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Spring Diary 2011

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View from Shoreline Cottages

Mid-March and spring had arrived in Lincolnshire. The daffodils and lesser celandines were in full bloom and the frogs were courting in the garden pond. But we weren't staying around to monitor its progress for at four in the morning my wife and I set off with our good friends for the most westerly point in mainland UK; Ardnamurchan Peninsula in the north west highlands of Scotland.

Soon after the border at Gretna Green it became clear that we had left spring behind. Snow was falling heavily and the M74 was effectively down to one lane. As we battled along through blizzards on the long single track A road we had to pull over to let a fire engine pass.

"Having taken twelve hours to get here, much of the journey through snow it will be just our luck drive to the cottage just behind the fire engine!" Fortunately it was not our cottage, but the owners house which had suffered a chimney fire.

The arduous journey was well worthwhile as Shoreline Cottages, Glenborrodale, are very comfortable and probably have the best views on the planet! Fortunately, apart from at higher elevations we saw no further snow and not too much rain to spoil an active and in terms of wildlife, a very productive week.

Tim and I had both set ourselves some target species and the first of these availed itself on our first morning when an otter performed for us in the bay adjacent to the RSPB car park at Glenborrodale. We watched it swim and dive for several minutes and finally swim in to shore under water where we were convinced that it had an underwater entrance to its holt. A flat area of rock was littered with empty mussel shells betraying partiality for this prey.

Although the Scottish Wild Cat occurs on the peninsula we failed to see it and we had not expected to encounter the other rare predator; the Pine Marten either. However the owner of the cottages said if we baited the terrace with Jaffa Cakes we might be lucky. We did this for two or three evenings and watched Robins and Blackbirds devouring the biscuits and Red Deer foraging within a few feet of the window but no Pine Marten. Then one evening before it was dark I caught sight of something large and russet slipping along the edge of the cottage. Could that have been it? I wasn't sure, but half an hour later, at dusk the Pine Marten leapt on to the table on the terrace and despite being aware of the four faces peering at it through the window, not to mention the light from flash guns, it indulged its passion for chocolate and orange flavoured biscuits.

Pine Martin Tackiling a Jaffa Cake

Pine Martens belong to the family Mustelidae and are relatives of Badgers, Otters, Stoats and Weasels. They are much larger than the Stoat with a long bushy red tail and are one of Scotland's top predators. Pine Martens are very agile climbers and can catch birds and squirrels in the trees but they are truly omnivorous and will eat fruit, berries and yes, even Jaffa Cakes.

We never tired of the view over the sea loch from the cottage and every day and at every stage of the tide there was different wildlife to look at. An otter one morning, Herons and Oystercatchers every day, but also Greenshank (not far from their moorland breeding grounds), Curlew, Eider and Red Breasted Merganzers, a fish eating duck with a serrated "saw-bill" designed for the job. Great Northern Divers or Loons as the Americans call them are quite common around the coast and sea lochs and one was often visible from the cottage. We also saw both Black Throated and Red Throated Divers in the area but we had to leave the cottage to see them. There was nearly always a Buzzard about and on two occasions we saw a beautiful male Hen Harrier.

If I am giving you the impression that we spent most of the time staring out of the cottage windows, binoculars in one hand and a glass of wine in the other it is only half true. We did make a thorough exploration of the peninsula both by car and on foot as well as a trip to the neighbouring island of Mull.


Common Buzzards were indeed common. We probably saw upwards of 20 every day - the coach drivers' beloved "Tourist Eagles" the easy way to ensure their clients are never disappointed.

However, the real deal is not too difficult in this part of Scotland and we managed to see Golden Eagles on most days and White-tailed Sea Eagles on two occasions. The latter was the result of a successful reintroduction programme, originally to the island of Rhum , but these days Mull is the centre of a small but expanding population of these huge predators, often described as flying barn doors!


Raptors are well represented in the area with Merlin, Kestrel, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk , Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl all breeding locally. I photographed the Peregrine on a spire on Tobermory's church from which it made forays to catch the ubiquitous feral pigeons.

Red Deer are very common and at this time of year the stags and hinds form separate herds.

Red Deer Hinds

Red Deer Stag
The area around our cottage was favoured by hinds and I am sure any attempt at growing vegetables there would be doomed to failure.

As I write, back at my home in Lincolnshire spring is advancing fast. By April 10th many of the summer migrants have already arrived, yet some of the winter visitors are showing a marked reluctance to leave.

After the best winter for Brambling I have ever witnessed; numbers in our garden peaking in March at eleven birds, we still have two remaining. Surely it was time they returned to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia?

Butterflies are showing well during the summer-like temperatures we are experiencing in April with an abundance of Brimstones, Orange Tips, Holly Blues, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells as well as a few Red Admirals and Speckled Woods. Prospecting bumble bees are also much in evidence and there are plenty of wild flowers to attract these insects.

Finally I was blessed with the sight of two badger cubs, frolicking outside their sett in the sunshine at two o'clock in the afternoon. Rarely seen unless one makes the effort to visit a sett in the evening this was indeed a privileged sighting.


Ian Misselbrook
April 2011


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