Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Sanna Orchids

Yesterday started under a bank of low cloud through which the sun somehow, occasionally, managed to shine, and with a forecast that promised rain by mid-morning, so I set off early for Sanna with the intention of checking whether any of its orchids, for which the place should be famous, had yet appeared. This picture was taken from the Sanna road, looking across to Beinn na h-Imeilte with its summit lost in cloud.

The first thing that hits you as you climb out of the car at Sanna at this time of year is the song of a dozen skylarks high above, all trying to out-do each other.

A good place for orchids in late May and early June is at the Sanna Bheag end of the township, on either side of the track as one passes the Sanna mission building, but none has yet appeared, though....'s quite possible that they have appeared but became someone's lunch.

However, below Sanna Bheag itself a few of the early marsh orchids are just coming in to flower, in the usual stunning colours. Give them a week or so and we may have a spectacular display.

From Sanna Bheag I walked along the beach, the sea calm and at mid-tide under a grey sky, and the sands deserted of humans but....

....with their usual avian inhabitants, including this lone dunlin in its summer plumage, which kept running away until it was close to the oystercatcher, after which it felt secure enough to allow me to approach.

On the north side of the Sanna burn there were more brightly coloured orchids but this may be a different species, perhaps the early purple orchid rather than the early marsh, but....

....the highlight of the day was finding this orchid which is very likely to be one of the butterfly orchids. To be certain whether it is the greater or lesser means a return to Sanna once the flowers are fully out in a few days' time.

By this time the rain had arrived so I returned to the car, not from any concern about getting wet but because photography in driving rain isn't much fun.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Pig Escape

Someone told Hughie's pigs that they're not featuring enough in the Diary so the four along Ormsaigbeg staged a daring break-out yesterday, rampaging along the road, chewing up the verges and generally having a wonderful time.

They obviously enjoyed themselves but were definitely not too popular with the neighbours.


On a rather grey day, we walked up the glen of the Abhainn Chro Bheinn yesterday, which is the burn which usually provides Kilchoan's water supply. This picture looks west down the glen towards Beinn na Seilg, with the water holding tanks to the right.

Scottish Water are facing a problem. With rainfall totals over the last month being low, the level of water in the burn has fallen, so....

 ....a limited supply is currently held behind the intake sluice, particularly bearing in mind that the burn downstream mustn't be allowed to dry up.

Upstream, the exceptionally low water levels are very evident. The burn has dropped to the point where it is easy to walk up its bed.

It was perhaps significant that, despite it being a bank holiday, someone from Scottish Water was at the site, perhaps turning on the second source of water. This is a recent and very expensive addition to our water supply system, and involves pumping water uphill to the works from the burn which meets the Abhainn Chro Bheinn....

....just by the fire station. This burn hasn't got a name on the OS map, but it drains two lochans, Lochan na Crannaig and Lochan nan Ealachan.

We had 8mm of rain last night and there's more forecast for today, so we may not face a drought, but looking at this picture it may be just as well that modern water processing is so thorough - the burn passes Hughie's increasingly extensive pig farm. On the other had, modern water smells of chlorine and we look back with nostalgia to the times before the new water works when our supply was whisky-brown with peat and tasted lovely.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Mingary Castle's First Year

It's a year now since Mingary Castle, after a three-year restoration programme, opened as an hotel, so yesterday's celebration included....

....a piper who played from the battlements.

There's more about Mingary Castle here, and the castle's Facebook page is here.


The appearances of certain species are like milestones in the passage of the year. This little butterfly, a small heath, is an example. On Friday I saw the first, a lonely beast which didn't look as if it was enjoying the cloudy, cool conditions. In yesterday's sunshine, I counted half a dozen.

Caterpillars are beginning to appear. This is a large one, and seemed to be sunning itself on a rock, so must have been pretty confident that nothing was going to eat it. It's the caterpillar of the drinker moth. We've seen these caterpillars before but never the moth itself.

