Thursday, 12 May 2011

Dolphins, Basking Sharks, Eagles & A trip back home to Cumbria!

Hello everyone, some great encounters and stories from the last fortnight or so starting with a 7 hour whale watch explorer on Monday the 3rd. A small number on board with me and Andy Tait on as crew. Calm seas and sunshine and we headed out to the open waters in anticipation of a good sighting. When we stopped for tea and coffee out towards Coll I spotted a fin out towards 11 o'clock....Shark! A group of 4 Basking Sharks and over a month early compared to previous years! - Basking Sharks Courting, 03.05.11, Filming by Andy Tait

We moved on and a short time after Andy quoted it to be a good 'Dolphin day' he was locked on a group of Dolphins a good distance away heading towards us! It ended up being breathtaking views of Common Dolphins bow riding for 20 minutes! - Common Dolphin encounter - 03.05.11........Sorry about my mullet in shot! filming by Andy Tait.

C Dolphin Bow Riding...

Amazing animals....after watching their behaviour you can understand why they are so highly regarded as a species

Their intelligence when they approached the boat and associated with us was unbelievable

Headed back home to Gdale for a few days on Wednesday 4th. Nice to see family and dogs again and I was looking forward to seeing Leo the Long eared Owl that is roosting near by. Good trip down did not see any wildlife apart from a couple of dead badgers on the road. Driving through Glen Coe mountain range still takes my breath away every time!

Wow! what a stunner! admired the bird before heading to golf to see my old friends Greevy and Oil and after beating them both on the course with 39 points Gary the Rowlands Gill Birder came over in the afa. We bought stuff for BBQ and planned to head out camping but the rain set in so we stopped in but the BBQ on hold and watched the film 'The Beach'.

Leighton Moss here we come! Me Gary and Danny headed south to the north Lancashire border. We called into Sizegh Castle first of all to look for Hawfinch but no joy but I did get my first Swifts of the year there. We planned to call into Foulshaw Moss on route but after taking a few wrong turns and then finally finding the turn off but driving past it we decided to sack it off and head straight for Leighton Moss. We were also going to call into Milnthorpe and photograph the Fallow Deer but again missed the turn off so moved on.....

We arrived at Leighton Moss and after bragging about seeing 20 plus species before we even got there me and Danny thought we would surely get over 50 for the day and Gary did not think we would so we came up with a deal that if we got over 50 then Gary would have to fall over flat on his face in public that day! We visited the Eric Morecambe hides first of all and got 20+ Avocet, 2 Gadwell, Little Egret, Black-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Whitethroat, Sedge warbler, Reed Warbler and Kestrel.
We then headed up to the large quarry up the hill and after scanning the rock face for 20 minutes Gary superbly picked out a Peregrine with just its head showing from the nest site. A pair of Ravens nesting further to the left but no sign of Little Owl. After watching them for a while in lovely sunshine the Raven suddenly approached the Peregrine's nest site before being chased off by the Peregrine producing a superb aerial assult that happened right over our heads! If only I had my camera ready to get some video footage.....If.......If my gran was a man I wouldn't be here!

Leo! over 350 people being to see it from all over north england in the last few weeks!

We moved onto the main public hide at LM and we were getting very close to the 50 mark so a double or quits deal was introduced that if we get to 75 bird species Gary would have to fall over in public...with his tackle out! From the public hide we got at least 4 march Harrier and its the first time I had seen the male birds that are stunning! We also got Pochard, Great Crested Grebe, Sparrowhawk. No sign of bearded Tit or Bittern but it is a tricky time of the year to spot them. 63 bird species by the time we finished at LM and moving onto the nest site.


We brought the disposable BBQ down with us from the night before as well as all the food and the plan was to travel to St Bee's head on the evening and have a BBQ while enjoying the west coast sun set and the wildlife on offer there. So we headed off at 6ish to catch the last couple of hours of light and as we reached the coast towards barrow to head north the weather started turning! Thick dark rain clouds ahead and by the time we reached St Bee's we decided to call it off but when we were just north of the town a little opening in the weather gave us hope so we thought screw it lets go for it! We took a sharp left towards the coast and discovered a little deserted area under a narrow bridge covering a train line so we parked up jumped out and started the bbq up. It says you have to wait 20 min for it to be ready to cook but we just threw some sausages on and got on with it. We could see the storm working its way up the coast from the south and when the thunder and lighting started the spectical was amazing!
The sausages were cremated on the outside and pink on the inside but the storm caught us up so we fired them into rolls, a squirt of red sauce and we jumped into the car to eat them.

