Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Red-necked Phalarope & Pine Martens!

The island is exploding into life now as the Scottish holidays are upon us and another busy week with trips along with two of my good friends coming up for a visit. Andy and Danny came to experience some of the areas wildlife, and see me of course! They were not disappointed as we encountered one of Britain's rarest mammals and also one of our rarest breeding birds!

My Flickr page has been updated with my latest wildlife and landscape captures from this season on Mull, take a look here - http://www.flickr.com/photos/60733110@N05/

An interesting article on research into how Storm Petrels use smell to pick a genetically suitable mate. It is a well known phonoman with mammals but it was originally thought that birds used sight and sound to target potential partners. European Storm Petrels stay in the colony they were born so they share it with a number of family members so a bad choice may have catastrophic consequences. http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/18884757

'An exhilarating sight' is how one of Cumbrian's residents described his encounter with a newly introduced Red Kite in the region. The final batch of birds will be released in Grizedale in the next couple of weeks.

Another date is available for Shark charters this year after the great success back in June. 4th - 11th August for a week diving and filming with Basking Sharks along with the option of experiencing some of Mull's other wildlife. http://www.acuatours.com/dive-basking-sharks-uk.html

Sula Crion is being chartered out by a project funded by SNH and UoE to satilite tag Basking Sharks in our waters and track their movements which you can folow here - http://www.wildlifetracking.org/index.shtml?tag_id=120496

The iconic Eagle Owl, were they once native in the UK? 

Two brand new raptor books released this year are reviewed on RP. I am currently reading Eagle Days by Stuart Rae and really enjoying it and learning plenty.

A great video by Andy Tait on a Sea Life Surveys Whalewatch explorer where we encountered a group of Common Dolphins, look out for the very small calf present in the pod. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UkdEkNN3Ok&feature=youtu.be

Shark Charter with a close Basker encounter just before jumping in with them

Pine Martens at Stag Cottage

Saturday 7th and the usual full day whalewatch it was with a moderate north wind in the air with Lewy as Skipper and Ruth Abernethy (Winky) on board with friend Mary. We headed north to Muck to seek more sheltered waters as we tackled the rough seas without seeing a great deal before arriving at Muck for lunch. Andy T tried out the GoPro on a curious Herring Gull to capture some funny underwater footage.
We had more success on the way in going with the wind as we had two Minke whale encounters well spotted in the tricky chop.
Back at the pontoon I was greeted by Danny and Greevy who had arrived safely on the island and already encountered a male Hen Harrier. We all headed out to Calgary beach on the evening for BBQ and a bit of Cricket  but rain stopped play so we all headed to Sharkys for shelter.

Sunday was a four hour trip with Greevy and Danny on board and Lewy skippering in again choppy conditions. We did well and picked up a Minke off Ardnamurchan point and also had an amazing encounter with a pair of intruding WT Eagles on the way in, watch video here by Andy T.

Monday was back to a full day Whalewatch with a strong north westerly wind. We managed to make it across to the Carins of Coll where it exploded into life as we had 6 Basking Sharks, Minke whale and a Red-necked Phalarope! which was spotted by Danny sat on the water a few meters off our starboard bow. A highlight which nearly topped all these sightings was on the way across when we tackled a rough wave Danny was holding on to the railings at the front and when the wave crashed into our bow momentum took Dannys binos and they whacked him in the face! very funny, reminded me of when we were 10 pin bowling and Danny bowled a ball into the back of his foot! On the way in the main point of interest was a WT Eagle harassing a Gannet.

Tuesday was another WW with calmer winds giving more opportunity for sightings. More good numbers of Baskers and a couple of Minkes to go with it. A small pod of Common Dolphins were encountered as well which were feeding so we left them to it. Storm Petrels seen and a pair of dark Arctic Skuas were seen tormenting terns at the Carins of Coll in a battle of the Arctic's! Had a chat to a family on the way back as they overheard us talking about Pine Martens and they recommended us visit a location on Ardnamurchan where they own a cottage and said they get daily sightings of the rare mustelids. As we had Wed and Thur we planned the trip on the evening to cover a few sites at the real wild west of Ardnamurchan district.

