Monday, 31 August 2015

Luncheon al Fresco

The wind went round into the north today and we began our belated summer. The north is always our best wind direction for fine weather, and it's forecast to stay there, but the temperature isn't high - a mere 19C today. Despite that, it was so warm out of the wind and in the sun that....

....we took lunch on the front terrace in Mediterranean style, starting with fresh salad from the garden and washing it down with white and red French wines, while we....

....watched the ships pass in the Sound of Mull. That's the cruise ship Azores anchored off Tobermory, with the sailing ship Lady of Avenel, the well boat Ronja Atlantic and, to the left, one of the Maclean creel boats out of Tobermory.

Charming the Birds

Some birds don't know when they're on to a good thing. This herring gull landed on Cruachan lawn yesterday evening but, when we arrived, seemed to be spurning the chunks of brown bread which Alasdair was throwing to it.

The local gulls aren't like city gulls, pushy and obnoxious creatures which build their nests in people's chimneys, so tend to keep their distance from humans, but it rapidly became apparent that this one had a problem - a damaged or deformed right leg. Yet it still spurned the bread.

Finally, it began to feed, much to Alasdair's obvious pleasure. "I've always been good at attracting birds," he explained.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Red-legged Wasp

I mentioned a wasp in the previous post, and have now had time to take a stab at identifying it. It was about 20mm long, with very distinctive red tops to its legs. I think it's a black slip wasp, Pimpla instigator, which lays its eggs in the pupae of butterflies, where the larva feed on the blood of the pupa. Which probably explains why it was hanging around near the buddleia.

Butterflies at Last

This was the view looking southeast down the Sound of Mull just before midnight last night, with a full moon and a warm southwester drawing clouds across the sky. Within minutes the rain came and, during the rest of the night, we were treated to a good 15mm of Kilchoan moonshine.

But by eleven this morning the sky had cleared and we were enjoying one of the warmest and most pleasant days this summer - quite at variance with what the forecast had promised us a couple of days ago.  It was so warm that....

....the late summer butterflies appeared, with this peacock the first out, warming himself in the sun, followed by....

....this large white. It's a long time since we last identified one of this species, so we were excited, until.... began doing what all whites are good at: laying its eggs on the nearest brassica, in this case some of our new and, until now, relatively pristine kale.

Soon after, we had butterflies everywhere, though they concentrated on the much-neglected buddleia. At one point we had two peacocks, a tortoiseshell and a red admiral enjoying its nectar along with lots of bees, some flies, and a rather strange wasp.

"Good News!"

"Good news for you!" says Hughie in his email accompanying this picture of Betsy with her new brood of at least seven brand new piglets. Good news for Hughie, yes.

Many thanks to Hughie for the picture and the good news.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Pink Poo

This double rainbow across Kilchoan Bay seemed to burn in the sky late yesterday afternoon, and reminded us that October is supposed to be the rainbow month here, not August.

In the verges along the Ormsaigbeg road we found this meadow brown, a sadly battered specimen which could hardly find the energy to fly. The butterflies which should be feasting on the buddleias, the peacocks and tortoiseshells, are absent, even though our buddleia is having a magnificent year. Its flowers are now dying, the only insects that have benefitted being the black bees from Trevor Potts' hives at the Ardnamurchan Campsite.  One other butterfly was in the air, a small white one which was blown away on the brisk breeze before it could be photographed.

Something has left a calling card at the top of the steps up to our vegetable garden. Whatever it was - and suggestions would be very welcome - it had been eating the few raspberries that have managed to ripen. We suspect it was the cock pheasant, but he is denying the charge.

Late Orchid

Many thanks to Mary McLauchlan who has sent me this picture of an orchid photographed last week during what she describes as, "a brilliant week's holiday based in Kilchoan."

She asks what type of orchid it is. I am no expert, but would suggest that it's a common spotted - though their name does no justice to their beauty. The common spotted have had a good year. There have been many more of them, they've grown much taller than in previous years, and have continued their flowering later than usual.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Happy News

Congratulations to Katie and Graeme Stafford, Pier Road, on the arrival last Sunday of Rowan Milburn, a brother for Gracie.

