Tuesday, 31 March 2015

A Spring Gale

As forecast, the wind has been gusting towards gale force through the morning and early afternoon.  This picture was taken from the Ferry Stores looking across Kilchoan Bay during one of the fiercest squalls.  The wind is in the northwest, so this side of the peninsula is in the lee of the hills - it'll be even more lively on the north coast and at the lighthouse.

On the Sound of Mull, the cliffs at Leac na Bo Riabhaich opposite us look as if they are one fire, but these are the two burns which cascade down the cliffs in quieter wet weather, while today the wind is blowing them back on themselves.

Then, suddenly, the sun comes out, here seen along the croft lands of Ormsaigbeg - but that's the next sleet/hail/snow shower bouncing in across Maol Buidhe.

It's miserable weather for the early lambs, though these have some excellent accommodation in an old pickup cover.  They're two of the nine which Nan MacLachlan's ewes have produced so far, of which there are three pairs of twins.

Meanwhile, in the centre of the peninsula at Achnaha, Tony Thain's pheasants were queueing up for breakfast at the back door.

As Tony describes it, "They steal food from the containers used for filling the small birds' feeders but appear not to want to get their feet cold - so they stand on mine!"

The oystercatchers take the rough weather stoically, hunching their shoulders and enduring....

 ....except if a young lady comes past, when they suddenly wake up and and start strutting around.

It's a funny sort of spring, with gales all around and the first bracken shoots appearing in the more protected clearings in the woodland.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Winter Prolonged

The kayaks, which we keep at the back of the bay below the house, are looking forlorn.  By this time of year, with the family coming up from England over Easter, we should have had the ropes and weights off them, and have spent some time cleaning and checking them ready for the first launch of the year, but....

....the forecast for this evening and through tomorrow is looking worse and worse.  This clip is from YrNo, the Norwegian forecaster and, usually, one of the more conservative.  XCWeather is promising us gusts to force 10.

The hills on Mull, to the south of Tobermory, bear testament to winter's determination not to leave us, and XCWeather is suggesting that we have more winter showers to come over the next three days.

Meanwhile, the wood mouse has established himself as a regular visitor to our mouse feeder, much to the disgust of the birds who thought it was theirs.

Two Otters Playing

The trail cam has been watching the pool for several days now, and has shown that it's visited by otters on most nights and up to about seven in the morning, but not after that.  The only night they didn't come was when the sea was so rough that waves were breaking over the rocks on the far side into the pool.

The last clip - here - showed three otters playing, this one shows two, and the pool has been visited regularly by lone otters.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Interesting Fungi

It feels as if we've reverted to full winter again, with a near gale yesterday morning and XC Weather threatening more high winds over this evening and tomorrow, and a full gale through Tuesday night.  So this morning's forecast of a brief break in the weather took us up into the hills at the back of the house, heading northeast along Druim na Gearr Leacainn towards Tom na Moine, the knoll of the peat or moor, from which there's a good view down onto Ormsaigbeg and along towards Kilchoan.

The burns that run down the ridge are busy with the recent rainfall, not that one would like to drink their water.  It's been a tough winter for the sheep, particularly these hardy hill blackface beasts, and the prolonging of winter isn't good news for them.

There's still little sign of any green growth in the uplands, though there are some interesting fungal growths on this old tup's horn.  The scat on it is probably pine marten's, further evidence that these animals seem to stray a long way from the nearest woodland.

On the higher slopes of Tom na Moine we found a very early puffball mushroom.... Well, no, not a mushroom, more.... a golf ball.  Now what's a golf ball doing near the top of a hill way out in the common grazings?

From Tom na Moine we headed north to Stacan Dubha, the black cliff, where the promised rain caught us as we reached the exposed summit and prompted a hurried reorganisation of our outer wear, but the rain....

....rapidly turned into sleet, then hail, and finally into a wet, slushy snow.

Enough of winter.  Please can we have some sun?

Nutty Robin

Robins come to our birdtables to enjoy grains like millet.  The aren't too keen on sunflower seeds, even thought they would be very good for them, and they certainly don't indulge in the sort of aerobatics that are required of birds like the tits, chaffinches and sparrows who feed off our patented peanut dispensers - until today.

It's very difficult to tell robins apart, but we know we have at least four coming regularly to our front terrace, of which one is the friendliest, the one who stands on our windowsill looking pitifully hungry until we give him something to eat.  One of the others is of the other sex, as 'our' robin doesn't see him/her off.  With the others, he fights.

Would that robins were easier to distinguish, as we'd then know which one has taken to eating peanuts.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

A Mousefeeder

Just as the Diary was congratulating himself on the development of a real cutting-edge piece of bird-feeding technology, which combined easy food access, keeping the grain dry, and preventing the birds from climbing in and pooping over their food, a machine that was so good it featured in the Oban Times, the whole project has been ruined by.... a mouse.  This wood mouse has discovered that he's perfectly safe from the prying eyes of the local buzzards if he hides in the feeder, which he can also use to shelter from the rain and as an indoor toilet.

The dangers for him are getting in and out, which he does....

....at amazingly high speed.

Ah well, back to the drawing board.

The Future of the Parish Church

The future of the Parish Church is once again a subject for community discussion.  In a statement from Fiona Ogg, the minister to the joint parishes of Acharacle and Ardnamurchan, Fiona reports that those responsible for the church, which includes the Kirk Session, the Lochaber Presbytery and the General Trustees of the Church of Scotland, have now concluded that the structural problems are such that, even if enough money could be raised to carry out all the repairs in the short term, "in the long term, the day-to-day running costs of maintaining the building and ministry are in excess of income."

