Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Scallop Dredgers

The Buckie-registered Kelly, BCK625, leads the Kirkwall-registered Aquaria, K232, out of Kilchoan Bay just after six this morning.

The Kelly was involved in an incident last July which the crew would probably prefer to forget - see here.  Perhaps her fortunes would be better if she was given a coat of paint.

London Buses

The other day, Jac Crosbie sent in a picture of an emperor moth (here) which had landed on her doorstep.  Ritchie Dinnes, her father, not to be outdone, also found one on his doorstep.  An anonymous comment on Jac's moth said it was a female.  Please could someone explain how one can tell the difference.

Going one better, Ritchie sent this picture of a butterfly at the Glenborrodale RSPB reserve, with the comment, "Could it be a chequered skipper?" and, "See if you can match that, Jac!" - a risky challenge coming from a parent.

For  what it's worth, the Diary thinks it's a speckled wood.

A bit like London buses, unusual things tend to come in packs.  Kilchoan Early Bird recently sent in pictures (here) of what people seemed to think was probably a willow warbler but might have been a chiffchaff.  This cheerful little character has taken to perching on the power line that runs along the back of our house, and he's constantly singing a tune which steadily drops in note - so he's definitely not a chiffchaff.


The Diary is always very wary of identifying plants with any certainty, but thinks that this is the round-leaved sundew, Drosera rotundifolia, which we found growing on a low bank beside a burn.  Look carefully at the leaf at bottom right and you may be able to see a small, black insect trapped in the sticky hairs, which will be digested to help feed the plant.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Still Weather

The barometer hasn't moved from 1015mbar for the last three days.  The air is still, the sea like slightly crumpled tinfoil, the sky often overcast.   But there have been enough breaks to let the sun through, as in this sunset photo from Ritchie Dinnes who lives in Kilmory.  The sun is setting further and further into the north, so soon we'll have some of Ritchie's best photos, as it sets over the Small Isles.

Rachael has sent in this photo which shows very well the sort of weather we've had.  It looks north from Ardnamurchan towards Eigg, Rum and Muck.

A yacht came in to the anchorage in Kilchoan Bay last night and left this morning shortly after the tide turned.

It's a sign of the changing seasons when we begin to see our local creel fishermen working in the Sound of Mull.  Their boats spend the winter moored at Camas Fearna, the bay this side of Glengbeg, while they fish the more protected waters of Loch Sunart, but Justin Cameron in his Harvester was laying creels just off the Ormsaigbeg shore this morning, and Alasdair MacLachlan's Emma-Maria was moored in Kilchoan Bay.

The common scurvy grass is in full flower around Kilchoan Bay this picture was taken from the jetty looking across the bay towards Ben Hiant.  The plant gets its name from the high content of vitamin C in its leaves, which were eaten to prevent scurvy.  Its Gaelic name is am maraiche, the sailor.

Many thanks to Ritchie and Rachael for the photographs.

Ardnamurchan Transitions Team's Visit

The Ardnamurchan Transitions team, the archaeologists who discovered the Viking boat burial at Swordle Farm in 2011, are back again this summer from 20th July until 9th August.  They will be holding a number of public events, including open days on Sunday 27th July and Sunday 3rd August.  They are also hoping to do a public talk.  Details of events will follow.

This year they will be accepting some local volunteers to work on the digs with them.  Anyone interested should contact Ollie Harris,, or Hannah Cobb,

Conserved finds from the boat burial are currently part of the British Museum Vikings exhibition.

Glenbeg Party

On Saturday evening the directors and staff of the new Ardnamurchan Distillery at Glenbeg threw a private party at which most of the guests were, like us, residents of Ardnamurchan - and they had asked just about everybody.

Coaches were laid on to transfer guests from Acharacle and Kilchoan, and were available to take us home again.

The food was superb, and the whisky - Spirit of Sunart - with which we toasted the future of the new distillery excellent.

Keith Falconer, Chairman of Adelphi, in his brief address, described the 'steep challenge' they had faced in building a distillery in such a remote part of the world but hoped that all those present felt that it had been worthwhile.  He said he believed the new business would be a 'force for good' in the local community, and that it was 'a project everyone in the community can feel part of and proud of'.  He expected that the distillery would be in full production by the end of this year.

