Corran Ferry crossing is the number one wildlife hotspot
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.