Monday, 30 June 2014

Spur Dog

 Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for sending these photos of a 14.6 pound spur dog, a dog fish, which he caught off Kilchoan.  After taking these photos, he returned it to the water.

A Walk at Ockle - 2

The OS map showed that, from the lochan in the hills above Ockle where we had stopped to have a rest, a small burn flowed southeast to join a larger stream which would take us back to Ockle, so we decided to follow it - see map here.

Had we had the time that day or, even better, a tent and some food, we could have carried on into the vast area of empty hills and lost ourselves for several days.  Instead, we followed the burn as it tumbled downhill....

....almost treading on this slow worm, about a foot or so long, and much darker in colour than the ones we see in our garden in Ormsaigbeg.  He didn't seem in the least bothered by us, staying still for some time before slowly slithering away.

The lochan burn joins a larger one occupying this grassy, open valley.  We've found shieling huts in it, so there was a time when animals were brought up here in the summer.  As it was, other than close to Ockle, we saw no domestic animals.

With water levels low after a prolonged dry spell, the banks of the burn made easy walking as we turned north, and gave us a bird's-eye view of its wildlife.

At first we only saw the males of the beautiful demoiselle, as well as....

....several small frogs which were sitting on the bank and, to avoid being trodden on, performed spectacular leaps into the water, swimming to hide under a stone - or rather, to try to.  This frog was entirely the wrong colour to blend into its surroundings, and one wonders how he has managed to survive the local herons.

Finally we came across what we took to be the female of the beautiful demoiselle - but there were far fewer of them than the males.

Ockle Holidays has houses for rent at Ockle.

Sunday, 29 June 2014


The settlement of Rheid-dhail last appeared in the Diary some four years ago, here, after we'd made a brief visit at the wrong time of year, when much of the archaeology was obscured by bracken.  The name means something like 'level meadow by the river', and it's a beautiful, lonely spot.  The origin of the words reidh and dhail are Gaelic, so it's a little puzzling that the notes on Reidh-dhail at the CANMORE website - here - say that it was investigated as a possible Norse settlement on the basis that the name had Norse origins.

The investigation didn't seem to find anything, and CANMORE records it as no more than a 'post-mediaeval' shieling site, but surely it's much more.  For a start, there is a substantial wall around it, something that most shielings didn't have.  That said, there is no doubt that it may have been used for summer pastures, and....

....there are the remains of typical shieling huts there to prove the point, but there are only two of them, to the east of the enclosed areas, and the other buildings are bigger and rectangular rather than round.

One of the things that has changed since our 2010 visit is the quality of the satellite imagery available on line. This is taken from the Bing site, and shows that Reidh-dhail was worked on a fairly substantial scale, the signs of rig-and-furrow quite clear in the western of the two fields.  To the southeast there are at least three more areas of enclosed land that were, perhaps briefly, brought under cultivation, while outside the southern border there are signs of peat workings.

The other day, when we walked along the ridge to the west of it, Druim Reidh-dhalach, we saw Reidh-dhail again - but, once again, at entirely the wrong time of year.  We'll have to organise an expedition here in winter when the bracken is dead.

Sitting, looking down on the fields, the peat banks, the glen which runs from the settlement to the little port at An Acarseid, and the overall setting, made us even more certain: this isn't a shieling, it's a permanent site.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

A Walk at Ockle - 1

Ockle is a tiny village on Ardnamurchan's stunning north coast, and it's a starting point for some of the finest walking on Ardnamurchan - see map here.  This particular walk was taken on an overcast June day when the bracken was already high in the Ockle glen, but once one moves away from the burn....

....the landscape opens up and the views look across miles of Ardnamurchan - the houses in the mid-distance are at Swordle and the more distant headland Fascadale.  From here on, there's miles of rugged moorland to be explored, and a wealth of wildlife there to be found.

Only a few days before we had come across the first examples of this sundew, Drosera anglica, above Ormsaigbeg - see post here.  This seems to happen often - one finds a new plant and, suddenly, it's all over the place, as this sundew was in the boggy patches above Ockle.

There were moments when we were wading through fluttering clouds of small moths, all of them too quick to photograph, but their caterpillars weren't.  This one, unidentified at the moment, was about 20mm long and intent on his meal of heather leaves....

....while this smart chap, also enjoying heather, was a little longer, perhaps 30mm.  He looks like the caterpillar of the emperor moth, though the exact arrangement of the colours seems to vary.

