Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Pigs Wreck a Nice Day

It started as a beautiful day, the first for some time - the sun out, a warm, gentle southerly breeze lifting the temperature to an all-year high of 26C, the first of the common blues out, the....

....younger Hughie pigs laid out in the sunshine of their usually muddy run a safe distance down the road, and our nearest Hughie pig, the gentle, peaceful....

....Hebe, minding her own business in her run below our house.  In fact, things have been so quiet on the pig front recently that some readers may have noticed that they haven't featured on this publication.

Sadly, everything changed this evening just as the Diary was sitting down to well-deserved a glass of wine when....

....Hughie, with accomplice Kenneth, left, arrived and began fiddling around with Hebe's electric fence - a piece of equipment that hasn't worked in months as Hebe wouldn't dream of escaping - extending it so the run was three times as big....

 ....after which they backed up Hughie's trailer and began offloading pigs.  Bobby the boar first, followed by an old friend here, Betsy, then little Crosbie, then....

....a lady pig by the name of Tank, an appropriate name since she is huge and, once she's decided not to do something, immovable.

So there are now five pigs not yards from our front gate.  To make things worse....

....Hebe decided she didn't like the newcomers so started a fight, and Hughie announced he was going away on holiday for a fortnight, leaving the pigs in Kenneth's care.  I'm not sure how much Kenneth knows about pigs, but I've a nasty feeling he's going to be on a steep learning curve.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Grass Widower

The Diary becomes a grass widower at this time of year, in the sense that Mrs Diary spends much of her time concentrating on several small patches of grass to the south of London. The fortnight is usually saved by an abundance of strawberries from our vegetable garden. With this year's weather, one solitary fruit has made a feeble attempt to ripen.

Ships in the Sound

This has been a month of cruise ships, starting with the Portuguese Azores at the end of May.  Operator Cruise and Maritime Voyages' website boasts of, "the introduction of the alluring and intimate 550 passenger Azores to the CMV fleet in 2015. Azores replaces Discovery and join’s our traditional fleet of ocean going liners alongside the much loved Marco Polo and stylish Astor." 'Alluring' and 'intimate' she may be, but she's also old, having been launched in 1946. We last saw her off Kilchoan as the Athena, but her first name was Stockholm, a ship infamous for colliding with the Andrea Doria in 1956, resulting in the sinking of the latter ship.

Fred Olsen's Balmoral sailed past in fine style early in June. A young ship by British cruising standards, having been built in 1988, she's only had five names since she was launched - though she's not quite the ship as originally designed, having been lengthened by 30m in 2008.

Magellan is Cruise and Maritime's new flagship, having joined their fleet this year.  Again, she's young by the standards of ships cruising in British waters, having been built in 1985.

Boudicca is another Fred Olsen ship. Built in 1973, she's worked her way through nine names and five different owners before reaching the British cruise market. In January 2015 the ship, carrying more than 1,000 people, was left without power off Morocco after an engine room fire. The fire, in the early hours of the morning, left the ship listing and in darkness.

Perhaps someone can explain to me why cruise companies use such old ships for the British market.

The next three ships are probably on what is called a 'repositioning cruise', moving north from Antarctica, which is now plunged into deep winter, into the Arctic summer.

The first is Quark Expedition's Ocean Diamond, a ship we've seen before in these waters.  She's described on her website as, "one of the newest, fastest, and most eco-friendly ships in Antarctica," which is just as well as she's heading north towards a melting Arctic Ocean.

SilverSea's Silver Explorer is described on their website as a "purpose-built luxury expedition cruise ship designed specifically for navigating waters in some of the world’s most remote destinations, including both of earth’s polar regions. A strengthened hull with a Lloyd’s Register ice-class notation (1A) for passenger vessels enables the Silver Explorer to safely push through ice floes with ease." 

Polar Pioneer is more of the same, a Finnish-built ice-strengthened boat used in polar cruise expeditions.  Australian Aurora Expeditions website is interesting in that it boasts that both captain and stewardesses on the Pioneer are Russian.

The Natural Environment Research Council's Royal Research Ship Discovery came very slowly into the northern end of the Sound on one of our cheerful summer evenings.  She's the fourth ship to bear the name, the earlier ones specialising in Antarctic exploration and research.  The first, built in 1901, carried Scott and Shackleton on their joint, very successful expedition to Antarctica.

The sailing ship Oosterschelde passed us on 3rd June on her way to Tobermory after visits to Lewis and Staffa.  She's a very different sort of cruise ship, a Dutch three-masted topsail schooner built in 1918 for freight but now lovingly restored and sailing passengers around the world.

Built in 2006 to the design of a traditional pilot cutter, this good-looking boat, the 44' Ezra, passed Kilchoan on Sunday 28th June on her way north.  She's available to charter by sailing and/or climbing groups.

We've seen relatively few modern freighters in these waters in the last few weeks.  This is the Cimbris, a Gibraltar-registered cargo ship which looks as if she is carrying some gigantic blades for wind turbines.

This is the Clansman, a CalMac ferry which passes us every day except in heavy weather and on Friday 26th June, when members of the RMT union took industrial action over their terms and conditions.  The Tobermory ferry, the Loch Linnhe, has a crew belonging to a different union, so she sailed as usual.  The RMT's problem is that the west coast ferry contract goes out to tender in the near future, and one of the bidders is private company Serco - CalMac is state-owned - and the RMT fear for their members' terms and conditions if Serco wins.

Finally, this morning the other CalMac boat that is a regular in the Sound of Mull, the Lord of the Isles, was seen passing the Germain sail training ship the Alex von Humbold II.  The latter a classic 'tall ship' but is, in fact, very new, having been launched in 2011.  It's a great shame we didn't see her under full sail as all her sails are bright green so, judging by the pictures on the internet, she would have made a fine sight.

Strange Cloud Formation

Many thanks to Paul Howes for sending me this picture, taken from Sanna on 11th June, of a strange cloud formation.  Paul comments that the Diary has, "always said that Portuairk was the centre of the universe", and suggests that it may have moved a bit.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Kilchoan Coastguard Rescue

From Chris Gane:
"Early this afternoon, Colin McKechnie and Pinkie both spotted a dinghy drifting in the bay and it turned out that a yacht, Tigger Too, currently on one of the West Ardnamurchan Jetty Association's visitor moorings, had lost it to the wind when it became untied. Effectively marooned on their yacht the crew called the Coastguard who tasked Kilchoan Coastguard to the rescue.

"In the brisk westerly breeze, the dinghy had drifted to near Mill Burn. It was retrieved, loaded onto the roof of the Coastguard vehicle, and taken to the jetty where a fish farm boat was commandeered....

....and the dinghy returned to the yacht.

"It's nice to think that there are so many people in the village who are keeping their eye out for people who need help and that the Coastguard volunteers are so willing to help others."

Many thanks to our reporter, Chris Gane, for story & pictures.

Archaeological Wildlife

The trouble with going on walks that are supposed to be looking at the local archaeology - which is quite superb - is that one also stumbled across the.... quite superb.... local wildlife as well. So, on our way to yesterday's walk into the Loch Mudle forestry, we spotted this fallow deer hind with her grown-up young on the edge of the Beinn nan Losgann forestry. We stopped the car to take pictures, and were hooted at by an impatient motorist who had come up behind us.

Once into the peace of the Loch Mudle forestry, the wildlife just got better and better.  This small moth resting in the middle of the track is, obviously, a speckled yellow, Pseudopanthera macularia.

In a clear area along the spine of one of the hills we watched, and were watched by, a red deer hind and a young stag, whose father....

....might have been this rather fine beast, who had met his end on a small hillside deep in the forestry.

In another open area we stumbled upon this rare white lousewort, Pedicularis sylvatica, also called red rattle. So, presumably, this is a white rattle.

In a marshy but open glade we came across a small group of these day-flying moths. The red-necked
footman, Atolmis rubricollis, isn't common along the west Highland coasts, though specimens have been reported from Glengorm Castle on Mull.

We found more along the banks of Loch Mudle. The footman's undersides even more spectacular than its top sides.  They are rather ungainly, looking as if they're about to fall off their grass stalk at any moment, and quite unbothered by a large lens, making the taking of pictures very easy.

We did apologise to this pair of small pearl-bordered fritillaries before we took pictures, but couldn't resist disturbing their peace as they were so beautiful.

They turned and displayed, perhaps in embarrassment or annoyance, the undersides of their wings, which have a quite spectacular pattern.

Greenhouse Lizard

It really has not been lizard weather, though a few of them are to be seen during the occasional moment of watery sunlight, so this one has used its intelligence and moved in to our greenhouse.  It's very welcome, as it will keep down the insects which usually come and prey on our tomatoes and cucumbers.

The lizard is both friendly and fat.  The latter may be because 'it' is a 'she' who is carrying eggs.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Identifying those 'Fungi'

No-one was able to help with the unidentified orange fungus featured in Thursday's blog post, here, so it was good to succeed for a change in identifying what I took to be a fungus found today growing on a rotten log deep in the Loch Mudle forestry.  It turns out it isn't a fungus at all, but a slime mould, Lycogala epidendrum or the wolf's milk slime mould.

