Saturday, 30 April 2016

Hughie Has Triplets

This is Hughie's goat, with her new triplets. Hughie says goats are not his thing, not like pigs, and that she belongs to his wife, but I have my doubts. Having covered the local fields in pigs, I suspect he's going to try to squeeze goats into the few remaining spaces.

One good reason why I think it's Hughie's is that Hughie has all the luck. The nanny was supposed to be having twins, but three popped out. I have a horror that he'll be breeding goats which have as many kids as his sows have piglets.

Lingering Snow

The Raptor's picture shows Mingary Castle and the Sound of Mull yesterday, with Beinn Talaidh to the right. The castle is close to opening its doors to its first paying guests, which will happen early in May. As well as booking the whole castle for a week or more, you can stay in one of the suites on a bed & breakfast basis during the less busy times of the year. Full details are on the castle's website here.

Today, the snow lingers on the tops of most of the hills in just the right amounts to bring out the geological structure of the underlying rock. This picture shows the telecommunication masts on Meall an Inbhire opposite us on Mull, with the layering of the dark, basaltic volcanic lava flows which form the hill.

We were remarking on how quickly these butterflies  - it's a green veined white - reappeared after the snow, and then it occurred to us that they could have been flying around throughout the blizzard and we wouldn't have noticed.

One assumes these weren't on the wing during the worst of the recent weather as there wouldn't have been any insects to catch, except, perhaps, green veined whites. Yes, it's the first swallow of the season - or the first that anyone's managed to get on a picture - and, as you would expect, it's the Raptor who wins the prize.

Many thanks to the Raptor for the two pictures.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Snowstorm to Suntan

By yesterday lunchtime the snow had begun to ease and, in some places, what was lying had already started to thaw. This is the view up the Ormsaigbeg road around one o'clock, showing that not a single vehicle had passed that way during the morning.

On the Ardnamurchan Campsite one camper had braved the snowstorm, and even began to enjoy something of the view across the Sound of Mull that he had paid for.

In Ormsaigbeg the snow reached a depth of 2", but far more must have fallen and steadily thawed as, at 8am this morning, the rain gauge had recorded 28mm in the previous 24 hours, enough to have made a good 10" of snow. The bird table did brisk business all day, while....

....Kilchoan Early Bird found this song thrush chick already out of its nest and, as he described it, being, "well fed by mum." This must be the first chick fledged and out of the nest, definitely an example of an early bird.

By the time this morning's first ferry departed from Mingary Pier for Tobermory the sky had begun to clear, the wind had settled into the north, and blue sky had begun to replace yesterday's uniform grey. As can be seen, Mull had a good coating of snow: that's Beinn Talaidh in the centre distance.

The sky cleared steadily with the morning. The Raptor was out recording the view from Pier Road across Kilchoan Bay to Ormsaigbeg, with hardly a cloud in the sky.

He also managed to get a couple of pictures of a small bird which I saw as I passed but failed to snap - a grasshopper warbler, named for its song which sounds just like.... a grasshopper.

Yesterday the temperate struggled to 4C and fell overnight to 1C. As the blue sky allowed the sun to warm the land, and despite a chill north wind, the temperature soared to 15C. The snow melted quickly, disappearing first around the Ferry Stores and along towards the Kilchoan Hotel, and then melting steadily up the hillsides. By early afternoon we were sitting out on the front terrace working up a suntan.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird and the Raptor for their pictures.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

A Wild Drive

"A wild drive" is how the Raptor described his journey along the peninsula today, which included stopping to help a motorist who had slid off the road.

The snow eased as the afternoon progressed, and the forecast for tomorrow is.... bright sunshine. There's never a dull moment on Ardnamurchan.

Many thanks to the Raptor for the picture.

More Snowy Pictures

Pictures of the snow are coming in from all over western Ardnamurchan. This one is from Jim Caldwell in Portuairk, famous for its lovely beaches. Jim writes, "It's snow men instead of sand castles!"

Rachael Kidd sends the next two from Swordle, where she says that, at half past eleven, the snow was already four inches deep - which didn't prevent them....

....from climbing in to their trusty Land Rover Defender and driving in to Kilchoan. Rachael's only comment about the journey was, "Poor wee lambs!"

Finally, Richard O'Connor sends this picture from Achosnich where, at half past nine, the snow was already thick. His caption for this is, "Spring in Achosnich!".

As we approach midday, it's still snowing, if anything more determinedly than ever.

Many thanks to Jim, Rachael and Richard for their pictures.

