By Peter Finlay.
Featured image shows stag near High Corrie. All photo credits to the author. Video clips credit: Marjorie Finlay
Let us focus on one small area of Arran. I shall say High Corrie, if for no better reason than that is where I have lived for many years. I’m sure everyone has their own unique experience of the wildlife of this fascinating island. This just happens to be mine. May is perhaps one of the best times of year to consider – the time of year when we are on the cusp of an explosion in an array of new life.
Where to start? That is a hard one. Of course there is the botanical area and who does not love to see primroses and cowslips, daffodils and bluebells decorating the grasslands everywhere or hiding in the shade of a wood. Instead I am looking at forms of life not anchored to any particular spot and so more elusive.
Yet they still appear. Often the surprise is a great part of the delight. There was a young stag sauntering around, sometimes even peering in through our window. Sadly, the last time we saw him he was being brought down from the hill above on a trailer, his head with his few velvet antlers hanging limp over the side. Some years on, another stag, this one fully grown, was not far above us with a fine array of antlers. The monarch of any glen and certainly a fine sight with Goatfell high above. It was in summer when we could see him and not just hear the more distant roaring of an autumn rut.
Another visitor from Goatfell was the raven which swooped down on a shed roof nearby having espied a large white empire biscuit there on it far below. We watched as he manoeuvred it unbroken into his huge beak then ‘lift off’ with it, back to the sky. Not exactly the usual carrion fare of his kind!
Another bird we had visiting was a black grouse, part of an experiment at reintroduction with the National Trust for Scotland and some even had tracking aerials attached. They were particularly fond of the cotoneaster berries nearby as in my photo (below) of one with beak crammed so full its eye seems almost displaced! You can’t get too much of a delicious cotoneaster!
Of course, Arran is known as a safe place for the red squirrel – safe, as its foe the grey is not around. We have a hazel tree very near and how lovely to see it being visited during lock-down, occasionally catching a glimpse of one with a nut in its mouth.
A completely new appearance for me, two weeks ago, was a beautiful Emperor Moth with its large ‘eyes’ on its wings to scare predators. I hurried to get my photo but she was in no hurry and was still in the same spot hours later and remained till dusk had turned to night. Now no longer resting waiting for a male to come along and court her, she was off for her own adventures and no doubt a sip of some delicious sap.
Not so new and even quite common in summer is the sighting of an adder. The best sighting we had was about 100 yards above us when a pair of them, a male and a female, were visible for quite some time. One day we even watched as they entwined with one another in the heather, the male black and the female with characteristic zig-zags.
Back in May 2014 I came across a creature in the grass not far above our cottage. It was a few inches long with a beautiful pale grey-blue colouration and a thin black line down its back. I photoed it and hoped for an identification. Strangely no-one I approached seemed to know. I had thought of a young slow worm but on googling, none of the images fitted. They looked golden in colour and never this pale blue. I forgot about further attempts at identification for years. Then a few days ago I tried again. I had lighted on the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust based in distant Dorset and sent an email. Very soon I had a reply and the writer, Shane Gausden, was most interested. He told me it was indeed a juvenile slow worm but a variant which he called leucistic. He explained ‘This means it is lacking in the yellow pigment that normally occurs. But it is not lacking the dark melanine pigment – resulting in this beautiful colouration.’ He then asked ‘As this is a lovely example of colour variations of individuals in the wild would we be able to keep these photos for our library for use in the future?’ Of course I was delighted. It’s so nice to know that now a little High Corrie Slow Worm has found a permanent place in an important reptile archive!
There are so many other creatures but let us simply finish with this curious little fellow