31st December 2016 by Sven Rasmussen, Reserves Manager for West Central Scotland
Largiebaan is the second largest reserve managed by the Trust. It covers around 1600 hectares, and lies close to the end of a very long road down the Kintyre peninsula in Argyll.
It’s rugged and remote, with impressive sea-cliffs, miles of blanket bog and rough grassland, and views that are hard to beat.
This autumn I had one of my best wildlife spotting days ever on a trip to the reserve with some colleagues. It was a cool, clear day, with brambleberries fat and glossy in the sun at the side of the track, and the leaves of the ash trees we passed on the way in just starting to wither to gold and tan.
As we bounced and skidded up the loose gravel of The Brae, the rough access track, we heard a raucous shriek, and caught a flash of a white rump overhead. A jay! Possibly not at the top of everyone’s “must see” list, but the first one I’ve seen at Largiebaan.
Jays can be quite tricky to see, preferring to stay hidden in the cover of trees (although their shrieking calls give their presence away). They can be easier to see during the autumn as they fly longer distances in search of acorns.
Driving on up the glen towards the coastal cliffs we were treated to a spectacular view of two golden eagles. There are a number of pairs of eagles on the Kintyre peninsula, and it was fantastic that they’d chosen the same day as us to visit Largiebaan. Watching these enormous birds glide effortlessly up and down the glen was simply awe-inspiring.
As we continued west, through a gap in the conifer plantation, an eerie whistling call floated over the spruce trees. Reminiscent of the piercing, raspy squawks made by stretching the neck of an inflated balloon, it’s something that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you hear it, especially at close range.
It was a sika stag, calling to announce his presence in the area, staking his claim on the land and any hinds on it. sika deer were introduced to Britain from the far east in the mid-19th Century. They hybridise with native red deer, and this is threatening the genetic integrity of red deer population in Britain.
Leaving the plantation, we headed across the hill to the cliffs. Impressively high at over 100m, they tower over the Atlantic edge, with views of Rathlin Island and the coast of Northern Ireland behind it, and glimpses of the Hebrides on a good day. As we looked down the cliffs to the rocky shore, we realised that not all of the shapes we could see were boulders.
Several grey seal cows had pupped on the shore some weeks earlier, and using our binoculars, it was possible to make out the pups, like downy sausages, scattered across the beach. The younger pups still had the white coat they were born with, which is pretty poor camouflage! This is a relic of having evolved to blend in with snow and ice during previous ice ages. The older pups had already lost their conspicuous fluff, and were much harder to spot.
Later in the afternoon, after my colleagues had left, I was driving up a track towards the farm buildings, when a black grouse exploded from the cover on one side of the track. He flew within metres in front of me, landing not far away on a heathery hillside, and I could clearly see the distinctive white wing stripe, and lyre-shaped tail feathers.
I spent ten minutes or so admiring the crimson wattle above his eyes, and the iridescent sheen on his black feathers, highlighted perfectly in the warm autumn afternoon light. This was another first for me at Largiebaan, and it was heartening to see this beautiful bird, which appears to be making a tentative return after being largely absent from the area for a number of years.
I cut my admiration of the black grouse short as I had a meeting to get to, but there was one final treat in store for me. Continuing up the track, I stopped to open a gate when my eye was caught by a movement out over the blanket bog: a pale grey form gliding ghost-like low over the heath.
I had just a minute to admire the male hen harrier, with his light, blue-grey plumage and black wing tips, before he disappeared around the corner of a spruce plantation. Hen harriers suffered heavily from persecution and virtually disappeared from mainland Scotland in the early twentieth century, but they have started a slow recovery in recent decades.
It’s a long road to Largiebaan: head all the way down the Kintyre peninsula, through Campbeltown, and keep going. The track is rough, steep and long, and it’s a big place. This last visit was one to remember however, and reminded me why it’s worth the effort.
Sven Rasmussen is the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Reserves Manager for West Central Scotland
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