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

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-)

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Cull of the Eagle?

The main focus has to be on the latest talk of obtaining a licence to shoot Eagles if there is evidence they are taking stock. And the proposals are coming from an island where the eagles are huge to the economy through a big tourism drive and the birds continue to put Mull on the map in a positive way. You can more about this insanity here.

great article regarding the effect people power can have on saving our threatened wildlife and habitats. Clear examples in the last couple of years are us helping to stop the sale of our public woodlands and also the insane Buzzard control scheme which quite rightly by strong public outcry got put to bed. Link.

An interesting piece on the importance of the wild areas along train lines in Great Britain Link. 

How important are trees in this day and age?...producing our Oxygen, trapping Carbon, dramatically reduce flooding and soil erosion, absorb chemicals and dangerous pollutants, provide a huge array of habitats for wildlife, control noise pollution in urban areas, act as an essential windbreak in cold and breezy conditions, you could go on and on...Just think of their HUGE VALUE in terms of our overall mental and physical health??
Please sign this important government petition to help prevent any sell-off of our public forests...https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/keep-our-woods-safe#petition

Oh yeah and here is my routine poisoning of the week...another iconic Goldie illegally killed. Link.

The residents of Coll are applying to be Scotland's first 'dark sky' island to boost their tourism. If successful the isle will join Galloway forest park in the south of Scotland as an official dark sky site. The low lying island has ideal star gazing conditions as it is very remote out to the west of the inner Hebrides with a population of around 200 meaning very little light pollution. Also no higher terrain so less cloud produced giving viewers an increased opportunity of clear skies. Again no light pollution to the north gives a great chance of one of natures top spectacles, Aurora Borealis. All the ingredients are their to boost tourism for night sky viewing and the best thing about enjoying star gazing is that no one can take it away from you! Link.

Click on photos for a larger scale...

Crisp light breaking through the rain clouds on Mull

Bottlenose Dolphin breaching in front of Tobermory harbour

Bottlenose riding our Bow

BND at 6am on route to Coll

Minke just after getting 6 Bottlenose Dolphins, what a start!

6am at the pontoon on Sunday ready to head off to Coll to pick up some of the lovely locals for a charter trip to the Treshnish isles. Lewis as skipper and Ruth and I as crew and as released the mooring line and within 30 seconds of heading out of the harbour...Bottlenose Dolphins! A group of 6 were making their way towards Tobermory and we stopped and enjoyed their company and impressive displays before moving on west up the sound of Mull. 
Twenty minutes later when we reached the north end of Mull a large mature Minke whale surfaced close to our starboard side. 
We arrived at Arnagour to pick up 12 Coll residents before heading south towards the Treshnish isles. Nice sunshine and a calm to moderate wind as we enjoyed the sea bird action on the way down. The first port of call was Staffa to drop the folk off and spend an hour admiring the amazing basalt column rock formations in and around Fingels cave. Lewis very kindly let me go and explore as I had never experienced it before. Instead of following the crowds and going down to the cave I walked onto the higher ground walking around the rich grasslands admiring the wild flowers and watching the Butterflies which were mostly Common Blue. Corncrake could be heard and also seen Twite. The Fulmar colony was very impressive as I could not tear myself away from looking down on the magical birds.
Next stop was the island of Lunga which has the majority of breeding auks in the area as well as large numbers of Kitiwakes, Fulmars, Shags, Storm Petrels and breeding Ravens and Peregrines along with other species. Again captain lewy gave me the oppertunity to spend my lunch hour with all the breeding birds and it was an amazing experience not just to see but the noise and smell to go with it. 
The island has a number of native plants including Primrose, Birdsfoot, Trefoil, Orchids, Sea Campion, Sea Thrift, Yellow Flags and the Oyster plants. The island was inhabited until the 19th century as there is still building remains to the north east of Lunga. Great day at the Treshnish isles with the friendly folk of Coll.  

Staffa, amazing rock formation, Basalt columns...

Common Blue on Staffa

Fulmars on Staffa

Fulmars and Sea Thrift

Looking down on the mini albatrosses

The most northerly breeding birds on the planet

Common Blues...

Black Guilimot on Staffa

Thanks for digging this burrow for me!

Doing what they do best...

Sea Campion and the clowns of the sea

The famous harp rock, Common Guilimots showing

Shag and Sea Thrift

You hear about the takeover at Elland road?

Puffin with breeding Auks and ocean beyond...
an amazing experience

Taken from my phone...
On the Monday it was back to the whale watch routine and another amazing trip to add to the long list in 2012. Minkes, three separate pods of Common Dolphins and flying Basking Sharks! We had Bill an ex gamekeeper on board and I had some interesting discussions with him throughout the trip and I was picking his brain all the time trying to learn as much as I can about their opinions and views on wildlife management and of course Birds of Prey. "Everything with a hooked beak is vermin" I then explained to him that there is no such thing as vermin and every species has a vital part to play in British ecosystems. Do fisherman class whales, dolphins and sea birds as 'Vermin'? He then took the Michel out of my Wildcat and Pine Marten talks asking if my next vermin species talk was on the American Mink! The V word really annoys me and if anyone uses it on a trip I soon put them right. species didn't evolve over millions of years to suit there surroundings perfectly for people to class them as pests relating to their personal interests. A great guy and always interesting to get different views on the well debated countryside management subject. 

Wednesday and Thursday consisted of a Shark charter on board Sula Crion with five underwater cameramen as passengers and Jimbo the gaffer as skipper. Some fantastic Shark action with some sociable animals and also some incredible breaching behaviour. Here is a youtube video of a breaching Basker. We had Alex Mustard on board for the week who is a very highly regarded underwater cameraman, check out his web site and look at some of his incredible captures - http://www.amustard.com/.

Sea Life Surveys sightings, on a roll!!

Thanks for looking everyone, Ray Mears and ITV film crew on board next week. Also these big black and white things were seen in our waters last July, same again please http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTn4wUWgVTs . cheers 8-)