Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Shark charters and Ray Mears...

An eventful week with Ray Mears and ITV film crew on board to target Basking sharks and Minke whales for their new series of Wild Britain. Also I was crewing for shark charters with Acua Tours chartering out Sula Crion to provide their guests with the opportunity to swim and film Basking Sharks.

 A good news day as it was announced that public forests will not be sold by the government after people power won again with over half a million making there voice heard over the insanity to sell 15% of our woodlands in England. Well done to everyone involved! Link.

Another member of the anti-raptor club has suggested that Eagles have cost her £9000 in livestock loss near Banchory, Aberdeenshire. The lady believed eagles were responsible for 180 lambs going missing in her 22,000 acre farm this year. These figures quoted are insane! She has embarrassed her self in the spotlight of the media and to the public with these desperate comments. The thing that annoys me the most is that air heads will read it and believe every word. http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/2012/07/02/aberdeenshire-farmer-is-claiming-substatial-damages-after-eagles-

 Here is the routine poisoning of the week, so sad to see Hebridean Eagles been targeted with the islands supposed to provide a safe haven for the birds. 

An important article on the future of Britain's wild places, a very disturbing read... http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/windpower/9366706/Wind-farm-pylons-steel-giants-of-the-glens.html

Click on photos for a larger scale...

Ray swimming with seals at the Cairns of Coll

Presenting on the flying bridge

sunset after a great day, watched 48 Storm Petrels heading south!

Sanna bay watching Minke whales and otter

Another iphone pic

chilling with the Puffins

Basking Shark off Gunna

Sunday 1st July and an early start at the pontoon to prepare for the ITV film crew to come on board to hopefully film some Basking Shark action with their presenter Ray Mears, the survival master who can make a tent out of his underpants. Our first port of call was the Cairns of Coll where we found one shark which wasn't consistent at the surface so we focused on seals and as the wind was north westerly we headed down to Gunna and Tiree which is a traditional area for Baskers and it would also provide us with more sheltered waters which would help with filming. A pair of Arctic Skuas on the way down and a few Porpoise.

We made it to the waters around north Tiree after I managed to spill tomato soup all over myself with a steady boat and calm sea. We had instant success with sharks holding at the surface and also been sociable with the boat and divers. The film crew had close to perfect opportunities to get the right footage as we were surrounded by over 10 sharks at one point! When we stopped for a break I tried to do some pull ups on the aft deck after I remembered watching Iolo Williams doing over 20 after he got out of the water. I managed two and a half with Ray Mears watching and he commented on my poor effort so I told him to get involved so he had a go and only managed two! I beat Ray Mears in a pull-up competition...another normal day.

We started making our way back to the east at about 8pm and Minke whale was still of interest in filming for the crew so we had a scan and Ray himself won the Mars bar for spotting the first Minke. A presentation took place on the top deck and he demanded a swap for a Snickers, good choice. As dusk was approaching the sunset was amazing and even more amazing was a count of 48 Storm Petrels heading south! As the clock struck 12 midnight it was Jimbo's birthday so we arranged to have an Indian takeaway when we got back to the pontoon which was kindly delivered by Ruth's amazing aunt and uncle John and Patsy. A great day...

Basker foraging at the surface
On Monday I had a day off and Cain the Hollywell Birder was up for the week with his Uni society so I joined him for a trip to Ardnamurchan on the mainland to cover a few sites. We started with Glenborrowdale in wet conditions and did a woodland walk with the highlight been a Pine Marten scat, would love to see a Piney again! On our way to Sanna we got an immature WT Eagle shaking its head at HBs mad driving! We arrived at the lovely coastal stretch to admire the landscapes along with the potential wildlife on offer. A patient shift rewarded us with 4 Minke whales working a tide line towards Canna. Also an Otter close to the shoreline.
A BBQ at Killiechronan camp site on the evening with Cain, Rachel, Andrew and gang. We had a drive around Loch Na Keal and got a Mountain hare and Leucistic Red Deer.

