Friday, 31 October 2014

A Boat in Bay MacNeil

After a few days of clearer skies, the weather has reverted to grey and rainy with a southeasterly breeze - but warm, with the temperature at eight this morning already 14C.  Despite the rain and a ground which is already saturated, we set off for Bay MacNeil, leaving the car at the small parking point on the lighthouse road but, instead of following the path through the caravan park, we struck out along the low ridge that runs to the north, which gave us views across to Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse and....

....around the curve of the bay towards Bay MacNeil.  Bay MacNeil itself isn't visible, being tucked behind the low headland to the right of the picture.

The ridge we were following runs towards the distinctive feature of Sgurr nam Meann; sgurr means rocky peak or steep sided hill, while meann is a kid or young roe deer.  On the right flank of this hill a cave can be seen which is said to have been occupied as far back as the mesolithic, at a time when sea level was some ten metres higher and, therefore, the shape of the coast quite different - see previous post here.

We descended to the beach, to find an old fibreglass fishing boat anchored at the back of the bay.  It's the first time we've seen a boat in the bay, yet it was once used by boats from Barra which brought the MacNeils' cattle to the mainland, after which they were driven along the old drove roads to market at places like Falkirk.  In the left foreground of this picture is a stone structure which we've always imagined was used by the MacNeil sailors while they waited for the drovers to arrive to take their cattle, but....

....nearby we found the remains of another, much more substantial structure which might well have been a house or a byre.  I don't know how we've managed it but, despite many visits to the bay, we've never noticed it before.

The berlinns of the MacNeils may be long gone, but working boats still pass the bay that's named after them.  This is the creel boat OB560, Jacobite, which works out of Tobermory.

It was raining, but we sat for some time on the island that protects Bay McNeil, Eileen Carrach, watching the great Atlantic waves destroy themselves on the rocks, before turning back for the car.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

An Ormsaigbeg Miadan - Early Winter

Up at the back of a neighbouring croft is a small area of damp grassland, a meadow, which we've been visiting through the summer to appreciate the rich wildlife such a small area can support - see previous entry here.  One anonymous reader objected to the use of an English term to describe a Scottish field, so the word 'meadow' in the title is, rather tentatively, replace by the Gaelic 'miadan', a word derived directly from the English.

At this time of year the land is dominated by the grasses, many of them in muted yellow-browns when caught by the sun....
....but there are still some flashes of brighter colour, almost all from the leftovers of summer, such as knapweed and....

 ....bell heather, some of whose flowers have a bluish tinge as if they're feeling the cold.

The most startling colour is found by grubbing around on ones hands and knees.  This is one of several delicate little fungi growing amid the greenery, possibly a waxcap.

Only one bird was briefly heard, perhaps a pipit, the overwhelming silence broken only when one approached the little burn that cuts the meadow in half - and it, after all the recent rain, was noisy.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Red Deer

Dawn, for a change, held some promise of a fine day, so we drove out to....

....Loch Mudle and set out to walk along the edge of the forestry that clothes the slopes of Beinn nan Losgann.  Odd patches of mist oozed out of the pine trees, and what is usually a superb view to the north was already obscured by drizzle.

We were aiming to walk along the edge of the forestry before striking out across more open land to climb into the saddle between Beinn na h-Urchrach, pictured, and Ben Hiant.

This is all Ardnamurchan Estate land, which we've avoided during the last few weeks as it's been the stag stalking season.  Although the hinds are now being culled, this continues for some weeks, so we feel less inhibited.

This is the best time of year for watching red deer at their best.  The first we saw were in a small herd of mixed stags and hinds, but....

....we also saw this pair of stags....

....and small groups of hinds on their own.  Considering it is the stalking season, they seemed remarkably unperturbed by our passing, and only moved off reluctantly.

We love walking amongst wildlife like this, and do everything we can to avoid disturbing the animals.  When we first see deer we stop and wait for them to see us.  If they don't move away, then we circle round to avoid them.

We climbed up to the edge of the saddle but the drizzle was becoming increasingly persistent.  We also spotted yet more deer up in the saddle and knew that, if we moved into it, we couldn't help but disturb them.  So, after stopping for a few moments to look back across the land we'd crossed, we reluctantly set off for the car.

The colours in the land were superb.  All we needed was some sunshine to set them on fire, but the sun refused to show itself.

