Battle of the Stags on Taransay
In a vale on the far side of Taransay, extraordinary things are going on with our resident deer population. This is the rugged side of the island, well-blasted by the Atlantic winds and coastal graveyard to hundreds of unmoored buoys. But in the small vales and hollows, where there is good grazing, the rutting season has begun.
Up until only a week ago, the stags were clustered together like blokes comfortably seeking each others company. But then the testosterone kicks in, and they know the breeding season is upon them and they need to go solo. No wingman strategy here. The biggest and most aggressive will try and dominate the hinds, holding them into a herd. And it is clear that size matters: the large stags holding the hinds are the true alpha dogs of the pack. They weigh in at maybe 120-kgs, with strong haunches, and chests, and powerful 10-point or 12-point antlers.
Younger or smaller stags will approach the herd and try and get a look in. The old stags use an escalating arsenal of responses to see them off, the most common being their deep resonant roars, whose echoes make Taransay sound positively Jurassic.
And if any challengers stray too close then it is ‘game on.’ A challenge, a charge and a locking of antlers, which for the next few weeks will be well-used for what they are designed.
For the moment, age is winning, and the old stags are holding off the young. Those who hold the herd must be vigilant for the next 3-4 weeks, seeing off all those who would take their hinds.
But this means that they do not eat, and at the same time will be expending a lot of energy, leading to weight loss and a gradual weakening.
It often happens that the old geezers run out of steam at the final moment, and are bounced, losing this battle of virility, and handing over the gene pool to their younger rivals.
Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain
So we have all seen these things of evanescent beauty, but to play on an advertising slogan, ‘This is not just a rainbow. This is a Harris rainbow.’ Because the best rainbows in the world are surely in the Hebrides.
A monstrous claim? Well, we all know the cause of this phenomenon. If you have the sun behind you, and there is moist air in front of you, then from a 42 degree angle, the light will both refract and reflect, causing a band of colour that appears as a multi-coloured arc. And those of you who had good primary school teachers will recall that ‘Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain’ is a handy mnemonic to remind that spectrum runs Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet..
This optical illusion happens with great regularity and intensity on Harris, obviously as our richly variable weather provides shedloads of both a) moisture in the air, and b) blazing light at the right angle.
It is not unusual to see rainbows of an extraordinary intensity, taking on the appearance of a massive multi-coloured laser beam. If you are moving, it will also move, and on a coastal location you can glimpse an arc end scudding across the ocean, appearing to hit the waves. Tough place Harris, for Leprechauns. And then as suddenly as it magically appeared, the conditions change, and it vanishes. A signal that you are about to be hit by a squall or a hailstorm, but nobody ever regrets seeing a rainbow.
On lethargic salmon and lively sea trout
So we have now nearly completed the season on the Laxdale system, and like all fisheries in the Western Isles, it has not been great for salmon.
There were plenty in the system, as we could see them all there, passing through and occasionally jumping about. Trouble is, that they just did not seem to want to adhere themselves to the hooks that were being expertly cast by local and visiting anglers.
We ascribe this mainly to our wonderful summer, which gave fabulous days on the beach, but few spates due to restricted rainfall. The salmon will typically get livelier in the freshly oxygenated waters, and that is why true anglers are great fans of soggy dreic weather. But the salmon seemed to want to hunker down in the dark depths, and this was compounded by Eastern winds, which always give a low catch.
According to local lore, the theory here is that a salmon’s impeccable and mysterious instinct tells it that wind from the east means a low pressure system is coming from the Atlantic, and so it is best to lay low and await the rains. But this year, we got eastern winds, but no big rainfall from the west.
However, the poor showing on salmon was compensated for by the strong showing by sea trout. Sea tout tend to come in earlier than salmon and it may be that they were less affected by the eastern winds. Fish behavior, is always a bit of a mystery, and of course a matter of great local discussion and speculation. Maybe the salmon just wanted to get away from all the noise about the Scottish referendum. Whatever the case, we look forward to welcoming back our valiant and patient anglers next year.
Some nice wave action as autumn in the Atlantic begins….