The area has plenty of red deer, at this time of year moving around in small groups, all of them - sadly - a little shy.

This was our objective, a small un-named lochan about 2.5km to the southeast of Ockle.  Beyond it stretch more miles of walking across truly wild countryside, an area which we've explored several times yet hardly begun to get to know.

Ockle Holidays has houses for rent at Ockle.

Friday, 27 June 2014


Was it only yesterday that the Diary was writing that we would be seeing more of these?  Two came across this morning, not flying too low,.


The UK is host to some 4,000 beetle species of which, according to the Royal Entomological Society - here - something like 350 are species of ground beetle.  The Society encourages us to make them welcome in our gardens as they eat pests like slugs, although the two shown in this picture were found well away from any garden.  They were part of a mass of members of this species which seem to have emerged, or perhaps congregated, at the same time on the coast to the north of Sanna.  The best identification I can make is that they're bracken chafers - in which case it's probably just as well they're away from gardens as this site describes them as 'lawn destroyers'.

I'm fairly sure this beetle, found in our garden, is the appropriately named bronze beetle.  He's one of a number of species which are said to be in decline.  There's a Daily Telegraph article here about this, and it mentions a beetle called Carabus arvensis, which looks like the bronze beetle but....

....seems to have a smoother carapace, like this one, found at Sanna.  There's a link to a site here which seems to suggest that arvensis is a musical beetle.

Many thanks to Tony Kidd for this picture, of what may be an oil beetle, of which there a five species left in the UK. There's a description of its strange life-cycle here.  This includes a reliance on a bee to provide transport for its larvae.

An evening drink on our upper terrace is frequently interrupted by a beastie of some sort.  On one evening recently we were joined on out bench by this strangely shaped beetle who, when he fell off onto the concrete flagstone, emitted a loud 'click'.  Hence his name, a click beetle.  The elateridae, as they're called, must be an interesting lot as they have their own website - here.

Another beetle who likes flagstones is this one, pictured in our back garden.  He was about a centimetre long and very active.  He looks a little like one of the dor beetles, though, if he is, he's a different one from the character featured in this post a few weeks ago.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Two Ormsaigbeg Moths

It's a privilege of the Diary's life to be able to wander around looking for strange and interesting beasties and then to spend time trying to capture good pictures of them.  Moths are fascinating for their variety, but hugely frustrating as they tend not to hang around particularly as, being small, one has to manoeuvre the camera very close to get a good shot.  So it's very satisfying to succeed, as in this case, with a very small moth, just over 1cm across, which landed on a piece of wire fencing by Craigard croft.  It's a yellow shell, Camptogramma bilineata, but who really cares - it's beautiful.

This spectacularly patterned, much larger moth goes by the strange name of a 'silver y', Autographa gamma.  The 'y' comes, apparently, from the 'y' on it's wing.  It's an immigrant from the shores of the Mediterranean, though how something as small as this - it's about 3cm across, can fly those sort of distances is beyond the Diary's comprehension.

From the side it has a strange topknot.  It's colouring is such that, had it not flown up when disturbed, it would have been impossible to spot.  It was found on the ridge at the back of Ormsaigbeg.

Hercules over the Sound

A Hercules transport 'plane flew low over the Sound of Mull this morning, disturbing the peace of the sailing boats moving along the waterway.

The area is very accustomed to low-flying military aircraft, but with the move of three squadrons of the new RAF Typhoons to Lossiemouth this summer, we'll be seeing more of that aircraft in the future - more details here.


Many thanks to Sue and Sarah Cheadle for taking and sending the Diary this picture of sunrise this morning, seen from Sanna.  Sue doesn't record what time thus may have been but officially sunrise here was at 4.40am.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014


Yesterday was a day of discoveries - see earlier post about the Swordle bird - one of which was this weevil which appeared on the windowsill while the Diary was reading the newspaper and enjoying a glass of wine and trying not to be drawn in to watching the World Cup.  It was a good centimetre long, and one of the weirdest of beasties, having a trunk a bit like an elephant's, under which it seemed to be smoking a pipe, and strange, upturned claws on its feet.  A look through this wonderful website suggests it may be a pine weevil - which isn't good news as most of our house is made of pine, including the windowsill on which he was sitting.

It was altogether a strange day yesterday, humid and cloudy with a thick haze obscuring the horizon.  The clouds didn't bring any rain, which we're beginning to need for the garden, but today promises to be wetter.


