Thursday, December 30, 2010

Countdown to Hogmanay...

Hogmanay Celebrations will begin tomorrow evening to welcome in the New Year. Fortunately for travellers the snow has mostly disappeared from lower levels and the temperature is about 6C with the odd patch of fog drifting along the Great Glen and hovering over the water of Loch Ness.
On the way to Inverness yesterday we parked and looked across at the stunning reflection of Urquhart Castle jutting out into Loch Ness.On the return journey we stopped near the village of Dores to look at the amazing view down Loch Ness towards Fort Augustus.The sun was setting quite low and sparkling on the water and snowy mountain sides and the colours in the sky were beautiful.
Enjoy your Hogmanay Celebrations. Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Stag party

During the last week most of the snow and ice on lower ground has melted in the warmer temperatures although there are still some white patches on higher levels. The deer and stags are now able to get to the grass and moss easier and are filling up before the coming cold snap which is forecast very soon.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

White Xmas for this Red Squirrel

Last December as the snow rapidly descended we watched from the windows of Aspenwood Cottage as this very hungry red squirrel dashed from the forest nearby and fed on the peanut feeder on the fence outside the lounge window.  By the end of his lunch he looked like a bit like a Christmas decoration. We just managed to make it back home in time before the blizzard really set in but we did keep all the wildlife well provided for during the chilly winter period. This year the snow, although arriving early, has not been so bad as in the central belt [Glasgow and Edinburgh] and today the temperatures have risen to well above freezing. During Spring 2010 we did have a new 'squirrel platform fence' erected to make life easier for all the wildlife who visit and it works a treat.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Looking forward to Thursday....

It is still very cold with the odd flurry of snow but the forecast for Thursday is that temperatures are going to climb well above freezing during the day and night, so hopefully we shall see the back of this early wintery spell. This year the snow arrived a month earlier than last year but we were well prepared. It does look very picturesque mainly because most of the snow remains inaccessable and is still wonderfully white. The hungry deer have been down at lower levels and are foraging nearby for grass and digging up any they can see.
Luckily the sacks of sunflower hearts and suet balls arrived by van and the birds, of all shapes and sizes, are extremely grateful for anything on the menu.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Looking for food...

There has been no more snow here for the last few days although it has been bitterly cold and there are long icicles forming on the sheer rock surfaces at the bottom of Inverfarigaig hill. The road into Inverness is clear and has been well gritted so we went into town to get some provisions, passing a picturesque snowy Urquhart Castle jutting out onto Loch Ness on the way. This famous castle is open all year except for Xmas Day and is a very popular attraction, steeped in history and mystery.

On the journey in and out we noticed several buzzards by the loch side keeping a beady eye out onto the snowy fields for anything edible, which would be very easy to spot in these untouched white conditions.
We even saw a buzzard sitting on a post at the side of the road in town on the new road by Fairways Golf Course. On the way back we got behind a line of cars stationary near the Dores roundabout and wondered what was going on when we saw a deer on the pavement by the side of the road. It had emerged from some woodland and nobody was quite sure which way it intended to run. It took a long look at all the cars and wisely decided to go back into the woods. Before we went home we drove to Aspenwood to feed the birds and noticed lots of footprints in the snow, birds, pheasants, deer and a pine marten's prints crossing the carport. All the creatures are really looking hard for something to eat.
Later in the afternoon we noticed a weird scene towards the east just beyond Urquhart Castle. The sun was glistening very brightly on the snow but we knew that the sun set would be in the west....a strange but beautiful weather phenomenon.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

St. Andrew's Day

Today is St. Andrew's Day - the patron saint of Scotland and the sunset tonight was just magical. We were outside putting rock salt down on our driveway at 3.30pm for a getaway early tomorrow morning  and just catching the last of the light when we noticed the sunset on the west at Fort Augustus....must have been some saint !

Monday, November 29, 2010

Loads of snow.