This is my first acquaintance with a slime mould as fearsomely named as this one, but have to say it's a rather a neat creature.  There were, in fact, three of them on the log, and it's described as not uncommon.

Google leads one to the surprise fact that, in Missouri, it's known as toothpaste slime because, if it's popped, it exudes a substance with the texture of toothpaste. The Missouri Department of Conservation's website page, here, ends with an encouraging box entitled 'Other Content You May Like', the top item of which is Dog's Vomit Mold.

Loch Mudle Archaeology

Ardnamurchan Community Archaeology's expedition today was into the forestry on the east side of Loch Mudle, approaching it along the Estate track that drops down from the road, skirts the south end of the loch, and then plunges into dense coniferous plantings.

In places the woodland gives way to open glades, many of them running along the lines of small hills, but most was through....

....fairly heavy woodland, with the land sodden underfoot from the recent rain.  We would never have found our objectives had we not been very capably led by Andrew Perkins, who had previously found them, aided by his trusty Garmin satnav.

That we were struggling around in these woods is entirely down to Fred Millwood who planted them in the early seventies.  His finds - described in a recent blog here - came from this area, and it was he who pointed us....

....to our first objective, a small stone building tucked in against the spine of a ridge.  It's very difficult to be certain with buildings like this as to whether they were animal enclosures or whether they may have been lived in by humans.  In this case, there was some evidence that....

....the nearer end in this picture may have been an almost square dwelling which was later extended away from this side into an animal enclosure.  Certainly, some of the stonework at the nearer end is very fine, the corners being beautifully formed, while the walls at the far end are much cruder.

Fred Millwood was part of a group of foresters who planted these trees in the 1970s, and many are showing their age, but he'll be sad to see these - and there are six or seven in this bunch - which must have been blown down in a gale relatively recently.

Fred had also found, and Andrew recent rediscovered, a number of small, flat-topped mounds three metres or so in diameter. Fred and his fellow workers had been careful not to plant trees across them, and they are still very visible, all in a neat, straight line.  This is the first of them.

While they could be the bases of dwelling houses, anything from Bronze Age through to shielings, they may also be charcoal burning platforms, though it seems odd that four of these platforms would have been built to close to each other.

We made our way back to the car along the east bank of Loch Mudle.  The going was.... terrible, boggy and very broken, so several of us fell, usually into the boggiest bits.  At the end Andrew checked his satnav: altogether, we had covered just over four miles in as many hours.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Lighthouse on the Radio

Mark Stephen of Radio Scotland's 'Out of Doors' programme is interviewing Davie Ferguson, manager at the Ardnamurchan Point Lighthouse Trust, some time between 6.30am and 8.00am tomorrow morning.  It's on 92.8 - 94.7 MHz FM and 810 kHz MW - or, if you miss it, on iPlayer Radio.

Rum Sunset

Many thanks indeed to Keith Charles for allowing me to publish this superb picture of a June sunset, looking north from Fascadale House across the Minch to Muck, on the left, and the hills of Rum.  It was taken on 11th June at 10.30pm, on, as Keith puts it, "one of the drier days of my holiday."

Swordle Find

Many thanks  to Paul H for sending me these pictures of an object he found at Swordle during his recent holiday here.

He and I are both intrigued as to what it could be. Paul describes it as, "Very light, a bit like coral."  Has anyone a suggestion?

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Identifying those Fungi

At this time of year more and more toadstools are appearing.  They make great subjects for the camera, but I feel frustrated that I can't identify many of them, even though I spend time working my way through websites, the best of which is Fungi World.

We found this orange/yellow one on the slopes of Cathair Mhic Dhiarmaid on Monday, in just two locations, a small group in one place, and this lone cap in the other.  Both were on the open moorland in very damp places, and seemed to be growing on a substrate of rotting vegetation and dead grass.  About the closest I can get to it is a young form of Bolbitius vitellinus, but the one we found is brighter in colour and lacks a distinct cap.

One would have thought something so brightly orange would be easy to identify, but I can't find it, even though its shape and colour are fairly distinctive.  I can't find this one either, but for the different and simple reason....

....that there is so little that's distinctive about it.  It was fairly widespread, and was always found growing on an old cowpat.

Perhaps it shouldn't worry me that I can't identify them, and I should be quite satisfied with admiring them for what they are.  But.... what is it that gives one the urge to know what something is, to classify it?