Snow - More Pictures

Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse is seen here from the east in a picture taken by Kilchoan Early Bird at about ten this morning, with heavy snowfall continuing across western Ardnamurchan.

Many of the hill sheep flocks are in the middle of lambing, so this weather creates challenges for the farmers and crofters who have to care for them. This is another picture from Kilchoan Early Bird, while....

....this one comes from crofter Out&About who has been up in the hills feeding his blackface flock.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird and Out&About for the pictures.

April Snow, and Settling

It's late April, and we're moving in to winter proper, with last night's temperatures dropping below 2C. Then, around six this morning, it started snowing seriously, and it hasn't stopped, big flakes floating down and, increasingly, settling.

By nine the landscape across the peninsula was white. This picture, of the lighthouse road near Grigadale, was taken by Kilchoan Early Bird, to whom many thanks.

The snow was creating Christmas conditions at Achnaha - picture courtesy Tony Thain.

The county gritter was sent down from Strontian first thing, without the plough as the driver had no idea how bad conditions were - the snow started at Glen More and Acharacle and Strontian are clear. There are now three to four inches lying on the road at the back of Ben Hiant. The driver managed to reach Kilchoan but had run out of grit, so he's gone back to Strontian for the plough and more grit.

The weather is bringing flocks of birds into the garden, some of which we haven't seen previously this year. This male redpoll looks pretty fed up with the weather.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016


No wildflowers have appeared in the open, exposed hills until today, when we found the first lousewort in bloom, forming tiny splashes of colour amongst grass burnt by the winter.

The name was derived from the idea that sheep who ate it suffered from lice. That it comes out so strongly in April is down to it being a parasite which feeds on the roots of other plants.

'Le Boreal' Back in Service

Readers of this blog will remember that Trevor Potts, who runs the Ardnamurchan Campsite in Kilchoan, was involved in the rescue of passengers and crew of this ship, Le Boreal, when it had an engine room fire off the Falklands last November - Diary story here.

At present, she's still undergoing repairs and upgrades in a Genoese shipyard. The parent company had hoped she would resume sailings early in May, but she will now sail from Glasgow on her first cruise on May 24. Full story here.

Many thanks to Malcolm Appleby for bringing the story to my attention.

Sea Eagle over Camas nan Geall

Camas nan Geall is beautiful at any time but spectacularly so at six in the morning on a fine, if chill morning like this morning, with the sun just catching the tops of the mountains while the bay lay in shadow.

We were there looking for sea eagles and one duly appeared, flying in from the direction of Ben Hiant and circling the bay area before being harassed by a buzzard, after which the eagle....

....landed on a crag on the upper slopes of Torr na Moine - it's just visible at centre in this picture.

Later it flew again, perched on a rock at the top of the steep slope to the north of the bay, and was finally chased off by a pair of hooded crows.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Red Deer in Ormsaigbeg

A recent red deer count found that there were at least 250 red deer to the west of the Ardnamurchan Estate deer fence - most therefore on croft land common grazings but also some coming down into the townships. This video shows red deer feeding in a field in Ormsaigbeg last night - the date on the camera is incorrect.

April Snow

The wind has been in the north for the last few days, a direction which brings us fine but cool weather, but we woke this morning to find snow on Ben Hiant, snow which was soon....

....falling in big, slushy flakes down to sea level. Suddenly, birds which have recently been spurning our offerings of food were back at the feeders in numbers, particularly the goldfinches.

We don't have much snow here even during the winter, so this has been a bit of a shock. By nine o'clock it was settling on the lower hills, including Glas Bheinn, but the chill damp....

....was miserable for the sheep and their lambs. These lambs are fairly big, but most flocks are coming towards the peak of the lambing, and this is the worst weather for them.

Cameron Beccario's superb surface winds map - here - shows that these northerlies are bringing down an airmass which has been sitting over Spitsbergen, way above the Arctic circle. Little wonder we're getting snow.

Optimistically, we were planting onion sets yesterday morning, and we've been picking salad leaves from the greenhouse for a few days, leaves grown in a fish box washed up on the Ormsaigbeg shore which has 'Not for Unauthorised Use' written on the side. The owners are welcome to pick it up, and the half-dozen others we have, as is....

....the owner of this flotation pod. It was washed up recently and rescued by Alasdair Thornton at Cruachan croft in Ormsaigbeg. It's waiting for collection right beside the road.

Monday, 25 April 2016

HMS Bulwark

HMS Bulwark, L15, one of the Royal Navy's two Albion class assault ships, passed down the Sound of Mull just after two this afternoon.

