Thursday, 15 January 2015

Glen Hurich - Turn your clocks back 30 years

I started the new year off with a week long stay in Glen Hurich situated in the district of Sunart in the Western Highlands. We were based on the east side of Loch Doilet in Stag Cottage. I was joined by friends, Cain, Rachel, Andrew, Ciara and Heather as we set out to experience some winter wildlife connections and here are some of the highlights...

Shell-Shocked Herring Gull
On the Monday we went to the wildlife hide Garbha Eilean in the morning to observe the sea loch. My personal highlight was watching a herring gull dropping a common whelk numerous times on the rocky shoreline right in front of the hide. Sometimes the bird would get it wrong and drop it on the water but eventually he/she got into it and had a good feed while been very aware of intruding birds. We also saw a herring gull catch and feed on a common starfish which was also fascinating to see. Another record was an adult WTE with a satellite transmitter on its back. Other sightings from the hide were three otters, little grebe, RB mergansers, shags, cormorants, common seals and a female sparrowhawk.

Porpoising Porpoise
On the Tuesday myself, Ciara and Rachel headed up to Mallaig to go on-board Lochnevis the passenger ferry which covers the Small Isles. We just arrived for the 1020 departure and within 10 minutes we had excellent views of around 15 harbour porpoise with some animals porpoising just off the bow! Other sightings on the excursion were GN diver, kittiwakes, guillemots and shags. The vessel landed on the isles of Canna, Muck, Rum and Eigg as we enjoyed great seascapes of the inner Hebrides and its beautiful diversity. The dynamic weather was incredible to see throughout the trip with Atlantic squalls and sunny intervals providing amazing skyscapes! Calm trips at sea are good for increasing your chances of seeing marine life but rough days are a great experience of the power of the planet and the marine environment. Mother nature is not to be messed with, just to be admired. 
The weak morning sun breaking through nimbus clouds in the Western Highlands...
Lochnevis alongside Canna looking south towards Rum...
Liking Lichens
The abundance of lichens in the surrounding area was astonishing in every habitat we covered and some of the species encountered were dog lichen, tree-lungwort, common greenshield, map, bloodspot, devils matchstick, octopus suckers, ghost antler, blacktar, yellow splash, crab eye, sea ivory and beard lichen. 

Marvelling at Moss
Viewing the wide variety of mosses was also a highlight as they produced wonderful colourations in the less vibrant winter season. After viewing some ID record photos on my phone I think we saw redshank moss, flat-topped bog-moss, common haircap moss, heathstar moss and great hairy screw moss.  
Loch Doilet under a full moon...
Owl about that!!
On the Wednesday evening as we were sat in the living room relaxing with a natural history book when barn owl landed on the window still and was looking in straight at me! I reacted to it and by the time others looked at the small window the bird had taken off out of sight. Another unique moment to experience and not a bad evening of wildlife watching sat on the couch and having a barn owl in one window and pine marten in the other!

All Hail Mother Nature
On Thursday 8th we headed up to the district of Moidart and parked up at the 'raptor viewpoint' to scan the surrounding area. After ten minutes of persevering we observed a white-tailed eagle flying with real intent and just following on was a hailstorm moving at a great speed through Loch Moidart with the eagle just keeping ahead up the storm cloud! An amazing sight of the dynamic weather systems you get in this part of the world.
Tree Trouble! Andrew and Cain pictured
Dipper with a Difference
On Thursday afternoon we went for a walk on the south side of Loch Sheil where we watched two dippers feeding out in the open loch which were theoretically forced out due to the strong water currents in the networked rivers. We also saw goldcrests, treecreeper, two WTEs and a golden eagle.

Tree-mendous night out
On Thursday evening we decided to head out on a night drive to see what mammals we could get. We set off at around 2130, covering a woodland route in challenging conditions with strong winds and heavy rain. After travelling about 7 miles seeing a solitary tawny owl we headed back on our self when we were only a couple of miles from the cottage we got blocked by three spruce over the road. There was no way of shifting them so we had to go back on ourselves again and head north hoping the road was clear to take a huge diversion to circuit back round to Stag Cottage. As we got up close to Glenfinnan to the north we had a blocked road again and it was 1am by this time. After getting back on track again at 3am we took the long way round through Moidart dodging a number of small branches before the road blocked us again north of Strontian with Cain managing to saw off the top end of the tree with a handy device. We arrived back to the cottage at half 5 with no mammals except deer but a great adventure!
Female Pine Marten at the window, image courtesy of Ciara Laverty
Magical Mustelids
One of the main reasons for staying at the location was for the chance to see pine martens. We had some great views of baited animals on the window still but the best view was of a huge male in day time as we were walking on the far side of Loch Doilet. A beautiful charismatic animal that will hopefully continue to expand its range for more people to enjoy and for their integral role in ecosystems and grey squirrel control. 

If you want a wild retreat in 2015 to experience some wonderful connections with the natural world then Stag Cottage is an excellent option. You can enquire about accommodation availability on the website here -

1 comment:

  1. I am visiting here in April. Thrilled that you had a visit from a Barn Owl along with the Pine Martens and other wildlife. I will remember to NOT venture out on a stormy night.