The Raptor has confirmed that the small bird we spotted yesterday at Swordle was a whinchat,
Saxicola rubetra.  This is the first time we've seen this species, which is another of those amazing small birds which migrates huge distances each year - this one flies south of the Sahara for its winter holidays.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Annual Kilchoan Jetty Pram Race

Its closer than you think!

This year's Pram Race is on Friday 8th August, starting at 1.00pm from the Kilchoan Hotel and going to the Ferry Stores and back.

We are hoping to organise a toddlers' race (under 10) and events during the day at the Kilchoan Hotel - further details to follow. Entry forms are available via, at the Hotel by the end of the week, or contact either Richard O'Connor or Tony Kidd.


A yellowhammer meets a local house mouse.

Ships in the Sound

Taking the ferry to Tobermory to visit the dentist is made far more bearable when there's good company for the crossing on the Loch Linnhe and a ship or two to photograph from sea level instead of the usual, slightly distant view from Orsmaigbeg.  This is the CSL Thames outward bound from Glensanda quarry with a cargo of aggregate bound for Hamburg.

M107 is the minesweeper - or mine countermeasures vessel if you prefer - HMS Pembroke, which, of all RN ships, probably passes us more than any other.  She's the only RN vessel we've seen in some time, a reassurance that we do still have a navy.

From her rugged looks, we thought this might be a RN auxiliary but she's the Polar Pioneer of Aurora Expeditions.  As her name suggests, she was built for Arctic conditions, by the Finnish government as a research ship in 1982, but she's been refurbished as a cruise ship with accommodation for 54 passengers.  Trevor Potts at the Ardnamurchan Campsite, who spends his winters as a guide on Antarctic cruises, says that the polar ships we've been seeing cruise in west coast waters after transferring north early in the summer, waiting for conditions to improve before starting Arctic cruising.

As the polar cruise ships sail north, so we start to see more of the 'normal' cruise ships.  This is the French Compagnie du Pontant's 'mega yacht' Le Boreal passing the more workmanlike local ferry Clansman. She's exactly what she looks - a very modern ship, built in 2010, with accommodation for only 264 passengers.  We've seen her in these waters before, as we have....

....Fred Olsen's Black Watch.  She's a fine-looking ship who carries her age well.  She was built in Finland in 1972 for the Royal Viking Line and was later bought by the Norwegian Cruise Line before being sold on to Fred Olsen in 1996.  She caters for the mass cruising market, while....

....this beauty, the super yacht Rebecca, is in a different league.  Built in the UK in 1999 to German design and recently refurbished, she has accommodation for six guests.  We were disgusted to see her motoring past us on the 20th June when there was a light following wind, but in view of the report here of her grounding on Harris the previous day, perhaps we shouldn't have been so hasty.

And here's another beautiful sight, though she'd have been even more impressive under the full sail the light winds merited.  The Stavros S Niarchos is a British brig-rigged tall ship owned and operated by the Tall Ships Youth Trust. Primarily designed to provide young people with the opportunity to undertake voyages of the character-building type, her operation is subsidised by adult voyages and holidays.  So she probably has a schedule to follow, which gives her an excuse to be motoring.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Driveway Weed....

....or subject for a motivational poster?

Early Summer Insects

Of the damselflies, this one, the beautiful demoiselle, seems the most common here.  We've seen groups of them but all have been males.  The females have a bronze-coloured abdomen.  We've yet to see a female.

Large red damselflies are much less common.  This, again, is a male as the female has black and yellow bands along the abdomen.

In contrast, we've seen lots of small heath butterflies this year, particularly at Sanna and, seeing this pair at Sanna, it looks like there'll be more later in the summer.

Almost every morning if the night has been dry we find a moth or two sitting on the glass of our house windows.  Since the rooms have been dark all night, it can't be light that's attracting them.  This position is also very visible to any passing moth-eating bird.

This very smart caterpillar was making his way in avery determined fashion across the track that leads to Achosnich schoolhouse.  Despite every effort to identify him from the caterpillar websites, we've not been able to find him.

We have the usual collection of bumblebees coming to the garden plants.  Our escallonia bushes have more flowers than ever this year and the bees seem to appreciate their efforts.

We found this little pile of what appears to be largely beetle remains sitting on top of a stone wall the other day.  We're puzzled as to what animal has a diet so high in beetles.  Can anyone help?