What Heat Wave?

There are two fundamental forces that govern my working life:  the wildlife and the weather. This year, Mother Nature has quite literally flipped me the bird. Star-Species sightings have never been so good – but the weather has never been so bad.

For our smaller residents, things are looking pretty bleak. I have only seen one Beautiful demoiselle this season; even on sunny days, the display sites that I regularly walk past have been devoid of life.

But, just when I’m scuffing my boots and zipping up my rain jacket, Mull sends a scene to lift even the dampest spirit.

This season, two White-tailed eagles are spending time in the vicinity of our hide. It has provided an opportunity to enjoy some of their more intimate and engaging behaviours.

The birds fly low over our vantage point on a regular basis. Though they previously enjoyed sitting on our small offshore skerries, they have now taken to loitering further up the loch – offering superlative views.

Their interest is largely focussed on the flotillas of young Greylag geese that cruise about the weedy margins with their parents. Following a landing with a Surf ‘n’ Turf group a couple of weeks ago, we witnessed one of the birds making passes at geese less than 20m away from us on shallow water. It seemed completely unperturbed by our presence, having arrived just as we were clambering across the rocks from the boat.

Last Tuesday, I watched the adult male fishing in the loch for only the second time ever. It seems possible that recent rainfall has raised the level of the burn – perhaps attracting a small run of Sea trout up to spawn.

Better still, there have been times when both birds have arrived together. My guests Tony and Barbara were treated to the spectacle of the female bird vocalising; drawing her mate down from the sky and engaging in a noisy but tender greeting display. Sitting together on the opposite shore, they were magnificent. We even witnessed a brief spell of mutual preening.

Otter sightings have been excellent too – very encouraging news after last year’s quiet spell. The resident dog otter has been loafing about at almost every decent tide, and a female with two older cubs is frequently seen working the shoreline.

I might not have had opportunity to wear my shorts yet (!) but there is still plenty to look out for here on Glengorm.

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward

Eagle Eyes: one of our White-Tailed Eagles flies low for a closer look… 

White-Tailed Eagle

Mammal Handling

The Bank Vole rotated slowly in its polythene bag. I wasn’t confident that I could catch it.

As it regarded each member of our group through ink-drop eyes, I wondered darkly what it was capable of.

Alicia – staff naturalist at the Aigas Field Centre – made it all look easy. She tipped the bag and the vole scuttled into a corner. Once there, she reached up from underneath to gently restrain its head; using the other hand to scruff it expertly.

Safely caught by the loose skin on its nape, the little creature was whisked out of the bag and presented to us in mid air. Its tiny pink feet paddled ineffectively. Realising that there was no chance of escape, a look of resignation settled and it allowed us to measure its ears.

Other members of the group, nervously clutching bags of voles, got stuck in. I was heartened. Success was everywhere.

We had set the traps the previous evening; baiting them with grain [plus some warm bedding] and hiding them between tussocks of grass and heather. There were three different sorts – some of metal and some of plastic.

Retracing our route at dawn, only the final batch of traps had been successful. Each was opened in a strong plastic sack to allow the occupants to be captured. We were collecting bio-metric data for submission to the Mammal Society.

The bank voles were quite amenable, and after a brief struggle, allowed themselves to be carefully transferred between group members for handling practice.

Measurements were taken. Data was recorded. Voles were admired.

The Woodmouse, however, proved to be an entirely different animal.

Woodmice are very beautiful. They are larger and more handsome than the familiar House Mouse. Rather than being mousy-grey all over, their coat has the rich orange hue of autumn leaves. Their chin and underside is a crisp, clean white; with an elegant pinkish-brown tail, every bit as long as their body. Their faces are pointy and alert -being framed by a spray of twitchety brown whiskers.

They are also quite neurotic – which, I suppose, is what happens when everyone else wants to eat you.

My woodmouse did not look pleased. It’s beetle-bright eyes bulged; every hair on its body seemed to thrum with latent energy and adrenaline. Swallowing anxiously, I reached into the plastic sack. The woodmouse made a terrific jump, fully extending its spring-loaded hind legs, and almost vanished up my sleeve. Hastily I crunched the plastic sack shut and withdrew my arm. I tried once again to restrain it in a corner from underneath.

Reaching in for a second time, I managed to finger the little pocket of loose skin behind its head. Holding as firmly as I dared, I elevated the mouse and brought it into the open.

It squirmed like an eel. Alarmingly, the mouse’s body didn’t seem to be attached to the inside of its skin, so it was able to rotate freely within its furry coat. I struggled manfully to maintain a grip, but failed.

The mouse scrabbled onto the cuff of my jacket, before plopping down onto my boot and leaving a rooster trail of displaced pine needles as it shot immediately into the brash.

I’m just grateful that it didn’t bite me on its way out…

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward [ – and inexpert mouse handler]

The offending mouse: notice its amazing ability to rotate within its own skin?!Woodmouse


Dawn over Aigas

Perched among the manifold cushions of Sir John’s sofa, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d talked myself onto it. It was a most alarming situation.

