Sunday, 5 September 2010

Wildlife on and around Eagle Island Summer 2010

Minke surfacing by Ardamurchan lighthouse (5)

Game on! hello everyone first of all sorry for the delayed updates throughout the summer I have got an OK excuse to go with it which you will find out as you read the updates of my postings. To kick it all off I went to Isle of Mull at the end of July to work the remainder of the season up there as a Wildlife guide on a whale watching research boat called Sea Life Surveys. As soon as the offer came in I was quick to agree to it as I knew what the job entailed after my two week trial period there in June. The potential wildlife and sightings that I could see as well just added to the excitement of getting started.

Osprey over Loch Na Keal (2)

The first week I worked their I camped about 12 miles from Tobermory in a more central part of the island. The weather was the usual mixed bag but I got used to it as the week went on and with a WT Eagle nest 300 yards away and sightings like Osprey over the sea loch It made things a lot easier!

Manx Shearwater

One double shafter I had on the first week was forgetting a camping mat and sleeping bag! I did do a list of what to bring trying to be organised but I forgot to skwiggle those items on it! This made it more of a Ray Mears survival week making a tent out of my underpants, but I made it through and here I am typing it up on my blog, of course you can laugh at it now its over!

Manxie in good numbers on trips

The Wildlife trips that week produced some good sightings with Minke Whale, Good number of Basking Sharks, Common Dolphin bow riding, WT Eagle, Porpoise, Great Skua and Sooty Shearwater.

Great Skua

The week went fast and on the friday I planned to go home for the weekend as I had a physio appointment about my ankle and also golf club championships on the sunday as well as Leeds on tv as well. The camp site fella did not ask me for my money for the whole week so I just took off and spent my extra £15 on crisps and the annual Mull bird record book. It ended up not been the best weekend in the world with the golf going bad even though I was one under after 9 holes I managed to cock it up! also Leeds lost at home to Derby. Never mind im sure people have had worse weekends but....I was going to say 'worse things happen at sea' but that wont be the best phrase to use in my situation.

WT Eagle 1st Year molting

My second week up there was very busy being two trips a day with 30-40 people in each trip so very hectic and no time for photography or my own trips looking for birds and wildlife. I did have a day off where I explored the northern part of the island doing a lap of honour and stopping off a number of times to scan.

Red Deer

Red Deer are plentiful on the island and I got this photo on the way to the fossil tree. The golden eagles on the island and in Scotland as a whole have had a good breeding success this season because of the hard winter and widespread snow producing a lot of Deer carrion a vital food source for the birds.

Juvenile Kittiwake

More Minke whale sightings on week 2 and you never ever get bored of seeing them. Watching them is such a joy the fluency and beauty of them as they surface, breaking the water. Also Basking sharks in good numbers and the reliable WT Eagles at Ardmore point the most northern part of Mull.

Map layout and numbers displaying labelled locations

I lodged a room at a b&b in Tobermory for the second week and at £50 a week it was a steal. It fetl like staying at a Hilton hotel after camping on the first week. I had a chair! I had a bed! and their was also a Border Terrier living their and a stunning tabby kitten next door so it was all gravy!

Wild Farrell Goats near Fossill Tree (4)

Moving into week three and a day off at the start of the week produced an exciting wildlife related day. When you have a full day and the weather is good on Mull you are literally spoiled for choice with where to go and I am no good at making decisions in a bakery between steak pie and chicken and mushroom! I committed to a decision of going to the fossill tree but a quick drive round the Goldie territories first as it was prime raptor weather with a strong wind and a heated sun.

Golden Eag! (6)

I headed up the north Loch Na Keal (2) towards the Ulva ferry and I was doing my usual scanning the skies and horizons nearly crashing my motor on every corner and then booom!!!...I didn't crash I just spotted 2 Golden Eagles (6) 100 yards up over the car! unreal views.....have a shmigal at the photo, I shouted 'I Love you' at the birds when they were at their closest, could not help it just instinct.

WTSE (4)

On to the main event of the fossil tree (4) and to kick off the large 15 mile walk I got two red deer by the car park. Birds on the way to the tree included Yellowhammer, Goldcrest, Stonechat, Wheatear, Buzzard, Merlin and onto the main event of Juvenile Goldie Mobbing a WT Eagle near the Fossill Tree!

Juv Goldie Mobbing its larger cousin

Golden Ringed Dragonfly on route to 50 Million year old fossil (4)

Another good spell of weather produced cracking wildlife sightings for the boat trips including Common Dolphin Bow riding, Bottlenose Dolphin, Sooty Shearwater, Minke Whales and Sunfish. I will discuss the sightings on the boat trips in more detail on my next blog going over the work involved on the trips.


