Monday, 30 April 2012

Beinn na h-Urchrach - The Wildlife

We had hardly left the road on our walk up Beinn na h-Urchrach yesterday before we saw the first deer, two red deer stags one of which had already lost his antlers.

Throughout the rest of the walk we saw groups of red deer, this one, which had been grazing on the saddle between Beinn na h-Urchrach and Ben Hiant, consisting of over twenty animals. We were out early on the hill, which probably explained why we saw so many. The area is very open but there is plenty of forestry for them to retreat to during the day.

We found this corpse of a young deer lying in a burn under a small cliff. Judging by how little had been eaten, the state of the flesh, and the excitement of the local flies, it had not been there long.

At about the same time we caught a glimpse of an eagle. Unlike The Raptor, we are still learning how to identify eagles with any sense of certainty, but we think it was a golden eagle. It was being chased by a crow, but it seemed to turn away when it saw us: perhaps it had spotted the dead deer, but was put off by our arrival.

On the way back to the car we came across two fallow deer grazing on the edge of the forestry. Neither seemed particularly bothered by our approach: the only reaction from this one was to urinate.

These are the first fallow deer we've seen on Ardnamurchan Estate land, though The Diary is informed that they were introduced some months ago, so there are now four types to be seen - red, fallow, muntjac and roe.

To add to the pleasures of the day, we'd only been home a short time before we saw a sea eagle fly along the length of Ormsaigbeg. There was no mistaking the identification of this character: it was huge, and flying with the characteristic slow, heavy wingbeat of the species.

A map of the area of our walk is here.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Cruise Liners Arrive

The cruise ships must have heard that we are currently enjoying the best weather in Britain, as they've been converging on the Sound of Mull for the last three days. First we had the Marco Polo, which spent Friday in Tobermory Bay, then Le Boreal (pictured), which came past at lunchtime yesterday.

In the evening the Hebridean Princess came up the Sound and dropped anchor close against the Ormsaigbeg shore. She looked very good for her age in the low evening sunlight.

She stayed the night, discretely lit up - unlike some ships which blaze with light as if terrified that someone might come along and ram them.

Beinn na h-Urchrach - The Views

Ben na h-Urchrach, the hill of the cast or throw, is the hill to the left of Ben Hiant in the title picture of The Diary. It's a elongated ridge, separated from The Ben by an open saddle of land through which the southwesterly gales must howl when they come visiting us. We set off to climb it this morning in beautiful weather, though the air had a chill in it, the thermometer having dropped to 1C again last night.

We approached the hill from the other side, from the B8007 where it passes the south end of Loch Mudle. As we climbed, we were treated with wonderful views to the north, across the loch to Eigg (on the left) and the distant Cuillins of Skye.

The higher we climbed, the more panoramic the landscapes became. In this view we had three lochs, Lochan Poll an Dubhaidh, in the woods at near left, Loch Mudle, and, away to the right, Lochan a Mhadaidh Riabhaich, the loch of the brindled dog, all surrounded by Ardnamurchan Estate forestry. In the distance are the hills of Moidart.

But it was when we crested the summit and looked away to the west that we had the biggest treat. The whole of the northern end of the Sound of Mull lay before us, with the northwest tip of Mull away in the left distance, and Kilchoan strong out at the head of its bay to the right. In the top right is Beinn na Seilg, and just visible along the horizon is the low-lying Isle of Coll. Mingary Castle is in the centre of the picture....

....and is seen again in this photo, looking out across the ruffled water to the Sound it used to control. Beyond it is the Cal Mac slipway, from which the ferry goes to Tobermory.

This is a close-up of Kilchoan itself, with Kilchoan Bay on the left and The Ferry Stores almost in the middle of the shot.

At the top of the beinn the northeasterly wind had a distinct bite to it, but we sheltered behind a rock and sat for some time listening to the silence and enjoying the view. It is at times like this when we feel privileged to live in this beautiful place.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Dun - Found!

Patient readers of this Diary may remember an entry which described one of our failures - the search for a dun, an iron age fortification, buried in forestry some miles to the south of Swordle Bay (entry here). We set out on a recent Sunday to try again, but this time we enlisted the help of a local guide, Dominic Cooper, who lives in the area and is familiar with its geography. As we left the Kilchoan-Ockle road we were treated with some wonderful views across Swordle to Skye.

Dominic guided us along almost exactly the same route as we took in our previous attempt, deviating only at the very end by less than a hundred metres to bring us to a steep, conical hill protruding above the conifers. The walk was as we remember it, hard in places, with streams and bogs to cross, and some dense vegetation to negotiate, and we only missed the dun because of the almost impenetrable trees.