The room in which the event took place will, in due course, contain hundreds of casks of maturing whisky, but on Saturday it provided a fine setting for a party which continued until late, with music and dancing.

Many thanks to the chairman, directors and staff at the distillery for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

All indoor pictures by Stewart Pote, for which many thanks.

Monday, 28 April 2014

A Pretty Little Bird

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for these pictures of a pretty little bird which he found in one of his creels and which he describes as being about the size of a wren.

The Early Bird has a touching faith in the Diary when he adds, "I'm sure you'll know what it is."  I don't, except that I would hazard a guess that it's a warbler possibly a wood warbler.  But, having had both the emperor moth and the oak eggar caterpillar identified by comments today - for which many thanks - I'm sure someone can do better.

Beinn na Seilg

We don't often walk with a dog, but Saturday's expedition up Beinn na Seilg with Bedw was a pleasure.  He was obedient, inquisitive, energetic and enthusiastic, though there was a moment when....

....we breathed a sigh of relief that his enthusiasm had taken him elsewhere - a duck rose suddenly from her nest, leaving her ten eggs.  We think she was a teal as she had a bright green flash in her wing feathers.  The nest, hidden under heather with a lining of duck down, was some distance from the lochans.

We felt bad about disturbing her, and hope that she returned to her eggs.

We circled to the west of the twin lochans and then climbed to where there's a plaque attached to a rock outcrop.  It's a memorial to the two Hawker Hurricane pilots who were killed in February 1944: in appalling weather, one, a New Zealander, flew in to the dark cliff seen beyond the lochans, and the other crashed on Coll.  The plaque was placed so that, from it, both crash sites are visible.  For more information, see blog entry here.

There's a large, well-built cairn on the summit of Beinn na Seilg, from which there are fine views, but with the weather beginning to close in and rain forecast, we moved....

....quickly across the saddle which separates it from another summit - un-named on the OS map so we call it Beinn na Seilg 2.

Between the two we came across this juniper with a bright orange fungus growing on one of its branches.  It may be Gymnosporangium clavariiforme, a rust fungus which alternately infects juniper and hawthorn.  There's more about it here.

From Beinn na Seilg 2 we looked north across a darkening Ardnamurchan, with Muck, Eigg, Rum, and the distant mountains of Skye visible, and Lochan an Aodainn, which is at the back of the Sonachan Hotel.

We made out way back to Ormsaigbeg by walking along the north slope of Beinn na Seilg and round the eastern end of the twin lochans.  Along the way we came across this caterpillar, which I can't identify.

The Beach

Readers of the Diary may remember a photograph, published back in March, which had been taken by 13-year old Lewis Gilfillan.  Well, Lewis has now moved on to video, and this link should take you to a homage to his favourite beach.

Sunday, 27 April 2014


Many thanks to Jac Crosbie who has sent this picture of an emperor moth, which was an early morning visitor on their doorstep.  They are the most magnificent of insects - please ask him to call on us, Jac.

The Plunge

Sunshine, light winds, air temperature 20C, the waters are Caribbean blue - and Mrs Diary takes the plunge for the first time this year.  Brrrr!

Eda Frandsen

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for this picture of the sail training ship Eda Frandsen off Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse this morning - the company's website is here.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Song Thrush

We've been without a song thrush in the garden all winter.  There were a few thrushes down the road, but none came along to our feeders, even in the worst of the weather.  Thrushes have now begun to reappear in increasing numbers, and this chap started to sing from vantage points around our house.  His favourite  place is the fir tree opposite, not the very top but slightly down from it.  This may be because the topmost twigs are already heavily used by smaller birds passing through.

The British Garden Birds website, here, confirms what we have noticed: some thrushes in more northern parts of Britain migrate south for the winter, while others stay and may be joined by migrants from colder places like Scandinavia.

At the moment our thrush seems to sing almost ceaselessly from first light through until dark, and it's a mystery when he manages to find time to snatch a meal.  Presumably all this effort is aimed at attracting a mate.