Week four on the isle of Mullock and it just gets better and better really with sightings. Very busy with two trips a day in mid August, Prime time for tourists and the weather was producing some good spells. Sightings on the boat included possible Baleric Shearwater, Storm Petrol, RT Diver, Minkes, Basking Shark and to top it all off 3 Rissos Dolphins (5) spotted by head guide Ewan Bernard Milo! success! first sighing in a few years of this species! they were a joy to watch and very curious and sociable following the boat for more than 15 minutes! For the whole whale watching explorer trip that day it rained flat out for seven hours ( seven hour shower) but the wildlife was on top form as were the conditions for spotting stuff with a calm flat sea and no glaze from the overcast clouds meant we also got Minke whale, Bottlenose Dolphin, Porpoise and Basking Shark. It was special to have such a successful trip even though the rain was pelting down.

Minke Whale!

WT Eagle

Week five on the wildlife front and and more success as the weather cranked up another notch to scorchio and getting the sun lotion out on every boat trip! I was made head Guide on the Monday so more responsibility and it made me try extra extra hard to spot stuff and make sure everyone else seen everything on show and got the best out of the experience. The trip was not a let down as we headed past Ardemurchan point and towards the isle of Muck we got a magic couple of minutes of birding action with the first sighting being one of my all time highlights on the birding front as a large patterned bird cruised past the bow of the boat where I was sitting on the monkey deck, at first glance I thought it was a Juv Gannett but looking closer it was a large Shearwater species! I got enough colour and markings off it to ID on my iphone app right there and conformation was it was a Great Shearwater (1) as it had a black cap and white neck sides! A great record and a joy to watch a bird that size skating the calm seas with such fluency! success! Hold the phone it didnt end their as a Great Northern Diver flew past minutes later followed by 7 Arctic Skua (1) light morph, What a spell! Dont think all the passangers seen the action but ti was great for me personally! The passengers did get good views of Minkes and Sharks on the trip back though and the voyage was a great one!

You Beauty! Minke surfacing inbetween two sharks :-)

The wildlife action continued through the week with a day of two shorter trips providing 3 Risso Dolphin! again at the same place near Kayak point. To add to that we got a young Minke whale (7) on the 2 hour eco trip at Ardmore point to go with Sharks, Porpoise, eagles and seals! their was only 5 passengers on the short trip but you know the term 'getting your moneys worth' well fook me did they!!

Harbour Seal at the Cairns of Coll (3)

On my last outing of the season me and Yorkie were the top guides and we had a 4 hour trip to find some beasties and again it was gravy all round with top sightings with the highlight being an assossiating Minke (5) whale near the end of the trip circling the boat just meters off and surfacing right up close! I was in charge of the photo ID shots of the dorsal fin and couldn't miss as any old retard could of got good photos with a disposable camera from Boots. it was some spectacle but no photos to show as they all went to the company's database! The memory is the most important bit though and I will certainly remember it for life!

Basking Shark! (5)

An end of season staff do was on the cards in mid September to travel to the isle of Muck and do a bit of island hopping to go with it. Again I was on alert at all times as I did not want to miss a trick! especially in this part of the world anything could pop up!
On the way to Muck we got Minke always a super sight! Mint! when we landed on the island itself I went for a wonder to check the potential of the island and got waders such as Turnstone, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Curlew. Also Rock Pipit, Pied Fly and Common Seals by the shore. I headed inland and within two minutes I knew that I was gonna see nowt in terms of raptors and other predators on the island cos the place was full of pheasant pens and rearing red legged partridge coups. Went for a wonder round the quite deserted landscape, apart from a fucking annoying pheasant jumping out on me every two minutes. The scenery was obviously nice and looking out to sea and the other hebridean islands. I kept a look out for migrants especially Lapland bunting as their had been an influx in the area in the last week or so but no joy.
So overall quiet on the wildlife front..muck by name and muck by nature. It was great to read about Rum and Egg the other small isles in the inner Hebrides being complete nature reserves and being full of life.
We headed over to Eigg the next day and I was really excited about the place. When we arrived we walked up the Skerr the highest point and after talking to some wildlife guides from Mallaig thry informed me that the place was a haven with 10 pairs of Hen Harriers, 2 pairs of Goldies, SEO and LEO, Merlin, Tawny. Barn owl. I scopped an Otter down by the cafe but did not see an awful lot more but its just great to know that there is wildlife there!
On the trip back got Storm P, Great Skua, Fulmer, Gannetts, Basking Shark.

My blog posting update of all my work related experience will be uploaded in the next few days so look out for that! thanks for looking :-)

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