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What to Spot: March Edition

March sees our joint ‘Wildlife to Spot’ blog with Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape (CALL) move on to a busy time of the year for lots of our wildlife. But, just before we get too excited, being this far north we can still expect to see this sort of thing for a while yet! This month sees a big increase in the types and numbers of birds returning to their breeding sites throughout, and outwith, the CALL area. Just a few of these to look out for include- Skylark; having wintered much further south these aerial singers are a welcome sound and sight at this time. The males claim their territories by singing for minutes on end from heights up to 150m and all the while holding station on fluttering wings. Lapwing; another one of our migrant breeders that winters further south will be returning this month. Like Skylark, Lapwing is a declining species mainly due to habitat loss and changes in land use. Locally though our breeding numbers, while very small, seem stable at the moment but way down

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What to Spot: February Edition

February is a time when a lovely spring like day can encourage some flowers and animals to start emerging from their winter routines. Buds start to appear, reptiles come out to enjoy the few rays of sunshine, some flowers start to bloom and the birds start to sing. Already I have seen buds on hazel starting to break, flowers starting to appear on gorse bushes and grey herons flying about getting their nests ready for them to breed! Spring is coming! A few species that are likely to start appearing this month are covered below. It would be great to hear from you about when, and where, you first saw these this year. You may be aware but flowering times are getting earlier each year due to effects of climate change and it would be interesting to see how Coigach and Assynt are changing across the years. So, let’s start with having a look for trees, plants and flowers Gorse flowers – a few little yellow heads are starting to pop up over the mountainsides on these prickly bushes. Often

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What to Spot: January Edition

2020 has arrived! January is a time when a lot of our species are just trying to make it through winter. Food is a little scarcer and the pressure simply to survive, to keep breeding grounds or to migrate back home is increasing. David mentioned garden birds last month and January is still a good time to attract creatures close to home as they search for food. This month is also great for looking out for ducks, raptors and owls which can be easier to spot because of the early darkness! Here are some suggested species to look out for. A common sight in southern areas but shyer and more concealed in Coigach and Assynt is the Little Grebe (aka dabchick). Although here all year round, less vegetation means they are a little easier to find on inland lochs such as Loch na Claise, Loch an Aigeil, Little Assynt or Loch Culag. Little Grebes (Tachybaptus ruficollis) are rarely seen on land as their feet are placed towards the back of their body to help with swimming underwater. Listen out for

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What to spot: December Edition

Hard to believe but here we are on the last What to Spot blog of 2019 in partnership with Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape. It may be the bleak mid-winter but, there is still plenty of wildlife to look out for throughout the area. To make the most of the short daylight hours wrap up warm, take a hot drink of your choice and simply go for a wander. Of course, you can appreciate some of our most endearing wildlife from the comfort of your own home – garden visitors. The visitors most of us are likely to see are the numerous birds that make a bee line for garden feeders at this time of year. Peanuts, seeds, fat balls and apples are just a few of the different foods that will attract a good variety of birds to your garden. The more frequent garden birds include: House Sparrow; Great Tit; Blue Tit; Coal Tit; Chaffinch; Goldfinch; Siskin, Blackbird and, of course the Robin. An added bonus could well be the sight of a Sparrowhawk sweeping through your garden; they

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What to Spot: November Edition

Continuing our partnership blog with Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape here are a few ideas to help you spot our wildlife during the coming month. During November, it can often look as if there is no wildlife to see. While the more obvious activity from cetaceans, birds and insects has definitely decreased dramatically there is still an amazing range of things to see. The Minch, for example, is home to three species of cetacean all year round: Harbour Porpoise, Phocoena phocoena; Risso’s Dolphin, Grampus griseus; and Orca, Orcinus orca. Good places to watch from? Really anywhere with an elevated view of the open sea, when it’s pretty calm; but, remember you do need to have patience and wrap up warm! This month should see the arrival of more and more winter thrushes as Redwing, Turdus iliacus fly in from Iceland; and, Fieldfare, T. pilaris along with Mistle Thrush, T. viscivorus arrive from the east. Many of the Blackbirds, T. merula that we see now will also be winter visitors. All these species are escaping much colder weather and reducing food

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What to spot: October Edition

