Scotland Day Fifteen: Glen Etive

Birds sighted: chaffinch, Hooded Crow, Song Thrush, Cuckoo, Great Spotted Woodpecker
Mammals: Red Deer

Some observations on driving: In Scotland driving would be much improved by installing a periscope and radar capabilities in vehicles (or they should just build narrower cars and trucks to fit the unbelievably narrow roads). It's just a thought.

Not a great photo, but it is a Great Spotted Woodpecker

Today, a male and female Great Spotted Woodpeckers joined the chaffinches and seagulls in eating the offerings I left outside of the cottage. The male Great Spotted Woodpecker has a great technique with peanuts. First, he hammers a few and gulps them down. Second, he grabs one peanut and stows it in his bill and then grabs another so that he has two lined up in his bill, after which he flies off to where, I assume, he is feeding young still in the nest.

Now the seagulls on the other hand, Common Gulls, took two days to figure out how to get the bread I scattered on the patio. For two days they'd swoop down but never land or grab anything. They just fluttered around the yard pathetically, while Hooded Crows shouted encouragement in the distance. But today they figured out that they needed to land and then grab some bread.

Glen Etive

Glen Etive in the rain

In the afternoon we drove down the one track road to Glen Etive. This drive comes highly recommended from several sources. It's supposed to be a beautiful drive and great place to hike. And it is, minus the midges, but I'll get to that. Driving down the glen toward the head of Loch Etive is another wild and woolly drive on a one track road through some really high and dramatic peaks. We saw red deer stags grazing along the river running along the bottom of the glen.

The Monarch of the Glen

As you approach the head of the loch though, you end up wandering through a dense rhododendron thicket that is miles long. While its pretty to look at with all the purple flowers and all, it was rather difficult to drive through on one track because you cannot see anything that coming toward you. We ended up nose to nose with several vehicles (thus my wish for a periscope and radar etc.) and lots of tricky backing up had to be done. We saw and heard a cuckoo in this area, hanging out in a pine tree. The one track road sort of fizzles out at an old farm at the head of the loch. This is a pretty area and we were greeted by ducks, chickens, suspicious geese, one particularly surly looking rooster, and another rather voracious blood sucking creature called the midge.

The head of Loch Etive


We stepped out of the car. We applied bug repellent. We walked toward the loch. It took exactly one minute and twenty seconds for the bug repellent to stop working. We were surrounded. There were so many midges that we had no choice but to inhale some of them. We ran for the car. We jumped in and slammed the doors. Unfortunately, that hermetically sealed about 3000 of the little buggers in the car with us. Unlike North American blackflies, who tend to go all dormant and non-bitey when inside cars or houses, midges just get sneaky. They slowly crawled up our pant legs, sleeves and even under our shirts. They slowly tortured us for the next twelve or so miles, which was how long it took to get to a place were we could suck them out of the car by rolling down the windows and driving really fast. Well, one thing was accomplished I suppose, we did contribute to the genetic diversity of the midges in the Glencoe area by transporting populations to areas they would not have reached otherwise.

And here I feel the need to break copyright laws and post this in honor of the Scottish Midgie:

by Edwin Morgan
extracted from "Scottish Poems" collected by John Rice

The evening is perfect, my sisters.
The loch lies silent, the air is still.
The sun’sl ast rays linger over the water
and there is a faint smirr, almost a smudge
of summer rain. Sisters, I smell supper,
and what is more perfect than supper?
It is emerging from the wood,
in twos and threes, a dozen in all,
making such a chatter and a clatter
as it reaches the rocky shore,
admiring the arrangements of the light.
See the innocents, my sisters,
the clumsy ones, the laughing ones,
the rolled-up sleeves and the flapping shorts,
there is even a kilt (the god of the midges,
you are good to us!) So gather your forces,
leave your tree trunks, forsake the rushes,
fly up from the sour brown mosses
to the seek flesh of face and forearm.
Think of your eggs. What does the egg need?
Blood, and blood. Blood is what the egg needs.
Our men have done their bit, they’ve gone,
it was all they were good for, poor dears. Now
it is up to us. The egg is quietly screaming
for supper, blood, supper, blood, supper!
Attack, my little Draculas, my Amazons!
Look at those flailing arms and stamping feet.
They’re running, swatting, swearing, oh they’re hopeless.
Keep at them, ladies. This is a feast.
this is a midsummer night’s dream.
Soon we shall all lie down filled and rich,
and lay, and lay, and lay, and lay, and lay.

Stob Dearg, on the way back to Glencoe
The Three Sisters, Glencoe


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