A Skein of Swans

A skein of sixty swans flew high over the Sound of Mull yesterday, heading almost west as if they were making for Coll or Tiree.

They were led by a swan who powered ahead of the rest, and it may have been him/her who was responsible for the occasional honking call that drew our attention to their passing.  They were too high to be able to identify the species, but they may have been whoopers, except....

....a close look at the upper arm of the formation revealed two smaller birds hitching a ride, perhaps geese.  So.... fifty-eight swans and two geese flew over.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014


Every day for the last few days, whatever the weather, we've seen a kestrel working the grassy fields along the length of Ormsaigbeg.  The recent long spell of rain must have made his life a misery, and one wonders how long a bird like this can survive in such wretched conditions.  At least, when the last picture was taken while he was taking a brief break, the sun had come out - but he looked exhausted.


A watery sun finally appeared during the mid morning, throwing a washed-out light across a sodden landscape.  In the first sunshine we've seen in a week, and follows a deluge during the last twenty-four hours - 48mm of rain fell, most of it overnight.  This is the highest 24-hour rainfall we have on record over the last four years, with the exception of the 10th August 2011, when we had 60mm.

One would have expected the burns to have been brim-full first thing this morning but they weren't.  The ground is so saturated that anything further that falls runs straight off.  So there was plenty of evidence of very high stream levels, with grass flattened along burn banks.  But water did collect in some places, like on our precious roads, where a long-term failure to maintain the drainage is leading to another potholed winter.

Some water collected in the fields - this is Grigadale - which drove many worms to the surface.  In places crows could be seen stalking around the edges of the puddles enjoying the feast.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the Grigadale picture.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Sociable Herons

Many thanks to Brian Culcheth for writing to draw attention to the large number of herons which were collecting in and around Kilchoan Bay recently.  He reports counting fourteen at one time, and we've seen as many in previous years.  While Brian suggests that the reason for this meeting of herons may be because they were attracted by the very high tides that were perhaps leaving creatures on the grassy areas as the tide receded, since it seems to happen in late autumn we wondered whether some sort of courting ritual was taking place.  Grey herons are normally very antisocial - we've often seen them chasing others away.

Needless to say, this picture isn't a recent one.  It was taken while kayaking in Kilchoan Bay this summer, with Glengorm Castle in the distance.

A Promise of Spring

The winds which accompanied this exceptionally long period of heavy rain haven't been particularly strong - there have been no reports of damage on the peninsula - but they coincided with spring tides, so at least one of the kayaks that was left a little too close to the high-tide mark at the slipway below the shop was washed round to the beach below Ormsaigmore.  It's now back in a more secure place at the jetty.

We had 35mm of rain between 8am Sunday and the same time this morning.  This brings the seven day total to 157mm, which is nothing compared to reports of some areas in the Highlands receiving as much in 24 hours.

The weather caused more problems to the east of the peninsula.  Two landslips closed the A82 between Fort William and the Corran Ferry yesterday morning, trapping some cars - report here - and the ferry itself wasn't running for much of yesterday.  The A82 remained blocked first thing this morning.

Despite the bad weather, some of the local shrubs have decided that spring is here.  A good proportion of the gorse bushes that one passes as one enters Kilchoan are already in flower, though the website I checked said they don't usually flower until January.  One thing on the site surprised me - this prickly plant, Ulex europaeus, is a member of the pea family.

The forecast for tomorrow promises us some sunshine.  It will be very, very welcome.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

A Thin Winter

We're sitting in a run of relentless westerlies, some touching gale force, which bring in pulses of heavy rain.  Since Tuesday's gale, after which the winds backed into the southwest, we've had over 100mm, four inches, of rain.  The place is sopping, the red ensign which is raised over Shore Cottage in time for the annual regatta is in tatters, and the human population is squelching around the place wondering when this is going to stop.

In this environment some things are thriving, including the local fungi.  This brilliant pinky-red toadstool was found by the track down to Glendrian and, as seems to happen so often, was growing in the company of at least two other species, one yellow and the other brown.  A search to identify it threw up one species that looked similar, Hygrocybe coccinea, the scarlet waxcap.

Many thanks to Ian McKee for this picture of what we take to be a common newt.  Now this is one species which one would have expected to be enjoying this weather, but two very small ones have moved into the McKee's garage.  We've never seen a newt here before.

