Thursday, 30 August 2012

24th of Orca-ust...remember the date

Another Friday morning on Mull and I awoke to the sound of heavy rain pelting down on the roof and I looked out of the window with the only word I could think of was grim! Two friends Duncan and Craig had slept on the couch after a late night with past and present Sea Life Surveys crew playing cards. The playing deck used the night before was cetaceans of the world, and when the Orca card was seen it was pointed out and mentioned just as the word seems to be spoken of on every day that I have spent on the island in the last three seasons. I must admit they do get in your head (including your dreams) and on most trips I have been crewing, they have driven me on to concentrate on the seas harder for an opportunity of encountering them.

The iconic animals are one of the most recognisable species on the planet and top predators in their environment. Just like Eagles are the rulers of the skies and Polar Bears are kings of the Arctic, the Orcas are the lords of the ocean. There is a resident pod of Orcas off the west coast of Scotland which patrol large areas of the Hebridean waters and further afield. The wolves of the sea are apex predators and can go where they want and prey on what they want so it is very hard to ever track their movements. Sea Life Surveys head guide Ruth was coming to the end of her fourth season and had yet to encounter Orcas on a trip.

The trip today was a four hour Wildlife Adventure which is family orientated and focuses on sheltered waters looking for a variety of species off the north coast of Mull. We had over 40 on board so it was a very busy boat as we headed out of Tobermory harbour in the rain.  An hour into the trip and the sightings had been quiet but the winds were down as the sea state was good so there was still hope of seeing marine species in the time to come. 

A short while later and I was on the front of the flying bridge scanning and Ruth came up in a state saying that Silver Swift (another tour operator) had been on the radio and they had Orcas 5 miles to the west! Normally out of our range on a four hour trip but Jimbo the skipper went full steam ahead to try and catch up with the action. 

We eventually got in viewing range of the reported location and Silver Swift was joined by another vessel close by so we knew that the Orcas would still be present. We all focused hard on the area and suddenly a big black sail appeared above the surface which showed well from nearly a mile away. That was a male Orca surfacing, showing its huge dorsal fin of up to six feet!  There were three Killer whales and they were identified as Kinky, Aquarius (both Bulls) and a female called Puffin.     

We stayed near by the three animals for up to ten minutes and we were treated to one particularly close pass! They seemed to be travelling and James the skipper / director of Sea Life Surveys set an example to the world of wildlife tourism and did not chase them and wanted to see the species on their terms so we left them to it after a breathtaking encounter that I will remember for the rest of my life!

What a privilege to see wild British Orcas and a huge thank you to Sea Life Surveys for giving me that opportunity. UK wildlife means a lot to me and this has to be regarded as one of the best spectacles in the country. To have seen Aurora Borealis and Orcas in the space of six months in Great Britain I class myself as very fortunate and it means I don't need to go to Iceland after all! 

Below are some photos and video captures including Andy Tait's superb extended version of the events which will hopefully bring our experiences closer to the viewers.  

Here is Sea Life Surveys captains log with more photos and information from the day -

Here is a link to the identified Orcas known as the west coast community -

Distant Orca with panoramic landscape, best type of wildlife photography

Male and female staying close showing strong bonds...
Well I suppose closer wildlife captures look good as well!

Bull surfacing with North west Mull and the Treshnish isles behind...

Andy Tait's superb video footage of the events... 

My short video during close pass...

Ewan Miles

Saturday, 25 August 2012

A return of the kings to Lakelands skies?

Will start with an article regarding my native Cumbria and the potential of having White-Tailed Eagles re-introduced back into the county. Think of all the positives they would bring including inspiring a percentage of the millions of visitors to the national park every year. An eagle encounter is so powerful in getting people involved in the natural world. If the project gets given the go ahead it would officially be the best news I will have ever heard...ever...full stop.

Superb article by Terry Pickford regarding the future of Scotlands iconic Golden Eagle with territory interference continually on the increase.

The last batch of 30 Red Kites was released earlier this month in Cumbria and lets hope they go onto great breeding success in the region.

The extended wind turbine plan on the isle of Lewis has been scrapped because of the threat to bird life on the island.

There is nothing more fascinating than astronomy and here is a great story regarding Nasa's Curiosity rover which arrived on the surface of Mars after 8 months travelling. Colour panoramic photos have been captured of the Marsian landscape.

Johns new book is available called Hadrians Wildlife which focuses on wildlife and Roman history along the 73 mile stretch along the wall. It reveals the bird remains found during Roman digs revealing which species survived then and therefore what the landscape might have looked like. It will take the reader to a voyage of discovery and will be an essential companion for visitors.

