Friday, 20 May 2011

Savage weather, Survival of the fittest!

Right hello everyone another GWW update and after a savage month of May its been tricky on the wildlife front even on a place like Mull! Wet spells and a nasty westerly wind caused problems on the trips especially with not much chance to get out to the whale grounds and instead focus on sheltered waters.

Great Skua, Off Coll

Sunday 22nd May and it was a trip around my new local patch of Ardmore where I got success with both eagles as well as Male Hen harrier overhead. Goldcrest, Crossbill, Common Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and Cuckoo also as I made my way north to the northern Mull coastline.
I moved onto Craignure for a game of golf combined with the great array of wildlife you can get on the course. Nesting Terns and Common Gull's as well as Dunlin and Ringed Plover. Played medioka at golf loosing a couple of balls but did find a Top-Flite with 'JC' written on it!

what a bird!

Monday the 23rd and the most savage day of the year with gale force westerly and rain! Ruth and I had decided to do something the day before as the chance of both of us getting a day off together is rarer than an Orca sighting! We decided to brave the weather and soldier on and after deciding on a location we originally committed to Caliach point on the north west tip of the island to see nesting Great Skuas and Fulmar but with the strength of the wind coming in we decided to go to Croig instead for a small coastal walk. After trying to walk into the strong winds and nearly being swept off my feet it reminded my of the time when I was on the top of Heystacks in the Lakes and I got blown air born like 5 meters! The wind lifted me up like an empty crisp packet!
We made it down to a lovely stretch of beach and stopped for lunch and a doughnut and were enjoying watching a pair of Ringed Plovers and chick as well as Wheatear and Gannets out to sea. As we started to make our return journey back to the car an old man appeared from a holiday home a hundred yards up the hill and started waving frantically for us to come up and see him. At first we were like whats going on here! It was like the opening scene of a horror movie where everyone is skipping along all happy and then get invited into a strangers house who comes across all pleasant until you find out there cannibals with loads of body parts in there basement. As we got up to him he was a delightful old man (Peter) inviting us in for tea and biscuits. We went inside and met his wife Beverley who had some fantastic paintings on the wall that she had done. We had a nice chat for a good half hour and Peter pointed out the amazing view and the high waves crashing into the shore repeatedly about 15 times and also told me all about skype that they use to talk to their children and grand kids around the globe. I had never really known much about Skype but it was nice for an 80 year old man to teach me all about it!
We moved on after a nice break from the wind and headed back to the car and after travelling 15-20 minutes I seen a potential Hen Harrier to my right so reached for my Binos and realising that they were not on me and I had left them back at the Old couples house so we had to go all the way back and get them. Oh well sorry Ruth still a good adventure in savage conditions but I dont mind getting out and about in it because it adds to the challenge and creates great specticals like the huge waves charging into land and also the heavy rain firing down flattening the sea further out from the shore. It beats sitting in the pub talking to rabble any day of the week...less chit chat more action....full stop

Manxie....will never ever ever get bored of watching these birds in flight

A short trip on the Wednesday and an Otter and 5 GN Divers together off Ardmore were the highlights as well as Porpoise. On the evening I went up to see 'My' Goldies and anything else I could find. Had great views of Goldie as well as Male Hen Harrier, Crossbill and Cuckoo.

Shearwater lifting off

Thursady 26th and a day off as no trips because of the weather so I headed down to Loch Ba to cover the area around there. Also my parents, Tom and the dogs were heading up today which was exciting to see them for a few days. At Loch Ba I got male Redstart, GN Diver and WT Eagle flying through the valley. Afterwards headed south to Scallastle a forestry Commision woodland walk up a valley with lovely surrounding views. I received a text from Tom when I was up the valley saying that they had arrived on the island...Great! so I headed up to meet them at my flat where I told them to head to.
Mum, Dad and I had a nice walk around Aros park with John pointing out all the great variation of trees and plants in the old estate gardens. I showed them both fantastic waterfalls in the park as well which resemble the ones seen at Aira Force down in Cumbria.

Gannets, after watching them feeding a group of Common Dolphins appeared....

On the Friday it was a seven hour whale watch trip with VIP guest on board Tommy Milo! Mum and Dad were there to wave us away from the pontoon and with other people on board waving to their friends / relatives I quoted to saying it was like the opening scene from the Titanic and Tom was quick to point out that you should never bring up that subject when you are about to set sail out to the Atlantic Ocean for several hours! haha
The trip started well with great views of a Golden Eagle been mobbed by a hoodie near Ardmore. We moved and after John warning us to look out for Skuas with the strong westerly bringing in good numbers. On our way to Coll we had a Long-tailed Skua fly infront of the bow of our boat. The weather started to turn in the second half and it turned out to be really bad conditions on the journey back with a lot of the punters sheltering inside. We managed to get Porpoise spotted by Tom and also a group of 20+ distant Skuas.
On the evening we enjoyed a nice meal at the Waterfront resteraunt and I decided to be adventurous and try Mussels for the first time and they were mediocre they just tasted like fish to me. Ive never been a fan of trying new fancy food types I just like to keep it simple and get on with the day. Also the hugely driven food industry is what thretans a lot of now endangered species like with the ridiculous Shark fin soup and also Blue fin Tuna to name a few.