Tomorrow, John Ruairi O'Connor will marry Caroline Lindsay. To celebrate the happy occasion, the O'Connors have issued an invitation to all to the wedding dance, which takes place at Glenborrodale Castle - details on the West Ardnamurchan News here.

North Coast Sunsets

Many thanks, once again, to Ritchie Dinnes, the master photographer of sunsets along Ardnamurchan's north coast, for these two images from Monday evening's spectacular sunset.

As Ritchie commented, we haven't had too many of these sunsets this year, but ones like this almost make up for it.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Off to Africa

The swallows are gathering on the power lines, preening and chattering and giving every sign that they're readying for the long flight south. Many of the house and sand martins seem to have left already.

I write the same post each year - last year's was on 5th September, here - and each time I feel a pang of envy. In a week or so, these tiny birds will be crossing the Sahara and working their way ever further south, into the savannas of Africa and on to southern Africa, a journey of six weeks. There, all being well, the insects will be a little more prolific than they've been here this summer.

"Lochaber's Famous Fluffy Bird"

From Jenny Chapman:
Algy has had an unusually exciting time these past few weeks, with a half-page article about "Lochaber's famous fluffy bird" in the Lochaber News last week - here - and another feature due in this week's Oban Times.

And to top it all, on Monday Algy received this message from Tumblr:

"Your blog is trending! adventuresofalgy has been featured as a Trending Blog on Tumblr! Over the next few days, millions of people will be introduced to you and your blog around the site and in our mobile apps. Congrats!"

The Adventures of Algy - here - has been running on Tumblr since early 2012, and has gradually acquired a substantial following from all around the world. Building a following is usually a very slow and laborious business, but being featured as an officially trending Tumblr blog means thousands of new followers for Algy in the space of just a few days. However, so far as I know, the fact that Algy's blog is trending on the New York-based Tumblr this week is not connected with his increasing local exposure - it's just a happy coincidence.

But Algy is not bothered by all this attention. He is content just to perch on a rock or the crossbar of the foghorn's structure and watch the sea, while his assistant does all the work.

So, owing to Algy's increasing fame, and the success of the very enjoyable book signing events which I held recently at the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse and the Kilchoan Community Centre, I will be doing one more book signing event this coming Sunday, 30th August, again at the Lighthouse. This will probably be the last one until Algy's second book is published shortly before Christmas.

This is the final opportunity this summer to get a signed and dated copy of Algy's first book "A Surprisingly Fluffy Bird" with a personal dedication - while Algy is still only slightly famous. If you have a special request or want to reserve a copy, please contact me through Algy's own web site - here - or on Facebook - here.

And for those who were asking, there is now a third print edition of the book suitable for schools and libraries (and for children who treat their books roughly), with a glossy casebound hardback cover.

As before, all sales at the book signing event go through the lighthouse till in the usual way, so that the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse Trust can make a profit from the event.


"Not much room on here."

Many thanks to Les Humphreys for the picture.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Waterproof Bumblebee

Is this evolution in action? This common carder bumblebee was flying and collecting nectar even while being hit by drops of rain which probably weighed as much as the bee. There wasn't a single bee, or any other insect, on any nearby flowers.

The evolutionary advantage to this individual is obvious so, very soon, the flowers of Scotland won't have to worry about being pollinated in the sort of wet weather we've seen this summer.

A Dawn, a Day, a Dusk

Like everyone, there are mornings when the sun seems to get out of bed on the wrong side and starts the day with a scowl. So it was yesterday, and the misty cloud made little effort to remove itself for most of the day, much to the pleasure of the midges who haven't had this sort of sultry weather for some time in which to go about their blood-sucking business.

I made a short visit to Mingary Castle during the grey of mid-morning, where the transformation continues. The scaffolding is now down on the north range - more about the castle at the Mingary Castle website here.

By dusk the sky had cleared, the sun smiled, and we sat on our top terrace looking out across a view with a completely different mien.

While we relaxed on land and enjoyed the view across the water, others were out on it and involved in the serious job of obtaining supper. Many thanks to Out & About for this picture of his son Stuart with a large pollock, the biggest fish of the day. Now that's a picture of a very happy young man.

