Saturday, 27 October 2012

Ardnamurchan, Outer Isles and superb Aurora Display

A trip to Barra and surrounding area at the start of the month and my first appearance to the Hebridean outer isles. It was an SLS staff trip for a few days on Bold Ranger which is the Hebridean Sea School vessel which has room for 6 overnight passengers. A huge bonus that legends Popz and Andy T were coming as well to add to the excellent company. Big swells as we headed north west on the 5-6 hour journey and we retreated from the flying bridge as the spray was too much in the open grounds. A small group of Common Dolphins briefly joined our bow and 2 distant Storm Petrels of some sort just afterwards.

As we arrived at Vatarsay I got a Black-throated Diver in nice breeding plume and a few Mergansers and Eider ducks also seen. A quick walk around Vatarsay produced Ringed Plover and a single Dunlin. Starling flock feeding on the discarded creel pots and a couple of Ravens overhead. Tight grasslands and small outcrops didn't produce much habitat so I wasn't expecting a lot.

The next day we headed south to Barra Head to cover a few areas by boat and after a stunning sunrise we found a huge haul out site for Grey Seals with plenty of new born pups showing. An immature WT Eagle was showing well overhead. As we made our way around the shore we got Dolphins which we presume would be Bottlenose as there is a resident pod in the area. Further out to the open sea we got an incredible view of around 500 Fulmars all together wheeling around...wow. Jimbo kindly gave me some helm time on Bold Ranger controlling her from the bridge in glorious sunshine taking her into Castle Bay to moor up for a spell.

The next day we went to Eriskay and going ashore their me and Andy had a nice walk around, taking in all the sites of this unique isolated community. Stonechats seen roadside and also a Sparrowhawk which was funny as there is not a single tree on the isle. A Merlin was also seen and the famous wild ponies which Andy was ecstatic with seeing again. A small murmuration of Starlings were also seen heading east at dusk.

The long journey back to Tobermory got us more Cetacean action with breaching action early on at a distance and they seemed to have a blunt face and no prominent beak? also quite dark? Another species briefly seen later on with a tall slender dorsal and slow surfacing...it can be so variable...photo ID is very important with sea watching. No mistaking the next sighting as a group of Commons associated with us for about 10 minutes in their usual spectacular fashion. More splashing north of Coll but we could not pick on them. Also Andy got a Minke whale in the area as well so plenty of action which was helped by the calmer sea state with dropping winds. A great experience, thanks very much to all at SLS. habitat and wildlife wise the southern outer isles are not my cup of tea and long desert like beaches don't get me excited but it was another unique hebridean landscape and more evidence of the variety of these special islands.

My SLS famly on route to Barra

Vatarsay

Andy and Struth enjoying the view...


Rainbow striking Bold Ranger...

Grey Seal haul out site with Pups...

Andy the legend with his Eriskay ponies!

love at first sight...

Common Dolphins associating with Bold Ranger on way back to Tobermory...

The best Aurora display I have seen to date...

Pulsing winds...

Glengorm Castle with Aurora band...
Back on Mull and an evening trip round the isle with Ruth and Andy, covering the LNK stretch. A fantastic sunset was the highlight along with 5 Mountain Hares! A Tawny owl on the wire on the way back was another bonus.
We had a couple of full day Whalewatch trips early in the month but no joy with the Minkes but superb to be out to Coll again.
The Aurora winds have been blowing well and with conditions on our side we have enjoyed some nice displays including one 'Storm level' night joined by Ruth and Jayne as the action peaked at 2am with strong pulsing ripples and dancing shafts in the sky. Red Deer roaring through the night and a meteor shower also in the north added to the amazing atmosphere. The best Aurora I have seen to date, incredible display...so lucky.

Wispy cirrus clouds saturating sunset from Gribun
Friday 12th and left for Ardnamuchan in the morning as the island started getting Rally fever for the few days ahead. A good opportunity to cover some areas on the wild west of the mainland. Stayed in Sonachan bunkhouse and it was pretty wet most of the day but headed out anyway and did a nice local hill climb tackling Dubh Creag at 244m. Nice views looking over the Sound of Mull and a few Red Grouse and Ravens seen. Two Snipe flushed and also 15 Whooper Swans in flight going down the glen.

