Spring in the air at last?

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We had a great week in Devon over half term.  Lots of lovely otter spraint (ah so fragrant- palm violets I always think- come on L'Oreal make it into a perfume! L'eau de Tarka)   No otters of course but being with spaniel and niece it was never going to happen.  We did get a good fox sighting and a zillion buzzards -which is always great.

So back home and on the final march to Easter hols and beloved Scotland.  We have not been out much but have had some nice sightings in past week or so - a stoat in complete ermine, plenty of roe deer, a super close, though badly photographed, hen harrier and lots of hares. 

"Here hare here" (old one but as a "Withnail and I" fan, a bit of a fave quote there)  and also a kingfisher bringing some colour and joy to a damp grey day.



Happy New Year starts with Hen Harrier; what could be better?

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Happy 2015 (our 4th year blogging wildlife) We are always hopeful come January. It seems that the days are noticeably beginning to drawer out and cold crisp weather makes us feel hopeful of new adventures and wonderful wildlife. We've often found Jan to be a good month to see Barn Owls (though not so far) Decided to visit some old Barny haunts and see what we could before the term began last Thursday and were thrilled to spot a Hen Harrier hunting over the moors. May be a passage bird of course but such a lovely sight. Light wasn't great and views distant but still worth showing the pics perhaps

Stalking Auntumwatch at Leighton Moss, but not really. Mainly the usual haunts and a bearded tit

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The title says it all really. Decided that since Autumnwatch happened to be in our usual patch and we had knackered the spaniel out with highland gallops over hill and dale and even more over Sand and Bay, we'd leave her for a few guilt free hours and return to Leighton Moss. Actually found it surprisingly quiet, given its half term and Autumn watch had been camped out there. It was also unfortunately quiet on wildlife front too. At least during our speedy trip. We spotted marsh harrier, a few shovellers, coots, mallards, teal, widgeon and noted a lot of migrant passerines flocking in but there was no murmuration to behold and no sight of the otters. Did see the lovely (or in welsh: lov errrr ly) Mr Iolo Williams and also Richard Taylor Jones of the soft voice and relaxing stress reducing wildlife films (who'd been unable to answer my question about how waders know where to land in water shallow enough for their particular wading legs? Anyone know? We wonder if they have built-in tide tables? Or maybe they select a scout whose job it is to find the right level and then the others arrive!!) Anyway for pics- a bearded tit. IF YOU KNOW THE ANSWER TO WADER QUESTION.... do let me know. I've grown up on Dee Estuary and known waders all my days and so somehow never took much notice of them but watching RTJ's live film n Autumnwatch live breakfast it suddenly occurred to me how the redshanks was wading thigh deep and then the oystercatchers came and landed at the right level Anyway here's the bearded tit.

Hurricane Season hits Applecross

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Just had another much needed break in Applecross. Sadly the whole place was a bit of a hurricane graveyard and the weather was appalling most days. Though it meant photography was challenging we still managed to get out and about and enjoy the drenchings and the winds every day. Luckily on the first morning whilst sitting at the breakfast table enjoying a bacon butty and a cuppa I glanced out the window at the surging sea and spotted an otter forging its was through the roaring waves. We all ran out and watched as the poor little chap swam up the face of each new roller and coasted over the other side seemingly heading out further and further with a grim determination. It was hard to keep track of him as some of the chop was deceptively otter shaped. Eventually I caught a glimpse again and this time it looked like the otter was hunting so I thought it may be an idea to walk further down Shore Street towards the Milton and see if he came ashore with a larger catch. This paid off and we got some great views of him eating a fish at a couple of spots on rocks near the pier. Apart from one further, brief sighting near Ard Duhb later that week (where we were well and truly caught out in the open and hence the otter turned tail and did the famous otter disappearing act) this was our only chance to photograph them all week and it was awful lighting (as photos here attest) Apart from that it was great to see dippers, whooper swans, res breasted mergansers, some immense and imperious stags and lots of seals of course. The scenery was spectacular too -WHEN the light broke through and we saw some spectacular rainbows - too perfect and large and bay-straddling to capture with the lens on my camera which is designed for up close personal otter photo-shoots, when they show up. A good time and great crack as ever.