Here's another first for the year, a small grasshopper which would not stay still long enough for a photograph, not until he'd been chased across half a hillside. I'm fortunate that there are no onlookers at such times - at least, I hope there aren't.

It's often difficult to get a sense of scale from a photograph. This common lizard was small, perhaps 70mm long. Since the young are born in July, this is probably one of last year's brood.

Long suffering readers of this blog will know the Diary's love of orchids, and this is a slightly special one as it's the first orchid found this year in Ormsaigbeg. The earliest this year were along the Coiremhuilinn burn, and then we found some in the Kilchoan common grazings along the Sanna road, both of which were early - so perhaps this is going to be a bumper year for orchids.

This really is early, the first flowers on a bell heather. Again, it would be good if this could be a great year for heather as the last two years haven't been as impressive as they could have been, and the sight of Ardnamurchan's hills covered in a carpet of flowering heather is unforgettable.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Manx Shearwaters

The Raptor was at Ardnamurchan Point Lighthouse today where, he writes, "I saw these huge rafts of Manx shearwaters. They were in the high hundreds or even thousands.

"I'm not sure if it's an abundance of food that's brought them in or maybe they are just passing on their way to breeding grounds on and around the islands."

By way of a bonus, the Raptor adds this picture of what he describes as "a nosy dolphin", pictured just off Mingary Pier. I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but this looks like a bottlenose dolphin.

Many thanks to the Raptor for pictures & story.

An Emigrant Family's Voyage

Australian correspondent Robert Curran was interested in the recent Diary post about Scottish immigrants to Alberta, and sends an Australian example, detailed here.

Robert adds, "Anne McPherson died in 1865, whilst Donald McPherson died on 22 November 1876 at Wollert, now an outer northern suburb of Melbourne. Both are buried in nearby Epping Cemetery. Wollert (also known as Darebin Creek) is where the two McPherson sisters and their Cameron husbands lived so it is possible that Donald died at one of his daughters' homes. His death registration gives his age as 98 years. However his age as given when immigrating in 1838 was 48, which suggests that his true age was about 86 years.

"Donald’s will, made on 24 November 1870, shows that he was then a farmer, living at Woodstock, near Wollert, and had property there on the Medland Estate. His sole executor was Alexander Cameron, his son-in-law, a second executor having predeceased him. His property comprised £225 in cash, £5 in furniture and personal effects and 129 acres of land with a 4-roomed weatherboard house, skillion and rough stone stable valued at £1,032.

"Anne and Donald were middle-aged when they emigrated. They didn't find great wealth, but at least they got their own land and their independence."

Many thanks to Robert for this account.
Photo of Donald McPherson's grave courtesy Carol Judkins, who holds copyright.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Technical Problems

The Raptor sent this picture last night along with the comment, "Walking the dog I discovered the CalMac sign at Mingary Pier has been hit by the latest malware attack only affecting the Highlands. It's known locally as blackbagware, and it looks like a pretty bad case. Either that or the CalMac IT lads have came up with a terrific new systems update. Only in the Highlands!"

To add to our woes, a problem at BT's Kilchoan telephone exchange has meant that landlines haven't been working properly. For the last twenty-four hours it's been impossible to dial through to a number starting with a zero, and local calls within the community sometimes work and sometimes don't. The glitch was sorted by midday today but not before local businesses lost large sums of money because card readers didn't work.

Many thanks to the Raptor for picture and story.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Bourblaige Beach

Yesterday's forecast was for wall-to-wall sunshine and the day didn't disappoint, with midday temperatures hitting 25C, so it was good to spend the morning in the company of Helen, Derryck, June and Geoffrey walking down to the beaches below....

....the cleared clachan of Bourblaige. While we spent time looking at some of the features of the site, which is a scheduled monument and includes an exceptionally well-preserved corn-drying kiln....

....the main purpose of the walk was to take a look at the two abandoned houses which stand right on the beach. For some time I thought they might have been the dwellings of those members of the Bourblaige community who specialised in fishing but, as is described on the Heritage Ardnamurchan website here, there's probably a better explanation.

This is an excellent place for seeing eagles. In the space of a few minutes three came by, a sea eagle and two golden eagles.

We found a grassy bank near the sea which was home to hundreds of these beetles, variously called bracken or garden chafers, which seem to swarm during a brief period each year.

This is a wonderfully peaceful section of coast, with a series of sweeping bays separated by low, rocky headlands, a place where one can spend a day and not see another human being.

Mouse Invasion

Our Mark III feeders are designed to ensure that small birds have exclusive access to some of the bird seed while plenty is still available for the larger birds - though we do try to exclude the local pheasants which, if given half a chance, will eat everything.

It was with some surprise therefore when, on going out to fill the feeders this morning, I discovered that the Mark IIIs have a design fault: the local field mouse had managed to find a way of climbing the pole and inserting himself in the feeder.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Snail Invasion

The local snails have had a thin time during May's fine weather but now that a few days of light drizzle have come to their aid, they've been out in force. This collection was hiding behind just one slate in the vegetable garden.

Their favourite destination is the sugarsnap pea beds where a good crop has just broken surface. Their attentions would have been devastating had we not....

....resorted to using slug pellets to control them, as few as possible scattered round the outside of the beds.

We don't like using poisons in any part of the garden, though admit to the occasional and sparing use of Roundup. Mostly, we pull weeds out by hand, and have tried in the past to deal with snails by surrounding vulnerable crops with lengths of copper wire, which is supposed to deter them by giving them a mild electric shock, and by using beer traps. Snails like beer, drink it and, in a state of inebriation, fall into their drink and drown - but the traps dilute quickly in our climate.

Our biggest ally is the song thrush population, which seems to manage to find snails wherever they hide through the day. A frequent, and very welcome sound in the garden is the tap-tap-tap of snails being smashed open on a convenient rock.

But we worry that the snails the thrushes find most easily are those which have ingested the pellets, and fear that the thrushes - and particularly their young - may suffer as a result. The instructions on the pellet container warns that the pellets should not be ingested by humans and pets but makes no mention of wildlife.

SFPA Aircraft

The Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency's Reims-Cessna F406 Caravan II, G-SMMA, was flying up and down the Sound of Mull this morning. It's a French twin turboprop, a maritime surveillance version with extra equipment such as a 360 degree radar.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

A Fascadale Holiday

Rod Marks visited Fascadale for a holiday last November, and these pictures are the result. This one looks west to Meall Buidhe Mor, with the sun catching storm shower clouds over the Outer Hebrides.

This photo was taken at 11.40, with frost still heavy on the ground.

Frost isn't common on Ardnamurchan and, when it does happen, the Highland Council gritters take time to get out here - and then they only grit the 'main' roads. So Rod's comment, "I felt honoured as I was the only soul out at Fascadale," is appropriate. The Moidart Hills are in the background.

This picture of Fascadale in winter sun looks north across Fascadale Bay and a flat calm sea to Eigg and Rum, while....

....this one looks west across a winter landscape to Meall an Fair-eoin.

Rod wasn't short of visitors, this time from the RAF, the 'plane heading in the direction of Loch Sunart. Rod writes, "I don't know if the pilot had time to admire the view as it flashed by, but on a day like this, it must have been spectacular."

Rod also enjoyed visits from the local wildlife. He writes, "Driving back to the cottage after visiting the fair at the Community Centre, these two stags were grazing on the rough ground on the right side of the road, about a quarter of a mile from the cottage."

Rod's last picture is of dawn over Moidart across a flat calm sea, as it was throughout the week he spent in what he describes as, "my favourite place in the universe."

Many thanks to Rod Marks for pictures and story,
with sincere apologies from the Diary that it took so long to post them.