The next day produced better weather with nice sunny spells so I headed inland to the east to cover some of the planned areas of the Sunart Oakwoods. I called into the wildlife centre Nadurra to have quick look at the sightings board and ended up buying the new SNH Birds of Prey book. Called into the FC wildlife hide and got an Otter straight away along with Herons and Common Seals. A Basking Shark had been reported on the 10th! Don't know how reliable that record is. Did a nice walk around the stunning loch Moidart but quiet on the wildlife front. Went to Loch on the evening and got 2 WT Eagles and a Goldie. Baited a near by area with bread and peanut butter and sat til dusk but no sign of Pine Martens this time. A long drive back down the peninsula and headed to the point for a night shift of astronomy where I got a faint Aurora display and also an amazing experience in the lighthouse education centre learning about the buildings and districts history  in the early hours while the lighthouse was in operation.


Rowan and Holly growing out of Glacial erratic, on route up Sgurr Dhommhnuill

This photo Oak-kay for you? stunning Sunart Oakwoods!
Lovely sunny weather on Sunday as I headed east again down to Strontion. I checked the Loch Doilet area and the Peanut butter butties were still there so no Pineys in that area. Parked up in the Ariundle car park and started the long walk through the Oakwoods and nature trail up into the higher ground. Redwing and Fieldfare feeding on the track and a couple of flyby squawking Jays. Bullfinches also calling up in the canopy. As soon as I arrived on the open ground a Goldie took flight from a crag on my left and headed up the glen and that would be the last eagle of the day. Red Deer were roaring throughout and a few Pipits and Ravens were seen along with a male Kestrel. I climbed the peak Sgurr Dhommhnuill which is 888m and superb highland views from the summit. I had my lunch on top which was just stale slices of bread on their own. I felt like Froddo Baggins foraging on his way to Mordor. Although people who have seen my feet say they look just like Froddos!

You can see remains of a slate mine half way down the peak which used to employ 600 people in the 19th century. I did the nature trail back down in the woodland and the crisp evening light was making the turning oak leaves glow. The Sunart oakwoods are a rare habitat which used to cover from Norway to Portugal but after the expansion of man the majority was clear felled for agricultural land. Local communities preserved the woods around Sunart and have always managed them in a very traditional way. A new scheme is involved to get value out of the woodlands trough tourism and timber. On the way back to the east I had to drive like Ace Ventura with my heed out of the window as the sun was so strong on my dirty windscreen!

The solar winds were blowing again so I popped to the point to photograph a weak display, but a sudden strong burst for five minutes was captured and it was great scenes! Again the atmosphere was insane with the noise of the sea and the lighthouse in operation with a full lit sky, milky way, shooting stars and aurora borealis!...immense.

Ariundle nature Trail...
Sun dropping with Ben Haint showing...

Sanna bay with Rum and Eigg in the backdrop...

Ardnamurchan volcanic creator remains...

Full rainbow showing after completing peak

On the summit, 2500 ft. amazing highland views...

Pine Marten scat on track

Loch Moidart...

Walking back round to castle Tioram

higher ground above Loch Doilet getting ready to bait area for Pine Martens...

Loch Sunart in low light

Castle Tioram on loch Moidart
Last day at the wild west and I decided to stay closer by and visit something I have always wanted to see properly since I have been based up here...The super volcano creator remains! I approached the rings from Sanna bay in glorious sunshine and again amazing views of highlands and islands. A small community lives in the 2km creator remains with a road running right through it.
I headed to the point at midday to do some sea watching and worked out it was half term as the place was packed with families  Some nice healthy hurries of Gannets and Kitiwakes out the west but no Cetaceans in with them. Got the ferry back to my adopted home the isle of Mull after a great few days in Ardnamurchan and surrounding districts!

Aurora capture from Ardnamurchan point...

My most satisfying photo capture to date...
Thanks for looking, my next blog post is my 100th one so very special and proud of the achievement. The main content will be Autumn SLS boat trips and five days of inland guiding on the isle with the main focus been photography. Cheers

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Boring you or Auroring you?

As we are nearing the solar max and also near to the autumn equinox the aurora winds have been blowing hard and with the conditions have been in our favour I have been taking advantage enjoying some great night time displays...

