Fern Villa Nature

Lochaber is home to Scotland’s highest mountain – Ben Nevis 1344m, deepest freshwater loch – Loch Morar 310m, home to Morag a relative of Nessie!, longest glen – The Great Glen 104km, deepest pothole – Uamh Nan Claig Ionn, Cave of the Skulls, pitches 5m, 12m, 6m and 9m and the U.Ks most westerly mainland point – Ardnamurchan Peninsular. You can also take a boat trip from Oban to see Corryvrekan the third largest whirlpool in the world.

2013 is Visit Scotland’s year of Natural Scotland so we thought that a Nature page might be appropriate to let you know about some of our favourite places and some ideas on places that we have yet to visit.   Where several wildlife spots are possible on a journey out we have added a prompt in brackets.

Birds

Buzzards – are often spotted at the side of the road usually perched on fence posts or telegraph poles, keeping an eye out for their next snack.
Golden Eagles – we believe there are golden eagles in the area, some living in the hills behind the Dragon’s Tooth golf course and in the Kinlochleven area, these are most likely to be spotted when  out for a walk in the hills.

Red  Kites – We have been hoping to visit the Argaty Red Kite Centre for some time, but time and weather never seems to coincide to allow us to do this, so we have to make do with visiting their website and Facebook page for the time being.  (www.argatyredkites.co.uk).

Black Isle Red KiteRed Kites can also be spotted in the skies while driving on the Black Isle (see Dolphins).

White Tailed Sea Eagles – Trips can be taken on the Isle of Mull or Loch Shiel Cruises with the chances to spot the white tails.

A sea eagle called Victor has been feeding near  the Glenelg Ferry, we haven’t been lucky enough to spot him on our visits but we live in hope. Visit their Facebook page to see a video of Victor hassling the gulls so that they drop their catch and he can steal it.  (Also see Seals and Goats)

Garden  Birds

Blackbird feeding young back garden Fern VillaWe have feeders at the front and back of the house and frequent visitors to the garden are robins, sparrows, siskins, blue tits, cold tits, chaffinches, blackbirds and lots and lots of Starlings.  Rarer visitors are long tailed tits, wrens, red wings,field fayre, gold finches and bull finches. And a naughty Sparrowhawk  took some of our guests by surprise this summer when he snatched a blackbird from the front garden tree.

Herons

River Laroch HeronThere is a heronry by the Ballachulish Bridge, to get a good view, cross over the bridge and take the first turning on the right signposted to the Loch Leven Hotel and the Holroyd Gallery.  If you walk down to the slip way (take care as it can be very slippery) and look straight across into the trees on the opposite shore. You will be able to spot the herons coming and going and balancing precariously on the upper branches of the trees.  The birds tend to feed on the shoreline near to the Ballachulish Hotel, this is on the opposite shore underneath the bridge.  Before the bridge was built a ferry used to operate between the Loch Leven Hotel and the Ballachulish Hotel.  This ferry, the Glenachulish, now operates from Glenelg over to Skye.   Herons are timid creatures and it is quite hard to creep up on them and take a photo.

Sea Birds

Oyster catchers are frequent visitors to the Shinty Park opposite the house, but I think they are looking for worms rather than oysters!

Cormorants and Shags can be spotted on Loch Leven perched on rocks and buoys.

There are various gulls always about and most annoyingly they like to congregate on our chimneys and have arguments early in the morning.

Visiting Birds

Redpole Garden VisitorGoldeneye ducks visit the Glencoe Lochan in winter/spring.  These are very shy birds and each time you try to get near them they swim to the opposite side of the water.

Redpoles visited for the first time (to our knowledge) last spring, these look very similar to sparrows apart from the blush on the head.

Northern Divers have been spotted in Loch Linnhe near to Onich.