The dun is roughly circular, occupying the top of a hill so flat it could have been made for it. The little fort is about twenty metres across, with what would have been a wall about the height of a man encircling it. Attacking this, up a steep slope, would have been an unpleasant undertaking.

A structure at the eastern end of the site resembled some of the stone structures we found near Beinn nan Ord, see blog entry here. It seems possible that this is a relatively recent re-use of the dun's stones. More of them had been employed to build a small cairn.

We spent some time speculating on the use of the dun. One suggestion was that it was a refuge for the farmers and fishermen living around Swordle who, when attacking ships were seen approaching across the Minch, could take their animals and possessions and seek refuge within its fortifications. The dun also strategically straddles an old track which may have run from Swordle to Glen More on Loch Sunart.

There is a map of the area here.
Dominic Cooper is a watch repairer and author. His website is here.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Tobermory Lifeboat Activity

Tobermory lifeboat was out yesterday rescuing a sail training ship which had had its propeller tangled in creel lines off Iona, report here, and was out again today when an empty RIB was reported.

Lifeboat activity can be followed on the RNLI website, here.

Major Road Repairs

Extensive resurfacing works are taking place on the road system around Kilchoan - from The Ferry Stores (pictured) to Branault and back along the B8007 towards Loch Mudle. The record of 365 potholes between here and Laga Bay, one for each day of the year, will have to be revised.

Ships in the Sound

There's been a bit more variety in the ships which have passed us during the last few weeks, not least in the cornucopia of naval vessels which have been parading through the Sound of Mull during the recent military exercises. Most of them have been British, but what is noticeable is the difference between the RN ships and those of other countries, the latter being so much more modern. Perhaps it is that countries like Germany - the above picture is of their frigate F221 FGS Hessen - send their best when it comes to exercising in our waters, and we float out what isn't busy chasing pirates off Somalia or patrolling the Falklands, but the RN ships did look a bit passé.

We've had the usual selection of small cargo ships, including this one, Nordic Erika, which is only of interest for the containers she's carrying on deck. The white ones are stencilled with the words 'Yang Ming', a testament to the worldwide nature of modern trade. The Erika was involved in a minor disagreement with an embankment of the Kiel Canal back in December, from which she emerged unscathed - story, and a better picture, here.

Of more note have been a number of so-called 'research' vessels which have passed our shores. This is the Swedish ship Stockholm - better picture of her here - which is billed on the AIS system as a research ship but is, in fact, a cruise ship. She certainly isn't your normal sort of cruise ship as she only carries twelve passengers, and seems to specialise in trips to the Arctic or the remote island of Svalbard. If you want to join an expedition, the Polar Bear Safaris' site is here. 'Polar Bear Safaris'? The Diary was under the misapprehension that safaris took place on foot, and in Africa.

The Sir John Murray might be a research ship, but the AIS probably lists her more accurately as a 'Law Enforcement'. She belongs to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, and this picture was taken of her steaming very purposefully in the direction of Loch Sunart. Looks as if someone might be in trouble.

There have been moments when the Sound has seemed almost crowded, particularly as, during the last couple of weeks, with the wind so strong in the north, we've had a number of trawlers of various types steaming up and down in front of us. The ship on the right is the Dutch boat Wilde Swan (more about this elegant ship here, on a website which offers the tempting invitation 'Click Here for Bottled News'), while the trawler on the left is the Melrose-registered ME47 Sharona. Many of the boats that fish these waters, as befits working boats, are painted in drab colours - if they're painted at all - so.... was refreshing to see one painted a glowing yellow. This is Ullapool-registered UL62, Atlantia, and she well deserves the spotlight shone on her by one of this month's glorious rainbows.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

How to Hunt - 2

From Bandit's Diary

Some images may cause readers distress.

As I was saying, I was after this mouse which had taken cover under the geranium rack, and having a terrible time getting at him, when I finally felt him with the tip of my paw. Now, as my humans well know from when I sit on their laps, if I suddenly extend my claws the effect is.... painful.

Which it was for the mouse. I got two claws into him and hauled him out, squeaking as he came - which was extremely gratifying, as the humans were saying things like, "Oh my God, she's got it! Oh no!" He was a nice fat mouse as he - and quite a few of his relatives - have been feeding all winter on the leftovers from the ridiculous bird feeding my master indulges in.

Now the best bit of fun is to locate myself so I can get the maximum enjoyment out of the next stage - which is to carry him over to the bench where they're sitting, not eating their lunch any more.

It's a good idea to let him emit a couple of feeble squeals and run around a bit before finally finishing him off. These antics usually cause some comments like, "Bloody cat! Why can't it put the wretched thing out of its misery?" At which point I look up, hurt.

