Friday, 31 May 2013

Water Rail

This water rail became caught in one of Kilchoan Early Bird's creels today.  It was easily freed, but it left behind a question.

The rails, which include the moorhen, coot and corncrake, are small to medium-sized, ground living birds, typically the size of a chicken.

Water rails aren't supposed to be found in this part of the world.  They're normally found in the wetlands of lowland Britain, particularly in the eastern English counties and southern England - see RSPB website here.

What with egrets arriving in Kilchoan on Tuesday, and a water rail being caught in a creel today, what are we going to find next?

A Geologist's Blog

Rob Gill runs a small business from the tiny crofting township of Achnaha.  His business, Geosec Slides, sells extremely thin sections - like 30 microns thin - of bits of very hard rock which are fixed into microscope slides.

Geologists use a special microscope - called a petrological microscope - to look at these slides.  By inserting polarisers into the incoming and outgoing light, the minerals that constitute the rock can be easily identified.  However, the polarisers have a secondary effect - turning the slides into stunning works of art.

Rob works hard at his business, but he is also generous with his time when it comes to telling people about his work, and he's increasingly the local expert on West Ardnamurchan's geology - he gave a fascinating talk not long ago at the Kilchoan Learning Centre all about our local volcano.

Now Rob has taken his enthusiasm on-line by starting a blog - and, being a bit technical himself, some of the add-one he's using are great fun as well as enabling him to explain what are otherwise quite complicated ideas.  Have a look at the blog entry here.

His blog is at

Many thanks to Rob for the slide photos

Thursday, 30 May 2013

A Paddle to the Castle

We woke to stunning Highland weather this morning, hardly a cloud in the sky, a brisk northerly breeze, and the thermometre climbing towards yesterday's dizzy heights of 22C, so we took to the kayaks, planning to paddle east along the coast to Mingary Castle to take a look at how work is progressing there.

It isn't a long paddle, perhaps four kilometres, and with conditions almost ideal every moment was a pleasure.  Because the tide was rising we were able to shorten the route by cutting through the gap between Glas Eilean, the grey island, and the coast, something that's only possible about two hours either side of high tide.  We just made it - picture at top shows Rachael working her way through the weed.

The bay between Glas Eilean and Mingary Pier is one of the best places to see grey seals, and there were about a dozen of them there this morning.  They came close to the boats, but getting a picture of one from a rocking kayak with a temperamental waterproof camera isn't easy.

Once we were below Mingary Castle, and in the lee of the shore, we could use the larger camera, carefully carried in a sealed polythene bag.  Look closely to the right of the castle and a man is visible hanging off the rock face below the curtain wall.

This was Chris Flewitt, a senior member of the team at Vertical Technology, the company which is responsible for underpinning the castle before it falls down.  He's up here for a couple of days to check how the local team is getting on - see what they're up to on the Mingary Castle blog, here.

After talking to them, we spent some time drifting with the wind and taking pictures of the castle - conditions were almost perfect for photography - before turning and paddling home.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Pig Fight - Round 2

It started the same way it did last time (see April post here), with the same Portuairk saddleback sow leading Ginger, the Portuairk boar, across the burn to the Ormsaigbeg pigs' pen: and, once again, she stuck around just long enough to get Ginger angry about the attention Bobby was paying her....

....leading to the inevitable froth-jawed confrontation between the two boars - Ginger on the left, Bobby on the right.

With Trevor Pott's Ardnamurchan Campsite full for the half-term break and visitors and their children promenading along the Ormsaigbeg road, swift action had to be taken taken: Hughie was called, and he, in turn, advised Portuairk pig owner Angus-John that his pigs were out and creating mayhem.

This time Bobby's temper snapped first.  Having twice touched the wire and had a shock, he finally charged through it....

 ....just as Hughie arrived.

Hughie's valiant attempts to separate the boars - by that time going at each other hammer-and-tongs - had little effect, other than to break Hughie's favourite stick.

Soon after, Angie arrived.  Since this is the era of the mobile smartphone, it was felt necessary to make a few consultative calls to America before attending to Bobby and Ginger, who were, by that time, increasingly bloody and bruised.  Ginger has a bad leg, and Bobby is too portly to be a good fighter, so the fight was heading towards a standstill.

After several further attempts to separate them and some more consultative calls, two lengths of rope were obtained and lariats made.  The pigs, wild west style, were lassoed and, bucking and protesting, finally dragged apart.

Bobby went back to his house, collapsed, and had to be revived by having a bucket of water poured over him....

....while Angie-John led a limping, exhausted Ginger away - in company with the Portuairk saddleback sow who had come back to enjoy the chaos she has caused,...

....but the poor chap collapsed in the burn and couldn't be moved for half an hour.

There's never a dull moment in Ormsaigbeg.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Underpinning Mingary Castle

The process of underpinning Mingary Castle so it doesn't fall down has started - and this is the team who are working on it.  Read about them and what they're doing in the Blog at the Mingary Castle site, here.


A pair of egrets have been spotted along the Kilchoan-Ormsaigbeg shore. This looks like the little egret, Egretta garzetta - more about it here.