Butterfly’s

Glen Etive Butterflies Scotch ArgusVisit the Arkaig Butterfly Reserve by Loch Arkaig to get the chance to see the rare Chequered Skipper and the Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterfly

On a trip down Glen Etive in August 2011 we were surrounded Scotch Argus butterflies.  We stopped for a picnic and the butterflies flew all around and landed on us.   One in particular was particularly fond of a bottle of orange juice, no doubt after the sugar.   There are some pretty big dragonflies down there too. (See Deer)

Deer

RRoe Deer are resident in the hills behind the house and can sometimes be spotted during the evening/night munching away in the back garden, although sometimes the only evidence that they have been there is the missing flower heads.  If you listen out during the rutt you can hear them roaring away.

We have been told that there are approximately 4000 deer in Glen Etive, these can often be spotted at the road side and just off the road at Lochan Urr. These deer can be quite tame and you should be able to get quite close, but beware of the stags. (See Butterflies)

At Kings House Hotel there are usually some tame deer about and they will feed from your hand.  Quite recently one of them tried to help themselves to the teacakes in the back of my cousin’s car.

Take care if travelling through Glencoe at night as quite often you will get deer wandering across the road, they have not developed any road sense.

Dolphins

Chanonry Point Light HouseThis would be a day out but well worth the journey.  Just north of Inverness is the Black Isle, travel to Fortrose and follow the signposts to Chanonry Point.  There is a lighthouse here, a stony beach and a small spit of land which is quickly covered by the sea so care must be taken.  Check out the tide times as the best time to see the dolphins is when the tide is coming in and the pod is busy trying to catch the salmon.  It is easy to spot the spit as there is usually a crowd and lots of cameras waiting for the show to start.  The dolphins come so close to the shore that you can almost touch them. Take warming clothing with you as even if it is a nice day a cold wind tends to whip up on the point.  (Also see Red Kites).

Red Squirrels

Red Squirrel at InchreeWe have not been lucky enough to spot any red squirrels in our garden but just a short drive to Glen Righ/Inchree Waterfalls (Onich) you are likely to strike lucky.  Just by the car park there is a wooden wall with circles cut away at various heights; if you pop year head up to one of these you will look onto an area where feeders have been set up and the squirrels are frequent visitors collecting the nuts.  The holes are just the right size for camera lenses, however you can walk to the side of the boards and get the same view if you would like to set up a tripod.  Woodpeckers visit here too.

Seals

We have seen a couple of seals in the waters near to the Isles of Glencoe Hotel, however our best spot has been while waiting for the Glenelg Ferry to go over to Skye.  At this location you might also be lucky to see a white tailed sea eagle called Victor, basking sharks, dolphins or otters.

If you are familiar with Gavin Maxell’s Ring of Bright Water then a short detour to Sandaig might be on the books. (Also see Wild Goats and White Tailed Sea Eagle)

Scottish Sealife Sanctuary

Ray at Oban Sealife CentreThe seal sanctuary is on the way to Oban and is Scotland’s leading marine conservation experience.  Here you can see seals, otters and a wealth of sea creatures.  We enjoyed the tanks with the rays the best as they swim upright half in and half out of the water and you can look them in the eye.

Wild Goats

There is a herd of wild goats on the A87, the road to Kyle of Lochalsh, they can sometimes be spotted on the roadside between the Cluanie Inn and the Glenelg turning.   You will probably smell them before you see them! (See Seals, White Tailed Sea Eagle).

We have just been told that there is also a small herd near to the Lochleven Seafood cafe.

Mythical Creatures

I am sure that most of you will be aware of the Loch Ness Monster, although we’ve not seen Nessie ourselves there is a very good exhibition at Drumnadrochit where you can find out more about the beastie.

A cousin of Nessie lives in Loch Morar, she is called Morag.

Loch Achtriochtan in Glencoe was the home to a water bull or tarbh uisge.  These creatures were quite small, black and slippery, shaped like a bull and were apparently harmless.

And a bit nearer to home, a dragon lived on Beinn Bheithir (this mountain overlooks Ballachulish).  She was partial to the unwary traveller, however when she had 7 young the locals got a bit worried.  A young man called Charles managed to slay the dragon with the lure of a roast pig on a boat to which he set fire.  The locals killed off the 7 young. All that can be seen now is the Dragon’s Tooth just behind the golf course.