Fiona's full statement can be read on the West Ardnamurchan News, here.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Yellowhammer with Extra Feathers

A couple of days ago we noticed this yellowhammer feeding on the grain in our front garden.  Throughout this winter we've had large numbers of yellowhammers visiting us, up to half a dozen at any one time. It isn't a bird one would expect in a place like this - we associate them with the large, open arable fields of East Anglia.

This male seems to have some sort of additional growth of feathers low down on his right breast.

It doesn't seem to bother him in any way - for example, he flies perfectly well, and he has as good an appetite as all the rest of them.

Has anyone seen anything like this before, and can anyone explain it?

Ardnamurchan Estate Wins Hospitality Award

Glenborrodale Castle and the Ardnamurchan Estate has won the Hospitality section in the Scottish Rural Awards, the 'Rural Oscars'.

At last night's ceremony at the Dynamic Earth, Holyrood, Sarah MacKinnon picked up the prize, winning against fifteen other nominees.

Congratulations to all who worked so hard to win this prestigious prize.

The link to the Scottish Rural Awards website is here.
Many thanks to Rachael for the picture.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Hungry Stag

We came over the brow of a hill and stopped very suddenly when we saw this stag.  We don't like approaching stags too closely without knowing they know we're there, even though it risks them running away, but this chap was so intent on his food that, even when we began talking, he still didn't notice us.

So we edged away to our left, expecting that, at any moment, he would look up. He didn't, not until....

....we made a bit more noise.  Even then, he didn't immediately turn and run but stood looking at us, the food still in his mouth, only turning away....

....and stalking off with some considerable reluctance.

He stopped, looking back over his shoulder as if extremely annoyed that he had been disturbed, and still anxious to go back to whatever it was he was so enjoying....

....finally strutting away with stiff-necked resentment.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Anaconda Spotted at Achosnich

Ardnamurchan's first anaconda was spotted at Achosnich a couple of days ago.  The snake, pictured here disappearing into dense jungle, is certainly abroad very early in the year.

Many thanks to Richard O'Connor for picture and identification.

Rubbish - A Heartfelt Plea

From Ricky:

This wonderful mostly unspoilt place is being blighted by RUBBISH. On Saturday I walked a mile from the cattle grid at the beginning of the village out towards Caim and back again covering each side of the road. In three hours I filled six black bags with rubbish, mostly cans (lots of beer), plastic bottles and food wrappers, but also items of industry, the largest being a council grass cutting sign slowly sinking into the depths of a ditch.

Today, Wednesday, I picked up a crisp packet, a bottle, a sandwich wrapper and I missed an item on the way back which looked like a tin of food.

Please can I ask locals, visitors, visiting workmen - everybody - to keep their rubbish in their vehicles until they are home or at least at a layby which has rubbish bins at it.

This place is beautiful and peaceful. People come here to see the beauty and feel the tranquillity of the place, not to look at rubbish strewn road verges.

Please, please, please keep your waste until you can dispose of it properly.


A reminder that the annual village clean-up
takes place on Sunday 5th April, details here.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Mail Gets Through!

The snow was back on the summit of Ben Hiant this morning after a night in which the wind swung into the north and hail showers fell at sea level.  But the sun came out early so that, by mid-morning, the snow had disappeared.

The pied wagtails are also back, and have been for a couple of weeks, but they've been unusually shy of the camera until this one kindly posed on a stob along the Ormsaigbeg road this morning.

Meanwhile, the road at Camas nan Geall has been closed for repairs for part of the day since yesterday - see details here.  But postie Ritchie Dinnes has sent the Diary this picture with the caption "The mail shall get through!"

Many thanks for the picture, Ritchie.

Turn of the Tide

On last Wednesday's perfect, if hazy, Ardnamurchan morning we set off to walk from Achnaha to one of our favourite places, the north coast's secret beach.  We left the car on the Sanna side of the township and headed for the left-hand of these two bens, an un-named summit which....

....offers a superb view down one the many glens which run to the coast.  At this time of year the land looks as burnt as the African savanna in the dry season, and there's no sign of any green shoots except, perhaps, on the tips of the heather.

We stopped again on a low hill closer to the shore, looking to our right towards Rubha Carrach, often called the Cat's Face, with the rocks in the bay exposed by the falling tide....

....then across the bay to Rubha an Duin Bhain with its shelly sand beach, and round to....

 ....a view of Lower Sanna across the ruins of the abandoned village of Plocaig.

Once on the beach we sat on a rock and let time slip by with only the occasional distraction, like when an otter began working for his lunch in the waters to the right of this picture while gulls swooped above him.

While we were there the tide turned.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Bird Life

A wedge of whooper swans with their undercarriages lowered comes in to land on the small lochan in Ormsaigmore, a stopping off point on their annual migration to Iceland.

A buzzard makes use of a mound on top of a rock outcrop as a lookout point for prey.  Despite the wet weather, the buzzards seem to have done well this winter, perhaps because of abundant mice and vole populations.

This golden eagle was seen soaring over Ben Hiant.  Identifying it was relatively easy - it has the species' very characteristic fan-shaped tail, in contrast to the sea eagle, whose tail is wedge-shaped.

We continue to worry about the falling numbers of shags and cormorants around our coastlines.  This lone common cormorant was pictured off Ormsaigbeg.

A pair of herring gulls finds a convenient place to court on top of a caravan which has a view of beach and sea.

 And our tame robin faces a sore temptation....

....to which he rapidly succumbs.