Saturday, 30 June 2012

Photo of the Day

These tadpoles look young for the end of June, but perhaps this reflects the cold start to the year followed by a hot, dry spell.

Kilchoan Water Shortage

Readers of this diary who know the rainfall statistics for the area may not believe that Kilchoan is short of water, but the situation is so serious that Scottish Water is expanding the existing plant which serves Kilchoan, Ormsaigmore and Ormsaigbeg.

Our water treatment plant is isn't very old, having been installed about ten years ago, along with bright blue plastic distribution pipes to replace the old lead pipes.  While we were pleased to see the lead go, the old water was far more pleasant to drink, and often came out of the taps a delicate shade of bog-brown.  It was fun having a bath: one could imagine one was soaking in whisky.

Rumour has it that the water is being pumped up to the new plant from the bridge by the Fire Station and Telephone Exchange.  This doesn't seem entirely logical since this is downstream on the same burn, the Abhainn Chro Bheinn, that serves the existing plant.  The arrangement will also require additional electricity, and the village has unhappy memories of the last prolonged power cut, last December, when our water, for lack of a generator, went off as well.

As with all these modern works, the job is costing millions and the contractors will be here for years.  Only last Tuesday three large lorries arrived loaded with what looked like a complete mobile village - the office and other accommodation portacabins for the workers.  Not that we're complaining.  The workers spend money in the local shops and hotels, and it's heartening to see a utility company taking care of us, and investing large sums of money, without our having to fight for it.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the pictures.  

Friday, 29 June 2012

June is Orchid Month

Heath Spotted
A year ago The Diary was celebrating a second good year of discovering West Ardnamurchan's wild orchids.  It seems incredible that it took us some fourteen years to notice this beautiful flower, particularly when they really are very common here during their season - there are nine beautiful Heath Spotted orchids a few hundred metres from here, blooming in a ditch right beside the road.

Northern Marsh
It's not that we walk around blind to things that are going on around us, but it's true to say that we often don't see something until we notice it - if that makes sense.  The first orchid we 'noticed' was flowering in an Ormsaigbeg croft field, and was so richly coloured that we couldn't miss it.  It was a Northern Marsh Orchid, and its relatives (above) are still doing well in the same field.

Northern Marsh orchids have the worrying habit of thriving in the short grass along several of Kilchoan's roads.  These verges are cut, once a year, by the Highways Department.  Last year the cutting took place at a disastrous time, and we lost many of the flowers, but this year Highways made up for it by cutting just before the orchids bloomed, much to their advantage.

Having 'noticed' orchids, we're now finding them in more and more places.  It's unusual for a location to be host to just one of the more common species, but in some lucky spots we're finding three or more species living together.  The Ormsaigbeg croft field where we first found a Northern Marsh orchid is also host to a fine display of Heath Spotted, Common Spotted and Fragrant orchids.
Common Spotted 
The Heath Spotted and Northern Marsh seem to be the first to appear.  In places the Northern Marsh orchids have already all but disappeared, their brief year over, but the Heath Spotted, being the most numerous, are still appearing.  The later ones are often the tallest, making an impressive display.

In some ways, it's sad to see the orchids go.  On the other hand, if they didn't die off, we'd be deprived of the annual excitement of finding the first wild orchid of the year.

Photo of the Day

Lochain Ghleann Locha, the 'Twin Lochans', lie on the north side of the ridge called Druim na Gearr Leacainn.  The peak in sunlight to the left is Stacan Dubha, and the high land in the distance is the hills around Meall  an Tarmachain.

Thursday, 28 June 2012


For anyone staying in Kilchoan, Lunga, the largest of the Treshnish islands, is well worth a trip.  Located a few miles off Mull's west coast, it's a gem of an island set in a sea of blues and greens which rival the Caribbean. There is a protected anchorage to the north of the island, with access to the shore across a boulder-strewn beach. The island then rises in a series of steps, formed of 60-million year old basalt lavas erupted from where Mull's Beinn Talaidh now stands, to the peak of Cruachan.