Carins of Coll, one of the places we visit on our trips

Fulmar, Ruth's fave bird, she says they cruise past the bow of the boat and wink at her!

28th - day off and off exploring the isand with the family. played golf at craignure first and i beat tom 1up in a 9 hole match play, not the best standard of match but we did get wt eagle, golden plover, ringed ploved, dunlin and lapwing with the waders being blown down in the strong winds on their journey north. Drove around south part of island and managed pair of harriers, 2 golden eagle, wt eagle and amazing scenery and landscapes everywhere. When we arrived at Loch Scridain we picked up a raptor of the skyline and we told mum to stop so we could check it out and I jumped out of the car and got the binos locked on the bird and after realising it was a buzzard we moved onto look for otters further round. We came across a crowd of people half a mile down the road so we stopped and asked to find out they were watching a big dog otter so we pulled up and started scanning. We ended up getting distant views of the Otter which was great so we got back in the car and moved on. I searched for my iphone and could not find it anywhere in the car and I was starting to get pished off. We decided to go back to where we seen the earlier Buzzard and I could see my phone lying in the middle of the road and i thought crist it is going to squashed by now surely! I jumped out and picked it up and it was fine and dandy with huge relief! I was defiantly doing to take good care of my phone in the futute as that will be a learning curb!

On the evening we had a chinese followed by the European cup final between manure and Barcalona. And as a Leeds United fan I will always route for the team manure are playing and barca have to be the best club team ever (apart from Revies Leeds!) and ended up as v easy 3-1 winners.

Kitiwake following us on one trip

Raven! I took this while Jonny Milo was responding to their call on the south Loch Na Keal road

Ringtale Hen Harrier, watching a pair near Loch Spelvie with the family

Well well well the family went early the next morning after a lovley few days and I was back to guiding on the Sunday and as I was getting into Greenie on the pontoon I dropped my bag in the water and what do you know my phone got a dunking and is now crocked! what a funny old world! So my iphone is out of action and I am very much missing my bird app and tree app as great field guides when I am out and about. The only positive i can take out of the whole thing is that it makes for a half decent story for my blog!

Boom! goldie locked!

At the start of the week I headed up to look for my Goldies and ended up getting my best views and photos yet with both birds showing really well riding the coastal winds. Here are some of my photos, click image for larger view......

My best goldie pic yet, im happy with it but the views of the bird were better

Looking down on a Goldie, now thats a rare occurrence!

Stunning, just love them!!

Minke whale, sightings are starting to get more consistent!

The first two whale watches of the week produced no whales with the main highlights being 2 LT Skuas, Dark Morph Arcitc Skua, GN Diver, Great Skua attacking a Kitiwake and a GBB Gull getting a crab mugged from it by a WT Eagle!
The remainder of the week proved very good for sightings with Minke whale sightings four days running and also a splinter pod of Common Dolphins joining us for a few minutes for a spot of bow riding. Also Basking Shark sightings are increasing.

A great encounter on one trip with an associating Arctic Skua......

Arctic Skua light morph

an Associating Skua!


One of My fave, a small number breeding on Coll

on the 6th of June I headed down to Craignure for a game of golf and also for a bit of wildlife. I got common and Arctic Tern by the course and also Dunlin. Out at sea I got a WT Eagle harrasing a Well boat up the sound of Mull. I moved onto north of Loch Spelvie to look for Short eared Owls and got success with 2 birds. The way they manoeuvre over the long grass is just sublime and a joy to watch. We get them from my Kitchen window back home and are very lucky to have them! On the way back a big cat ran across the road just north of Salen and I quickly rammed on the anchors and jumped out to chase it into the woods. It was gone before I got a glance but it was a big tabby that could of had potential.

Some video footage I got from the Goldies........

4 Second Goldie Clip.....

Golden Eagle riding the coastal winds on Mull.....

Arctic Skua Isle of Coll.....

2 Goldie's on Thermals
Goldie in Flight before Landing.....

Other sightings on the island in the last few weeks have included Red Necked Pharalope at Loch Na Keal, Sabine's Gull at Calgary bay, Dark Morph Pomarine Skua at Loch Na Keal spotted by Mike Shepherd. Bottlenose Dolphins seen in Loch Na Keal on a few occasions and also a group of 5 Killer Whales seen off Isle of Iona in mid May. Dotterel seen and photographed up on Ben More and Peregrine still seen daily on Tobermory main street.

On the 7th it was my Mums 60th Bday and just to say Happy Birthday Super Mum!

Thanks for reading,,,,The next few weeks I am going to focus on Adders, Slow worms, Dragonflies, Mountain Hares and a few of the smaller species on the island......cheers

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 :-)