Friday, 25 April 2014


We caught the early sailing to Tobermory this morning.  The Community Council had heard at its last meeting that, due to ongoing problems with various ferries, CalMac might have to leave the much smaller Raasay on all summer - which would be totally inadequate - but the Loch Linnhe was back earlier this week and the crew seemed fairly certain that, unless there's a further problem, we'll have her all summer.

Seeing the various parts of the village from the sea gives them a completely different perspective.  The houses in Pier Road, which are strung out along the road, seem compacted into a neat little community, with their wind turbines behind them.

The houses at the western end of Kilchoan are also compacted, with those down Glebe Hill looking almost on top of those close to the waterfront.  Seeming to loom over them all is the hill called Beinn na h-Imeilte, which is some distance away, half way across the peninsula.

This picture looks across Kilchoan Bay to the houses in Ormsaigbeg which are grouped on either side of the village shop, the Ferry Stores.

Further west, the houses of Ormsaigbeg are hemmed between the sea and the hill.  The peak rising above them is Beinn na Seilg, but look closely and there is a ridge between the sea and the beinn, Druim na Gearr Leacainn.

It was a beautiful morning, the sea calm under a gentle southeaster. As we passed the lighthouse at Rubha nan Gall, a small boat, probably servicing the Bloody Bay fish farm, passed in the opposite direction.

We went across to visit the dentist and were back on the 11.00am sailing, but Tobermory's going to be busy this weekend - it's the Mull Music Festival.  There were only the two of us coming back, but a good crowd were waiting for the return journey.

Thursday, 24 April 2014


We have so many small birds hopping around in the garden that it sometimes takes a second or two to realise that what one is looking at is something slightly unusual.  After the excitement of the grasshopper warbler on Tuesday, this lesser redpoll appeared this morning, ate a few seeds, flew up to a nut feeder to enjoy some peanuts, and then flew away.

Of the four pictures taken in the few seconds he was around, two have come out, and they show that it's a male in his full mating finery.

Redpolls aren't common in our garden.  The last time we saw them was in August.  We'd like to see many more of this very pretty little bird.

Exotic Species

For readers who are concerned about the lack of news of Betsy, here is a happy picture taken a few days ago of Hughie feeding Betsy and Bobby one morning, and giving Betsy the sort of love and attention she deserves.  What the Diary didn't appreciate at the time was that he was also giving her some bad news.  The details aren't fully clear yet, but it seems that the ordinary pigs will shortly be pork scratchings.

The Diary's suspicions were aroused when it received this picture this morning which, if readers look very closely, features Hughie feeding a small herd of deer, including a white deer, on a farm in the Cairngorms that specialises in exotic species.  Apparently the two Hughie was looking at were reindeer and.... Iron Age pigs.  The suggestion is that these will replace the more boring and mundane saddlebacks and old spots as they attract better money.  Amongst other things, the Iron Age pigs are small and cute, so Hughie can sell tourists bags of food to feed them, earning him a profit and, at the same time, saving him money on pig feed.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for photo.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Earth Day

Yesterday was Earth Day, so Rachael posted this peaceful picture, taken near Glenborrodale Castle, on Facebook to celebrate.

Monday's Aurora

Our search for an aurora in the early hours of Monday morning was unsuccessful but Ewan Miles, who works on Mull for Sea Life Services, took this super photo around one in the morning.  Ewan says the event was brief - but, next time, if it's going to be brief, please could it be brief while I'm around?

Ewan's shot looks across the Sound of Mull to Ardnamurchan, with the lights of Kilchoan at right.

Many thanks to Ewan for permission to publish his picture.
Ewan's website, with beautiful photographs, is here.

Antler Growth

From Fay Rowantree at Wild Highland Tours:

What is horn and what is antler?

Antlers differ from horns in that they are shed and reproduced annually. Antlers are made of bone while horns are made of keratin, the same material as your fingernails. Horns are a thin sheath grown over a portion of the skull while antlers are completely separate to the skull, held on only by a small section nourished by vitamins and minerals with the ability to start and stop growth. Horns grow continuously while antlers grow for around 128 days. Antlers are the fastest growing tissue in the animal kingdom growing at up to 2.5 cms per day and can be grown only by Cervidae. Horns are grown by cattle, goats, sheep and antelope.