As well as helicopters and landing craft large enough to transport battle tanks, she can carry over 300 marines.

There's more about her here.

It's Tick Time

We enjoyed yesterday's walk to the east of Loch Mudle but Mrs Diary came home with four very unwelcome passengers which had managed to climb onto her arms - even though she was wearing long sleeves and gloves to which she had applied an insect repellent. We assume she picked them up while moving through the forestry which the deer use for cover during the day.

It seems very early for the ticks to be active but we've had a mild, if damp, winter so I suppose we have to be prepared for them. The four ticks were all tiny - that's a five pence piece to the right - and while three were discovered shortly after we returned home, this one was only noticed this morning after its activities started to cause an itch.

Mystery Structure

Located to the south of Torr na Moine and along the coast to the west of Camas nan Geall, this thicket doesn't look of much interest, but members of Ardnamurchan History & Heritage Association had noticed that it hid....

....a stone structure which has a very unusual layout, one which, even after it had been cleared of the worst of the brambles, left more questions than answers.

Over the weekend, the group spent almost five hours on the site. This picture, looking south, shows the upper, oval-shaped area formed by what appears to be a poorly-constructed stone wall. An unusual feature of this is that, to the right of the picture, larger rocks can be seen balanced on smaller.

This picture looks southwest towards Mull and shows, running to the left of the oval structure, a 'tail' of rocks which narrows away downhill. Both oval structure and tail are raised above the level of the ground.

After clearing the structure the group enjoyed lunch with a view across the Sound of Mull to Tobermory and with a backdrop of the hills rising to the summit of Ben Hiant.

The afternoon was spent drawing a detailed plan of the site, a task which was none too easy as we're careful not to move anything except loose vegetation.

Even though it was painstakingly drawn, the plan has its limitations. It only shows those rocks which are visible at the surface, many of which are probably much larger than appear in the diagram, and it doesn't indicate the extent and height of the raised area which the structure occupies.

While we enjoyed speculating, we have no idea what the structure is. The oval area alone could be anything from an animal pen through to a roofed dwelling, but the walls are very poorly built and irregular in shape for the latter. One suggestion was that it was a burial cairn in which the large rocks formed a rough tomb, or cist, in the middle, and the smaller rocks covered them, but the structure was then crudely excavated. Another possibility is that the large stones were portal stones forming an entrance. Both these suggestions would explain why the large rocks are piled on top of the smaller on the west side.

Many thanks to Andrew Perkins for the plan drawing.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Loch Mudle

Loch Mudle today, from the hills to the southeast. The islands in the distance are Eigg (to the right), Rum, and the low-lying Canna.

Early Spring Wildlife

With the warm weather continuing through April, the woodlands and particularly the stands of silver birch are full of the song of this little bird, the willow warbler. The sound, far too loud for such a small bird, is a joyous waterfall of descending notes.

Also singing in the trees around our house is this song thrush, though his faltering songs suggest he's not very sure of himself. He was late in starting compared to a song thrush down the road so we wonder whether he's a young male establishing his first territory.

The redpolls are supposed to be resident through the winter but we hadn't seen any this year until yesterday, when a pair arrived to enjoy the feeding facilities at one of our mark 3 grain dispensers. That we haven't seen them at all through the winter suggests that our population may be migrant, at least locally.

We were out walking to the east of Loch Mudle this morning and saw both sea and golden eagles - both, unfortunately, too high for good pictures. With the lambing season in full swing, local crofters and farmers will be hoping these birds don't take too high a toll.

Yesterday, the new Ardnamurchan History & Heritage Association was enjoying the first field trip since its formation, this time to the south of Torr na Moine, where the group put up a snipe sitting on a nest wonderfully camouflaged in amongst tussocks of marsh grass. We lingered only for a few moments to take a picture of its four eggs - apparently the normal number for this bird.

The butterflies are out, mostly peacocks at the moment but also some whites, this one a green veined white, but....

....I didn't expect to find the first caterpillar crawling over a rock in the warm sunshine. Can anyone identify it?

On a larger scale, we came across this group of red deer stags near Loch Mudle. By this time of the year some have lost their antlers and are already beginning to grow new ones, while others still have both.

On a much smaller scale, one of the rocks forming a wall of the building AHHA was investigating yesterday supported a garden formed of the British soldier lichen. It's a mystery why one rock, in amongst hundreds, should be selected for this strange but beautiful display, this one being a rather deeper red than others we've found.