Nice to make it into the famous Kilchoan Diary blog and some kind words by Jon. The blog is a great read and well worth following.

One of my Aurora photos making it in to the BBC collection http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-19883715

I really enjoy doing astrophotography for a number of reasons, the increased skills needed to capture the photo. The unique images you can get from it. It encourages you to be outdoors at night time when you can experience nocturnal species and the tranquil atmosphere.

Click on photos for a larger scale... 

A taster of my trip to Ardnamurchan, taken at the most westerly point of the British mainland...

Ardnamurchan point looking north with Aurora and Ursa Major (plough)...stunning

Glengorm Castle on north Mull with Aurora band and Ursa Major

Pulsing solar winds over Ardnamurchan peninsula...

Reporting Scotland with two of my photos. put it on blog for future record...


Thanks for looking everyone, eyes in the skies the next few weeks! 8-)

Monday, 15 October 2012

Eagle Country...

Worthless, Waste of a skin countryside criminals are at it again. Best of luck to the goldie on a safe recovery...
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-south-scotland-19886345 - Shot goldie

Technology on tagged birds can help reveal truth and encourage action to be taken...
http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/2012/10/10/we-now-need-to-be-told-the-truth-just-where-are-all-the-satellite-tagged-hen-harrier-now/

One down already, Don't know how reliable the tags are or has one just flown over Mordor?
http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/2012/10/07/one-of-this-years-two-langholm-hen-harriers-fitted-with-satellite-tags-confirmed-dead/

My Aurora picture made it to the top ones in the country on BBC Scotland. I also had two photos shown on Reporting Scotland which I will provide a link to on my next post.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-19883715

The SLS trips have quietened down at this time of the year and it has given me the opportunity to cover some wilder parts of Mull. Sunny spells and low winds encouraged me to do a peak climb and after parking at Ben More estate and walking along Loch Ba I started the ascent after picking an appealing route up. Good number of Mippits as I reached one of the smaller summits. A Male kestrel hunting and gronking Ravens overhead. The next thing I got  was a large pale raptor fly by me unaware of my presence, I watched it all the way with the binoculars and I was a bit stumped as it was about the size of a Male Goldie with the same markings on its upper wings but it was just so pale. This is when Its important to photograph these sights for records.
Next I came across a Ptarmigan remains which was likely an eagle prey remains. I have never seen a live bird but it was nice to know there is birds around on the higher parts of the island. More items found were a large pellet, possible Goldie and a feather which after checking up was from a Goldie.

Click on photos for a larger scale...

Higher ground looking towards east end of Loch Ba and Ben Talla beyond,
 a small Lochan in the foreground

Ptarmigan remains near the summit of Beinn nan Gabhar

The summit of Ben nan Gabhar

Panoramic sweep showing Mull in all its glory
The land between the two lochs is debris remain from glacier 10,000 years ago

Cant beat been high up in the Scottish wilderness
My collection of items from out in the field, include Golden eagle feather, pellet and prey remains of Rabbit. Also Ptarmigan feathers...

Goldie feather

On route down, one superb waterfall that I came across which my mate Gary would of loved
The next day I got a call from Ruth in the evening that a Shearwater was reported in the beer garden behind the Mcdonald arms so we headed down to the main street and met Nic Davies there where he retrieved the bird that was boxed in from the higher walls all around the garden. We took it to the ferry slip and Nic took the bird further up the shore away from the lights. He said the bird had good energy levels and its wings were not damaged so it was safe to release the bird back out to sea. After a little hesitation and the bird climbing upto Nics shoulder and then onto his head before heading back out to the ocean. That Manxie could hopefully be off the coast of South America now after been in Ruths car Otis down Tobermory only weeks previous!

Local Otter in Tobermory...
Knobble the minke whale! last sighting of the season :-(
A full day whalewatch trip near the end of the month and three Minke whales encountered was a real treat at this stage of the season. One of the whales was our local hero Knobble who has been seen in our waters on and off all season since May and for the last ten year. The special K now has a facebook page with an impressive 160 plus followers already thanks to a link from Sea Shepherd Scotland after Minke Tetley mentioned the whale on a conference in Newcastle. Here is a link - http://www.facebook.com/KnobbleTheMinkeWhale

Otter porpoising at Croig

Otter on the shoreline after views of it underwater!