Not that we were short of entertainment as we sipped our wine and shared our oatcakes with the tame robin. The RAF treated us to a flypast, while....

....a yacht called Freebird motored slowly across the still waters in front of us. The only blot wasn't on the horizon but....

....on the power cables immediately over our heads, where a yellowhammer insisted on sitting for quite some time.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Minke Whale off Kilchoan Bay

Photo Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust
This picture of a minke whale was taken just off Kilchoan Bay two weeks ago from the Silurian, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s research ship. There are a few places left for Dr Conor Ryan’s talk about the history of our relationship with the whales and dolphins around Scotland this coming Friday - full details and how to book here - but the Leaning Centre has asked that you reserve a place if you wish to come along.

Pigs Away!

This picture involves two very happy men, one behind the camera and the other, Nicky, in front of it.  Why? Because that box contains.... pork.

Nicky's one of three crofters in Ormsaigbeg who have gone over to keeping pigs instead of the more traditional sheep. From the crofters' point of view, it's been a great move, as pigs are easier to keep, particularly in this very wet climate, and....

....because they can very justifiably command a premium price on the market for pork from pigs which are genuinely - and sometimes far too - free range.

The other day Nicky took seven pigs to the slaughter house on Mull knowing that he had already sold all seven. Most of the pork has gone to a top class restaurant in Glasgow whose owner is only too happy to pay for quality meat.

They went off beautifully packaged with labels designed by Nicky's partner, Sophie. But the label does reflect the way that farming, and crofting in particular, isn't an easy life. The 'Dusty' featured was their first sow, and she died suddenly, a terrible loss to their small business.

The blog has a great deal of fun from our local pigs, but I do admire the crofters who are rearing them, and I do feel that the animals have a wonderful life on these small crofts. So, surrounded as we are by pigs, we really don't mind their proximity - well, not too much.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Sanna Wildflowers

We drove to Sanna this morning with the intention of looking for wildflowers and were not disappointed. The weather was still, with rain around and fleeting bursts of sunshine. For the first time for some days the midges were out, even following us for a while as we walked along the beach.

Where the orchids were, a month or so ago, at their best, their place has been taken by autumn gentian, Gentianella amarella. We found a few specimens at Sanna last year, but this year's weather has obviously suited this plant as there are masses of them emerging, and those that are already in flower are far bigger and healthier than then.

We've seen this pretty little flower once before, in the verges along the Ormsaigbeg road, but there were several of them in a sheep-cropped area at the northern end of the machair. It's common centaury, Centaurium erythraea, one of the gentian family, which is....

....much smaller and more delicate than autumn gentian but with the same star-shaped flower.

The devilebit scabious Succisa pratensis is coming into flower and, as usual, we were on the lookout for colour variations. While the normal flowers are blue through to purple, some paler and some darker, the most common variation is pink, usually fairly pale, but we have found white - though not today.

The flowers of sea rocket, Cakile maritima, vary from pale pink through to white, and we found both. It only seemed to occur on the sand along the tide-mark at the back of the most southerly of Sanna's bays.

Nearby we found this, which we take to be a sorrel, but nowhere can I find one which has quite such a dense seed head. It stood a good two feet tall.

Where there's luxuriant foliage, there's going to be someone to enjoy it. This is the caterpillar of the fox moth Macrothylacia rubi. While the weather wouldn't have suited them, we had hoped to see a few butterflies and moths but we didn't see one.

Right beside the car park there's as much mint as you would need to go with a roast leg of Sanna lamb, but I'm not sure which variety of mint it is. It was growing in damp ground, and some of the plants were much greener than this one.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Mediterranean Sunshine

Today started wet but cleared by mid-morning to give us a stunning day, with the temperature over 24C, bright sunshine, and a strong southeasterly breeze that reminded us of the Mediterranean. A few butterflies appeared, including the first on our buddleia, a fine peacock, but there are still very few around - perhaps this time the problem is that the wind's too strong.

In such cheerful weather even Out & About was out and about, taking pictures on his rather smart camera phone of a common lizard enjoying the sunshine.

Many thanks to Out & About for the photo.