Tuesday, 1 January 2013

15 highlights of 2012 (couldn't narrow it down to 10!)

Happy new year to all my readers. Health and happiness in 2013! Here is some of my highlights that meant a lot to me in 2012...

FIFTEEN...Breaching Basking Sharks

During a Shark charter down at Tiree a 6 meter basking Shark breached clean out of the water three times continuously, 50 yards from us. An amazing wildlife spectacle which was the best out of plenty of breaching baskers seen throughout the summer. Different theory's for the behaviour are courtship, territorial or to rid parasites.

FOURTEEN...Common Dolphins

We had a number of Common Dolphin encounters throughout the season as the weather conditions helped increase our chances of seeing them. One encounter in particular was special as it included 100 plus Dolphins and 150 Gannets joining into produce a marine feeding frenzy! The video says it all have a shmeegle... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bY49ojX2ZRc 

Common Dolphin surfacing...

THIRTEEN......Swimming with Basking Sharks

Sea Life Surveys charters out one of its vessels for Shark charters giving people the opportunity to see, film and swim with the 2nd largest fish on the planet. One sunny day out towards Coll we were surrounded by over 10 huge sharks and Jimbo kindly gave me the opportunity to get in the water with the Baskers...wow words don't do a thing for this experience. Watch here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wl1vYbtB57o

Basking Shark with wide gaping mouth...

TWELVE...Golden Eagle in hunting mode

After finishing the season on Mull I came back up in mid November with Cain and Ashley for a few days. On a wet and miserable day he did a circuit of the isle and in the morning Ashley found the fist Firecrest record for Mull and as the rain eased in the afternoon we got Waxwing before observing a Juv Goldie working the hillside before dropping down on a Rabbit picking it up in its talons before the Rabbit dropped free and dashed down its warren. Just like seeing other top predators in hunting mode like Lions and Cheetahs this was a special sight that some naturalists studying eagles for years are yet to see.


Knobble is a Minke whale which has been recorded in Mull waters for the 10th year in 2012. He is very popular for a number of reasons including been the most frequently seen whale the last few years along with his behaviour to associate with our boat Sula Beag on nearly every encounter. Knobble also has a very distinct fin which can be recognized at a quick glance as the whale surfaces as it is quite triangular with a Knobble on top (very complex naming technique!). The special K now has a facebook page which you can follow here http://www.facebook.com/KnobbleTheMinkeWhale

Knobble's distinct dorsal fin

TEN... Bottlenose Dolphin with Hydrophone encounter

We were arriving back to Tobermory harbour after a four hour adventure trip which had been quiet on the wildlife front. Converting the famous football saying to 'it only takes a second to find something' you should never give up when out in the field (or out at sea!) as we picked up Bottlenose Dolphins 250 paces away off our port side. As we got in range their amazing association took place as they circled our boat with some breaching as well. Skipper Jimbo popped in the hydrophone which picks up sound under the surface and plays it on the loudspeaker on board Sula Beag. As we watched 6-8 BN Dolphins we could hear their huge variety of clicks and whistles which made for an incredible wildlife encounter and you can watch the video of it here...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3fHe_WeKx0

NINE...Kasey the Minke whale

We had just departed Tobermory harbour on a two hour eco-cruz trip which mainly focuses on Seals, Eagles and Porpoise. I was doing my species talk and was on the second page talking about Herring Gulls when I picked out a back breaking the surface in the corner of my eye. It was a Minke whale just outside the harbour and everyone on board watched it come right into the boat as I got a photo shot of its dorsal fin which I recognized straight away from the ID folder as it was Kasey which has been recorded in these waters for 12 years. Next was incredible as the animal held at the surface circling the boat showing its whole body and looking up at us! On another similar encounter later in the season I had another full body view of a whale while I was stood on the bow and it turned side one and made direct eye contact with me!!

EIGHT...White-beaked Dolphins

The sea was a mill pond as we headed out west towards Coll. Any disturbance in the water was not going to be missed by the keen passengers on board. Over an hour in and Dolphin splash in the distance which ended up being a pod of the more scarce species of White-beaked. This season was the first time Sea Life Surveys Skippers James and Popz had encountered them in these waters which they had been covering for 30 years. Beautiful pale markings on the mammals and elegant behavior. watch the video capture here...


White-beaked Dolphins...

SEVEN...Pine Martens

My good friends Andy and Danny came up to Mull for the week and after speaking to a family on the boat about the chance to see Pineys on the mainland of Ardnamurchan we headed over for a couple of days. We baited the site recommended with Peanut butter on bread and sat it out in the tent before moving to the car as the midgees were insane (not that I don't appreciate all these wild areas they are protecting!) At dusk the hugely energetic mustelids appeared taking advantage of the bait and iterating with each other! I have always had a soft spot for mustelids and especially the Piney which its range should be all over the country but for that out of date hobby for bored rich people. Anyway...pineys!...beautiful animals...love them!

