Whilst there is plenty of wildlife around Mingarry Lodges, we decided to head out on the road during 2016 to explore slightly further afield in search of some new wildlife sightings. We have chosen twelve highlights, all of which can be encountered on day trips from Mingarry Lodges or on a multi-base holiday in The Highlands.
One of our favourite new wildlife sighting for 2016 was that of seeing Black Grouse on a lek on the outskirts of Fort William in early May. Heading out in the wee small hours we arrived just as dawn broke over the lek. It was not long before several males appeared strutting their stuff to produce a spectacular display that lasted for well over an hour. The distinctive call of the cuckoo and the trills of grasshopper warblers all added to an evocative and unique Highland dawn chorus.
Another first for us during 2016 was seeing the Crested Tit. During the Spring we made our first trip to Loch Garten in the Cairngorms National Park in search of this endearing little bird. Late winter/early Spring is one of the best times to encounter these birds as they are attracted to feeders around the RSPB reserve.
Loch Garten is also a great site to see breeding Ospreys over the summer months. The RSPB hide is a set up with close circuit coverage of the nest and RSPB staff are on hand to tell you all about the life history of this amazing migrant raptor. Closer to home, we also had several sightings of osprey fishing over Loch Shiel this Spring.
The Moray Firth is slightly further afield, and a bit of a stretch for a day trip, though a few guests at Mingarry Lodges have done it. However, at Chanonry Point, we enjoyed some amazing encounters with bottlenose dolphins. This narrow peninsula on The Black Isle is a great place to see dolphins and is very popular with wildlife enthusiasts. The dolphins pass within a few feet of the shoreline as they hunt for salmon on the rising tide - an amazing sight.
The Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig, located near Loch Garten is a also a great day out from Mingarry Lodges. Although around 2.5 hours drive away, the journey is spectacular and well worth the effort if you have time. The Highland Wildlife Park is a key member of the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Project and holds a significant collection of Scottish Wildcats - a great chance for a close encounter with the iconic Scottish wildcat... They also have a family of lynx - maybe one day these magnificent creatures will again roam free around The Highlands.
Talking about wildcats, we also encountered a different type of wild kitten in the Spring whilst moth trapping in Glen Nevis. The Sallow Kitten was just one of the many moths we saw during our morning moth trapping with Butterfly Conservation Scotland on one of their open trapping days in The Glen. A great way to learn about these wee beauties.
Another first for us during 2016 was the marsh fritillary butterfly. This rather scarce and localised species is not so easy to spot as the adults seldom fly more than 100m away from their colonial breeding sites and keep low to the ground. We were delighted to find several in North Argyll this year and we are hoping to find some closer to home next year.
The West Highlands support several rare species of day flying burnet moth. As well as the common six-spot, the Ardnamurchan peninsula supports a small population of transparent burnet moths. The moth is nationally scarce and subject to great fluctuations in its population size. It was great to revisit one of our sites near Ardnamurchan Point in 2016 to find that the moth is still doing so well.
We were also lucky to encounter the slender scotch burnet in 2016 on a day trip to Mull- this was another first for us. The Slender Scotch burnet is endemic to Scotland and restricted to just a few sites on Mull and Ulva. A red data book species, so we were delighted to come across a matinmg pair.
Whilst searching for moths we also stumbled across some striking displays of orchids. The narrow-leaved helleborine is a long lived perennial but, sadly, also one of our most threatened orchids. The flowers do not produce nectar or collectable pollen but are still pollinated by bees. An example of Batesian mimicry as the flowers are thought to closely resemble those of other nearby nectar/pollen producing flowers tricking the bees into visiting them too.
Sometimes, beauty also comes in abundance, and no more so than the glorious bluebell display in the St John's Church at Glencoe in early Summer. A magical spectacle when driving through Glencoe on The A82, and well worth stopping off for a bluebell photo shoot.
Finally, a little closer to home we were absolutely delighted to find some specimens of The Irish lady's tresses orchid. This diminutive but stunning orchid is very localized on the mainland and, as a consequence, is extremely difficult to find! There are several historic records in the local area and we have visited most of them several times over the past few years. What joy in 2016 when we finally located some specimens...
These are just a few of our 2016 wildlife highlights. We are now looking forward to 2017 for another great wildlife year, both at Mingarry Lodges and further afield...
Jayne & Andrew