I have to say that this is quality mouse. Those of you who know a little about them will recognise straight away that he's young and has some nice fat on him. Anyway, I didn't eat him straight away as the humans had stopped eating their lunch and were watching me, and there were some things I had to do first.... give him a couple of prods to see if he was alive enough to provide some extra fun - you know, haul himself around a bit by his front legs, leaving a trail of slimy wet stuff. That usually winds the humans up a treat.

Unfortunately, this one was well and truly dead. So I waited long enough for the humans to go back to eating their lunch again before I started on him, chewing him slowly, making as many crunching and sucking sounds as possible. The head's the best bit for crunch, at which point my mistress usually says, "Get that cat out of here! How can I eat my lunch when...."

Which is real cheek if you ask me. They're eating their lunch, so why shouldn't I eat mine?


There's a picture missing here as The Diary refused to put the last one on. It shows the stage of the hunt which I most enjoy: the small pile of pink and green entrails which I leave exactly where one of them is going to tread in it.

How to Hunt - 1

From Bandit's Diary

WARNING: Some images may cause readers distress.

Well, the best time to hunt is when the humans I look after are
out on the terrace eating lunch in the sun and ignoring me. An ideal opportunity arose yesterday....

....when I was absolutely certain I could hear something moving under the wooden rack where they put their horrible, smelly geraniums in summer.

There was only the tiniest of cracks along the back of the rack, but I was right: I could see a mouse underneath it. Mice aren't terribly intelligent, so the usual technique with them in such circumstances is to run them around a bit until they're paralysed with fear....

....something I succeeded in doing by chasing him up and down the rack. The trouble then was that I simply couldn't get a claw down to get him, so I decided to try from the front.

This meant lying at full stretch and feeling underneath, something which wasn't at all easy as I could only just squeeze my arm into the gap. But I was determined to succeed, particularly as I knew that my humans were sitting, munching their lunch and watching what I was doing with some apprehension.

I have to say that, however terrified he was, the mouse made a good job of keeping just beyond my reach. Whatever position I took, and whatever angle I tried to get at him, I just couldn't quite grab him. So I was on the point of giving up when....

To be continued.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Refurbishment of a Byre

For an interesting post from Tom Bryson at Craigard Croft about the refurbishment of this byre, click here.

On the Wildlife Front

A sparrowhawk has taken up residence in the peacock roost at Sanna. Sue Cheadle, the peacock's owner, describes the peacocks as 'unimpressed'.

This is a female emperor moth, pictured by Kilchoan Early Bird. There's more about the emperor family here, but the site describes the males as flying by day and the females by night, which doesn't sound too good system for meeting up.

With the warmer weather the slow worms are out and about. One of the interesting things about slow worms is the variety in their markings. Sadly, this picture doesn't do credit to the beauty of this particular specimen.

This has been a wonderful spring for primroses, with the most exuberant display we can remember. One of the best places to see them is along the hillside that the B8007 traverses above Loch Mudle.

But we have to be careful - Scotland has its own unique and very rare primrose, with flowers that are almost magenta in colour. It's only found in the very north of Scotland and in the Orkney Islands. More about the true Scottish primrose here.

The bluebells are just beginning to break into flower. They're in a hurry because, in most places, they have to get their flowering over before they're shaded out by the infernal bracken.

Talking of such things, The Diary is told that the piglets will be moving in opposite our house in a couple of weeks. They are real wildlife.

Aurora Event

We missed something last night. This is from the AuroraWatch website at and it shows a major event starting in the early hours of this morning.

With the sky increasingly light as we move towards summer, when it's too light even at midnight to see an aurora, here's hoping it's a clear night tonight.

Monday, 23 April 2012

From Glas Bheinn

Friday dawned fine and clear, so we set off to climb to the summit of Glas Bheinn, the hill which stands over Kilchoan. The last time we did this we approached through Meall mo Chridhe and had to cross some heavy going in the fields at the back of the house, so this time we came at it from the road that leads up to the water treatment plant, a much easier approach.

From the top there are magnificent views of the three crofting townships. This picture looks southwest, along the Ormsaigbeg shoreline to the hill called Maol Buidhe, and across the Sound to the coastline of Mull. The Ferry Stores and the slipway can be seen in the foreground.

The hill looks straight down onto Kilchoan. The Parish Church is at the right, and Kilchoan Primary School to the left.

This is a view of the houses of the Old Golf Course, with Dorlinn House - the old Post Office - to the left. Beyond, the marsh of Kilchoan Bay is exposed by low tide.

We could even see the works going on for the new Playpark at the back of the Community Centre.

From the top of a high hill everything below looks small and unimportant; and things - people, vehicles, the animals in the fields - seem to move more slowly, as if proving that time is slowed by distance.

We stopped and ate lunch, and could have stayed all day - but didn't. The disadvantage of watching life from the top of a hill is that the wind up there is keener and colder.