Every winter is different, and one thing we've noticed about the start of this year's is the lack of berries on the trees.  The prolific berry producing trees, like the rowan, didn't do too well this summer, but the blackberries were laden with fruit.  Now there's nothing, which is bad for the local birds and even worse for any flocks of migrants which may come our way, such as the redwings and fieldfares which often arrive about this time.

The only berries I could find along the Ormsaigbeg road were these rose hips, a berry which seems to be a last resort for the birds.  This particular bush is special to us as it's the only place we've ever seen a waxwing, on Christmas Day, 2010.  Now that's a bird we would like to see again.

Many thanks to Ian McKee for the newt picture.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Grigadale Swans

The weather didn't start too well this morning but some of the ferries were back in service - this is the Clansman on her morning sailing out to Coll and Tiree, and the Kilchoan-Tobermory ferry, now the smaller Eigg, was working across the Sound.

However, by half past nine there were signs that the sun might appear so, having been alerted by Kilchoan Early Bird yesterday to a large flock of swans on Loch Grigadale, we set out to see if they were still there.... find the road blocked at the entrance to Millburn croft by the annual delivery of sugar beet pellets for winter feed.  This is organised by Pat MacPhail for all the crofters of West Ardnamurchan, thus enabling everyone to get beet at a reasonable price.  Pat is seen to the left supervising proceedings, having just apologised to passing motorists for their delay - not that anyone minded.

Near the Sonachan Hotel the sun finally broke through and, for the first time, we had the opportunity to enjoy the wonderful colours in the countryside at this time of year.  This view looks across to the scattered houses of Achosnich township.

The swans were still on the loch, unfortunately on the furthest bank, so it was difficult to identify them, though, from their long, thin necks and black and orange bills, they seem most likely to be whoopers.  Kilchoan Early Bird said that they began arriving three days ago, as few as ten at first, with more and more joining them.

Having gone so far, it seemed a good idea to continue to the lighthouse, now very quiet, to enjoy some fresh air, the excellent coffee that's served there, and a chat with the staff.  The visitor's centre at the lighthouse - link here - closes at the end of the month, but there's nothing to prevent anyone from enjoying this remote spot at any time, along with the excitement of a big sea.

Gales are forecast for tonight and tomorrow, but the Meteorological Office has issued weather warnings for the area for heavy rain for the next three days - as if we haven't already had enough.


Driving back from the lighthouse this morning, I managed to snatch this picture, through the windscreen, of what might be a merlin.

Now that I know they're around, I'm very anxious to get a good picture, but this character wasn't prepared to hang around to have his portrait taken.

Friday, 24 October 2014

A Walk to Glendrian

The forecast suggested we might have a few sunny intervals this morning so, having not had a good walk for some days, we set off for Glendrian, a deserted village in a beautiful setting in the middle of the peninsula.

This picture looks from the gate through the Ardnamurchan Estate's deer fence towards the township.  The stone houses, in today's grey conditions, were hardly visible, strung out as they are along the top of the grassy hill in the middle distance.

After days of rain, the land is sopping wet, so we veered off the track that runs from the Kilchoan-Achnaha road to climb and then follow the low ridge of Druim Liath, on the assumption that the top of a ridge would be relatively drier underfoot.  It also gave us a view the other way, back along the Kilchoan road, with Creag an Airgid to the left.

We then followed Druim Liath - liath means grey or blue - eastwards until we reached the banks of the Allt a Choire, one of the many small burns which cascaded off the steep ridge to our right.

We saw several hinds, escorted by this stag.  The rut continues, as does stalking on the Estate.

We then turned and followed the Allt a Choire downstream towards Glendrian, heading for the fording point where the burn crosses the Estate the track.  Shortly before this, it began to rain, not the sort of  passing shower of the forecast, but serious, heavy, and very wet rain.  The picture shows one of several beautiful falls and cascades along this section of the burn, something we would usually stop and enjoy - but not in those conditions.

From the ford we made our way back along the track to the car, faces into the wind and rain.  In the picture, which looks back towards Glendrian, the falls we passed are clearly visible towards the right, with the green fields below Glendrian to the left, and lots of rain everywhere.

Satellite photo, courtesy Bing Maps, shows the route we followed.