My latest Focusing on Wildlife article is published regarding the breeding success of the Eagle Owls at Bowland and also comparing the mentality of the media to these birds across the continent compared to the UK

 Minke blows, circling Sula Beag

Creator loch, SEO and Harrrier seen in recent visits...

Slow Worm on forestry track, Glengorm. Nice surprise while on evening walk with Andy T, Ruth and Jayne

Andy T (professor plankton) doing lecture on Sula Beag

Scotch Argus, Its ability to survive cool temperetures means it would of been one of the first species to recolonise the UK after the last ice age. Only found in two sites in England, both in Cumbria.

A Thick blanket of cloud rolling over Ben Hiant looking from the Mishnish lochs

heading west up the sound of Mull, Manxies feeding... 

Knobble! appeared on Monday surfacing feet off our port side!

A Common Seal with rubbish of some sort wrapped round its neck, a disturbing sight thats been seen for weeks at the Cairns of Coll and the poor animal is suffering as its condition is deteriating... 

Seal colony at the Cairns, Pups are growing at a rapid speed as receiving 50% fat milk from the Cow...

Suil Ghorm lighthouse and Seal colony in the foreground... 

Arctic Tern colony at the Cairns, They all dispersed in mid July

2nd year Pom Skua on Coll...

The view from one of the Skerries on Coll looking north towards Suil Ghorm lighhouse and the islands of Eigg, Rum and Skye beyond...

RIB anchored up on beach, SLS staff bbq at the Cairns, a lovely swim with the seals and also travelling at upto 30 knots on the rib watching Shearwater effortlessly cruising past us!

A special place, come here for a lunchtime landing but nice to enjoy the peace and tranquillity here out of work!

Common Dolphin encounter, look out for two tiny calves! plus count how many times I say the word in 30 seconds!

Thanks for looking, I have been a bit behind with my updates during the hectic summer season but believe me you don't want to miss my next post ;-) cheers

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Eagle Owl - The Dark Knight Rises

The largest owl species in the world, the eurasian eagle owl is secretly breeding in some remote areas of northern England. The iconic species are widespread over most of Europe but are not included in the British bird species list so are not classed as native. There is controversy amoung natrualists into weather the animals belongs in our wild areas or not as they will of course have in impact on upland ecosystems as they are apex predators. Escaped folconry birds could have provided our population or did birds travel from across the continient. The truth is nobody knows how this predatory species bagan to breed in the British isles.  

Everything about these birds is admirable: their big orange eyes and round face which you can relate to so well. Their impressive size and power making them the kings of the owl world. Their illusive secretive nature makes them a real life dark knight. I don't understand how you can look at this bird and not appreciate it.
Eagle Owl photographed in the North Pennines

Here are examples of different views of the birds in its Eurasian stronghold range compared to the UK, starting in Helsinki as a pair of Eagle Owls live in the trendy and central forum building where they have their own paparazzi photographing their every move and are gracing the pages of the local newspapers almost every day. Passers-by snap photos of them while they are out on the streets and security guards have had to save them from the adoring fans on a number of occasions. Their urban diet consists of Rabbits, crows and Gulls and the Helsinkians just can't get enough of them. They successfully reared three chicks in 2011 and there is a supposed seven breeding pairs in the area.
Two of the city owls (source:
Two of the city owls (source:

There is also a much more famous Eagle Owl in Finland's recent past, he was named Bubi and made headlines in the summer of 2007 when he invaded the Olympic stadium in the 17th minute of a Euro championship qualifier against Belgium and play was stopped for six minutes as the 30,000 strong crowd chant his finish name as the bird was unfazed flying low over the pitch with grace before perching on the Belgium crossbar. The game had been a lackluster affair and some of the Finnish players quoted after the game that the Owls suprise appearance had helped inspire the team to victory. The Finnish Soccer team was promptly named the Eagle Owls and Bubi's fame was cemented when he was named Helsinki citizen of the year for 2007. Here is a must watch video of the events with current England manager Roy Hodgson in charge of Finland watching on. What would they make of him at Wembley!

Bubi in action (source:

Perched on the Belgium crossbar ANTTI -AIMO KOIVISTO / LEHTIKUVA

Now here is a couple of headlines from one of the UK's leading newspapers the Daily Mail... 'British Village terrified by giant Eagle Owl that swoops on children and small animals' also 'Lock up your pets! Dog owners warned as giant 6 foot Eagle Owl is spotted in Devon'. The media stories show a difference in mentality in the UK compared to across the continent. One of the problems is that some unaware brainwashed readers would actually take the Daily Mail's headlines seriously.