Preparing for my Inland guiding trip...
The next day again it was more action with an arranged inland guiding of the island for friends of Terry Pickford. Strong winds blowing but no rain forecast as I met the group of four in Taigh Solais car park as we headed out to do a north circuit of the island. We covered a few moorland sites but no joy with upland species as we made our way round to Croig to do a small coastal walk. As we were getting out of the car I looked back on our selves and at first I thought it was a domestic dog walking down towards us but had to double take as it was an Otter! It slipped into the water as we watched it hunting for the next hour. We worked our way along the coast and watched constant Gannets feeding close to the shore and also got a couple of Ringed Plovers which I was happy with until Tim spotted another Otter which could be seen underwater with the white sandy beach as a backdrop!
Torloisk upland pass for lunch as we watched a herd of Red Deer hinds on the skyline. Next stop to a Beech woodland so Erica could pick some edible mushrooms to forage on. Further round the north west part of the island we stopped at another traditional site and straight away Tim spotted a large bird on the hillside which took flight and was a large Goldie which started getting mobbed by a Kestrel making the bird look even larger. It settled on branch as we got the scope set up and got locked on it to enjoy tremendous views of the bird. I managed a phone scope shot through Tim's Leica scope and it came out nicely. Buzzard after Buzzard started to appear and we got seven in the sky as we watched one pick off a dead Hedgehog off the road and take it to the shoreline to feed off it. A couple of other buz's tried to get involved but the dominant bird stood its ground as a few Hoodies were waiting patiently in the pecking order (video below). After all this excitement a Hen Harrier started mobbing the Goldie before the huge predator came towards us and started circling right above our heads joined by the Buzzards! It was great to see a number of folk stop and enjoy the spectacle with us and after talking to the folk they had travelled from different parts of the UK just to have a sight like that of an eagle. Seeing that is almost as good as seeing the birds them selves and gives me a lot of joy.
Next was a brief view of a WT Eagle and after checking Loch na Keal I got rewarded with a single Common Scoter. A great day with lovely people and I would see them again for the Whalewatch trip on the Thursday. Leeds v Everton in the pub on the evening and the mighty whites put on a great performance to go through 2-1!

Tim, Erica, Janet and Mark enjoying the Otter

Stunning secret beach looking north

Goldie near Laggan Bay
Eas Force waterfall...

An amazing encounter with the group of a goldie and 7 Buzzards overhead!

Looking towards Gribun Cliffs from north LNK stretch

Island of Eorsa on Loch Na Keal, Ben More summit in the back drop... 
A four hour trip on the Wednesday and the winds had dropped but big swells coming in forced us down Loch Sunart which is never a bad thing as the views around the western districts of the mainland are stunning especially with autumnal colours coming in. An Otter was seen and Seals at their usual haul out site. The Scottish rainforests of Sunart are as changeable as ever and so keen to explore some of the rare woodland.

A full seven hour Whalewatch on the Thursday and the strong northerly winds had dropped right down so we could get out to some good grounds. The new found local Tobermory Otter was showing well at the pontoon as we casted off. There was still a bit of sea running but we landed at Cairns of Coll to see the healthy seal colonies and in the second half on the east side of Coll a small group of Common Dolphins came to join us putting on some good excitement for everyone. Erica's home-made soup was again very welcome on a chilly day out at sea and views of a WT Eagle were enjoyed on the way back down the sound. I said my goodbyes to Erica, Tim, Mark and Janet and I really enjoyed their company and the two days together.

Dead Minke whale washed up near Calgary. Tongue and Jaw in a bad way, possible Orca attack?

Otter in Tobermory feeding on a Ling...


Buz eating a Hog with Hoodies in the pecking order pulling Buz tail feathers! (I know it didn't remove a feather it was v windy!)



Common dolphins bow riding on wide angle by Andy Tait

Thanks for looking, as I type this I am sat in the most westerly Hotel on the mainland on Ardnamurchan peninsula, (Not in the Hotel I am in the Bunkhouse next door but stealing their WiFi!) so along with my SLS staff trip to the outer isles I will have plenty of content to add to my next post. 8-)