First Pine Marten of the evening! 
each animal has a unique pattern with their cream bib to help identify individuals

Loch Doilet
Wednesday and the Ardnamurchan adventure was all go as we boarded the Kilchoan ferry from Tobermory in the early afternoon across to the mainland. As we made our way to the east we took a slight de-tour as I wanted to have a closer look at Fascadale which I often see from the sea. A few houses widely spaced by the shoreline it was a lovely little place but on the way back Andy spotted a large object in the sky...Golden Eagle!...it showed for about 20 seconds before disappearing in classic Goldie style. As we made our way down the loch Sunart road we admired the stunning varied landscapes as we made our way to Strontian and headed north from there over the glens to our destination.
On arrival we baited the area with peanut butter on bread in case there would be some early evening feeding and then we had a little walk around the forestry tracks with the main point of interest been a Four-spotted chaser and GR Dragonflies. We asked a local FC ranger about a supposed Bothy in the area and he told us the directions been a couple of miles down a track so we headed down to see what it was like. We eventually found the Bothy down a narrow beaten path through dense woodland and when we came across it we thought its summer time and a lovely evening at that so camping would be the better option, plus it looked like something off the Blair witch. We went back and explored the other side of Loch Doilet and got a lovely pair of BT Divers sat in the middle of the flat calm peaceful loch...stunning. We headed back to the cottage and got a fire going in the nearby wood to prepare for our tea of beans and soup before getting settled in position and wait for any potential Pine Marten action. I used the car as a natural hide and Danny and Andy were in the tent but Danny soon resorted to the car as well. About half an hour before dusk the first Piney appeared! We enjoyed watching them on and off for the next hour taking all the bate and entertaining us with their energetic and curious behaviour. As we settled into our tent for the night we heard a few interesting variable calls which we presume were the Pineys, so that added to the experience.

looking down Glen Hurich
I awoke at half four in the morning as I was a bit cold and dawn had broke with a huge variety of small birds signing including Goldcrests, Crossbills, Redpoll, Siskins, Willow Warblers, GS Woodpecker, Chaffinchs, Tits and Thrush's. We were in a Pine Marten hotspot and it was safe to say they weren't having an impact on the local bird populations. I headed out to look for the BT Divers but no joy. The sheer mass of Midges was amazing and I regard them as one of the most vital species in Britain as they have stopped a lot of these wild areas in Scotland been colonised because of their irritation and that has protected these important habitats for scarce species like Golden Eagles, Pine Martens and Wildcats from disappearing from the British species list. As dad always says...they make a man out of you!
We packed up and headed to one of our target locations in Tioram Castle which is a stunning old building located on an island estuary. When arrived we were privileged to a real treat in an Osprey scanning the shallows at low tide. Raven nesting in the castle and nice views of Whitethroat were other points of interest.
 We headed back to the west along loch Sunart and arrived at Ben Hiant which we planned to tackle even though energy levels were a bit low we headed up from the east and probably the steepest side which was a real test but the rewards were incredible at the summit with amazing panoramic views of a variety of different environments with highlands, islands, ocean and woodlands. It was topped off when Andy superbly spotted a Golden Eagle flying level with us before dropping down and showing its stunning golden plumage in crisp light. We made it back down in less than half an hour as large parts of the thick grassy slopes we just slid down on our sides picking up some good speed!
We called into the Kilchoan stores for a quick ice cream break before heading to Ardnamurchan point to see the lighthouse and watch Sula Beag out at sea with a whale. Gannets and Shearwater were showing well as we made our way to Sanna bay to cover the stretch of beach before getting the ferry back to Mull. A refreshing dip in the sea was had before we got the Kilchoan ferry back to the island. Great couple of days. 

Red-necked Phalarope in waters between Coll and Mull!

Stag Cottage, where we stayed for the night...

A pair of BT Divers were seen on the loch

Greevy and Danny preparing tea in the woods

Andy and Danny enjoying the Black Throated Divers

Loch Doilet

Sunsetting over the loch...

Castle Tioram, Osprey fishing further out at low tide

Approaching the summit of Ben Hiant, looking north

On the Friday it was the lads last day and I was back to crewing on a four hour trip and again a choppy sea state made it tricky. Porpoise, Eagles and Seals were seen and just on the way in Jimmy a local fisherman reported that BN Dolphins were seen near to Tobermory so we had a good luck on the way in and I managed to see two surface in unison but there was no sign after that and as we were already late in we headed back to the pontoon and I said my goodbyes to Dan and Andy as it was great to have them up here!

The weekend was again a moderate north wind but we did well with Basking shark and Minke whale sightings. The main focus was on potential Aurora after x-flares were reported which are potentially big long lasting solar storms. I stayed up til 3am on Sunday morning as we had clear spells in the sky but it was simply too light to the north as the sunset continues through the night. Fingers crossed for this winter season as the 11 year cycle when the sun's heart beats is reaching its peak and releasing greater solar winds.

Male WT Eagle
What a sight...

Sanna Bay...

Beach to our selves...

Dark green Fritillary, Sanna
The Tobermory cat on my car! what a pleasure to have the arrogant local celebrity swaggering up to my car and jumping on! follow  him on facebook just search tobermory cat...
Thanks for looking, remember the important Raptor petition for increased protection in England, As Billy Bremner used to say...Keep on fighting!...please sign and share. http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/23089 Thanks


  1. Thanks for the cat plug, regards, T.C. Management : http://www.facebook.com/tobcat