Mingary Morning

This is a retrospective blog from my first day on Glengorm – unfortunately, I didn’t have access to the blog account and so couldn’t post it at the time. There was so much great wildlife out that day… it would have been rude not to!


My destination was Loch Mingary, which lies along the western border of the estate. This has always been one of my favourite spots; an achingly beautiful peninsula caught between two small sea-lochs. I’ve never once been down to Mingary and not seen either a diver or a sawbill duck – usually both. A small burn filters into the loch at its head, and it’s absolutely bursting with fish. The weather was chilly but clear; one of those perfect winter days.

But as my bobble hat emerged behind the last hillock, a hideous clattering and ‘gronking’ shattered the quiet.  No less than 12 grey herons shambled into view, wildly trying to avoid each other’s limbs as they heaved to get airborne. The presence of several young birds seemed to slow the operation down and it was a few minutes before they had re-grouped in a straggling line on the far bank, eyeing me furiously.

The herons remained in position during my visit, but made nuisances of themselves by flying over my head and ‘gronking’ as soon as I spotted something interesting. There is in fact a heronry on the far bank of the Loch, and the sight of such hefty birds mincing around in the boughs of spindly pines can be quite heart-warming!

I continued out towards the point, and was treated to a very confiding great northern diver pottering close to shore. It allowed me to watch it hunting for quite some time, and seemed to be enjoying a good haul of small fishes. These birds spend winter in Northern Europe before returning to their breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland. At this time of year the plumage is a dull smoky-black and greyish white. If you look closer though, you can still trace the outline of their strikingly geometric breeding-ware. They can be seen at their most splendid just before leaving us in April.

Further on, a pair of stonechats made themselves very visible, ‘chikking’ and clambering angrily over the brambles towards me. In my experience, there are few small birds able to make you feel so thoroughly unwelcome, so quickly, as the stonechat. This is atoned for in my eyes by their delicate rosy plumage and pompous way of perching.

The point itself was dripping in sunshine, but otherwise quiet. A few waders were roosting out on the rocks (oystercatcher and curlew) and a couple of shags were drying their plumage in the breeze. Common gulls frequently make passes up the Loch and back, but I haven’t seen one feeding yet.

As I returned inland, I decided to walk further towards the forest before going home. This turned out to be a master-stroke, because shortly after skidding over a patch of clammy weed, a female hen harrier swept past. She was quartering the rock outcrop behind, working methodically back and forth searching for prey. Unlike the herons she seemed unconcerned with my choice of head-wear, and almost immediately struck a Meadow pipit. She was only a few yards away – possibly the best view I’ve had. The RSPB recently released a statement that there was only one known successful breeding pair of hen harriers in England this year; there should be territory enough for around 320 pairs.

After watching her hunt, I decided to crack open the flask of tea (and why not?) I was just taking my first sip as a sleek object broke the surface of the loch and rippled towards me. Otter!

Each time it submerged, there was a little wave and a slap of its tail – it looked to be quite a small individual, so I would guess female. I actually saw it bring a mullet up, cheerfully crunch off its head and devour the rest with alarming speed. After a time she came out of the water, only 20 yards away. She seemed completely oblivious to my presence and carried on grooming and rolling about on the pebbles.

On my way home, I saw a female kestrel, a female sparrowhawk and one unhappy buzzard (being bothered by the ubiquitous Meadow pipits). A few red deer hinds also skittered across my path just before I arrived back at the Standing Stone field.

All in all, I call that a successful first day at work.

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward