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Find out about the latest news and events going on in and around Torridon here.

My dreams of Orca

With the waters warming and the days long, wildlife cruises are now in full swing and sightings are coming in thick and fast.  Minke whales, dolphins, harbour porpoises, puffins, seals and sea eagles are  just a few of the many species already spotted in the crystal clear waters of the Minch.  But there is one rare resident species I long to see, and hopefully this year my luck will change – the first sightings of Orca have been reported today.

Spotted by the mystical Shiant Islands by Hebdridean Whales Cruises, this small pod of nine whales are thought to be the only resident population in the British Isles and have been dubbed the ‘West Coast Community’. The pod, which ranges from the north and west coast of Scotland to Ireland’s west coast, is thought to contain just nine older animals – 5 females and 4 males and to date no calves have ever been recorded.  As a result, sightings of Orcas are rare so every sighting is important to further the ongoing research about this pod, which is being undertaken by the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust.  Thanks to their dedication, each of the adult animals can be individually identified by the size, shape and distinctive nicks and markings of their dorsal fins, and as a result, the HWDT’s has a photo-identification catalogue which currently recognises about 10 individuals.  Two of the most distinctive whales are two males, nicknamed “John Cole or Notch”, due to the large distinctive notch in its fin, and “Floppy” – well, the clue is in the name!

Two orcas whales surfacing, torridon wildlifeOrcas are instantly recognisable; large black dorsal fins (an adult male’s dorsal can stand 6 foot!) and distinctive white and black colouration. Adult whales measure 5.5 to 9.5 metres in length and can live for up to 90 years; females are generally smaller and longer-lived than males. Orcas are actually the largest member of the dolphin family; – the name ‘killer whale’ comes from the fact that some populations prey on whales.  They are highly mobile and can travel at speeds of 35 mph, which enables them to travel vast distances in short periods of time. While migratory orca pods are opportunistic feeders and will eat a variety of prey, the small pod off the west coast are thought to be exclusively marine mammal eaters.

So while I continue in my quest to see these wonderful whales, if you are one of the lucky few who manage to be in the right place at the right time, once you’ve taken your pictures, put your camera down and savour the moment, as you are having an experience of a lifetime.

Images courtesy of Hebridean Whales Cruises, Gairloch

Beinn Eighe Sea Eagles successfully hatch

08-MAY-2014

Visitors to the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve (NNR) visitor centre in Wester Ross will be treated to fantastic close up views of sea eagle chicks this summer.

Local staff have announced the successful hatching of one chick (now two since writing this!) at the nest on Loch Maree Islands.

It has been regularly used by the pair of eagles for the past 16 years, and last year Scottish Natural Heritage, which manages Britain’s oldest NNR, installed a remote camera which sends live footage via radio signals to the visitor centre in nearby Kinlochewe.

Eoghain Maclean, the reserve manager, spotted the fluffy chick poking out above the nest cup, and breathed a sigh of relief:

“We’ve got to know these birds well over the years  they were both Norwegian chicks which were released in the area in the early 1990s as part of the reintroduction programme,” he confirmed.

“Weather can have a big impact at nesting time, so it’s always a special moment when you actually see the chicks for the first time. It’s a logistical challenge to bring the pictures in to the centre, but when you see the quality of the images it’s well worth the effort.

“The cameras will allow close views of the adults bringing in food for the chicks, and people will be able to monitor their progress as they grow, and hopefully fledge the nest in late summer. Sea eagles frequently rear two chicks, so we’ll be watching the screen eagerly to see if another one appears”.

The Beinn Eighe visitor centre, Torridon, is open seven days a week, 10am to 5pm.

Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve (NNR), which is owned and managed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) lies 80 kilometres west of Inverness just outside the village of Kinlochewe. The largest remaining area of ancient Caledonian pinewood in Wester Ross, it also boasts an outstanding diversity of upland, heath and wetland habitats, scottish wildlife, geology and spectacular scenery.

