Over the last week we have done a lot of walking, wandering through local straths, glens, farms, forests and along the shore discovering Scotland’s spectacular array of wildlife and delving into its great history.
On Monday we explored a beautiful route through Forestry commission woodland, past a loch, landing us in the wonderful Victorian village of Strathpeffer. Jonathan Willet challenged us to see (or hear) ten species of birds on the short walk and in no time at all we had coal, blue and great tits ticked off, soon followed by chaffinch, treecreeper, robin and wren. Towards the end, and to our delight, we heard calling crossbills, croaking crows, the drumming of a greater spotted woodpecker and a large flock of siskins fluttering between the trees. Following lunch, we ventured on whilst Jonathan tested our knowledge of the Victorian era and then further educated us on the history of the area.
With flowering wild flora scarce at the moment due to the time of year, Jonathan gave a detailed botany lecture, helping us to further our identification skills on everything we might see, from plants and trees to perennials. In the afternoon we were put to the test. Ben and Greg led us into our neighbouring forest – the Aigas Community Forest (ACF). ACF is owned by the local community who are looking to rebuild native woodland, and sustainably harvest their own timber through continuous cover forestry. The woodland is a great facility to see signs of fauna (we saw evidence of badger, fox, deer, squirrel and deer). Throughout the season we will be conducting surveys in the forest, looking in particular for nesting crested tits and crossbills.
Jeff Dymond (a local wildlife specialist of the Loch Ness area) joined us to Sika deer (get it? To ‘seek-a-deer’, ha-ha). But first we went in search for evidence of wild boar. Jeff took us to an area he has seen boar many times in his work. Although we didn’t spot any boar, we did stumble across hair that had been trapped in fencing and hoof prints. Moving on we went in search of Sika deer – a Japanese deer species that was introduced in the 1860s. Successful we were. In a small wooded area we came across a group of six.
Thursday brought winter weather, so we had a change of plans. Avoiding the wind, rain and snow we took to the shelter of a local mixed deciduous and coniferous woodland. The woodland scrub was covered with an array of mosses, lichens, ferns, shrubbery and even a couple of winter edible fungi – scarlet elf cup and velvet shank. As the weather improved we took to more open land. We ventured through farmland, heading towards the Beauly Firth. Along the way we saw greenfinch, siskin, greater spotted woodpecker, reed bunting and tree sparrow. At the shoreline we could see harbour (common) seal hauled on the sand, curlew, oystercatcher, redshank and a plethora of other waders.
In the evening Sir John lectured us on the topic of Balmorality and the ill-use of land through the history of man in the highlands – a great insight into Scotland’s history and its land use.
We ventured to a local glen to see ancient Caledonian pinewood. Along the way we saw many deer and a handful of goldeneye. After exploring the pine wood, we paused for lunch, sandwich in one hand and binoculars in the other, scanning the hillside for movement. A mixed flock of long-tailed tits, coal tits and redpoll fluttered in the branches above us and in the distance we watched stonechat flicking between rocks. After lunch we journeyed on. As we reached the end of the valley we stopped at a dam to discuss hydropower. During discussion we learnt a valuable lesson from a ranger rookie error – never leave the scope in the van. Soaring high above mountainous heights we could see ‘large birds’. We sent our fastest ranger back to the van and, upon their return, we caught a quick glimpse of three golden eagles (at least two of which were juveniles) as they disappeared into the distance.
Despite a consecutive few days of wet February weather, the Aigas ranger team remain full of enthusiasm, enthralled by another fantastic fauna-filled week. If you have signed up for an Aigas programme tell us what you are looking forward to.
For more information, or to book your week with us, visit the Programmes by Date page.