Friday, 30 November 2012

Otter Encounter

Venus and Mercury are both visible in the morning sky - this picture was taken just after seven.  Venus is the bright star at centre, Mercury much smaller, down and to the left of Venus, just above the bank of cloud.  The white lights low down are small ships and coastal beacons, the green is the Red Rocks buoy.

With a fine morning forecast, and rain starting around lunchtime and predicted to become heavier as the afternoon progressed, we decided to take an early walk along the beaches to the east of Mingary Castle, a walk which takes us under the steep slopes of Ben Hiant.

The ground was thick with frost, the air temperature having hit freezing during the night and showing no intention of rising again until the sun was well above the horizon.  This view looks back from near the castle car park at Mingary to the summit of Beinn na Seilg (left) and Stacan Dubha.

Mingary Castle is at its best with the low sun shining straight into its face.  Beyond it can be seen the CalMac pier and, to the left, Callach Point on the Isle of Mull.

While we didn't set out on this walk to look for otters, with the sea calm and hardly a breath of wind, it was ideal conditions, and we've often seen them along this stretch of beach before.

But it wasn't until we had walked for over and hour, enjoyed the sun, and decided to turn back, that we saw an otter.  He was swimming about 50m off shore, diving regularly, and spending time on the surface after almost every dive eating whatever he had caught.

When we first saw him he was working his way westwards along the coast, the same direction as we were walking, so, to keep up with him, we had to hurry along the beach each time he dived, and freeze the moment he came to the surface.

We played this game of grandmother's footsteps for about a quarter of an hour, until he suddenly turned for the shore....

....climbed out onto a small headland, and found himself a nice warm spot in the sun where he proceeded to preen himself.

Getting closer to him for a good picture became impossible, as we were in full view of him and didn't dare move, but the moment he'd finished his grooming he disappeared behind the rock and returned to the sea, so we hurried along the beach.

We had given up any hope of seeing him again when, rounding a large boulder, we almost trod on him.  He had obviously gone back into the sea, swum a little further along the coast, and emerged again.  He hadn't seen us, but he was already on his way back into the water.

He slipped back into the sea, did a little more fishing and then, quite suddenly, disappeared.  We have no idea where he went, as the beach where we last saw him was long and exposed, so he must have swum quite a distance without surfacing.  Perhaps he finally saw us.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

In Search of a Battlefield - 4

This cairn stands on the southern slope of Druim Liath, the grey (or blue) ridge, just inside the Ardnamurchan Estate boundary fence.  That it's man-made is undoubted, and old, and it's curious that the bracken, which grows in profusion around it, leaves it alone.  It could well be a burial cairn.

The hill in the right distance is Creag an Airgid, the silver crag, below the slopes of which a great battle is described as being fought in 1519 between the MacIains, the lairds of Ardnamurchan, and the MacDonalds.  For some time we have been searching for evidence of this battle - see earlier posts here, here and here - in particular for signs of the two cairns raised after it, a smaller one over the MacIain chief and his two sons, and a larger over the bulk of the MacIain fighters.  Our previous searches produced little joy.

If the battle took place immediately to the west of Creag an Airgid, as is suggested by historical records and accounts from people like MEM Donaldson, then this cairn is well behind MacDonald lines.   Yet this looks very like a burial cairn.

Several possibilities come to mind.  One is that the battle took place close by the cairn.  The MacIains could have chosen the spot as their right flank would have been protected by the steep slope of Druim Liath, and their left by the deep ravine of the Allt Uamha na Muice burn.  Another is that this could have been where the MacDonalds buried their fallen.  And a third, of course, that this cairn has nothing to do with the battle.

There's an interactive map of the area here.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Robin with Intent

Nor sure whether the robin thought that Hughie's quad bike was an over-sized rival who needed to be chased off, or whether he was planning to drive it away.  Better take the keys out of the ignition in future, Hughie!