For more information visit www.nnr-scotland.org.uk

The Eagles have landed & the cameras are on

Live images of the resident Sea Eagles busy building their nest on the shores of Loch Maree are now being relayed to the Beinn Eighe Visitor Center.  After the disappointment of last year, hopes are high that this year they will be successful in rearing a new brood of chicks through to fledging.

Mainly confined to the west coast of Scotland (with some now being introduced on the east coast), there are now estimated to be between 37-44 pairs of Sea Eagles breeding in the UK, so the possibility of being able to be close-up and personal with these magnificent rare birds as they bring up their chicks, is a privileged treat.

Sea Eagle in Loch Maree, Torridon, Scottish HighlandsSited within the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, the male’s loud calls, which characterizes the arrival of spring and the breeding season, can be heard around the reserve.  Their eyrie (nest) is built from twigs and branches and lined with a mixture of both rushes and grasses. And as they use the same eyrie for many years, as more nesting material is added it can attain an enormous size.

So if you are in the area, why not pay a visit to the Beinn Eighe visitor centre for a very special encounter with one of the rarest UK and Scottish Highlands wildlife species.

The Beinn Eighe visitor centre is open seven days a week from 10am to 5pm from Monday 31 March to the end of September.

Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve (NNR), which is owned and managed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) lies 80 kilometres west of Inverness just outside the village of Kinlochewe. The largest remaining area of ancient Caledonian pinewood in Wester Ross, it also boasts an outstanding diversity of upland, heath and wetland habitats, wildlife, geology and spectacular scenery. The Reserve includes the 8 kilometre long ridge of Beinn Eighe. Its rugged slopes support one of the UK’s best areas of species-rich moss heath and prostrate juniper heath. Rare lichens, liverworts and mosses flourish from the high peaks to the mild, damp woodlands. Golden eagles also soar over the mountain ridges and below the tree line pine marten, crossbills and northern emerald dragonfly make their home in the ancient pinewoods.

Beinn Eighe is one of over 50 NNRs in Scotland and the first one declared in the UK. NNRs are special places where some of the best examples of Scotland’s wildlife are cared for. Nature is the first priority on NNRs, but people are welcome to discover the rich natural heritage of these places and to contribute to our knowledge and enjoyment of these areas.

 

Come and enjoy a safe wintry Torridon - Avalanche risk forecasts available for Torridon

With the first snows of the season appearing on the tops of the Torridon Mountains, it has been announced by Sportscotland Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) that they will be providing avalanche risk forecasts for the area for the first time. This is great news for anyone planning to visit the area to enjoy some winter walking or climbing.

Starting on 24th December, the forecasts will run as a trial for this winter, and will be provided for weekends, the christmas and new year period and the mid term breaks during February. This will make Torridon the fifth area for which SAIS provides forecasts, with Creag Meagaidh, Glencoe, Lochaber and North and South Cairngorms already receiving regular reports.

In the Annual Season Report for Season 2012/13 the SAIS said : “In summary the winter of 2012/13 was a long one, characterised by generally cold temperatures throughout.
“Without the usual thaw cycles that are common in a Scottish winter, instabilities were maintained and weak layers persisted for long periods in the snowpack in a number of forecast areas.

“This snowpack presented a challenging situation for the determination of avalanche hazard, especially when the calm and clear conditions presented a misleading perception of a benign landscape.”

129 avalanches were recorded last winter, of which 3 resulted in the tragic loss of 8 lives – the highest number in four years.

The reports advises “For anyone going into the mountains it is good practice to read the detail of the SAIS avalanche reports throughout the winter, this keeps people up to date with the “snowpack story”. Snowpack history is an essential factor to consider in the avalanche assessment process, providing valuable information on snowpack stability and distribution before starting out. Additionally, having set out, people should monitor the situation on the ground throughout the journey. Observing how the wind is transporting snow on the hills and weaknesses such as, surface cracking underfoot, will help determine what slopes may present uncertainty concerning snowpack instability. This information will help in making route choices during the day.”