Otter bonanza at Applecross

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We have just returned from a superb two and half weeks in Scotland. A difficult first week camping at Fidden Farm on Mull which ended prematurely when a freak gust took down both our tents (broken poles) We managed to save the holiday from complete disaster when Island Castaways Charity Shop at Craignure came up trumps with a Wynnster Shrike 6 tent for a fiver - which looked almost new when we pitched it in Applecross and began our holiday over in our favourite place on earth! The amazing weather afforded us plenty of opportunities for rock pooling, walking and antler scavenging. It is just the right time of year to find recently shed red deer antlers and we lucked out finding two; though when I held them up to see whether they could be displayed as a pair I was disappointed by the comical effect of one going up and one down -sort of cartoon moose style!! One big stag near the campsite with at least 8 points refused to shed while we were there- he was lucky we didn't sneak up on him in the night to give his beautiful set a few tugs- I'm talking antlers here you understand!! This year we added to our pastimes of wildlife watching and photography by taking a kayak. Lots of fun to be had at Toscaig in millpond conditions. Sadly the plan for us both to go off in it with the dog sitting in the stern didn't work out as she immediately jumped "ship" and ended up sitting on seaweed with lead still attached, barking as we set sail. Eventually I had to be dropped off to care for the salty land lubbin' sea dog while the other salty sea dog, Simon, left for distant shores. At Toscaig we also had terrific otter sightings, some very close but all fascinating in terms of increasing our understanding of their behaviours. The best situation came when we thought the otter had headed holt-wards at end of long few hours hunting. Simon decided to take the mutt out for a much deserved walk along the shore. I stayed on the pier to preview some of my snaps. At one point I took a peek at them through the bins only to recognise our otter pal still snorkelling for crabs in the shallows just ahead of them on the shore line. I watched as man/dog came near otter and as man noticed the otter he stopped and began snapping. The otter then noticed man/dog and decided to take a closer look at them. It was incredible how brave the otter seemed-curiosity triumphing fear. THEN I remembered that this was no ordinary otter, this was almost certainly Conga Killer Otter, from last year!!!! Simon was snapping away happily and I was snapping him snapping and then suddenly the otter was emerging right over Kyra's shoulder. It was incredible and quite hilarious- for about a minute -then I heard a frantic half scream from Simon "Kyra- GET OUT OF THE WATER, GET OUT OF THE WATER NOW!!!!" Once we were all safe and drinking pints of Guinness outside the Inn, looking at the hilarious pictures Simon had taken of the creature from the deeps getting closer and closer to the oblivious idiot Spaniel, it all seemed very funny. BUT- in all seriousness if the otter had decided to take the risk and have a snap at Kyra K- the dog would almost certainly have faired poorly in water against an otter! Great time had by all again. As ever thanks to Judy and all staff at Applecross Inn -always welcoming. A hello to all lovely folks we met too - if you pop by leave us a message- everyone was great fun and a good craic. Enjoy these snaps. As ever clicking on the image gets you a larger version. Please don't use our pics without permission- ta xx

Pine Martens… at Applecross

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Our week in Autumnal Applecross saw some spectacularly poor weather- but it served our purpose which was to embrace Autumn. We had a good walk each day and each day we were soaked to the skin. Saw an otter on our first day down at Toscaig - the light was rubbish and it was again hunting along the far side of the inlet so too far away for any decent photographs but great to watch it hunt and eat. Such a joy to see our first pine marten at 6.30 AM on first morning. Dark, big, Sumatra rat grey at that time of the morning! However a feed of Peanut butter, homemade blackberry jam, fig rolls and chocy digestives- showed we had two martens- a cute, small, chocolate brown one and a big gnarly snaggle toothed snick eared one. We couldn't work out at first why the marten suddenly showed up and was so brashly confident- then on looking at the snaps we spotted the snick in the ear and the general largeness and roughness of the confident pine marten. We ended up having the excellent good fortune to see the small pine marten every night at about 6.00- 8.30pm. Awesome, delightful creatures- we love them and are so thrilled to finally see them after so many years leaving peanut butter around. :-)

Otter VS Conga Eel: the fight to the death on Applecross

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We spent over an hour watching this brave little otter battle a conga eel almost twice its own size and girth. It was unfortunately just a little bit too far away for my lens to capture any decent images but these snaps at least show something of the efforts involved. There were at least five occasions where the otter heaved, pulled, pushed the eel half onto land only for the pair of them to splash right back into the water again when the eel's tail curled up and yanked them off the seaweed. In the end the otter won out and began stripping the skin off the head of the eel and eating that. A Great Black Backed Gull hung around patiently for most of the time, hoping to share in the prize but offering no help to the capture! Very exciting stuff and all viewed from the comfort of Toscaig Pier on Applecross as opposed to our usual viewing gallery of a quickly filling tidal rock pool amongst the seaweed of some Mull shore line. We had a great time on Otter(oops- Outer) Hebrides beginning with 5 days at Applecross and ending with 5 days on Mull.