It has now become very cold with fresh snow falling every night and the forecast of well below zero temperatures this week during the day and night. We wake up to a new layer of snow around the house and hear the swarms of birds noisily requesting their breakfast. I put on several warm layers and my new wellies and fill up all the feeders and ground feeding stations and remembered to order some more sacks of sunflower hearts... hopefully delivery vans can get to us. After last years big freeze we are better prepared and have several salt bins filled up at various positions, spades and shovels of all sizes and sledges just in case.

We went up to Aspenwood Cottage to feed the birds and also do some work inside the cottage ready for our guests who are arriving soon. We look forward to seeing them and wish them a safe journey. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Snow arrives in the Highlands

It has been snowing here on South Loch Ness Side since Wednesday afternoon off and on although not as bad as in other parts of the UK. Even neighbouring villages situated on higher ground are experiencing much worse weather conditions than we are and we seem to be in some sort of 'happy valley' at this lower level by Loch Ness Side. The scenes surrounding us have been very picturesque and the walk this morning up to the post box was relaxing with many stops along the way just to admire the small wonders of the natural world.
Sit back and enjoy the walk turn the sound up ..but not if you are supposed to be in the office working !
PS ....the birds did know something !

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What do they know ?

Colder weather and snow is forecast for later this week and the birds seem to sense something chilly is in the air. A wider variety of species are now appearing at the feeding stations and gorging on the sunflower hearts and peanuts. Yesterday we watched as a mixture of finches - goldfinches, chaffinches and greenfinches - came to visit often at the same time. We were really pleased to see the great spotted woodpecker make a brief appearance on the aspen tree by the house as he has ignored us for months.
We also had a rare visitor at the bird bath of a 'tree sparrow' with its prominent white chest. This may not sound very exciting but have never seen one before. It is a finch-like bird, smaller than a house sparrow with a deep conical bill adapted for seed eating. It is on the Red List of high conservation concern and is in we were very fortunate to even see one.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Breakfast all round.

While enjoying breakfast this morning we noticed this young deer at the bottom of the driveway standing quite still on his spindly legs and staring up at the house, possibly his first visit. Then we noticed two more deer on the grassy front bank enjoying their breakfast. A few years ago this area was covered in trees but we had them cut down to allow more light into the house and also to provide wood for the log fire. Our woodcutter is coming today to finish chopping the big birch logs into more manageable pieces for the winter fires ahead.

Monday, November 15, 2010

November misty morning

After a very chilly night we woke to see frost everywhere and the first snow of the season on the mountain opposite, 'Mealfurvonie' the highest peak around Loch Ness.

The freezing fog was rolling in from the South West and skimming the top of the water of Loch Ness and we could just make out the silhouette of Urquhart Castle on the opposite shore. Took a walk down to the beach but had to tread carefully as the pebbles were fused together and covered with stiff frosty leaves. The fog was really low and thick now but the view east to Inverness was much brighter and the lapping of the waves was very relaxing.
Although the chairs on the beach looked inviting they too were covered in frost so walked back home for a hot 'special' coffee and a mince pie.

Turn up the sound on the video and relax on the beach too.

Monday, November 08, 2010

New addition at the Highland Wildlife Park

A new 23 month old male polar bear has now moved into his own enclosure at the Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie called Walker. He has been transported from Rhenen Zoo in the Netherlands and has settled in well investigating his new surroundings and playing about in the he has now become a brown bear for a while. Walker's mother Huggies is expecting another litter so zoo bosses decided it was time to find him a new home before she gives birth.
He has seen his new companion, 28 year old 'Mercedes', until now the UK's only resident polar bear, who is not too sure of this new young addition but will calm down in time and they will be introduced gradually. In the long term it is hoped that Walker will become the park's breeding male with the introduction of a new young female once Mercedes has passed away.
Find out more about Walker and the Highland Wildlife Park - a good day out from Aspenwood and only a pleasant 50 mile trip passing by Aviemore.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Autumn colours around Loch Ness

This morning we woke up to a lovely blue sky which really highlighted the beautiful golden colours of autumn on the trees surrounding Loch Ness. The temperature did not manage to climb into double figures and there is the possibility of a frost tonight accompanied by a sky full of stars. Not so many walkers now and the bench leading down to the beach is quite lonely.