You can view the Avalanche forecasts here. So with this new invaluable information service at your fingertips, we hope you will come and enjoy a wintry Torridon.

Help the Bealach na Ba become "Britain's best ride".

The Bealach na Ba at Applecross is going head to head with 4 other cycling routes to be crowned “Britain’s best Ride”, in a joint competition run by Cycling Plus Magazine, Halfords and Boardman Bikes.

After narrowing down the huge list sent in by readers of the magazine, the Bealach is up against the following routes, each of which were videoed when the team completed the routes :

Now I’m not trying to be biased, but can any of these really compete with the Bealach? The scenery is stunning, it offers you the biggest challenge in the UK from sea level to 2053ft in 6 miles, and then the best coast road you can probably find – with about another 30 climbs. Oh, and no traffic!

So if there is any justice in this world the absolute stunning Bealach na Ba should run away with this prestigious title, and help make Wester Ross become the place to visit for cyclists.

So get voting.  Click here to have your vote (Voting closes 12 November).

Aurora Borealis lights up the Highlands

I could name many differences between the cartoon town of Springfield and Torridon. But apart from there being a distinct lack of power stations, women with blue hair (well, maybe), and Krusty Burger outlets in Torridon, one major difference is that the Northern Lights have been known to be seen outside in Torridon, rather than just in Principal Skinner’s kitchen in Springfield.

Two fantastic media images capturing the Aurora Borealis in the Highlands have been picked up by the BBC this year – last week Byron Lewis on the Isle of Lewis took a photo of a meteor lighting up the display, while earlier on in the year, Maciej Winiayczyk, an amateur astrologer, captured a video of “light shining” clouds in conjunction with the Northern Lights near Caithness. And in March, even closer to home, Kalvin Fraser captured the display lighting up Gairloch.

Earlier this year, the Telegraph reported that NASA scientists are saying we are approaching a “solar flip” this coming December. To the layman, this means that conditions for viewing the lights are likely to be very good this winter, and also next, as a result of an increase in solar activity. The solar cycle that governs the Northern Lights runs for 11 years, and the spectacular sights we have seen this year and last certainly back up the view that they are at their most dramatic in this current period.

The display, which is almost impossible to predict, is formed when solar particles entering the atmosphere release burning gases that produce coloured lights. Typically the best viewing times are between September and March, and, whilst the received wisdom is that you need to head further north to the Nordic countries to see them, there are regular sightings in Scotland (as you can see above), and these  tend to be more impressive during periods of high solar activity. So, if you’re heading up to the Highlands of Scotland this winter and you see some weird lights in the sky, don’t assume it’s the effects of a few too many whiskies – it could be Aurora Borealis.

Christian around Britain reaches Torridon

After 434 days of walking, covering roughly 5000 miles and now on his 12th pair of walking boots, Christian Nock has reached our area.

Walking to raise funds for Help the Heros and to raise awareness of the plight of homelessness of ex-soldiers, of which he has personal experience, Christian decided to take on the epic challenge of walking the coast of Britain, starting and finishing in Blackpool.  Daunting enough as that sounds, he also took the decision to sleep rough every night, and even though is has received numerous offers of warm comfy bedrooms, he has declined them all.

With 2/3rds of his journey completed, Christian was interviewed by local radio station Two Lochs radio.  Click here  to listen to what he had to say about his experiences so far.

You can also keep track of his progress via his facebook page or his support page and if you would like to make a donation to help him on his way, donations can be made on his fundraising page.

Swimming Britain - Sean Conway setting a new record

Have you ever been tempted to take on the challenge of swimming from Land’s End to John O’Groats?  No!  Well believe it or not you are not the only one, as it has never been attempted.  That was until now.

conway route

Sean Conway, an endurance adventurer has undertaken this 900 mile challenge and set off on the 1st July from Land’s End.  You can listen to the motivation behind why he has decided to do this here. After 15 weeks of incredible swimming, basically swimming further than the English Channel every day, on the 14th October, he swam past the mouth of Loch Torridon and on into the Minch.

