Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Sunset & Aurora

Out&About was at the lighthouse this evening and sent this picture of the sunset. It's been a cloudy day, and the forecast for tonight is for a continuation of the same, which is a pity as....

....there was a terrific aurora event last night - none of which was visible from here because of cloud - and there's promise for more tonight.

Many thanks to Out&About for the picture.

A Viking Barbecue Pit

Saturday saw a group from the Ardnamurchan History & Heritage Association travel to Swordle to explore the area below the road immediately to the left after crossing the cattle grid onto what was Swordle Corrach land. The structure of particular interest was to be found..... the back of the cobbled beach, well above the high-tide mark, below the cliffs at the western end of the beach - a pit formed in the cobbles which is about five metres long and....

....about two metres deep. The cliff-side of the pit is formed of in situ rock but the rest has been carefully built by someone who knew how to construct drystone walls.

We've sent details of this structure to officers at Highland Council's Historic Environment Record and they have identified it as an unusually well-preserved kelp burning pit. Kelp burning was an industry encouraged during the late 18th and early 19th century as a source of potash for the glass and soap industries but collapsed after the levy was raised on cheap foreign imports.

There's plenty of evidence of burning: this lump of limestone is one of many blackened by heat. However, the shape of the pit is quite unlike anything that's recorded on line - try Googling 'kelp burning pit'. Most of those shown are shallow, circular and saucer shaped in cross section. Although one end of our pit may have been open, giving access to the lower part of the pit, this appears to have been blocked by a large rock. Further, most of the kelp would have come in by boat, and this is a very unfriendly section of coastline.

We're convinced this is a barbecue pit, the ideal shape for cooking a whole ox, and the people who might most have enjoyed this would have been the Vikings.

We then walked along the beach eastwards to St Columba's Cave where we sat and enjoyed the superb views across to Rum, Eigg, Muck and Skye.

One of the stories about this cave is that St Columba used to baptise converts in a pool just inside the entrance, and that this natural font never dried up. We were there after a spell of dry weather and, sure enough, the pool was full.

Some Peaceful Moments

Many thanks indeed to Ross for sending me a link to some aerial footage he took last week with his drone while flying it around West Ardnamurchan. For a few peaceful moments, click here.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Small Bird News

This was dawn this morning, with the sun rising over the hills of Morvern at 8.30 and the chaffinch mob at our bird table lining up for breakfast.

For the first time this year we had a ground frost at the end of Ormsaigbeg, though there were frosts in Kilchoan, which is less warmed by the sea, a couple of weeks ago. These starlings live around the Ferry Stores and are seen here working their way across the saltings by the slipway.

A few weeks ago, all our blackbirds disappeared. They hadn't had a good summer, unlike last year when the resident pair produced a large family of cheeky young birds which pillaged our strawberry and raspberry beds under our noses.

For some time we saw no blackbirds. Then they started to reappear, in increasing numbers, but they were quite different, very shy and wary of the bird feeders. Some of the black ones, presumably the males, have black beaks; some, like this one, have the traditional yellow.

We assume that these are blackbirds from the north, possibly from Scandinavia, which have arrived to take the place of our summer residents who have migrated south. The newcomers are just in time to gorge on the mass of berries which are weighing down the trees - rowans, whitebeam (above), hawthorne and dog rose.

We've been anticipating that this berry feast would draw in other foreign species and, sure enough, the redwings and fieldfares are arriving in increasingly large flocks, again from Scandinavia. The redwings tend to bury themselves in the foliage, exploding outwards if they feel you're coming too close.

Our chaffinches have had an excellent breeding year, and are now by far the most common bird at our bird feeders, followed by yellowhammers, robins, goldfinches, house sparrows, blue tits and great tits. The chaffinch dominance seems to have chased away some species: for example, we haven't seen a siskin in ages.

The robins seem to spend most of their time chasing each other around the garden. We've always assumed that, at this time of year, they're establishing their territories for the winter, and our terrace is prime real estate. The fights can become quite vicious, with the victor pursuing the vanquished, which....

....may have caused this robin to forget to look left and right before crossing our very busy road.

This post is specially for JJC, who tells me that 'Small Bird News'
and 'Ships in the Sound' are his favourite blog features.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Power Outage

We had a sharp reminder of winter to come when the power went off some time around 1.30 this afternoon, and stayed off until half past seven, the problem finally being identified in a transformer along Ormsaigbeg. Fortunately, some of us had a superb sunset to sit and enjoy - this picture comes from the Raptor who watched it from Pier Road.