Monday, November 01, 2010

November weather

November has started off with wild, wet and windy weather producing many unusual double rainbows. There is never a dull moment weatherwise and the Autumn colours on the hillside around Loch Ness are just beautiful. The water on the loch has been very choppy but that did not deter several hardy sailors taking a last trip out before harbouring their boats for the Winter.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Birds from foreign shores

There has been a sudden influx of migrant blackbirds from Northern Europe who are very hungry and thirsty and spend alot of time eating, drinking and splashing about in the bird bath. Not sure exactly what weather conditions they left behind them.

Birdwatchers in the north have been reporting large invasions of exotic waxwings, a bird the size of a starling that breeds in Russia and Northern Scandinavia. They have a silky grey-brown plumage with waxy red,white and yellow markings on each wing, a prominent crest and a black throat. These invasions are quite erratic, possibly due to a failure in the crop of their favourite food of rowan berries or a population explosion after a particularly good rowan harvest. Flocks this week have been sighted in Sutherland, Nethybridge, at the RSPB nature reserve at Abernethy and, not far from here, a flock of about 150 at Burghead in Moray.
We have actually seen waxwings once before about ten years ago when a large gang suddenly descended on the nearby rowan trees in late September and rapidly stripped the trees bare of berries.
Update Wednesday...We think we saw a flock of them in Inverness this morning.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Holm Mills Shopping Village..

We took a drive to Holm Mills Shopping Village to stock up on our favourite Glenfiddich mince pies which one of our guests treated us to the other week.From Aspenwood turn left and travel along the Dores Road towards Inverness.Go straight across the first roundabout on the outskirts of the city and pass the Mace store and P.O. on your right. Then look out for the signs on the left to the Holm Mills Shopping Village and James Pringle weavers.
This is the perfect place to buy all the holiday mementoes to take back home with you and all under one roof.Shop here for gifts & souvenirs, CD’s & Videos, tartan wear, books, jewellery, ladies & gents fashion, art equipment, tartan rugs, food, shortbread and of course WHISKY.
 Visit the Golf Shop. See the James Pringle Weaving Exhibition. Relax and enjoy a coffee, snack or meal from the Ghillies Restaurant.Trace your Scottish ancestry in the database of over 50,000 names. The computer will provide you with historic information and details of any clan connection which you can then print out on an elegant scroll for a keepsake. Take your tartan home with you and there are over 500 tartans available from small mementoes and gifts to full highland dress.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Early birds

Now that the leaves are falling everywhere It is very important to keep the bird bath clean from the seed dropped from the bird table above as well as the leaves blown into the bath. I do try and scrub the bird bath thoroughly most days to remove the debris and this young chaffinch seemed to really appreciate the clean water provided.
Driving back from Inverness today we noticed snow on the top of Ben Wyvis - a mountain to the north-east of Inverness and we hear that snow is forecast above the 1,000 ft snow line tomorrow night so we may see some white stuff on the mountain opposite Aspenwood. We were surprised to see the front runners of a gang of long tailed tits this afternoon on the peanut feeders in our garden as we don't usually see them until late December/early January...what does this all mean ?????

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Autumn colours

The leaves on the trees are beginning to change into all different shades before they tumble to the ground and the top road is now looking very colourful as we drive into Inverness. From Monday we have been experiencing extremely low cloud and freezing fog with temperatures in single figures and poor visibility. This contrasts sharply to the weather we had over the past weekend.The sky was a clear blue and it was unseasonably mild with temperatures in the mid 60F on the west coast and the Isle of Skye in particular. Several boating craft took to the water to enjoy this mild spell and we watched this magnificent large private yacht in full sail as we stood in Aspenwood garden.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Watch the birdies.

