Talk Report: 27 February 2018 Brian Petit Scottish Wildlife Encounters

On a cold and windy night during the recent inclement weather, a full audience attended for Brian Pettit’s enjoyable talk on the wildlife of Scotland. Brian took us on a journey from the south up through Scotland, starting on the grouse moors. The patterns on the hillsides were due to controlled burning of sections of land, giving rise to heathers of differing ages, which is beneficial for feeding of the wildlife. Red legged Partridge, mainly bred in captivity, and Red Grouse are shoot on the moors. Due to the moors being driven by beaters, there are few predators. Boxes are placed on the moors containing oyster shell grit for the bird’s digestion. Some predators are evident, Kestrels and Merlin especially as the gamekeepers tolerate these as they are too small to take grouse. Short eared Owls, which fly during the day just take voles, rats and mice.

Brian had photographs of the Mountain Hare, smaller than the Brown Hare, and lacks camouflage when there is no snow on the moors. Brian also showed us huge colonies of Common Gulls, which nest in the heather, ideal for them due to the lack of predators.

Travelling further north to the inland lochs, the bird life was similar to our local species – Meadow Pipits, Golden Plover, Northern Lapwing, Curlew and Snipe. Buzzards are evident and Red Kites returning. In the valley streams we saw a Dipper feeding on aquatic larvae, and viewed the nest in holes in the bank. Flycatchers, Grey Wagtails and Mallards were also by the stream.

Brian then took us to Dunbar harbour, where large numbers of Kittiwakes were nesting in the walls of Dunbar castle. These Kittiwakes are relatively tame and would allow the photographers to approach quite closely. A Grey Seal, with its Roman nose was swimming in the harbour.

At Oban port, there were nests of Black Guillemot in the harbour wall. These guillemot are distinctive birds with bright red feet and bright red inside their mouths. We saw the difficulties for the photographer here, as armed with a large lens to focus on the guillemot at a distance, one bird landed near to his feet and was too near for a clear picture!

Further north in the Cairngorms we saw jet black Water Voles and herds of Reindeer, which are not British natives, at the reindeer centre. Brian showed us a fence outside a farm with hundreds of dead Moles hung out – this allows the farmer to see how many the mole catcher had caught.

We saw Osprey nesting by a water sport centre, whilst Brian was watching this nest he photographed Bank Voles, shrews and Red Squirrels feeding nearby.
We saw herds of Wild Goats on the mountain sides. At further inland lochs were Common Sandpiper, Pied Wagtails, Redshanks and Greenshanks. At the Handa Island nature reserve is a colony of puffins , 30-50 pairs strong. These are small birds, Brian informed us that a Great Black backed Bull could swallow one whole.

Brian showed us the now deserted crofts at North Uist, where an otter was spotted and finally arriving at Bearnharaigh, where there is an unusual mix of flora and fauna. They still cut peat for fuel in this area. 

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