The island's name means 'longship island' in both Norse and Gaelic.  It's a true desert island, having been abandoned by its last permanent inhabitants in 1824, when the last residents, Donald Campbell and his family, left. The small village of eight well-preserved stone-walled houses on a platform at the northeast end of the island continued to be used during the summer, when animals were brought across for summer grazing, but it was finally abandoned in 1857.

Today the island is owned by the Hebridean Trust, and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, mainly on account of its wonderful wildlife. While there may be more important species, the highlight of any visit has to be the thousand of puffins. They are an endearing bird because they show little fear of humans, so it's possible, with patience, to get very close to them.

The puffins occupy burrows abandoned by the island's rabbit population, and they tend to nest in colonies on steep banks overlooking precipitous cliffs. Although it's the colours and structures around their beaks that are the most startling features of puffins....
....they also have bright orange legs and feet.

Although stocky, and with short wings, they fly remarkably fast.  The best part of watching them is when they land.  They use their feet like the aerolons on aeroplane's wings, helping them to manouevre as they come in to touch down on very short 'runways'. More about puffins here.

The air around the island is full of other birds, of which the most numerous are the guillemots, which gather in large numbers on some of the steep, rocky outcrops. Another resident, shown above, is the razorbill, and the birds are harried while in flight by the dark skuas which patrol the skies.

Lunga also hosts some beautiful wildflowers. The area around the landing point is carpeted with sea campion, and we found our fist wild orchid near the summit of Cruachan, flowering far earlier than any on the mainland. But the most interesting flower was the one pictured, which may be a species of squill, perhaps spring squill.

We visited Lunga in mid-May, a time when the birds are in full breeding plumage. May is also a month which often has good weather, and we arrived in near calm conditions. We travelled to the island on Staffa Tours' MV Islander, which offers an excellent  new daily service from Kilchoan Pier - picture shows the Islander moving the walkway used to transfer passengers to Lunga.

Staffa Tours' website is here.

More Dutch Ships

Two more Dutch naval ships went down the Sound of Mull just after midday today, P842 HNLMS Friesland followed by the one shown, P841 HNLMS Zeeland.  They're modern, Holland Class offshore patrol boats, both launched in 2010.  Once again, the weather was pretty grim, with heavy rain and poor visibility.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Photo of the Day

This bedraggled young great tit has lost a leg,
but still manages to feed from the peanut dispensers.

The Dutch in the Sound

We haven't seen any Royal Navy ships in the Sound for some time, so the Dutch, being really nice people, sent over some of their naval ships instead.

Leading the flotilla was the very smart A902, HNLMS Van Kinsbergen, a training vessel which also acts as a survey and patrol ship.

HNLMS Mercuur, A900, followed close behind.  She's a submarine support and torpedo recovery ship.

As the parade continued, so the weather deteriorated.  The third ship was M863, HNLMS Vlaardingen, a minesweeper, followed by....

M862, HNLMS Zierikzee, another minesweeper.  By this time the rain was so heavy the camera had difficulty focusing on her.  She's seen here passing Ardmore Point beacon and a creel fishing boat.

Apparently, the four ships are on their way to visit Dublin but they were thoughtful enough to drop in on Kilchoan first.  Many thanks to the Dutch Navy for cheering us up on what has otherwise been a rather dank day.

More about the ships and their Dublin visit here.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Photo of the Day

Golden Ringed Dragonfly Cordulegaster boltonii
More about the species here.

Sea Eagles

It's a beautiful morning here in Kilchoan, with a warm southeaster blowing, so it wasn't difficult to stop for a chat with Trevor Potts at his Ardnamurchan Campsite, where he was proudly showing everyone an article in the summer issue of Scotland Outdoors which features West Ardnamurchan and, in particular, Trevor's site - there's a download available on the Scotland Outdoors link.  Less enjoyable was being told that three sea eagles had just passed over.

But, as we talked, they returned, first this one, which had a tag attached which is clearly visible....

....and then another, flying slightly lower, also with a tag.  They soared above us for some minutes, exploiting the updraft created by the wind rising over the ridge of Druim na Gearr Leacainn.  Both of them were looking intently downwards, as if there was something of considerable interest on the ground below them.