Sedge Warbler

We tried to spot some new species to crank our list upto 75 for the day but birds dont tend to show to well in a savage thunder and lightning storm! We followed the storm north up the west coast and got some amazing views of the cloud to ground vertical lighning strikes which beats a crappy firework display hands down by about a million times......fact......any natural event will always beat a man's intervened entertainment.

The next day and a trip to the Solway on the scots side with dad to cover a few areas out that way. We called into a few view points and ended up getting Curlew Sandpiper, Arctic and Common Tern, Kitiwake, Whimbrel, Dunlin, Ringed plover and 6 Harbour Porpoise. Checked out Longtown afterwards but no sign of the Black Tern on the ponds so we headed down to the stretch of the Eden as I was keen to photograph Yellow Wagtail but no joy again so I just admired the good number of Sand Martins on show.

While I was down in Cumbria Sealife Surveys had a 7 Hour Whale Watch on the Saturday......Here's how they got on.....


Travelled back to Mull on the Sunday and on the following monday there was no trips on so Ruth and I did a tour of the south part of the island delivering the newly updated 2011 Sealife Surveys leaflets to all the B&Bs, Hotels and Pubs. We did a rock-paper-scissors to decide who did what role and it ended up being me driving and Ruth delivering. We played the alphabet game while travelling down and we decided to start with coutries so we got going A....Albania.....B.....Belgium.....and then we got to E and it was Ruths go and 10 minutes down the line and she still couldn't get one! I had thought of 3.....I eventually told her the less obvious ones like Estonia and Equador before asking her which country she was born in???? a legend Ruthio is! Congratulations on your masters degree by the way Ruth!
On our travels right down to Finophort in the south west part of the island we got a female and a 1st year Hen Harrier, Otter, GN Diver and a brief glimpse of a Golden Eagle all by just driving around on the move...not bad going!

Goldie (click on image for larger scale)

20 second clip of a close encounter with a Golden Eagle

Tuesday the 10th and a 7 hour whale watch with 19 passengers on board. Savage conditions with rainy spells, strong wind and a big swell! It all adds to the enjoyable challenge of looking for wildlife! Porpoise, WT Eagle, GN Diver, Feeding gannets and Puffins.
On the evening I went looking for my favourite.....Eagles! I'm at the right place because Mull is the best place in Europe for density of breeding Eagles. I covered the north part of the island and ended up getting nice coastal views of a Golden Eagle with a nice record picture and a small video clip to go with it (Above). I got a Short Eared Owl on the Glengorm road on the way back as well.

Lochdon, South East Mull

Peregrine Falcon sat on weather vain on church tower on Tobermory main street

Durat Castle

Wood Warbler, Salen

Killiechronan higher ground

Sunday May 15th and a whale watch explorer it was with 4 passengers on board as we set sail in lovely Scottish rain! We started off with 6 Porpoise showing well at Ardmore point but no sign of the Eagles there. We moved onto the open water and the 'whale grounds'. On our way to Cairns of Coll the conditions were overcast with a little swell so good whale spotting conditions. A personal highlight for me was seeing a Long-Tailed Skua fly close by infront of our bow! My first sighting of the bird and as a fan of Skuas I was delighted to see it. Onto Cairns of Coll and we got a Black Throated Diver and Great Northern Diver and also 5 Basking sharks in the area. On the route back we had a good scan for whales but it was not to be. Back at Ardmore point just as the trip was coming to an end....boom....Golden Eagle in flight near bloody bay!

Basking Shark photography by Andy Currie

At the end of the trip we were heading back to the mooring in the small boat 'Greenie' and half way back to the pontoon she died on me so we were standard in the middle of the harbour so me and Ruth dream teamed it and grabbed an ore each and started rowing our way back to the pontoon with Popz supervising. we had no co-ordination at all and kept going sidewards instead of forwards but we eventually made it back to the pontoon safely.

Loch Na Keal with ben More mountain range in back drop

Thanks for reading everyone. I have recently purchased a Nikon D90 and Nikkor 70-300 lens so I am hoping it will lead to improved photography skills and also improved video quality as I hope to do more filming throughout the season especially on the boat trips. In the next couple of weeks I hope to discover more on the ilusive Wildcats in the north part of the island and also have set my self the target of decent Golden Eagle video footage as well as Minke whale.
Dragonflies will be active again and as I have a soft spot for them so I will hope to get some photos of a few of the species on Mull and learn a bit more about them.

Cheers :-)


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