Welcome to our October Edition of what wildlife you can look for when out and about. A lot of migrants are arriving this month to spend the winter with us in Coigach and Assynt. The beautiful red heads of Rowan berries are a favourite of several species including Waxwings, Redwings and Fieldfares.   Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) are a stocky bird that can be seen in small groups to large gatherings. On their heads, they have a prominent crest and black chin as well as yellow flashes on their wings and tail. They are arriving now and through November. The birds that visit us have flown from Northern Scandinavia and Siberia where they breed. Redwing (Turdus iliacus) are a shy bird with red flanks and the smallest of the true thrushes we can see. Its favourite foods are berries, apples and insects. Some arrived towards the end of September but most birds will arrive this month, flying all the way from Iceland. Few breed here but they can arrive in their thousands. Interesting fact: Redwing first nested in Scotland in Inverness

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What to Spot: September Edition

Welcome to our September Edition of What to Spot. Birds beginning to migrate south, trees beginning to turn golden and a slight chill in the air; Autumn is coming. There is still plenty to see out and about! One of the largest birds we have within CALL is the beautiful Gannet (Morus bassanus). Such amazing birds, diving at speeds of up to 55mph into the water with their large wings folded back to lower air resistance. Not only that but they lock the vertebrae in their neck when diving, inflate air sacks within their breast to protect themselves from the impact on the water and they avoid getting water up their nose buy having no external nostrils! Absolutely fascinating animal and watching them dive is a sight to remember. At this time of year Gannets are starting to migrate towards Africa although some stay and are joined by birds from St Kilda and the island Sula Sgeir in the Atlantic Ocean. Try Stoer Lighthouse or Reiff to see these seabirds although you could find them out at sea anywhere along

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Heath or Mire? Bog or Swamp? Using Vegetation classifications with AFC

Last weekend I was lucky enough to join the Assynt Field Club (AFC) on their Training course on NVC Heaths and Mires identification, the funding of which was awarded in CALL’s Community Grant Scheme this year. It allowed AFC to bring in experts in the field Alison and Ben Averis to teach a training course to learn how to classify our heaths and bogs in order to look at how best to manage them or to evaluate their condition. NVC stands for National Vegetation Classification, developed in the 1980’s, and is the standard way to class vegetation types in Britain. It breaks down into many vegetation types, this course looking at heaths and mires only. There are 38 mire communities and 22 heath communities to decide on from the species of vegetation found in an area and their dominance. On day 1 we spent our time near Glencanisp Lodge, walking up the hill behind the walker’s carpark. Looking at the flora, lichens and liverworts we learned how to identify key species to help with classifications. This meant we could decide

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What to Spot – August Edition

Wow, August already and our fourth joint wildlife blog with Coigach and Assynt Living Landscape Partnership (CALLP). Lots of human visitors are just arriving on their summer holidays this month but, for many birds, plants and animals this is autumn and the start of preparations for winter! Many of the birds that passed through, and over, Coigach and Assynt in the spring on migration to their northern breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland are now doing the reverse journey after, hopefully, a successful breeding season. One bird species that maybe we don’t always think of as a migrant is the Oystercatcher, Haematopus ostralegus. These unmistakable black and white waders with their long, stout orange bill do breed locally but many migrate to Iceland to do so. One great example of this was a colour-ringed Oystercatcher first spotted at Bay of Culkein on 18 September 2018. The details of this bird were sent to the British Trust for Ornithology and a few days later it’s history was received from the Iceland based International Wader Study Group. This male bird was previously

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A Return to Raffin

June’s monthly volunteer day was held at Raffin Beach, caring out a second beach clean on the first strip of the beach and moving onto the second. The John Muir Trust run working holidays, and this was the week they were up in Coigach and Assynt, all 10 of them joining the CALL volunteers to help clean the beach. It was an absolutely beautiful day. When we stopped for lunch it was hard to get going again and not just bathe in the sunshine! Despite the temptation, the volunteers carried on all day, collecting 250kg of bagged rubbish plus a lot of large plastic items and even a tyre. An amazing effort and so happy that we managed to get to the next stretch of beach. Our previous clean was 8 months ago and thankfully the rubbish had not returned to the state of before. Alongside collecting marine litter, we were also keeping our eyes open for any birds or creatures that had been washed in or any mermaid’s purses, the capsules made by Skates and Catfish for their young.

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