Sunday, 21 July 2013


I've been away again. The Ardnamurchan peninsula is a little pointy bit of land in the south-western Highlands, just above Mull, and it's very wild. It's probably the best place in the UK for mammals and is damn good for eagles too. I went with Rob and Dianne in the hope of seeing Wildcats, but this didn't happen. We saw plenty of good stuff though. We arrived in sunshine but then had a few days of chilly gloom before the sun returned for our last two days. We stayed in a static caravan in Kilchoan, on the south-west coast, and much of the wildlife-watching was very local to there. I took about 4,000 photos, here are a few of them.

The western end of the peninsula is mostly open and very rugged grassy moor, grazed by tough-looking little sheep and lots of Red Deer.

Birds of the open wildness included plenty of Wheatears (Wheatear junior shown here), Yellowhammers and, of course, lots and lots (and lots) of Meadow Pipits.

Wandering along the (only) road through Kilchoan, I regularly encountered all of this lot. The local Buzzard was the most tolerant example of its species I've ever met, allowing close scrutiny with no apparent annoyance. Whitethroats sang from most of the stands of bracken, though only this dozy fledgling was easily photographable. Lesser Redpolls were always around and very busy, flying between the treetops and giving their very distinctive but completely tuneless song. The young Song Thrush was another totally fearless bird. And finally, a new species for the blog IIRC - a lovely Twite, one of several seen in fields around what passes for the village centre.

We had a day trip to Mull midweek, on a particularly grey day. From Mull itself we didn't see very much, though it was nice to wander around the famously pretty town of Tobermory. The ferry crossing produced a few seabirds, including Gannet and, most excitingly for me, lots of Manx Shearwaters.

The day after Mull, we took a boat trip on Loch Sunart, courtesy of Ardnamurchan Charters. A very interesting couple of hours this was, with our guide Andy and his charming black lab Tag. The loch is full of jellyfish, which were mesmerising to watch. When we looked up we could see Arctic (and Common) Terns fishing, and the occasional Common Seal swimming past, giving us a very dour look as it went. Then we reached the shore where the seals haul out to rest. A Harbour Porpoise showed briefly, and on the cliffs of Carna island several Shags were perched.

There's lots of coastline to choose from on the peninsula, as you'd expect - though the Black Guillemot was actually photographed from the Ardgour-Corran ferry on our way home. Common Gulls were everywhere, this moulting youngster was searching for insects over a field that was being mown in Kilchoan. The Common Sandpiper was by the rather aromatic little strip of fine gravel that's described as a 'sandy beach' on the 'welcome to Kilchoan' sign. We found the Raven family at Ardnamurchan point, near the lighthouse, while the Rock Pipits were on the beach just in front of our campsite (Rockits were also on every other beach and rocky shore we visited). At the genuinely sandy and very gorgeous beach at Sanna, we found a confiding flock of summer-plumaged Sanderlings, and the very distant White-tailed Eagle was also in this area.

Butterflies were generally thin on the ground, but there were good numbers of Dark Green Fritillaries about when the sun was out, including this one just by the caravan. As for dragonflies... well, they're just soooo 2012. But it was a real treat to find this chilled-out female Golden-ringed on a hillside off what passes for a main road across the peninsula.

The best moment of the trip for me came on the very last morning. We'd planned to leave the site at about 7am, in order to get home not-too-late in the evening. I got up at 5am to a clear dawn, and walked down to the shore in front of the campsite, where there is a rocky sort-of-beach by a tiny bay. Approaching the bay, I saw that something was swimming in it, and a look through the bins revealed the something to be an Otter. By advancing when it was underwater and keeping still when it surfaced, I got quite close to where it was fishing, and took a seat on a rock. After a while, to my delight it came ashore to eat a crab it had caught, right in front of me, lit up by the just-risen sun. An unforgettable encounter :)


Mike H said...

Many truely amazing experiences for you to remember Marianne. The Otter, in my opinion, being the icing on the cake. I missed seeing one on Skye this year !

Warren Baker said...

What a place!!

Phil said...

Shame about the 'cats Marianne.
But at least there's plenty of other stuff to see up there.
Lovely post. Can' t wait to get back there myself.

Greenie said...

Marianne ,
What a wonderful array of wildlife , topped off with that great Otter meeting .
Great shots throughout .
Some species there that I would love to see .

Graham Canny said...

Glad you had a great time! Pity about the cats but to see the otter is fantastic!

Lou Mary said...

Fantastic photos! That otter is simply wonderful, and what a beautiful light to capture it in!