Sunday, 30 June 2013

Rib trips & Hyskeir lighthouse...

People are more concerned about the proposed deer cull than they are of the imminent extinction of the Scottish Wildcat...
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-22839948

Rare bird gets killed by turbine blade in the outer Hebrides...
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-23082846

decline in invertebrates due to cold spring...
http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/23054039

Another tagged golden eagle goes missing over managed shooting estate...
http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/2013/06/25/yet-another-satellite-tracked-golden-eagle-goes-off-the-radar/

An SLS Whalewatch on Saturday 22nd as we headed north to cover waters off Ardnamurchan and the small isles. The trip started with fireworks as half an hour in and we had already encountered a minke whale, WT eagle fishing and harbour porpoise. Plenty of bird activity on the way round the peninsula with big numbers of Shearwaters and auks in particular. We landed on the isle of Muck for lunch with its 30 strong community delighted to have just received 24 hour power the week previous. A quick walk of the isle and I was admiring the rich meadows which the owners promote on the isle as part of a new scheme. No Corncrakes but plenty of Skylarks, Swallows, Meadow Pipits and Finches.  

On the way back south we covered off Sanna and Muck but no more whales as we enjoyed great views of porpoise, Storm petrels and more Shearwater. Lewy let me lay down on the bow and get level with big rafts of Shearwater we went past which was a great experience as I took a few shots. For the last hour of the trip I propped the camera on the mast pointing back at the top deck and did a time lapse of crew and passengers, the footage can be seen at the bottom of this post.


Northern Fulmar
Manxie taking flight..
Basking shark seen on Monday...

On Mondays Whalewatch we headed west with Popz as skipper. Porpoise and wt eagle heading across and a small amount of feeding by Manxies. The morning was quiet but the second half was fantastic with two separate pods of Common Dolphins and a single basking shark holding at the surface. Large numbers of Storm Petrels plankton feeding at the surface off Coll. 

On the evening a few of us headed to the Loch Na Keal area to check on a local pair of Golden Eagles and to see what else was happening. All is well with the 6-7 week old eaglet with adult birds busy providing food. A young couple pulled up from Glasgow and helping them with their first Golden Eagle experience was hugely rewarding seeing their response and joy from seeing the special birds. Lovely to meet Jenny as well who is a blog reader. A bitch Otter and two cubs further down the sea loch was another highlight of the evening.

The king of the skies...goldie


A very healthy hurry of kittys and manxies off sanna bay

On the Tuesday I was crewing for Island Shuttle who do RIB charter trips around the Hebrides. We picked up 4 passengers from Salen and headed back up to the sound with our first destination being the isle of Muck. As we arrived at the fishing bank we encountered a small hurry of manxies and kittys. As the passengers were keen to see some marine life we stopped and had a scan with no joy so made our way north where I witnessed the biggest hurry I have seen in Hebridean waters...an amazing spectacle. 

We landed on Muck for a short spell before mooring off Eigg for lunch. We travelled west at 30 knots through the sound of Eigg as we watched the sea birds effortlessly cruising past us at around 40mph! We arrived at the cairns of coll where the Northern Lighthouse board were doing a maintenance check on Suil Ghorm lighthouse with the chopper landed on the beach. We did a circuit of Coll but no basking sharks at the surface so we headed back to Salen after a 130 mile trip and great RIB Trip. Thanks to Tomo for the opportunity and good experience. 



manxies with the isle of Muck in the back drop...
Wednesdays SLS wildlife trip produced some nice eagle and porpoise action and a very healthy plankton sample with a couple of screenshots provided to show the activity under a microscope...