Suddenly, as if, after careful discussion, a mutual decision had been made, they turned away, and within seconds had disappeared.

It's one of the pleasures of living in this place that a short walk back from the shop can turn in to a few minutes of wonder, watching these magnificent birds soar above us.

Monday, 25 June 2012

A Walk Across a Sea

As we walked along the rocky shore towards the end of Ormsaigbeg this afternoon, the sun came out.  With hardly a breath of wind, the sea was almost flat calm, and it felt as if one could step out onto its surface and walk across the Sound to Tobermory.

With the tide low, this coast is a mass of rock pools filled with a wonderful assortment of life.  There's one particular pool which always has three or four sea urchins sitting in it. Since the bottom is rather bare, they camouflage themselves, very unsuccessfully, with bits of weed and pieces of broken shell.

Other animals which camouflage themselves include tiny shrimps and this little fish, perhaps a small gurnard.

The idea of walking across a sea isn't so far-fetched.  In the rocks across which we trod lie the fossil remains of the animals of an ancient ocean.  These are belemnites, a relative of the present-day cuttlefish, which swam around Ormsaigbeg over a hundred million years ago.

Photo of the Day

Common Centaury.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Photo of the Day

Bresse Gauloise at Craigard Croft.

Read the Craigard blog here.

Trina's Family

From Tony Thain:

Those who follow The Diary avidly will remember that a few weeks ago I reported that one of our rescued hedgehogs, Trina, had produced five offspring - see earlier blog here. We had to be very careful not to disturb mum and babies, until Trina allowed us to help her. Unfortunately, Tonia's hand was forced when she found that one of the babies had died, which meant that she had to check the others. It was even more sad that she found that there had been another death, reducing the family to three plus mum. This sort of tragic happening is not unusual in large litters in the wild as the average hedgehog family usually amounts to two surviving hoglets. Trina has done exceptionally well, especially as she is a first time mum and was probably just as surprised as we were.

In my last report, I promised The Diary that as soon as I could safely take photos of the family, I would.  The first one is of a hoglet that I descibed as a "furry catapillar with a mohican", and was taken when Tonia was forced to check all the babies after the two losses. After that Trina was left in peace to look after the remaining three. Tonia suspected that Trina was having trouble producing milk, so her food was laced with extra vitamins, minerals and a touch of glucose was added to her water; obviously this sort of thing doesn't happen in the wild, which is probably why hedgehog mums end up with two or less hoglets growing into adults.

This seemed to do the trick as the hoglets soon started to put on weight and, as can be seen from the remaining photos, they are now about a third of the size of Trina, looking like small hedgehogs rather than furry caterpillars, and starting to act like teenagers.

When Tonia cleans out their enclosure and house she is usually helped by three inquisitve youngsters, sitting on her feet or trying to climb up her trouser leg.

Trina seems to be very proud of her family, as can be seen in the outside photo shoot. There is always one that is more inquisitive than the others and in the end I had one little chap just about climbing all over the camera. Trying to get four very independent animals to do what you want and to stay still long enough for a photo was quite a challenge.

Talking of challenges; our next one is introducing the family to "outside"!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Photo of the Day

After a fine day yesterday the clouds gathered in the southeast, and by 7.00pm it was raining.
In twelve hours overnight, we enjoyed a total of 27mm of much needed liquid sunshine.


After Hughie finally managed to take away the eight piglets (post here), he moved the electric fence so it ran along the road, with the result that we now look straight across the road into the sow's run.  For a few days she was obviously very lonely, and seemed to spend most of her time in this top corner so she could amuse herself watching everything we were doing.

Her loneliness didn't last long, as visitors began to stop and talk to her.  Some even went and scratched her behind the ear.  Cars began to stop, and people climbed out to take photographs.  A reporter arrived and took photographs.  Her fame spread.  Traffic jams built up.  We were waiting an ice cream van to arrive and for the first coach with 'Scottish Pig-spotting Safaris' written on the side.