Pine Marten in Moidart by Daniel Pokemon Naisbitt

SIX...Watching Hen Harriers from my Cumbrian home

Seeing a species from your house or local patch is always more special and even so when it is pretty much extinct as a breeding species in this country. Their heavy illegal persecution drives me to love this beautiful bird even more. I should be seeing them a lot more often on our moors but those lovely people that manage parts of the countryside prefer it to be nice and barren.

FIVE...Otters and Long-eared Owls at Gdale

2nd of March and my wildlife mate Gary came over to wish me Happy Birthday and spend a couple of days here. He arrived late on at about half 10 and it was quite a nice night so we went for a wonder to listen for Long-eared owls. We checked out a couple of duck ponds and after hearing LEOs calling around us we noticed the ducks were disturbed and we shone the torch on the water picking up eye shine! At first I thought it was a Mink but as it got out of the water it was an Otter in an upland environment no where near a river system. Another appeared and then there was four of them foraging on the frogs and spawn as they must of followed the amphibians up to their spawning grounds. An amazing experience to be present with one of my wildlife heroes in a young plantation on a star lit sky listening to LEOs calling around us and watching four Otters in the pond less than a mile from my house (and on my birthday but I don't really care about that!).

FOUR...Aurora Borealis

In 2012 I got to see the Aurora Borealis for the first time and in fact quite a number of times in the end, all on British soil. The first sighting was a faint display on Mull in March. I went back home to Geltsdale in April for a couple of days and when I was at my local sports centre playing Ping Pong I got a report on my phone of 'storm level' aurora activity possible and as the conditions were right I headed home sharpish to keep a look out. I was joined by Andy and Danny as we watched the solar winds increasing into the early hours with ripples and shafts showing in faint green. It peaked at 2am and the rare display made the morning papers http://www.newsandstar.co.uk/news/northern-lights-put-on-rare-display-in-cumbrian-skies-1.947604?referrerPath=/

While back on Mull and approaching the autumn equinox (aurora season) I was treated to some more remarkable displays including one after the famous european ryder cup victory and also the strongest one I have seen while listening to constant rutting from the nearby Red Deer. The photos say it all so here is one of the best ones...

Aurora over Ardmore...


This species gets in your head and drives you on to concentrate on the seas harder for an opportunity of actually seeing the top predator in the ocean. The date was 24th August (my good wildlife friend Gary's birthday!) I don't believe in fate but if I did I would be going barmy about that!
 It was a miserable morning and we had set off on a four hour trip with 40 plus passengers on board. We headed west and after a quiet first hour another operator got on the radio to say Orcas out at Coll! Full steam ahead as we headed out there to catch up with them and when we did it was an amazing 10 minutes before jimbo the skipper brilliantly didn't chase them and left them to it, setting a great example to all on board of how to respect wildlife. The video of the amazing encounter is here... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4RPvUzCUdec 

Bull Orca...

TWO...A season with Golden Eagles

A Goldie pair that I have followed in 2010 and 2011 on the isle failed to fledge any young and apparently hadn't done so for nearly a decade as is the low success rate with the species. Last spring I watched the pair interact in preparation for breeding attempts. I watched a number of aerial displays by the male along with copulation and territory patrolling. It was a coastal territory so I followed them for the remainder of the season from sea as our boat excursions passed the eyrie. A chick was seen on the nest cup after a worrying quiet spell and I watched a fledged bird soaring in the hebridean sky in August as it came as close as 100 yards from me making eye contact been the major highlight to top it off. As goldies range decreases in large parts of the country every newly fledged bird has huge importance for the future. Just a privilege.

Golden Eagle...

ONE...People responding to Wildlife

Weather it is seeing someone excited by Minke whales, Manx Shearwater or a Mallard the joys people get from wildlife represents the priceless value that these species have and the importance to protect them for future generations. Basically the more people that take an interest in wildlife, increases their chances of protection through financial value as our ever expanding man-scapes dictate all our wild areas now. As the great Brian Clough once said "Its all about money now".

There you go I bet you weren't expecting my number one wildlife highlight would involve people...

Its not that I don't like people...there just not my favourite animal.

Thanks for looking 8-)


  1. Great read Ewan. I couldn't agree more about the more people involved with wildlife the better. I often feel that there is a little too much elitism amongst naturalists (birders especially)and rather than helping get others involved some prefer to keep 'it' to themselves.
    I fall in with your last comment about people too.:-)All the best.

  2. Top stuff lad, bring on our adventures in 2013 !

  3. Alright lad
    Yeah great choice of high lights from 2012 good to read and some stunning pictures , I'm looking forward to getting back up to mull in 2013 when's the best time to go ? Enjoyed it last time as was nt to many people there !
    Also I'm still raring to go when ever your free to see some sights in sunny Carlisle or any where that takes your fancy
    Catch you soon