While they are becoming increasingly common in southern England and Wales, it's the first time we've seen them here.

They're very shy, and have already been 'moved on' by people approaching too close.

The arrival of egrets in southern Britain has often been quoted as evidence of a changing climate.  As far as we're concerned, it's lovely to see them - though we're not sure what the local grey herons are going to think of the competition.

Other birds spotted recently by visitors include corncrakes and sea eagles.

Monday, 27 May 2013


The fame of the Ormsaigbeg pigs continues to draw visitors from far and wide.  This lady was seen yesterday taking pictures of iBobby on her iPad.  Bet no-one's risked their iPad on a photo of pig owner iHughie.

Meanwhile, the weather, as would be expected on a Monday Bank Holiday, has turned wet, with a stiff westerly bringing a mass of low cloud inland across Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse.  Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird who, true to his name, was out first thing this morning to take this photo.
Overnight we enjoyed just over 20mm of Kilchoan sunshine which filled the burns and dampened the spirits of visiting campers.  The burn in the picture is the Allt Uamha na Muice, the photo taken at the point where it flows under the Sanna road, with the heights of the eastern ring dyke in the misty distance.

But yesterday was lovely almost all day, with hardly a breath of wind until the clouds arrived in the evening, and the skies are now, at just after nine in the morning, breaking to give the first signs of blue.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the picture.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Kilchoan Playpark Opens

It was, said Rosie Curtis, chairman of West Ardnamurchan Community Council, in her speech which opened Kilchoan's magnificent new playpark,"the day we thought we'd never see!"  It's taken eleven years, from the time that Highland Council closed the village's playground, to raise the money and build, not a replacement, but something very much bigger and very special indeed.

Along the way, Rosie continued, many people had contributed in so many ways.  Marie, Sharon and Lynda (above) were three of the original committee who set the process rolling; others joined in as the effort was taken over by the West Ardnamurchan Community Development Company.  Others became involved in fundraising - long-term readers of the Diary will recall that a group of nine fathers and friends raised over £25,000 by walking the West Highland Way.  Others helped by giving of their time and effort in the building - builder Kenneth MacDonald from Acharacle, John and Jacqui Chapple of Steading Holidays among many others -  while Donald Houston of Ardnamurchan Estate gave the children the land.  Support came from outside bodies once the money started to accumulate - the Scottish Government and the European Community through Highland LEADER 2007-13, the Landfill Communities' Fund, the Hugh Fraser Foundation, to name a few.

The event was opened by Holly Cameron, who cut the ribbon on the gate and allowed a flood of children to run up the path into the park.  Holly's little brother Caleb, who died in a tragic accident in 2009, is commemorated by a plaque in the park, and her dad, Bert, and his partner in their company MAP Ltd, did the groundwork and a lot else besides.

Around 300 people attended the event, and it's perhaps a reflection of how wide the effort was to raise the money that one person flew in from Saudi Arabia specially to be there.

This group photograph brought together some of those who worked so hard to complete the project and those who are the main beneficiaries - the children.  But there is one thing that is different about this playpark, and it was noticeable that people were already beginning to talk about it as the Kilchoan 'Park': it's just as welcoming for adults as it is for children, with places to sit, paths to stroll along, marshy areas to encourage wildlife, and a small burn running through it.

The proof of all puddings is, of course, in the eating, and from the way the children disappeared into the park and played happily all afternoon - while the adults were engaged in other forms of celebration - demonstrated what a tremendous success this enterprise has been.

The total cost of the Park was in excess of £100,000.  When one considers that the resident population of this remote community is around 250, the size of the mountain that had been scaled can be appreciated.

The Diary understands that the members of the West Ardnamurchan Community Development Company are afraid they may now get bored with nothing to do, so they have an AGM on 24th June at which the community is cordially invited to come along and give them a few ideas - invitation here.

Slow Worm Brawl?

It's very much the time of year when animals and birds are mating, and that's what these two slow worms appear to be doing - except that both of them are males.  So, do slow worms, which always seem the most gentle as well as useful inhabitants of our gardens, actually fight over females?  And is this entirely in slow motion?

Many thanks to TS for the picture.

Saturday, 25 May 2013


Last night's moon was a day off full, but it made a spectacular arrival at the end of a wonderfully sunny day.  Picture shows it a few minutes after it rose over Morvern.

A supermoon is described as a moon which is at or very close to its perigee, its closest point to Earth - so, presumably, it looks a bit larger than usual.  This picture is from The Raptor - for which many thanks - and there's another picture, and more details, on the EarthSky site, here.

Later, the moon stood over the Sound of Mull, bathing it in light.  That's Tobermory lighthouse in the left distance, with the cargo ship Burhou I passing.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Accordion Workshop

The variety of courses, and the number of people who are attending Kilchoan Learning Centre, continue to increase.  The latest success is an accordion workshop.

Pat Glenday, who manages the centre, writes, "There are nine folk attending the workshop, all ages and abilities, with a few more joining the course over the coming weekend. The teacher is Sileas Sinclair from Connal. One of the participants has travelled up from London specifically to do the course."