Evolution of a Morning

07.45 - Looking just to the south of east from Ormsaigbeg towards the hills of Morvern, with the Tobermory-Kilchoan ferry at bottom right.  Also visible are two local creel boats.  There's a slight breeze from the north which might explain why, although the overnight temperature dropped to 2C, there was no ground frost.

08.14 - The same view as at 07.45, but wider angle.  Maclean's Nose is at the left.  In half-an-hour the colours on the undersides of the clouds have changed from deep yellows through to ruby pink.  The air temperature is 3C.

08.31 - Another change in the colours, with gold predominating.  The view is to the southeast, with the Sound of Mull at the right and the island of Mull just visible at far right.  Sunrise is seconds away.

08.33 - A coal tit is silhouetted against the dawn sky.  The birds are already active at the bird table.

09.06 - Even though it's winter, once it's above the horizon the sun seems to climb very quickly.  The patchy cloud cover leaves windows through which rays of sunlight form which are most clearly visible against the dark hills of Mull.

09.29 - Almost the same view as at 09.06, but the sun has lost itself behind increasing cloud, so its rays are now projected upwards.

10.16 - By this time we've walked around Kilchoan Bay to the CalMac pier.  The picture looks across the Sound of Mull to Tobermory Bay, which is immediately behind the dark headland.  The breeze has dropped.

11.24 - The view across the Sound from near The Ferry Stores.  A thin drizzle has started, though it looks heavier over Mull.  Later, the hills towards the left have a thin cap of snow.  The air temperature is 6C, the highest it reaches all day.

12.47 - Almost dead calm, but the rain has cleared.  This view looks straight down the Sound of Mull from the western end of Ormsaigbeg, with the creel boat Dawn Treader, which has been laying creels in and around Kilchoan Bay for some days, in the foreground.  The air temperature has already begun to drop - it's 5C.


Dawn this morning, across Loch Sunart, picture from Kilchoan Early Bird.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Summer Flowers

It's a glorious day today in Kilchoan, the sun out and the wildflowers glowing in the hedgerows and on the braes above the croft land.  Amongst other flowers there's vetch, above, which is thriving on the roadside by Mull View, one of Steading Holiday's letting houses.

There's plenty of yarrow in bloom, with its tight heads of multiple small flowers.  Some of the local plants seem to have a bluish tinge to their flowers, while others are more Persil-white.

This buttercup has found a sheltered corner in amongst the grasses on Cruachan croft....

....while numerous campion plants are producing their fragile, pale pink blooms at the back of Lighthouse View croft.

Close by, several cross-leaved heath plants are in rude health, not only flowering but showing every sign of being in vigorous growth.

We're not too sure what this is, perhaps one of the hawkweeds or hawkbeards, but there's plenty of it to be found - not only with flowers but buds, promising more flowers to come.

Hasn't anyone told this lot that it's late November and, from the grey clouds looming over Druim na Gearr Leacainn, that it looks like snow at any minute?

Athena In More Trouble

This photograph of the cruise ship Athena was taken from Ormsaigbeg on 18th July last year, and appeared in the monthly 'Ships in the Sound' feature on The Diary, here.  The Diary was very grateful, therefore, to Kilchoan Early Bird for sending this link to the Baird Maritime website, which has used the picture in a report on more trouble for this incident-prone old ship.  Many thanks to Baird Maritime for acknowledging the source of the picture, and to Kilchoan Early Bird for his detective work

Monday, 26 November 2012

Sanna Rainbow

Meall Sanna and part of Sanna township from the east, this morning.

Dawn Treader

The Dawn Treader laying creels in the mouth of Kilchoan Bay this morning.

It Always Happens on a Weekend!

From Tony Thain:

After a fractious and tiring Friday in Fort William, fighting the downpours of horizontal rain and hail, Tonia and I were looking forward to a "pottering" weekend and watching the final Formula One race of the season on the TV.