The pheasant chicks born in June this year somewhere near Aspenwood are now nearly fully grown and a remaining group of three females are often to be seen in the area surrounding the cottage and waiting under the feeding fence for a free meal.
Many different species of birds visit the feeding fence for the rich variety of food placed out to help them through the colder months ahead such as sunflower hearts, seed, peanuts and suet balls in secure feeders, as red squirrels have been known to hurl them to the ground in a frenzy.
There are bird books and binoculars for guests to use to help identify the different species which can be seen on the feeding fence just outside the lounge window.
Lately we have been visited by several red-legged partridges who, along with all the other creatures, have to be able to dodge the unwelcome sparrowhawks in the vicinity. 

Monday, October 04, 2010

Loch Ness Marathon 2010

Walked up to Aspenwood Cottage gate to watch and cheer on the Loch Ness Marathon runners pass by en route from Whitebridge to Bught Park in Inverness. This year has the largest entry field in the history of the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon and Festival of Running with more than 8,600 runners from 41 different countries.There are several events as well as the 26 mile Marathon - the River Ness 10K, the 10K Corporate Challenge, the 5K Fun Run and, new this year, the Wee Nessie 400m for pre-school children.
First past the winning post was a Great Britain International, although originally born in Ethiopia, Tomas Abyn who first won this race 7 years ago. He finished in 2hrs 20mins and 50secs. The winning female was also from Ethiopia and was competing for the first time and finished about 20 minutes later.
Even though it was raining we all cheered on the runners, some very colourfully dressed, as they thundered or limped along in front of us. Last year one of our guests took part in the Marathon and completed it. This year a guest was intending to participate but sadly had to pull out due to an injury but he did walk up from Aspenwood Cottage to watch and cheer on his two friends who were able to compete.
 As we walked back home the rain stopped and the sun came out so the rest of the Marathon was completed in  sunshine which must have been alot easier-if that is possible- and much more pleasant and scenic for all concerned.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Where did September go ?

We find it hard to believe that October is now upon us and the weather has been really showing off and extremely changeable with sun, showers, rain and quite strong winds causing white water on Loch Ness. We celebrated Ray's birthday this week and were pleasantly pleased to be able to sit outside after our evening meal and watch the sunset with a wee dram in hand.
The following evening was very chilly so we hastily collected some logs and coal and sat by a blazing fire for the first time since the snowy winter finished. Clear blue sky in the morning with reports of frost in some sheltered glens but that did not deter the Ness Express zooming along with its excited passengers although it did disturb the amazing reflection in the water.
Certain plants are in bud and flower again and the wildlife do not seem to know that Autumn is just round the corner. There are still juvenile birds turning up on the bird table and feeders and this rather huge young greenfinch even surprised the local chaffinches.
The red squirrels are still appearing to dine at the nut feeders at Aspenwood according to our guests and we often see them darting across the roads. The pheasant chicks born in July are now nearly as big as their mother and they are often under the feeding fence hoovering up any dropped seed.
The three young deer are still wandering around the area and early this morning they were eating near the bench we placed at the top of the track leading down to the wee beach. We have had alot of fun putting this bench there as passing walkers do a double take when they see it, read the message on it and then look up at our house. We give them a friendly wave and they give us the thumbs up and then they gratefully sit down exhausted after their hike. 
Hope the weather is fair this coming Sunday as it is the Loch Ness Marathon so hopefully we will go up to the gate to cheer them on and take a few photos.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ducks in Dores.

A bright weekend but very chilly with reports in the local newspaper of a 2 inch covering of snow on the Cairngorm Mountains, enough for children to enjoy but not enough for skiing just yet. Took a trip into Inverness on Sunday and stopped at the Dores Inn on the way back for a walk along the beach and to enjoy the view...this is one of our favourites. The car park was quite full of people having Sunday lunch and the resident ducks were, not surprisingly, full up too. The Jacobite Queen came into view sailing along close to the opposite shore after taking passengers on a trip to Urquhart Castle and back to Inverness.