I have been fortunate enough to watch these birds in their natural environment and it should be a privilege to have these birds in Britain. Eagle was once a symbol of resurrection and Owl was related to death, What is the future of Britain's Eagle Owls? Will they resurrect in our wild places or will they come to their death through human interventions such as greed, politics and money.
Full breeding success story -
Helsinki's favourite celebrity -

Ewan Miles

Sunday, 5 August 2012

All smiles please...None of this grimacing

All about the marine life again and the main highlight was encountering two of Sea Life Surveys identified regular Minke whales which have been visiting Mull waters for over a decade. They are called Knobble and Kasey and it makes whale sightings extra special when you can relate to an individual that you have seen before. We use a fixed 300mm lens to capture shots of their dorsal fin which can be as unique as a human finger print. Different shapes, size, markings and nicks all help to identify them. Knobble now has a Facebook page to celebrate ten years of seeing him in our waters

As we know the Olympics are on at the minute and here is a good link showing wildlife species putting world records to shame in a number of the events. They are not doing it for medals, pride or money but simply for survival, evolving over millions of years... brilliant.

Two new areas of marine protection have been introduced in Northern Ireland to protect the habitats and species in the area and to encourage people to visit and see the marine life.

An article on the possible impact small scale turbines could have on bats

Black Grouse need more investment from landowners to preserve the species...

Three pairs of Harriers and sufficient habitat for four hundred, countryside management at an embarrassing level...

Superb underwater footage of a Minke whale taken by Andy Tait

Common Dolphin bow riding, close up! could not be bothered to change the big lens!

Knobble close surface!

Kasey with his/her distinct fin

Commons surfacing in Unison...

Our local pair of Goldies have been successful in rearing a chick for the first time in nearly a decade as the eaglet was seen at the edge of the nest cup strengthening his / her flight muscles. This is the pair I watched back in March copulating, displaying in a number of ways and patrolling their territory. They are incredibly illusive birds and I had no clue that they were successful in breeding attempts until about mid May when they showed very aggressive behaviour to two intruding Goldies and protecting their patch. I finally found out which nest site they were using in July and when I seen a young chick in there a week later it was a special sight.

Our neighbouring WT Eagles are also a happy family having reared two healthy chicks and all were seen sat close together as we passed by their coastal territory on a trip earlier this week. We have watched the fledglings in flight and they already look very natural avian masters. When the SLS season started back in March we could see the birds incubating on the nest before following them all the way through the breeding season bringing in food, eaglets in the nest, branching out and finally fledging! what a pleasure.

Wake riding providing easy photo opportunity...

Lochdon on an ebbing tide

Lunchtime landing at the Cairns of Coll, finger in the corner just adds to the points of interest...v clever

The Cairns, stunning Hebridean location
We have continued to have huge success on our trips scoring the hatrick (Whale, Shark, Dolphin) on a consistent basis. A few memorable encounters including tracking a feeding frenzy of hundred plus Dolphins and fifty plus gannets, check the video below.
Also some amazing associations with Minkes approaching and circling Sula Beag. Also video below.
Nice to see some Porpoise with tiny calves the size of Atlantic Salmon!
One four hour wildlife trip sticks in my mind because of an unconfirmed sighting. It was strong south wind and wet spells and we were on the north cost of Mull in more sheltered waters when we got a Minke off the bow. We watched it a couple of times and I scanned in the distance and when panning across to the right I got the back end of a tall black kinky dorsal fin disappearing below the surface. My heart went into my mouth and I was waiting for it to appear again and explode and shout Orca...but nothing was seen and I was very frustrated for the rest of the trip. I will never know but whatever it was it was travelling fast. A pair of BT Divers in Ardmore bay was another nice point of interest.

Basking Shark just below the surface...

Its all about the landscape...

On the mooring looking back at Tobermory on Highland Yacht week

Commons and gannet feeding frenzy!

Minke circling Sula Beag

In a nutshell....done

Lyd scanning for Sabines...
Lydia Hosdell has left Sea Life Surveys after a few years of excellent service to the company. We will still see her around though as she is now running the marine education centre down stairs. She is an avid follower of this blog and even has it saved as her home page on her laptop! Good luck Lyd and cheers for everything (especially your SLS hoody).

An amazing fortnight and I don't think I could ask for any more...well maybe an Orca or two but cant be greedy. My next days off will consist of roaming the higher ground to focus on upland habitats and breeding success of its species, and also take in the breathtaking scenery around the island...cant wait.

Just at I publish this post Andy Murray is Olympic champion by dispatching Federer in straight sets!! :-)