Phytoplankton...plant matter under the microscope...photo by Andy T
Fish Larva...photo by Andy T
Copepod, big part of basking sharks diet...Photo curtsey of Andy T

Follow Andys facebook plankton page here....https://www.facebook.com/ProffessorPlankton

An evening shift at the Harrier sites on the north side of the isle was a mixed bag with no sign of birds at the first site and a brief female seen at the other site. Field work is getting cut short because of abundant midges and busy days at sea. A nice sunset and a quick focus on wild flowers produced Early Purple Orchid, Marsh Spotted Orchid, Kidney Vetch and some good smelling Bog Myrtle. I am enjoying learning new wild flowers, I think when you get to a certain age you start to appreciate the flora a bit more and the wonderful scent that comes with them. Very keen to concentrate on the Butterflies If I can find a decent spell of weather to do so. 


Early Purple Orchid...photo by Andy Tait
Winky sea watching off Caliach
North coast sunset remains...

On Thursday I was asked to crew on the RIB with Lewy to help with the search for Basking Sharks on the charter. We headed north riding a fair sized swell to a traditional site for Sharks off Hyskeir which is a remote island 30 miles from Tobermory to the south west of Canna. Plenty of  Stormies all the way up and as we got closer to the isle the GPS said we were very close off the bow as seconds later the huge lighthouse (41m) appeared from the mist. We did a circuit of the isle with no joy with the Sharks as we tied the RIB onto the pier and had a privileged 5 minutes shore time to explore the truly remote location. 
One brilliant fact about the isle Lewy told me was that when the lighthouse was manned, the keeper made a one hole golf course on the fertile grassland which is now well grazed by Geese. The lighthouse was one of the last to be manned as it went automated in 1997. No Sharks on the day but a great trip out for Lewy and Ewie.


30 knots on the rib...hyskeir lighthouse in the back drop

Hyskeir lighthouse on a remote island west of the small isles, what a privilege

The highlight on a wet and windy Whalewatch on Saturday the 29th was a breaching Basking Shark clean out of the water on two occasions. Arctic Skuas and Storm Petrels were other good shows.



Top deck time lapse on Sula Beag with Ruth and I guiding...

Thanks for looking :)

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Put the wildlife on hold I'm off to the chocolate shop...

Pheasants get more protection than native Buzzards, an interesting article regarding the mass number of game birds reared in the UK every year.  

The new National Wildlife Crime Unit website is up and running...

An interesting piece regarding the effect overfishing has on jellyfish and the overall knock on effect... 

Live raptor web cams provide great entertainment, especially if the raptors have been illegally persecuted from your local area taking away that opportunity to see them out in the field...

SLS highlights in the last few weeks have included breaching basking sharks producing good air time, which has to be one of Britain's best wildlife spectacles. The behaviour is thought to be for courtship purposes although, for the removal of parasites is also a theory. The minke whales have been working big areas of sea and common dolphins are building in numbers and consistency. Harbour porpoise have been showing well in small numbers with the first calves seen and even breaching witnessed back in May. 
Our coastal eagles eyrie's are in good health with a WTE eaglet at 8-9 weeks old preparing for the big day. A goldie territory on the mainland side has at least one chick in with adult birds showing very well. On the sea bird front arctic tern numbers at quite small on the north side of coll along with kittiwakes. Manx shearwater have been seen in their thousands on some trips and an increase in storm petrel sightings compared to my three previous seasons is a positive. great skuas seen daily and arctic skuas also seen on occasions as well.


Common Dolphin and Calf

A good spell of weather in mid June got everything going and a rare day off for SLS crew encouraged us to do a wild walk on the isle. Richie rich, Beth and Struth present as we started a woodland walk which consisted of mixed deciduous trees coming into foliage. A Treecreeper was seen scurrying up a Birch tree as we made our way to the shoreline of Loch Ba. 
Common Sandpipers very vocal around the loch and a Common Buzzard soaring overhead. Willow and Wood Warbler heard around the woodlands as we made our way towards the higher ground following the stream up. We came about a wash pool with a 5 foot depth to it and as the temperature was a scorching 20 degrees plus we could not resist a dip to refresh ourselves. 
As we made it towards the tree line the bracken and rocky erratics provided good habitat for Adders on the south facing hillside, a good search came to no avail as I am yet to find my own snakes in four seasons on the isle. Golden ringed Dragonfly and Four-spotted Chaser were seen near the stream as we headed towards the higher burnt landscape remains from the out of control blaze back in April. The 300m summit gave great views looking west down Loch Ba and Loch na Keal. Looking down on the well managed Ben More estate kept me thinking all day 'what would I do if I had my own playground like this?'



