European Otter – April

©Nick Sidle – Full Screen Image

Out of the sea for a short time, whilst hunting along the coast on a rising tide, just after dawn at North Kessock on The Black Isle in Ross and Cromarty, Highland Scotland.

Otters are shy and elusive animals and difficult to see but patience and getting up early can be rewarded. There are many stories about them, including the one recorded by J Wentworth Day writing in 1937, who described a belief on the West Coast that there were ‘Otter Altars’, flat rocks by the sea worn flat by centuries of use as dining tables by Otters on migration. Scientifically this is dubious, Otters do not really migrate and even for a well used rock, their numbers would be unlikely to erode the surface till it was flat. This is almost certainly a case of confusing cause and effect and association. Otters do not start by using pointed rocks and make them flat. They do however like to come out of the water to eat, often do this at preferred sites and convenient, already flat, rocks are very likely to be used again and again.

This otter is on the East side of Highlands and was found this morning in the traditional territories of Clan Mackenzie.

Nick

Gallery – Scotland’s Clans and Families

Gallery – Clan Mackenzie

Gallery – Black Isle

Gallery – Scotland’s Mammals

European Otter – Lutra lutra

Capercaillie – April

©Nick Sidle – Full Screen Image

The Capercaillie is a very large Grouse like bird long associated with the native woodlands of Scotland. Over hunting and habitat loss meant it ceased to be found in the country by the late 1700’s but later reintroductions from Sweden have meant that it is once again part of the wild backdrop to the Scottish landscape.

The name Capercaillie appears with various spellings but all seem to stem from the Gaelic, although there is more than one possible root there as well. The most widely quoted is Capall coille meaning Horse of the Woods, believed to refer to the sheer size of the bird and the calls of the male in spring which, with a little imagination, could be said to sound like a horse, and a phrase in its more routine song, which can be described as ‘tik-up’, resembling the sound of a horse’s hooves. An alternative Gaelic base is Gabhar-coille, The Goat of the Wood, possibly coming from the male’s goat-like beard and, especially this time of the year, belligerence. Males display and compete ferociously with each other for females but have been known to show aggression to people and even vehicles that stray into what they see as their part of the forest in spring.

Capercaillie are declining in numbers again and great efforts are being made to keep them as part of the Scottish wild forest. This one is in part of the Cairngorms National Park, which put it in the traditional lands of the Macpherson clan but all the great Scottish families would have been familiar with this majestic bird in their ancestral homelands in past centuries.

Gallery – Scotland’s Clans and Families

Gallery – Clan Macpherson

Gallery – Cairngorms National Park

Gallery – Scotland’s Birds

Nick

Western Capercaillie – Tetrao urogallus

Energy Saving

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Full Screen Image – Lion’s Mane Jellyfish, Ardmair Bay, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

A new study published this month in the journal ‘Nature Communications’ completely rewrites ideas about jellyfish movement;

Suction-based propulsion as a basis for efficient animal swimming

What the scientists have discovered, as the name of their paper suggests, is that instead of pushing themselves along using positive pressure behind them, as in most propulsion systems including swimming, jellyfish (and Lampreys) create a lower pressure ahead of their direction of travel and so are sucked forwards and that this is one of the most energy efficient systems that can be achieved. In the long term, it could even provide a model for lower energy technologies to power ships and submarines. If we could master it, it might even be a way of raising human performance in Olympic swimming events but somehow I can’t see top athletes plunging into the pool gripping a high technology straw between their teeth any time soon. More sensibly though, given the insight, it could lead to a recognition of more efficient movements in human swimming although collectively we have as a species had quite a long time to get it right through trial and error, even without the research.

The Lion’s Mane is a jellyfish that can be seen regularly around the North West coast of Scotland. It is the species which is the villain in the Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane’. Presumably since it is supposed to be a mystery at the start of the tale, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle relied on not enough of his readers making the connection from the title, apologies if I’ve given the game away for anyone who has not read it. A bonus piece of Sherlock Holmes trivia  for anyone who is interested, although that may be a limited audience, ‘The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane’ is one of only two stories written as being narrated by Holmes himself, not Dr Watson. The other is ‘The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier’.

Nick

Marine Scotland gallery

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish – Cyanea capillata

Game of Thrones

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Full Screen Image – Northern Raven Nest, Crask of Aigas, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

Ravens stand out in many ways. They are the world’s largest perching bird, they are known for their intelligence and, it is said, if they leave the Tower of London the kingdom will fall, a belief which appears to date from the reign of Charles II, who would of course have a personal interest in the security of the throne and a rather heightened concern for how things could work out given what happened to his father. Presumably this only applies if they all leave at once, since various members of the Raven contingent have absented themselves, including the case of the rather appropriately named Raven Grog who was last seen outside a London East End pub, or have even been asked to leave like Raven George was dismissed for eating television aerials.

This might of course be a rather strange dietary preference, a strong commentary on the artistic quality of modern television or could it even have been an attempt to gain power and influence in society by controlling the media, something which every aspiring totalitarian ruler dreams of? Unlikely of course, there is no evidence that Ravens have the slightest interest in influencing human affairs of state, apart from anything else it now seems they are quite busy enough making power plays in their own political world. A study at the University of Vienna has shown that Raven society is strongly founded on making alliances and bonds between individuals and that the most effective social climbers in that world not only put a lot of effort into forming new positive relationships for themselves, but they also work quite hard to undermine, damage or prevent the formation of the partnerships of their rivals and work hardest to do this the more successful and powerful a potential rival becomes.

Current Biology – Ravens Intervene in Others’ Bonding Attempts

The team in Vienna speculate that having definitely shown this behaviour in Ravens, it should also be considered as linked to observed or possible similar strategies in other highly social species including other corvids, dolphins, hyaenas and primates. Primates? That is worrying, if true it might even mean people do it as well……

Nick

Scotland’s Birds gallery

Northern Raven – Corvus corax