years, and may have been flying the Dutch flag.
 This was the Lizzie Browne, and she had the added distinction of having red sails which went very well with her unusually coloured hull, while....
....this one, whose name was printed so small it was unreadable from the shore, had cheerful dark blue sails to go with her smart blue hull.

All of which leads neatly to a reminder that the next big event in Kilchoan is the Annual Regatta, which takes place over two days this week, Thursday 26th and Friday 27th.  Full details are here.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Replacing the Perch

From Chris Gane:

Geoff Campbell and I did another couple of hours on the perch yesterday.  Using a big jack-hammer drill we have managed to dig a hole about 50cm deep. My original intention of drilling out the old perch tube was abandoned as it was very difficult to hack around the metal with the drill and chisel so we have made a new hole, as can be seen by the photograph (below). The new perch is now finished with John Chapple having done a great job on the final coat of paint.

We plan to get out there with a cement mixer as soon as the weather permits and if we can fit it all in the small rowing boat! The aim is to have the new perch operational for the Regatta sailing on Thursday.

I have an appeal - unfortunately the stainless steel bolts that I bought are too short and some replacements are on order but may not come soon enough this week. Does anyone have any nuts and bolts between M12 to M18, minimum of 70mm long? They don't have to be stainless steel as we will replace them later. We need six.

Part 1 of the Perch Story is here.

Adder Encounter

From Fraser Gilfillan:

We were taking our customary walk to the lighthouse for a strawberry tart and a cup of coffee. The weather was overcast but warm. On the way back I was walking ahead with our dog while my wife and daughter (age 1) and my brother and his daughter (age 2) laboured behind singing nursery rhymes. My brother rudely interupted 'Row, row, row your boat' mid chorus and called ahead "I can't believe you walked past that!" I turned around and saw him standing over a coiled reddish brown Adder at the side of the road and realised that I was probably inches from stepping on it. Luckily the dog was on the lead and walking in the middle of the road.

I only had a wide angle lens on my camera at the time which made photographing the snake a tad nerve racking. I wanted to get as close as possible but having never seen one before I have no idea how fast they can move or what their striking distance is. Anyway, I got as close as I could without stressing the snake (and myself) too much, snapped a shot and resumed our walk.

On the way back to our caravan I was crowned "Big Jessie" for not getting closer, but I like to think I gave the animal the respect it deserved. I wondered why the snake stood its ground in our presence and did not slither off into the undergrowth. Later, when analysing the image I'd taken, I realised that there was blood on the snake so its possible that its injury was quite severe. The only likely culprit I can think of is an attack by a Buzzard as there were a few active in the immediate area.

Many thanks, Fraser, for story and picture

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Show & Sports Day

Every year the West Ardnamurchan Show and Sports Day simply gets better - except for one thing: the weather, which is consistently, year after year, sunny and dry.  Quite how the organising committee arrange this is a well-kept secret.

The annual stock judging saw some changes this year - Angus-John Cameron, who usually does well, didn't show, but the competition was as hard-fought as ever, with the sheep looking very smart, many with their coats dyed.  The judge this year was Fiona Bow from Mull, and she selected Rosie Curtis' blackface tup as the Overall Champion.

Watching the judges taste their was through this superb selection of bakery was positively painful.  They took a long time about it, and seemed to enjoy what they were doing.  The overall winner was Mary Khan.

New events included a poultry competition and a display of a hive of bees.  Tom Bryson organised the bees, having to drive to Spean Bridge to collect the special hive, and transfer the queen from his own hive into it for the day.

Above all, this is a day for children, though the adults tend to catch up a bit once the musical entertainments begin in the evening.  As well as the excitement of the sports....

....there was an even bigger bouncy castle and this machine, new to the Show, a portable rock face, for the more daring to show off their mountaineering skills.

The event relies heavily on the goodwill of the many who give up hours of their time to the organisation, the preparations, the running of day itself, and the clearing up afterwards.  This picture shows the team at the Burger Bar which, as well as the usual sort of fare one would expect, also offered local venison burgers and fresh, barbequed prawns from the Sound of Mull, courtesy of Alasdair MacLachan.  The rumour that the bacon came from Hughie's piglets was strongly denied.

Just as the events on the sports field were drawing to an end, the RAF appeared in a Hercules to perform a spectacular, low-level fly-past - the yellow object is the bouncy castle.  Just look at the blue of the sky.

Congratulations and 'thank you' to the many who worked so hard towards such a very successful event.

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Wonderful Potato

We're still feeling our way with the vegetable garden we've hacked out of a bracken- and bramble-choked hillside above our house.  This year we planted a few more potatoes than last, in a new, but very small bed. In all, we put in eight little seed potatoes....

....and, in return, we've just dug out over 5kg of near-perfect produce, an almost incredible return.

Little wonder that, when the potato was introduced to the western Highlands, it quickly became so popular.  However, the heavy reliance on one crop had a devastating effect when, from 1846 onwards, blight appeared and the harvest was wiped out.  As a result, hundreds of thousands of Highlanders left their homes, many going abroad.

Highland Weather

This was what the weather looked like yesterday - picture taken from the slipway below The Ferry Stores - and it's dawned fine and clear again today for the West Ardnamurchan Show and Sports.

Main events are -

9.30am - start of Agricultural Show, including the new poultry section

11.15am - judging of the Show Competitions - Gardening, Bakery & Children's

1.00pm - start of Sports, including Races, the Heavy Events and Tug-o'-War

6.00pm - Musical Entertainment starts.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the photograph.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

More Wasps

After the story about the wasps in Gael Cameron's bird box, Kilchoan Early Bird has found wasps in a shooting bag.  Must be the dry summer we're having.

Gael's wasps' nest has been dealt with by spraying it with nest killer foam and then wrapping the bird box in tinfoil.

An Ardnamurchan Holiday

The Diary is thrilled when visitors to West Ardnamurchan offer to send in some pictures from their holiday, along with a short comment on what they did here.  Karen Cornwall and her family stayed at the Ardamurchan Campsite recently - this super picture of the whale bones by the entrance was taken by 7-year old Carys, who obviously has tremendous talent with a camera.

As soon as they'd chosen their pitch, the local wildlife began to arrive.  First to come calling was this tiny shrew who supervised while they pitched their tent.

Ordinary campsites don't have moths in charge of the shower block, but this Garden Tiger Moth, Arctia caja, and...

 ....a beautiful Large Emerald, Geometra papilionaria, were on hand to assist.

Meanwhile, this toad was in charge of the beach below the campsite.

When asked to comment on the family's stay, Karen said, "I don't know where to start! We would thoroughly recommend the Ardnamurchan Campsite and West Ardnamurchan as a holiday destination. There is so much to see and do in this beautiful location. We managed to climb the lighthouse, visit Lunga and Staffa, find fossils, do some kayaking around Sanna Bay, visit Tobermory and spend lots of time just enjoying the campsite and surrounding area. The children loved it and are hoping we will return next summer."

Many thanks to the Cornwall family for pictures and story.
The Ardnamurchan Campsite's website is here.