Wash pool discovered in deciduous woodland...


View over Loch Ba

A camping session on Saturday eve as the smashing weather rolled into the weekend. Lewy and Paddy arranged to pitch up by Eas falls near Ulva. Present was Me, Richie, Struth, Winky, Sharky and Beth. Lewy cooked local venison stew for us all as we had a few drinks by the fire. Richie and I did a spot of photography and I went for a woodland walk to get some kindler and wood for for fire and sat looking out to LNK picking up a RT Diver calling, Otter foraging and Song Thrush signing spectacularly above me with hints of Snipe, Willow Warbler and Woodcock in his melody.
We all fell asleep by the fire listening to some of Lewys classic story telling and with paddy providing some astronomy info. I made a pillow out of moss and had a good nights sleep out in the wilds...u cant beat nature eh! Great night and great company. Thanks to Lewy and Paddy for sorting it all.



Eas Force...

Three Bottlenose Dolphins were seen in the bay one morning showing well with occasional breaching seen. They seemed to be attracted to the moored up Sula Beag for some reason, Great start to a Sunday morning. 


Bottlenose Dolphin breaching next to the moored up Sula Beag

A camping/photography session arranged with Eryn Hooper who was up volunteering with SLS for a fortnight. We pitched up in Glengorm and a mild evening with a light breeze to keep the midge's at bay. Cock Red Grouse were display calling at and we also had woodcock and drumming Snipe. We photographed the light at dusk getting some nice results. We stayed up til half 2 before retreating to the tent and attempting to get up at 4am for sunrise but solid overcast conditions gave us a sleep in as we got up at 8am ready for the days whalewatch. 



Cotton Grass and Sedge up on the hills at dusk looking north


Pitched up for the night


A day off for me and Richie on the Friday provided a perfect opportunity to do some field time on the south of the isle. Richie is lad from Hartlepool who is up working for SLS for the season. We called into Craignure Spar to get a Cornetto and came out with a wild flower book which I could not resist buying, so that would be a big focus for days field session. We started at Grasspoint where we saw a female harrier and a pair of Greenshank. Moving onto Loch Spelve and we saw another female harrier hunting which could mean chicks have hatched in the area. Whinchat and two fledglings seen and also a pair of Reed Bunting and Whitethroat calling. Common Blue feeding on a Heath Spotted Orchid also seen. 

Heath spotted Orchid and Common Blue

We moved onto Loch Buie and Loch Uisg where we enjoyed the Common Gulls and Lapwing and admired the Rhododendron in full bloom on the west side of Uisg. We went through Glenmore and got a Goldie above the skyline before a speeding motorist beeped us on. It baffles me that folk can drive at speed and be oblivious to the stunning surroundings around them. He gave me a naughty hand gesture as I turned into a lay by but I wasn't bothered cos we were on good harrier grounds!
A third female Harrier seen before concentrating on some more roadside orchids along with Birdsfoot-trefoil and foraging on some Pignut. 

We called into see our new local friend Liz who was on board an SLS trip with us earlier in the week. She owns a beautiful house at Gribun looking over Inch Kenneth which she rents out for self accommodation throughout the year along with a house on the Scottish wild west mainland at Loch Doilet. 

Both stunning self accommodation cottages can be found and booked here...

Stag cottage - http://www.glenhurich.co.uk/

Gribun - http://www.accommodationsmull.co.uk/gribun/



Common Dolphins bow riding...video work by Andy Tait


Goldie over Ardnamurchan by Andy Tait

Thanks for looking...

