Whales and Dolphins September 2016

Published: 18th September 2016

Glenloy Wildlife ran its inaugural Whales and Sharks holiday in the first week of September. This was something of a taster, as we needed a combination of suitable weather and wildlife to make the week work. All-in-all it was deemed a success, thankfully. Although the weather was mixed, we managed to organise boat trips for the best days of the week, when the sea was pretty calm and we even managed to enjoy some sun. On the first day of the holiday we took the Sheerwater from Arisaig out to Eigg. We could see pretty much every black dot on the water, making wildlife watching very easy. In total we had as many as 11 different sightings of minke whales, although these were not necessarily all of different animals. We also soon lost count of the number of porpoise seen, some coming right out of the water in a very dolphin-like manner. Add to this loads of seals, diving gannets, a sea dotted with shearwaters, flotillas of auks and a bonus great skua and we were off to a flying start. We even saw a pair of sea eagles being mobbed by ravens whilst wandering on Eigg.

Later in the week we rose early and took a long day cruise with Ardnamurchan Charters from Laga Bay on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. The sea conditions were again great, but it was a bit drizzly in the morning. On the way over we spotted a dipper on the River Moidart, and stopping to look at this, we all saw that there was a kingfisher perched on the same rock – an auspicious start! |We enjoyed the trip out to Carna, where skipper Andy told us something about the conservation projects in operation there as well as the otters for which it is famous. Cruising around the islands in Loch Sunart we saw a juvenile sea eagle perched on a rock, close enough to photograph.  Further out we saw porpoise and a pair of adult sea eagles, also really close, perched on a skerry above dozing seals. Flocks of auks, gannets and shearwaters had moved right up into the Sound of Mull. We crossed the open ocean to the Cairns of Coll, a hot-spot for basking shark. Unfortunately, no sharks were feeding at the surface that day, but the skerries were covered in seals, shags and gulls, and it was fascinating to weave in and out of them. We were rewarded nearby with a school of common dolphin that rode the bow waves for a while. Delicate storm petrels flitted across the waves as we moved on to Muck.  A whale was spotted in the deep trench just off the island as we approached. The return trip skirted Ardnamurchan Point,  passing the lighthouse and affording great views of the fantastic geology of the area with folds,  faults and volcanic intrusions readily visible along the cliffs. We re-encountered the same pair of adult sea eagles, this time flying low over the cliffs, and had a golden eagle over Ben Hiant. A final bonus was a small herd of wild goats on one of the islands in Loch Sunart. Thanks to Andy for a great day.

We also travelled across to Chanonry Point to look for the bottlenose dolphins, but were unsuccessful this time, which was disappointing. A couple of sandwich terns, a very curious common seal pup and flocks of turnstone and plovers provided some compensation as we scanned the choppy waves. We also called in at Loch Ruthven to see the Slavonian grebes. The adults were still sporting breeding plumage and a youngster was doing its own thing at the head of the loch. We also saw several red kites in the vicinity, but the ospreys appear to have moved on. A nice mixed flock of small birds contained goldcrest, treecreeper,  long-tailed tits and a wood warbler as well as the usual tits and chaffinches. Later that week we saw Slavonian grebe in Loch Linnhe, also still in breeding plumage. Clearly these birds are starting to move out to the coast, though the individuals here may well have come from Scandanavia. Red-throated divers were also spotted in the same area – with some difficulty as they spent most of their time fishing!

Other wildlife was sought during the week, naturally. We saw four breeds of deer, including the magnificent herd of estate red stags by Loch Sunart. We watched an otter fishing in Loch Leven and a pair of young otters play (?) fighting in the waters of Loch Linnhe. The pine martens continued to appear daily, with up to three beasts at any one time. The smaller kits appear to be very shy and do not often appear, but the mother continues to take food away from the Lodge to feed them. Red squirrels were seen at Inchree, though there appears to be quite a lot of selective felling being carried out close to the path above the falls, which must make them a bit nervous. The black grouse were lekking slightly more vigorously. Further eagles were spotted soaring above the hillsides. Amongst the usual cast off small birds the swallows and martins were gathering and fattening up before their long journeys south. Despite some late season butterflies and dragonflies it seems that autumn is upon us in the Highlands.