Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Small isles excursion...

Sea Life Surveys trips finished at the end of September and as we had a settled high pressure spell of weather in the second week of October, I was desperate to get back out to sea and observe what was happening at this time of the year when the waters are under recorded.
Myself and Andrew Jake decided to head across to the mainland on Friday evening and up to Mallaig where we slept in the car at a nearby lay-by and up early the next morning to catch the 7am ferry to cover the Small isles. 
We boarded MV Lochnevis in Mallaig harbour and the wildlife was on show from the word go as we admired hundreds of starlings emerging from their roost site 50ft high in the harbour car park lights. A raft of 40 plus eider ducks was also present with some drakes putting on a resilient display.
Moments later and we were on to harbour porpoise in small groups with a healthy number of juveniles and calves seen as we made our way to the west. A flurry of activity followed as we saw over 30 gannets in a cloud feeding hard and also a group of 40 plus harbour porpoise in a concentrated area! It seems that from past observations at this time of the year harbour porpoise can congregate in larger numbers in the autumn/winter months. A big group of kittiwakes were seen feeding to the south of us at the same time.
Minke off Rum
Our first port of call was the beautiful isle of Rum and from there we headed north, and within 10 minutes of departure the skipper suddenly announced over the tannoy that there was a minke whale off the port side, and moments later the animal surfaced again under a small group of feeding gannets and kittiwakes! Well done to the skipper for encouraging the passengers, and a well earned Mars bar for that man! 
Minutes later I spotted another minke off the starboard bow which performed 5 surface rolls in a south-easterly direction. 

An ID shot of the first minke recorded
As we made our way round the north side of Rum we spotted a cloud of hundred plus gannets feeding further north. Over thirty guillemots recorded since the start, and a group of six razorbills and a single black guillemot as we were by the east side of Canna. 
It was the first time I had seen Canna close up and I was really impressed with its isolated beauty. A tiny community of 17 people and lovely surrounding wildscapes. Andrew spotted two white-tailed eagles perched on grassy knolls on the south of the isle. A passenger told us later on that the island had eradicated rats and rabbits in the last few years and now they have lost their solitary pair of golden eagles. A difficult compromise losing one species means losing a symbolic bird of prey which could have provided a huge amount of joy and inspiration to island visitors and locals a like. 

North Rum
Approaching Canna
We got under-way again to the south round to west side of Rum and spotted another two minke whales! (both juveniles). A group of fifteen harbour porpoise was seen with animals driving at the surface, presumably chasing fish. Four barnacle geese and eleven whooper swans overhead as well turned our attentions to the skies for a while. Great and arctic skuas (dark morph) were seen harassing kittiwakes in their usual fashion and a great northern diver in flight heading south. 

The isle of Eigg
Sightings record...
We landed on the manscaped isle of Muck and then onto the stunning isle of Eigg where we had harbour seals hauled out on skerries and curlews feeding on the exposed tide.
Two more juvenile minke whales were seen on the crossing from Eigg to Mallaig as the total count was six in seven hours sea watching! A single straggling manx shearwater was seen right off the bow as well to finish off a wonderful marine excursion with a fantastic array of species and seascapes.