North Highland wildlife diary – September

September brought us some fine late summer weather, with the last few days of the month being especially warm and dry. So perfect conditions for the last of the Swallows to depart for Africa, and equally perfect – and helped by a westerly tail wind – for the huge skeins of geese to arrive from Greenland and Iceland. To have both Swallows and migrating geese present at the same time – albeit for just a week or so – always makes this time of year rather special.

The last of our young swallows left our garage on September 27th, and I was certain of this as I’d got into the habit of checking the rafters each night to see how many were roosting. The geese, which are Western Greylag and Pink-footed, started to arrive on the 16th September but really got going a week later. In fact when I went outside at about 7am this morning to let the chickens out, my eyes immediately went to a cloud-free sky as the honking of hundreds of geese in their usual v-formation passed directly over out croft. And if I see that sight and hear that sound a thousand more times, I’ll still never tire of it.

Earlier in the month and ahead of my attention being turned towards migrating Swallows and geese, I became especially excited by the sight of two small and rare birds (well, ‘rare’ for where I live) which suddenly appeared right outside my office window – they were House Sparrows. Now you could be forgiven for wondering how, in a country which boasts two species of eagle, Capercaillie and Red Throated Diver (to name just a few of the exquisite species we have), how I could become excited by the humble House Sparrow. Well the reason is that this was only the second time I’d seen the species on our land, and although there are pockets of them breeding elsewhere in our parish, I imagine the very low density of houses and other buildings in our immediate area makes it unattractive for them. But I’m hoping this position will change with the new stable block I’m currently building for my wife’s ponies, and certainly I’ll be including a few sparrow nest boxes on the structure.

One other bird I’ve enjoyed watching close-by in the last month is a Red Kite, which has taken up residence in and around a disused quarry about a mile from our croft. I imagine the bird is from the Black Isle reintroduction programme, with this being only about 25 miles away – nothing for a Red Kite which would barely have to beat its wings to make the journey. Much further north from us there just wouldn’t be the suitable habitat for the species, so it just might be that we currently have the most northerly Red Kite in the British Isles – which is a very nice thought indeed.

Something else I’ve really enjoyed in the last few weeks is watching literally hundreds of bees feeding on the flowers of a large clump of apple mint which we have in our veg patch. The plant flowers very late in the season so, in this respect, is competing with far fewer nectar-rich plants, and this combined with the warm weather meant it has simply been festooned in bees. I took the snap above to record the event, though apologies I don’t know which particular species of bee it is (learning bee species is something I’ve promised I’ll do during my eventual retirement).

I imagine the month ahead will bring in the first of the Fieldfares and Redwings from Northern Europe and Scandinavia, which will feast on rowan berries as soon as they make landfall. And this year’s crop of rowan berries looks to be a bumper one, so no shortage of food for these two species of thrush for a month or so. I also imagine that the fine weather won’t last (in fact I’d put money on it…), but as I look out the window now, on the very last day of September, it remains warm and dry. So outside is where I’m now heading.


Our monthly columnist from the Scottish Highlands

A long-time associate of Vine House Farm is Roger Hughes, who now lives in the north of Scotland and the beautiful county of Sutherland. Roger helps us with a range of business services, but he’s also a keen bird watcher, is very knowledgeable about feeding birds, is a general nature lover, and also partly earns his living from writing. He lives with his wife, Julie, and they have a small croft with a wide mix of habitats from wooded riverbank to meadow and moorland – all good for wildlife of course. So with all this in mind, Roger now writes a monthly column for the Vine House Farm website which we very much hope you’ll follow and enjoy.