How an antler grows

Antlerogenesis is the term that describes the annual physiological production of antlers. It is regulated by a series of interconnected processes. Antler growth is primarily regulated by testosterone levels. The testosterone levels in a stag’s body are regulated by photo-period, or length of daylight, and length of daylight is regulated by the seasons that occur from the tilting and rotation of the Earth. Because of all of this, the antler growing process lasts only 128 days and cannot be extended or expanded.

When first born in the spring time, a stag calf or buck fawn has small indentions and hair swirls on the frontal bone of his skull. Before being a year old the buck or stag is affected by increased testosterone levels which help to produce small, flat platforms called pedicles. Pedicles provide the structural base for the foundation of future antler development in all male deer. At approximately ten months of age and in good conditions, the young male’s testosterone level increases enough to produce his first set of antlers. By the next autumn, the young stags will be about eighteen months of age and referred to by deer managers as “knobbers”.  Under ideal conditions and with good genetics, his first antlers can have more than two points but most only have two spikes. 

As antler growth begins, the underlying pedicle gives rise to new antler material, which at this point is a semi-firm tissue composed of approximately 80% protein. This growing material is cartilage-like and full of blood vessels. The nutrient-rich transporting blood vessels rise up through the pedicle as well as form the soft lining around the outside of the growing antler. The tiny little blood vessels and protective hairs are what we refer to as velvet when a buck or stag is actively growing antlers. Blood vessel density and capacity is what “feeds” the growing antlers. A healthy male produces and maintains a high volume of blood vessels and draws heavily on nutrients during this period. The velvet is also full of a dense network of microscopic nerves. The nerves make the velvet covered antlers sensitive and help to protect the soft growing tissue against damage. The nerves may also make the stag aware of how his antlers are shaped, which will be useful when stripping the velvet and sparring with competing stags. The visible grooves on the base and beams of hardened antlers are the impressions left by the blood vessels as it grew in velvet. The scab that forms over the wound left by the cast antler heals and becomes covered with fine, thin hairs. The fine-haired skin forms the beginnings that will nourish and protect the growing antlers for the next four months.

Many thanks to Fay for the article and top photo.
Wild Highland Tours' website is here, and you can follow them of FaceBook here.
Wild Highland Tours is the only wildlife company based on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A Warm Easter

Dawn this morning, looking across Kilchoan Bay from above the Ardnamurchan campsite at Bogha Caol Aird.

The temperature yesterday hit 20C on the warmest April day we've had since we started keeping records.  We couldn't have had better weather for the Easter weekend.

Grasshopper Warbler

This is, or may be, a grasshopper warbler.  We saw it in the next-door plot, in amongst the brambles, but identified it - tentatively - as a grasshopper warbler by its song.  This is an exciting find, partly because the only other time we've heard it was in the Raptor's garden, and partly because, according to the RSPB, the population of this little bird is in steep decline, so it's on their 'Red List', and Ardnamurchan is outside its normal range.

More details about it on the BBC site, here.

Monday, 21 April 2014

New Kilchoan B&B Opens

A new Bed & Breakfast has opened in Pier Road, Kilchoan - and there's something very special about it.

The premises is Skipper's Cottage, built originally by Ardnamurchan Estate to house the skipper of the Estate launch.  In the centre of the village, with views across the Sound of Mull and close proximity to the CalMac ferry terminal, it's ideally placed both for the passing trade and for those who want to enjoy West Ardnamurchan at a more leisurely pace.

There are two rooms available.  This one, with double bed, is called Lady Butterfly, the other has twin beds and has been named Sea Eagle.  Both have sea views, and come with complimentary tea and coffee facilities, hairdryer, and wi fi.

What's so special about this new venture is that it's run by a young Italian couple, Lara Ferrarotti and Filippo Perratone, who have lived on West Ardnamurchan for long enough to fall in love with it and become determined to stay - even though they've seen it through the wettest winter ever.  Their passion for the place is reflected in the invitation on the first page of their website: "We are a young couple determined to offer you the opportunity to truly taste the unique West Ardnamurchan experience, made of astonishing views, strong gales and a very friendly community."

Lara and Filippo's B&B has just opened.  Their website is here.