The centre's fame continues to spread, drawing in top-class course and workshop leaders.  Tonight we have “Scots and English – Using the Past to Explain the Present”, a two-hour talk being given by Prof Jeremy Smith of Glasgow University as part of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Lochaber initiative.

Full contact details for Kilchoan Learning Centre are here.

OS Map Names: An Appeal

Many of us rely heavily on the accuracy of OS maps.  When we walk the hills and coastlines of West Ardnamurchan we carry the 1:25,000 Explorer map.  Sadly, the OS do not always live up to the high reputation they have built up over the years.  Our local map, which has a date of 2002, has some strange errors.  A good example is the paucity of houses along Pier Road and in Glebe Hill.

The local map also has names on it which do not tally with the names used by local people.  An example of this is the skerry off Sanna called Sgeir Horsgate.  This name must have been lodged with the OS many years ago, as it appears on the 1872 6" map, above.  Its local name is Coire Sgeir.

In other cases, a perfectly good local name which is to be found on older maps has become lost.  The name of the lochan to the west of the Sanna road - the left hand of the four shown in the above picture - which was marked on most early OS maps as Lochan nan Ealachan, the Lochan of the Swan, has disappeared.

For some, their lives may depend on the accuracy of a map.  In their Search & Rescue operations, HM Coastguard rely heavily on receiving an accurate grid reference for a casualty, but sometimes this isn't possible and they're given the name of a headland or bay.  It is therefore good news that they have teamed up with the OS to identify the local names of as many coastal features as possible.

To do this, they are appealing to long-time residents to send in the local names of coastal features which are not marked on current OS maps, along with a grid reference and a brief description of the feature.  This can be done through the Diary by sending the information to

A Variety of Clouds

Yesterday we suffered bitterly cold northerly winds gusting to force five which brought sharp hail and rain-showers, making it a bitterly cold day.  It was still chilly this morning - last night's temperature dropped to 3C - but the wind dropped, the sky cleared, and we've been treated to sunshine and such a variety of clouds that Kilchoan Early Bird was moved to take photos of them.

The Diary is always willing to hazard a guess at cloud types: the ones above look like cirrus, while...

....these look like alto-cumulus.

The weather looks set fair for the next few days, a trend we deserve after a dismal first half to May.  With sporadic alerts from AuroraWatch, this is probably the last chance we'll have of seeing an aurora as, during June, the sky is light all night.  The sky was already bright with the first signs of dawn at 2.00am this morning.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the two pictures.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

One Day's Sanna Wildlife

This post sets out to give some idea of the wealth of wildlife that can be seen during a short walk at Sanna.  We were there on Sunday, and these are just a few of the things we found.  There was nothing particularly special about the day  - it was rather grey - but the birds, like this dunlin, seemed to be unusually pleased to pose for us.

This little ringed plover seemed terribly anxious to have his picture taken, moving from rock to rock and turning this way and that in order to offer the best profile, all the time bobbing up and down with excitement.  We were aware that this behaviour might also mean that he had a nest nearby so, having taken a picture, we moved on.

A rather shyer bird is this one.  We took it to be a pipit, perhaps a rock pipit - it has the characteristic grey outer tail feathers - but the pipit group is difficult for amateurs like the Diary to identify accurately.

We really did think this was the Loch Ness monster: long neck, moving through the water leaving a V-shaped wake behind him, suddenly diving, surfacing, and finally disappearing.  It's one of the divers, but whether it's a merganser or a goosander isn't clear.  An internet search suggests that red breasted mergansers don't display in this way, but that goosanders do something like it.  Nowhere is there is a picture of a bird displaying by waving a fish he's caught in the air.

All over the rocks just above the normal high tide mark the thrift is coming into flower.  The Diary comments every year on the wonder of this little plant, living as it does in the most exposed of positions, with the winter storms beating it, and surviving, somehow, on the nutrients drawn from small cracks in the rock - and then producing the most beautiful little flowers so early in the summer.

Another flower the Diary becomes ridiculously excited about every year are the local wild orchids.  People think of orchids as something that belongs in the Borneo jungle or in hothouses at places like Kew, but we have a treasure-trove of them growing here in West Ardnamurchan's hills throughout the early summer.

This is the first of the year's heath spotted orchids, growing in the lea of a rock half way up a hillside at the back of Sanna township....

....while, nearby, we found the first of the fragrant orchids: if you ever find one of these, take the trouble to kneel down and smell it.  It's undignified, but well worth it.

We'd gone to Sanna with the intention of finding a new orchid - the frog orchid.  Needless to say, despite some searching, we didn't find it.  If you want to read more about orchids, go to the West Highland Flora website, here, and scroll to the bottom of the page.

Finally, on the machair between Sanna and the sea, amongst the sand-dunes, we found this wild pansy, Viola tricolor. We've seen one once before, and it, too, was this brilliant yellow, so perhaps that's the standard Sanna colour - yet on the West Highland Flora site suggests that purple is the normal colour on these flowers.