Cor­ran Ferry cross­ing is the num­ber one wildlife hotspot

The Oban Times - - District - Iain Thorn­ber iain.thorn­ber@bt­in­ter­net.com

A BUSY ferry cross­ing is not a place nor­mally associated with see­ing na­ture at its best but the fast-flow­ing Cor­ran Nar­rows, sep­a­rat­ing Ard­gour from Nether Lochaber, is rapidly be­com­ing the num­ber one wildlife hotspot in the area.

In the past few weeks, Ge­orge Mait­land, cap­tain of the MV Cor­ran, and his sharp- eyed crew have wit­nessed a num­ber of deer, in­clud­ing a roe buck, swim­ming across Loch Linnhe from Ard­gour to the op­po­site shore.

Roe deer are strong swim­mers and, de­spite their size, will of­ten tackle stretches of open sea and busy in­ter-is­land ship­ping lanes but man­age to avoid be­ing run down. A farming friend tells me he once watched a roe cross a river in full spate and it was im­pres­sive. Even more eye- catch­ing was the cloud of ‘mist’ when the an­i­mal shook it­self once it reached dry land – an amaz­ing show of en­ergy for an an­i­mal weigh­ing, on av­er­age, only 35lbs. Deer have prob­a­bly been swim­ming the 550-yard wide Cor­ran Nar­rows from time im­memo­rial but sight­ings are rare and have largely gone un­recorded.

Ad­ja­cent to the Ard­gour slip­way, there is a steamer pier on which sev­eral pairs of black guille­mot are nest­ing. Bored, per­haps, of wait­ing for their eggs to hatch, one or other of the par­ents reg­u­larly flies onto the up­per decks of the ferry where, un­per­turbed by the con­stant noise, fumes and the flow of traf­fic be­low, they en­joy cross­ing to and fro for hours at a time.

Swal­lows are an­other species which have formed an at­tach­ment with the ferry. In calm weather, es­pe­cially in the early morn­ing, dozens of them ac­com­pany the ves­sel about half way over the nar­rows, flit­ting and weav­ing amongst each other near the bow-loader. Pre­sum­ably they are feed­ing on small flies which are be­ing pushed ahead en masse by the mas­sive ver­ti­cal ramp. Herons fre­quently land on the slip­ways be­tween fer­ries to feed on fry driven ashore by mack­erel and other preda­tors. Later in the year once the wa­ter tem­per­a­ture rises, por­poises, dol­phins and the oc­ca­sional minke whale and bask­ing shark are seen pass­ing through. Red deer also are noted swim­mers and I have al­ready given some ex­am­ples of their prow­ess in these col­umns. Pity the poor hind who, a few years ago, swam two-and-a-half miles across Loch Linnhe from Morvern to the is­land of Lis­more and was met by a hail of lead as soon as she landed.

Spot­ted on the way over, the Lio­saich were wait­ing for her with ri­fles and felled her on the beach be­fore she could draw breath. One hopes the cul­prits who feasted on the un­lucky beast had sore stom­achs for weeks af­ter­wards.

What mo­ti­vates an­i­mals to take to the wa­ter of their own vo­li­tion? Clearly many do so to es­cape man but there must be other rea­sons why the grass is greener on the other side.

Ian Mackin­non, who was born and brought up on Jura and now lives in Kilmelford, has a colos­sal knowl­edge, which he will­ingly shares, of the is­land’s his­tory and its sur­round­ing wa­ters.

He has watched stags in Oc­to­ber brave the tem­pes­tu­ous 12-knot cur­rents in the Gulf of Cor­ryvrecken to reach the is­land of Scarba. Co­in­cid­ing as it does with the rut, this sug­gests they had scented hinds in the wind and were go­ing over to breed.

Some, he feels, get the tide wrong and are washed out on the Great Race to the Garvel­lach Is­lands, seven miles away. I would sug­gest, far from mis­judg­ing the tide, they were tak­ing ad­van­tage of it to carry them along to pas­tures new. There is no doubt an­i­mals have a sort of in-built clock – some­thing I have wit­nessed among the wild goats on Jura.

From the great sea caves around Loch Tar­bert, which have been my home for many a night, I have watched them mi­grate in sin­gle-file from the high ground to the shore on the turn of the tide to feast on suc­cu­lent kelp stems. How, oth­er­wise, would they know when the wa­ter was re­ced­ing? Ian Mackin­non tells me that dur­ing the Sec­ond World War Ger­man U-Boats were reg­u­larly seen ly­ing off the sparsely-pop­u­lated north west coat of Jura to al­low their crews to go ashore for fresh meat. On one oc­ca­sion an armed party landed by rub­ber dinghy at Shian Bay where they man­aged to kill some deer and goats. They were spot­ted from the hill by Don­ald McColl, the Tar­bert Es­tate stalker, and his ghillie. Af­ter watch­ing them for a while the ghillie suggested that as they had a ri­fle with them they should take the op­por­tu­nity of try­ing to shoot a few of the en­emy. Don­ald would have none of it, say­ing that as the U-Boat’s deck gun was cov­er­ing the shore party, it wouldn’t be long be­fore it was turned on them if they re­vealed their po­si­tion. He also thought the crew were prob­a­bly starv­ing and not do­ing a lot of harm.

Later the same sub­ma­rine was pho­tographed near Ard­more Point on Is­lay with deer car­casses hang­ing round its con­ning tower to dry.

A roe deer buck swim­ming.

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