This wasn't to be as Tonia was asked to look at our neighbours pony, which was off colour and not eating. Amongst the checks was to look at the animals teeth, a job that Tonia had done hundreds of times in her previous professional life.  However, despite having his tongue being held so that he could not close his mouth, this pony had a trick up his sleeve and managed to bite down onto Tonia's fingers, crushing her index finger between his back molars.

At home it soon became obvious that our first aid skills and equipment were not appropriate for this type of injury due to the extent of the crush damage to the finger tip and the real danger of infection from an animal bite. Initial first aid was carried out, hand in salt solution and sitting Tonia down as she was looking almost transparent with shock. Initialy, I tried to ring the Strontian nurses station, but the result was an answerphone message, which could have been picked up straight away or if the nurses were dealing with others, some time could elapse before a phone call. As the bowl of salt water was now turning a nice shade of red with all the bleeding, I elected to do as we had been advised - ring the emergency services. I know that this was not a life threatening situation, an assessment that was passed on to the operator, but it was something that needed to be dealt with quickly. 

Within ten minutes the "A" team arrived, comprising Jessie and Maggie, who reassured us that the right course of action had been taken, bearing in mind that I had never before rung 999 for an ambulance. It took them some twenty minutes to sort out the wound as there was too much damage to steri-strip or stitch.

Some time after they had left we received a call saying that the on-call Doctor would be at the Kilchoan Surgery and wanted to see Tonia to administer an anti-Tetnus injection and to give anti-boitics.

It is just this sort of "grey area" that I had been worried about when we lost a District Nurse located in Kilchoan. Previously I would have rung 510202 and one of the nurses would have been on the scene very quickly. Things have changed drastically over the past few months, but on this occasion everything worked well, Tonias finger was treated quickly and professionally, the main ambulance from Strontian, although despatched, was recalled to deal with any more serious emergencies, and the patient was seen by a Doctor and given the appropriate medication to counter any after effects.

Finally a big thank you to the Emergency Responders who are making the new system work, and by their presence are reassuring the community.

The pony? The vet was called and it had to have an anti-biotic and other medication!

Many thanks to Tony Thain for pictures and story, and to everyone for permission to include the photographs.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Wilderness Walk

Our walk this morning took us to the area between the Sanna and Portuairk roads - see map here.  We started from the Sanna road in light drizzle, which cleared to leave a grey overcast and a biting north wind.  Having parked the car just short of Creag an Airgid, the silver crag, we walked west into bleak and, in places, boggy moorland.  By this time of year most of the grass is dead, with only the occasional patch of sheep-cropped grazing showing green.

From the first knoll we looked across to Lochan an Crannaig, named for the crannog seen on the nearer side.  Beyond stands the great lump of Beinn na Seilg and its un-named sister hill.

Within minutes of leaving the road all trace of human works disappeared, and we felt we were walking in true wilderness, empty of most life, a place of rocky outcrops and dead vegetation.  All around we were hemmed in by high land - this picture, looking north, shows the great ridge of Beinn na h-Imeilte.  This is our favourite walking, where the only reference points are natural features such as peaks and burns, in a place where to feel lost is a pleasure.

As we climbed higher we could see through the gap to the south to some of the houses in Ormsaigmore and beyond to the Sound of Mull and Tobermory.  In the distance, Beinn Talaidh was capped with snow.

We worked our way up to a pass through the Beinn na h-Imeilte ridge, from where the view to the north opened before us.  In the centre of the picture is the small settlement of Achnaha, and beyond it the islands of Rum, to the left, and Eigg.  The distant mountains of Skye, just visible amongst low cloud, were white with snow.

To our left the ridge of Beinn na h-Imeilte ran away in an arc towards Sanna.  The burn which drains the valley is a tributary of the Allt Sanna, flowing under the bridge on the road beyond Achnaha.  It was this burn which flooded the road last Monday.

The only life we saw on our walk were two red deer stags, three pigeons, a number of drab pipits, and some sheep in the distant Kilchoan common grazings, and the only frustration we felt was that the poor light meant the photographs hardly do justice to this beautiful wilderness.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

A Vegetarian Buzzard?

