Windy Whales and Dolphins

Published: 14th September 2017

Along with the rest of the country we had an unseasonably wet and windy week last week – not the ideal conditions for our cetaceans and sharks holiday! However, we made the most of a poor hand and in the end had a great week with some fabulous sightings. First and foremost, we went across to the Black Isle in search of better weather and booked on a dolphin trip with Ecoventures. We had a brilliant encounter with a pod of around 25 bottlenose dolphins, in glorious sunshine, which we kept company with for around half an hour. Later in the week we took advantage of Sealife Surveys’ confidence that we had a good chance of whales, despite a very wet and breezy day. Travelling towards Coll we were amazed to pick up at least 3 different minkes, and even more surprised that we could see these with relative ease from our elevated vantage point. As a bonus, we got a great view of some of the many seabirds that accompanied our trip, with thousands of shearwaters, and close fly-pasts of gannets, great skuas and storm petrels – very fitting. Our spotter, Andy, was brilliant at picking up stuff, and even alerted us to the smell of whale breath ( a severe case of halitosis). On return to Kilchoan we were treated to a pair of sea eagles hunting geese along the shoreline. Sharks have been few and far between this year, possibly because there have been so many whales around, and eluded us this week, but we were very grateful to see what marine life we did, given the conditions.

The rest of the week produced some other great sightings, not least that of 7 otters (3 pairs and a single) on Friday. We watched these fishing, sprainting, running along the shore and rolling on a weedy rock with paws in the air – awesome! To add to this, we also saw a juvenile sea eagle, a herd of wild goats, a pair of red squirrels and plenty of deer, all on the same day. Our trip across to the east coast was also great for raptors. We saw a merlin buzzing a raven, a peregrine mobbing a pair of buzzards and a couple of red kites. Other sightings that day included a covey of red grouse right next to the road and a herd of sika deer. A golden eagle was showing well in Glen Loy on the Sunday and we picked up two more pairs of sea eagles during the week. Other birds of note included Slavonian grebes on Loch Linnhe and several greenshanks. Yesterday I was delighted to see a juvenile goldie, also in Glen Loy – probably this year’s chick, as well as an adult, later
Other sightings of the week included some fine displays of Grass-of-Parnassus, along with the ubiquitous Devil’s-bit Scabious. Pale butterwort was still in flower, and with a bit of scratching around we found common butterwort, long-leaved and round-leaved sundew. The heather is just going over, but the hillsides were a riot of different colours. In odd burst of sunshine we managed to pick up a few dragonflies, including late golden-ringed, common hawker and black darter. Butterflies included a couple of lingering Scotch argus, speckled wood and green-veined white, with the late summer hatch of peacocks starting to emerge. The grasslands are full of hairy caterpillars, mostly eggar moth.

This week a bespoke holiday has also produced a wealth of great wildlife sightings for a lucky couple, including a ‘Big Five’ day on Monday. At one location we managed to spot a golden eagle, a pair of hen harriers, 3 sea eagles, 4 buzzards, a pair of ravens, red deer and two otters. We would be very grateful to find this number of goodies in a week, never mind a couple of hours. This is probably one of the best times of year to see raptors as youngsters flex their wings, whilst still being shadowed by their parents. To add further gloss to the day we had a very unusual sighting of an immature smew accompanying a merganser on Loch Linnhe. The smew was significantly smaller and more active than the merganser, with a shorter bill and a leaping dive. A rare visitor to these parts, this is the first smew we have seen in Lochaber. It just goes to show you never know what might turn up, particularly at this time of year.