The sow was beginning to enjoy herself - and then everything changed when Hughie put the boar into the run.  He, as you can see, is an absolute beauty, and gives the poor sow no peace as he follows her everywhere until she collapses with exhaustion.

And then Hughie disappeared.  The story was that he had gone to Spain on holiday, but The Diary has its suspicions.   Was it pure co-incidence that, at exactly the same time,  Alex Salmond was in Los Angeles for the opening night of the new cartoon feature 'Brave', a follow-on from 'Braveheart'?  Was it really necessary for the First Minister to be in Hollywood for four - yes, FOUR - days just to see one film?  No.  He was in the capital of film-making to negotiate a sequel which will further promote Scotland's position as the world's Number One tourist attraction.  The film, according to rumour, is a mediaeval blood-and-guts adventure story to be called 'BravePig', and the stars are going to be... Hughie's pigs.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Photo of the Day

A Large Red Damselfly.

The Ticks are Back

As summer warms up, the local tick population becomes more active.  After we've been for a walk, particularly if it involves wading through the local bracken - which is growing at the usual alarming rate - we sometimes have one or two new friends attached to us.

There was a time when the ticks were only active in the summer, but they've discovered global warming, so they're becoming increasingly frequent throughout the year.

The ticks also like the more adventurous of our two cats, the one that goes hunting for mice in the bracken.  Mrs Diary removed this engorged specimen from behind the cat's ear the other day.  By way of a 'thank you', the cat deposited a tick on her.

When we've been walking, we watch out for ticks on our skin.  Usually, we know we have a tick because the area becomes slightly red and itchy.  We remove them immediately.  This process used to rely on fingernails, but we've gone high-tech recently by investing in these very effective patent tick removers, two sizes to suit different sized ticks.  We then wash the area with soap and hot water, and rub on some antiseptic cream.

Ticks carry some very unpleasant diseases, but catching one of them is extremely rare.  Our attitude is the same as we have for adders - that they are not going to spoil our enjoyment of walking in this beautiful place.  So we take some precautions against ticks, such as wearing socks which tuck around the bottom of our trousers.  Sadly, the cats can't do the same - but they don't seem to have suffered from the occasional bloodletting.

A very balanced view of the dangers of tick bites, and how to treat them is here.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Sgurr nan Gabhar

With yesterday's forecast for a beautiful day, we were out early to explore the area around Sgurr nan Gabhar, the rocky peak of the goat.  It's an apt name, because the south face of the hill, seen here, is precipitous and a worthy home for goats.  On Sunday we watched two climbers enjoying its challenge.

On the north side there's a relatively easy path to the summit, which has two peaks, one slightly lower than the other.  The lower one has another of the many 'summit pools' we've found.  This photograph looks southwestwards to the small township of Achnaha, and beyond to the ridge of Beinn na h-Imeilte and the distant peak of Beinn na Seilg.

The summit of Sgurr nan Gobhar doesn't have the usual rock cairn but a single boulder planted in the ground, surrounded by a garden of heather.  By this time the temperature had risen into the low twenties, with light winds and clear views across the Minches to Muck (on the left), the peaks of Rum, Eigg (on the right) and, beyond Eigg, to the distant Cuillins of Skye.

We headed eastwards towards one of West Ardnamurchan's beautiful, secret beaches, crossing the northern slope of Meall Clach an Daraich, where we came across this bald outcrop of rock with six boulders sitting on it.  Boulders are nothing unusual around here - the last glaciation left them scattered all over the peninsula - but this little concentration seemed unusual.

Whenever we come across a feature like this, we cannot but wonder whether man had something to do with it, or whether it is, simply, a random arrangement by Nature.

The beach we headed for is covered at each high tide, so it's always pristine and always different.  It seems a sin to walk across its sands leaving boot prints - except that we know they will be swept away within a few hours.

We left the beach slightly earlier than we might have done when the Majestic Line's Glen Massan arrived and began ferrying passengers to what they had probably been told was a 'pristine' beach: we hope that, when they found our boot prints rather than the tracks of otters, they weren't too disappointed.