From Sue Cheadle, Sanna:

We have had this cheeky buzzard with us now for months. He has become quite good pals with our resident magpie and follows Stan on his quad every morning to go and feed the pigs.

Initially we thought he was looking for easy pickings in the form of our baby peafowl, even though a protective peahen can make a considerable adversary. But no, he seems quite happy eating bird food and whatever he is pecking up through the grass. Wonder if he's vegetarian?

Many thanks to Sue Cheadle for pictures and story.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Gull Invasion

It's been a day of big clouds, sunny intervals, and heavy, sometimes sleet-filled showers.  Around lunchtime the westerly wind woke up and worked itself into a force five to six, but then it ran out of puff.  This evening the temperature has dropped by a degree or so, in preparation for a much colder and, hopefully, drier week next week.

For the last two days we've been invaded by gulls.  At one point we estimated there were 150 or more bobbing around in Kilchoan Bay, lazing on the rocks, or flapping along the Ormsaigbeg shore.

Most of them appear to be common gulls, but in amongst them there are a scattering of black-backed gulls and juveniles.  Where they've come from, or why they're gracing us with their presence, is a bit of a mystery.  It may be that these are the ones that followed the Krossfjord into the Sound on Wednesday, gorging on the sprats that died in the catch, so perhaps they're hung around hoping that the trawler will come back.

Kilchoan Hotel Changes Hands

Next Wednesday, Cliff and Debbie Isherwood will be leaving the Kilchoan House Hotel after nearly seven years in charge.  Along with their sons Callum and Nathan, they are returning to Preston.

Highlights of the Isherwoods' stay in Kilchoan include the resurrection of the Kilchoan Pram Race - photo shows competitors in the 2011 event.

We wish the Isherwoods happiness and success in the future.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

A Stand-Off in the Sound

Apparently it wasn't a happy meeting of fishermen yesterday afternoon - see Diary post here.  It's the time of year for fishing for sprats, and the Krossfjord 's master shot his nets off Ardmore, where the water goes down some 100 fathoms, after seeing a large shoal.  He then towed his nets between to two fleets of the Maclean's creels, causing a bit of a stand-off.  The Krossfjord left the Sound shortly afterwards, heading north.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the story.

Toad Weather

We've had over 22mm of 18-carat Kilchoan Sunshine poured onto us in the hours since yesterday evening, a fitting punishment for the Diary employing words like 'sun' and 'fine weather' in yesterday's post.  In many ways it's like water off Tom Bryson's ducks' backs, because as fast as it comes down the land shrugs it off.  Just how much we've had and how quickly is measured by two sets of burns - those which drain the hill called Glas Bheinn which runs along the back of the village, and these two waterfalls on the north coast of Mull which only appear after heavy rain. 

In fact we had so much sunshine so quickly that this toad knocked on the back door this morning and asked to be let in.  He was a friendly little man, sitting very still and not minding in the slightest while he had his portrait taken.

In such dismal weather the humans squelch around in their wet-weather gear, moaning to each other
about the failure of global warming to improve their lives.  Poor Bobby the Boar hasn't been provided with wet-weather gear so, other than popping out to eat his daily ration, he spends his whole day lying in his house - a converted steel oil tank which roasts him in summer and is bitterly cold in winter.   To add to his miseries, he's recently been told that Betsy and the children aren't coming back to Ormsaigbeg for the time being.  Were he a human being he would be diagnosed as clinically depressed and put on strong pills.

Picture shows owner Hughie MacLachlan with Bobby a couple of days ago. The Diary, seeing the electric fence being rolled up, rushed out in joy to celebrate Bobby's departure.  He wasn't going far: Hughie was moving the electric fence so Bobby can start clearing another bit of the field.

Not to worry - the weather forecast for tomorrow is for 24-carat sunshine.

Tom Bryson's Craigard Blog is here.