To my right, a stuffed Ptarmigan stared blankly out from a large bookcase. To my left, a well-doing Jack Russell [called either “Nip” or “Tuck”] met my glance with mute appeal. I had tried to dress smartly and was thus reluctant to allow him onto my knee.

Back through the hall, I could see my coat dangling in front of the Aga and dripping rainwater onto Lady Lucy’s kitchen floor. I eyed the puddle guiltily. It was a horrible afternoon.

Sir John first made his way into my life some years earlier. For my birthday, a friend kindly gifted me a book called “The Birdwatcher’s Companion”. It was a nicely presented volume, with a cover of rough beige paper and an ink sketch of some binoculars. The book was an anthology of facts, poems, excerpts and drawings – all starring birds.

Hidden within was one of my favorite pieces of writing. Even now, sitting by my stove and listening to hailstones battering the slate of my roof, I am at a loss to explain just why it affects me so much.

The extract was about a whooper swan. It described the author’s discovery of a mortally wounded bird that had collided with a power cable. The language was beautiful. Perfect. The sad finality of the words “All it knew was the fear of my presence and that it could not fly away” brought tears springing to my eyes as I read them.

Tactfully, the section finished before events reached their unhappy conclusion. Blinking and staring at the last full-stop, I looked down for a name and a title. John Lister-Kaye. Nature’s Child.

It sounded like the sort of book I had to read.

As I became more familiar with the “who’s who” of conservation in Scotland, I discovered that Sir John – in addition to being a naturalist of terrifying repute – was also the proprietor of the Aigas Field Centre. This institution has connected people with the wild highlands for over thirty years; I hoped that they would teach me to do the same.

Back in the sitting room, “Nip” or “Tuck” had maneuvered skilfully onto the sofa. He regarded me with earnest eyes and a sanguine expression. Sir John was asking shrewd questions about my motives for approaching Aigas. My thoughts had been invaded by swans, and I wasn’t doing a good job of answering.

Three weeks later, I couldn’t find my torch. It was 6am, and I was bumping about in an unfamiliar room, trying not to wake the rest of the house. Peeling up my blind, a clear and twinkling sky peeked through the pine boughs. I shuffled into my wellies and did my best to close the door quietly.

Aigas smells different to my home on Mull. A stiff breeze carried the dawn; laden with the rich-damp smells of river and forest. I couldn’t see them, but it was exciting to imagine the sleek bodies of pine marten flowing along branches overhead. Or the tawny flanks of wildcats, melting seamlessly into the undergrowth and guided by eyes like green marble.

I was heading towards a small loch further up the hill. I had only been there once before, but hoped that I would be able to find the circular trail and follow it along the shoreline.

At first the surface was a dull, frozen cataract. Hard snow crunched underfoot – making quiet progress difficult. I continued past the beaver lodge and recently nibbled trees, towards a shining stand of birch on the farthest shore. Blackbirds clucked and chittered in the forest beyond. I stoped to see what had alarmed them. The grey-brown shape of a sparrowhawk flickered past.

The Aigas Loch looked beautiful that morning


The eye of the loch opened slowly, like an old dog. The rolling clouds warmed and grew pink – blushing over the ice like a bruise on milky skin. Reflected trees stretched ghostly capillaries towards a pupil of dark water. Above, six crossbills chipped and dipped through the cool morning air.

Each path was peppered with deer slots and badger prints. Woodpeckers beat their timber drums as munching larvae beat a hasty retreat. Siskins offered a wheezing harmony; gathering in yellow swarms around branches that sagged under the weight of pine-cones.

As I broke cover from the forest and headed up onto the moor, three roe deer sprung across my path. Each paused, eyeing me with wary curiosity and twitching its black moustache. The moon still lingered above the dun. Beyond, the mountains were rosy with sunlight and snow.

I don’t know what my time at Aigas holds. Standing by the cairn, watching the rising sun skitter across a silver Beauly, it seems full of promise.

…I’ll keep you updated!

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward

Breaking Dawn: the moon was still out on the moor above Aigas


Climbing our highest mountain

Scotland has 282 Mountains over 3000ft and one of them, Ben More, is here on Mull.

As a Munro, we get visitors coming to the island just to climb it and strike it off the list. On our last climb we met a hiker who had bagged everyone except Ben More and as we reached the summit there was an emotional ceremony to celebrate his final ascent. For us though it was our first of 282 Munros, and one I could keep on repeating when the weather is this good.

Ben More is 966M (3169ft) and as you start right from the sea shore at Loch na Keal, you’re climbing every foot of it.

Half way up and the views are already fantastic.

Cousins getting emotional at altitude.

Walking up the ridge with a glimpse of the more advanced route below.

Be prepared for the mist. (Different day this one, but it did clear off dramatically) It gets very cold and wet, walking in clouds.

Ben More Fact: It’s the 6th ‘most prominent’ mountain in Britain.
Source: Jim Bloomer’s Prominent Peaks

Great to be here.

And back down again, when the pain begins in the thighs!

Ben More is 50 minutes drive by car from Glengorm. For the ‘tourist route’ as shown here, head along the B8035, West from Salen for 7.8 miles where you will see a track on your left and sign for ‘Ben More Estate’. You can park here on the grass on the right. Walk time 4 hours approx.

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