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Fathers Day...

You only get one dad in this world and you have no choice in the matter what so ever...

From when I was a kid thanks to my parents I was lucky to be brought up in a wild remote upland area where less than 1% of the English population live at that altitude above sea level. Dad encouraged me to get close to nature, whether it was building tree houses down in the woods, swimming in the river Gelt or searching for conkers for the playground battles at primary school. 
I always had animals nearby whether it was shmiggy the slowworm, Arnie the polecat or ginger the pussy cat. I even slept the night with a lost lamb in my bed!

His passion for the natural world is sensational as he just does not switch off. He has achieved so much in his career not through financial wealth or qualifications but all through his dedication and self drive. I am reminded by some of his success hundreds of miles away up on Mull when I see his books in the local Tobermory book shop or read his articles in national magazines. 


I am very proud he is my dad...

I am fortunate to say that I won first prize in the lottery of life...

Happy fathers day :)

Friday, 14 June 2013

Like looking for a Knobble in a haystack

Has the year finally arrived?...a dark day for all involved with the English countryside
http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/2013/06/04/has-that-day-finally-arrived/

North of the border the conflict continues...
http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/2013/06/13/white-tailed-eagle-nesting-tree-reported-cut-down-in-angus/

No stopping the Ash dieback...
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22867492

There is finally signs of summer on the isle of Mull as a 7-10 day period of high pressure was very much welcome for all concerned. The increased temperature really got the wildlife going along with the landscapes which seemed to trigger into every shade of green in a few day spell. 

From where I am living I can watch the Starlings and House Sparrows feeding their fledglings with what seems like an abundance of food coming into them as they wait on the nearby wires and fences. Swallows and House Martins feeding on the wing at intense speeds and a male Hen Harrier seen on a few occasions flushing pipits and larks as I am trying to pin point a possible nest site. A female Peregrine powered into a group of Starlings coming away successful as Pipits mobbed the bird as it flew off the east.

The active goldie pair I am monitoring is healthy with a single Eaglet seen being provided with a Mountain hare on one evening visit. My two Harrier pairs on the north side of the isle are in order with birds on eggs and grey males seen hunting in the vicinity. 

The marine life is progressing with Minke whales becoming more consistent as they cover large areas presumably working harder for food. Common Dolphins starting to come in shore with the food as the true entertainers are never shy in coming to play on Sula Beags bow. Bird sightings on recent trips have included Storm Petrels, Arctic Skuas, Swifts, Shearwater, Gannets, Bonxies, Auks and Kitiwakes. To book an SLS trip visit the web site here http://sealifesurveys.com/

A big highlight was seeing Knobble the Minke whale again! ID work is done on the mammals and Knobble has being coming to these waters since 2002 and it was very exciting to see him/her surfacing with that unique triangular dorsal fin with a Knobble on top. Follow the facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/KnobbleTheMinkeWhale

One evening after an SLS trip we had Iolo Williams and Dave Sexton on board with the film crew to capture and talk about our local WT Eagle pair for a series to go out later in the summer. It was a great few hours as we enjoyed views of both parent birds and chick along with a Minke whale, Porpoise, Golden Eagle and a male Harrier which only I saw. 

Photo collection below...click for larger scale


Otter holding on the surface on LNK in golden hour...

Iolo and Dave Sexton in front of the camera talking eagles...

Mountain Hare...in my experience on the isle, this year there has been an increase 
of sightings in their traditional sites

Common Dolphins approaching Sula Beags Bow...


Minke off Mull...viewed from Sula Beag, Sea Life Surveys

Bonxie...seen on SLS trip


Goldie eyrie...over 7 foot deep!

Grey Heron on exposed rock in evening light...


Minke with Ben More as a back drop...


Sun setting over the sea of the hebrides...

Richard, Beth and Ruth scanning the seas at dusk


Loch Na Keal...