Puffin taking flight in the open sea
Whalewatch on Tuesday with the Hollywell birder on board produced another memorable trip for 2012 with a large number of breaching sharks counted along with a Minke whale surfacing right off our port side as we looked down its blow holes. A small group of Common Dolphins was seen travelling south and feeding hard. A good number of Storm Petrels was the other point of interest. Great to have Cainio on board as always.

Minke surfacing in among a raft of manxies

Sunset creating enhanced cloud over Coll

Sun setting behind north Coll 

Panoramic sunset over the Cairns of Coll

SLS and ITV crew after great day with sharks and whales

Me presenting Ray Mears with a mars bar for spotting the first whale

A day off on Wednesday and did a few jobs in the morning before getting a delayed report that Orca were spotted off Ardnamurchan point. With low winds meaning a calm sea state it was a perfect opportunity to do some land based sea watching covering the water off the north end of Mull. I popped into the office to see if Andy Tait fancied it and he was as keen as always so we headed off to Calliach point which is a raised bit of land on the north west tip of Mull. A good four hours scanning hard produced 5 Minke whales and Porpoise but no Killer whales this time! A Scots Argus butterfly was the other point of interest.

It was my turn to crew for the shark charter on Thursday and again calm seas and sunshine produced a great opportunity as we started with great views of our local White-Tailed Eagles before heading out towards coll where we entered shark city as Sula Crion was surrounded by the gentle giants. We stayed with them for a few hours and I had the privalige of joining the divers and swimming with the Baskers, again it was an amazing experience...until I nearly lost one of Jimbos flippers and had to abort back to Crion. Check out the video of the shark action. We stopped for lunch at the Cairns of Coll and baited in some Arctic Terns with some freshly caught Mackerel and I taught Mark Harding how to take a good picture...check out his blog here, I told him it needs a good plugging and where better than on here to my tens of...readers. http://eyemocean.blogspot.co.uk/

Minke surfacing with Small isles behind
Friday 5th and the final day of Shark chartering and a more relaxed approach today as the group have had such good success this week with Sharks that Mark decided to focus on some other species to film and experience. We started with Eagles and again got nice views of our local WTs and managed some nice captures. We moved onto the Treshnish isles and the island of Lunga which holds a large number of breeding sea birds. We did a rock landing on the other side of the island and I lead the group of 5 ashore and went through the breeding sea birds behaviour at this important time of the year. The main highlight for me was an associating Razorbill I sat near and started talking too and the Auk slowly shuffled closer and closer before I started stroking its breast...amazing. I captured videos of Harp rock because again the sound is crucial in the experience of mass breading sea birds. I got home to discover that Andy Murray was in the final of Wimbledon after beating Tsonga! From a peak to a trough as I also found out after delayed networking that Orca were reported at the Carins on the one day we don't go there...oh dear.

Arctic Tern fishing at coll

Puffin and Razorbills on Lunga

Puffin with Sula Crion out at sea beyond

WT Eagle over Sula Crion during a shark charter
A superb week with more great experiences. I am so fortunate to have this opportunity with Sea Life Surveys and I still remember very well a few years ago when I was viewing the SLS website in the top floor of the Learning Gateway building at University in Carlisle and I was reading about the wildlife guides with envy dreaming about having an opportunity like that myself. I will not get complacent and still have so much to learn, trying to drive on all the time. Thanks for reading 8-)


  1. Very entertaining blog ewan. Great to share some wave time with you and be around your enthusiasm for wildlife. You have a great future ahead of you.

  2. Brrr! Bit chilly for me to contemplate swimming with the sharks, although I have jumped in the odd ditch recently to get up-close-and-personal with Beautiful Demoiselles! Keep up the good work, Ewan!

  3. Thanks for the kind comments! great seeing you up here again mark!
    It was a tad chilly in the water, but worth it to see the sharks under the surface! :)