with the unpronounceable name
favourite localities, their local patch or somewhere special that
they may not visit very often, but enjoy on the occasions when they
do. One of mine is a freshwater loch known locally as Loch Nig.
It is about 400 metres by 150 metres, so about 6 hectares in extent.
It is nowhere more than 2 metres deep and supports a rich growth
of aquatic vegetation. Nearly all Islay's very many freshwater lochs
are on acid soils such as peat, but Loch Nig is more fertile, as
much of the surrounding land is alluvium.
loch is situated close to the end of a bumpy track about 3.5 kilometres
long, so to get there either entails a fair walk or requires a 4-wheel
drive vehicle with good ground clearance. Fortunately the regular
goose counts that I undertake for Scottish Natural Heritage means
that I visit it on average about once a fortnight. And I look forward
to each visit, usually trying to reach it at about the time I would
normally have a short break for a mid-morning cup of coffee!
winter on Loch Nig, one of the few places on the island where they
do so. Although there is a large autumn passage, for example over
400 were seen on one day in late October, almost all these birds
pass on south to Ireland, leaving only a handful behind, and nearly
all on this one loch. This year, there were about 50 in early November,
dropping to 30 at the beginning of December, the majority of which
are likely to stay through to the spring. As well as the swans,
the loch supports a nice mixture of ducks, including Mallard, Teal,
Wigeon and Goldeneye, while Snipe, Redshank, Curlew and Lapwing
feed in the adjacent marshy ground.
On my last visit,
I spotted a bird bathing on the far side of the loch. As the bird
was facing directly towards me all I could see was a gleaming white
breast and a darker crown and back. It appeared quite large, perhaps
30 cm or more, but I found it difficult to be certain about either
the size or any markings because of the very vigorous splashing
going on, the bird ducking into the water and flapping its wings
and throwing curtains of water up into the air. I was about 400
metres away and had just switched from binoculars to telescope to
get a better view, when the bird ceased bathing and walked out of
the water and on to the bank. It then turned side-on to me and revealed
itself as an adult male Peregrine! I confess that I had not even
considered that as a possible species. As I continued to watch,
it flapped its wings several times and began to preen its by now
well-washed plumage. Another five minutes of this activity and then
it launched itself into the air and flew steadily away.
Those of you
who have read this far might yet be wondering why I have called
this piece 'The loch with the unpronounceable name' and, in particular,
what is difficult about the word 'Nig'. Well, nothing, but that
is merely the local name used in preference to its full name, which
is Lochan na Nigheadaireachd.
Ogilvie is a natural history writer and editor, formerly a research
scientist with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and resident
on the island of Islay since 1986. Until 1997, a member of the
'British Birds' editorial board and also one of the editorial
team which produced 'Birds of the Western Palearctic'.