Thanks for looking...

Thursday, 13 June 2013

State of Nature - Iolo Williams

An inspirational speech by Iolo Williams regarding the newly publicized state of nature report...A MUST watch...



Sunday, 9 June 2013

Shark charter, 27th - 31st May

Shark charter week and we were on board Bold Ranger for the 5 days of the excursion with moderate winds forecast easing off towards the end of the week. A lot of sunshine hours predicted and little rain which was positive. The main focus was diving and filming Basking sharks but we would cover a number of species throughout the week.


Fantastic shot by Alan of an interacting Grey Seal and Ramon...

We arrived at Coll and focussed on the local Seal colonies and the divers got in with some Atlantic Grey Seals which were being very sociable as the guys got some great shots of the mammals. I dropped them off on one of the near by islets to do some sunset shots and we anchored for the night to an exposed south east wind force 4-5 so it was a roly nights sleep! I didn't get my 8 hours but managed to get some shut eye.


Inquisitive Grey...

The Cairns...

Coldplay wrote a song about this spot last year...

Sea Pink

Bluebells...

Day two and we headed down the west side of Coll keeping a good look out for Baskers to no avail. We covered a couple of traditional sites before heading east to Lunga where we anchored up and had a few hours shore time with the isle to our self as all the other operators had gone home. A lot of Puffins still forming rafts out at sea and very small numbers of Razorbills at present. Thick carpets of Bluebells seen and skull pellets found near a black-backed gull nest site consisting of Puffins, Razorbills and Rabbits. We took the pellets with us as it would be good to show passengers on SLS trips. Got wet a few times transporting people on the tender as there was a big surge on the rocky shore. We anchored for the night off the east side of Lunga.


Razorbill with sunrise at Lunga...

West side of Lunga...force 5-6 seas

Solid Bluebell carpets on Lunga

Bluebells and Primroses

Day three and I was up at 4am to take the group back onto Lunga for sunrise photography. A Razorbill came and associated with me while I was sat on the flying bridge and was calling and looking at me for about five minutes. An amazing golden light producing a lovely seascape The island landings on the tender were more pleasant because of the calming sea state. 


Bold Ranger in Loch Na Keal

We pulled the anchor up and headed east into Loch Na Keal to have a look for Otters. We got a dog straight away in the Ulva channel and headed further down the head of the loch admiring the stunning landscapes around us. Afterwards we headed out west to open grounds to look for sharks. 
.
On the evening session we headed out south west 4 miles off shore doing a big circuit of the open sea with the famous Skerryvore lighthouse in view. After a good couple of hours of searching the skipper spotted a Basker off the bow!! First of 2013! The skipper was jumping with joy! We got a few shots from the boat but it was too rough to send the divers in. On the way back to Tiree we got a group of 2-3 Bottlenose Dolphins bow riding to cap off a great day.


Basking Shark seen south west of Tiree.. filming with polecam

Gaping mouth of the Basker...

We had a relaxing morning before heading out around Tiree waters in search of the Sharks again. A four hour shift scanning the bright sparkly choppy seas and no success so we headed north towards Gunna. On route the skipper again picked out a Shark and as is normally the case when you see one then more are in the vicinity as we had a school of 10-15! Force 5 seas made it hard for the divers but they got in and got some record shots of the fish. We also watched a Great Skua take down a Gannet and also a Fulmar sit next to both divers being very inquisitive. 


Surface feeding shark taken off my iphone

Basking Shark taken by Ramon

Friendly Fulmar...

Bonxie!

Day five and we headed north towards the Cairns of Coll to concentrate on the Seals again. 
They were not been as sociable today as we moved on back home to the east. Common Dolphins were reported one cable to the north but we carried on and checked out a Golden Eagle eyrie which is 6-7 foot in depth....stunning. Landed back at Tob on Friday evening after a great 5 days experience for me, thanks to the skipper and everyone else on board.