With less than 200 miles to go you can track his final few days on the Swimming Britain website.

Sean Conway is no stranger to challenges, having already cycled around the world, cycled from London to the Alps and climbed Kilimanjaro dressed as a penguin!

The Roar of the Hills

I shall never forget the first time I heard it.

Walking along the shores of Loch Torridon I froze to the spot as a spine tingling guttural roar echoed out around the hills.  What on earth was that?!  I had a sudden flash back to the night I was brought bolt upright in bed, inside my flimsy tent on the plains of the Serengeti, as I heard the chilling call of a male lion.  He sounded huge and extremely close, just like the call I had just heard!  Don’t be stupid, I told myself,  I’m in Scotland.

Its early October and autumn is just starting to make its presence known, with cool nights and cold mornings.  But on the moorlands things are hotting up.  It’s time for the red deer rutt, and the noise I had heard was the first hormonal call of a male stag on the slopes of Liathach.

October to early November is the peak of the red deer rutting season.  Tensions and testosterone levels are rising as Britain’s largest land animal battles for dominance and mating rights for the hinds.  The only problem is that every other stag has the same thing on his mind.

In order to maintain control over his harem of hinds the dominant stag must constantly drive away his rivals. The stream of guttural roars that now echo out around the hills are his way of announcing his superiority over the other males trying to poach his females.

If that fails, then things become serious.  Parallel stamping to check out the size of his rival and if he still doesn’t back down, then war is declared.  The clashing of antlers rings out and a competition of strength and stamina now ensues.  Sometimes its over in a flash with the contender realizing that he has bitten off a little bit more that he had bargained for and makes a hasty retreat.  But other times, when both stags are well matched, the battle is intense, and can lead to some serious injuries caused by those magnificent antlers.

Its certainly a sight to behold, and Torridon has a good number of red deer, which are seen frequently on the hills.  But if you are planning on going to watch this magnificent scene, a few words of caution.

The males can weigh upto 190kg.  They are pumped up with hormones and ready to take on anything they think is a threat to their hinds.  Those antlers are sharp, powerful and could do you some serious harm.  Make sure you keep a safe distance – watching through binoculars will keep a good distance between you.  DON’T take your four legged friend with you – that is a recipe for disaster.  And NEVER get in between the stag and his hinds.

Hearing those roars ringing out around the hills is enough for me.  I know what they are and what they mean.  Autumn has arrived.  But I will never forget that first one.

Celtman Extreme Triathlon

The 2nd Celtman Scottish Extreme Triathlon was held in Torridon this year on July 6, and won by Graeme Stewart. Here’s what he had to say about the experience.

The race started with a mere 3.8km swim in cool waters of Loch Shieldaig. Once out of the water and after a quick kit change, the contestants were off on a 202km bike ride along wonderful crazy highland roads.  To complete the race contestants then had the small task of running a marathon.  But this is the Celtman, so no ordinary marathon will do.  This marathon takes them up 2 munros.  Madness!!

The weather on the day was appalling, choppy waters, rain and strong winds. For some the swim was as far as they managed, as the water was pretty cold.  Slowly throughout the day the weather got worse and by the time the runners had entered the marathon section, only a handful were allowed up the mountain, as conditions had become so bad.  The rest had to run around the back of Liathach.

After a long day Graeme Stewart came in victorious with a time of 12hrs 16mins.  And for the girls, Kathrin Mueller from the Skinfit Team finished in a great time of 13hrs 5 mins.(Kathrin’s time was faster than the women’s course record of 13:55 held by Susanne Buckenlei, but due to the severe weather, she made a slight deviation from the course. Therefore Susanne’s record still stands).

If you fancy it, CELTMAN 2014 will be on June 28th, and entry opens on the 4 November for two weeks only.  So be sure to put the date in  your diary!