Sunday, 16 November 2014

Humpback whale - the Skyes the limit

Myself and Rachel twitched a 15 metre, 40 ton marine mammal at the end of October. It was a humpback whale off Skye and only the second record of this species in the Hebrides this year so it was a mouth watering prospect to go and try and see this iconic cetacean. We had a 24 hour window on the Wednesday where we both were free and the weather forecast was promising enough to increase our chances. 
So after a late night shift of stargazing/photography we were up for the first ferry off the isle at 0725 to travel the four hour journey north with an ETA target of around noon. Wonderful crisp morning light along with highland autumnal colours meant a few short stops on the way as we arrived at the Skye bridge at 1130 and onto our first perseverance point of Braes.

Within minutes of been at our vantage point looking over the Sound of Rasaay...BLOW! A humpback whale performed a surface sequence finishing off with that sublime fluke of the tail! We watched the animal for about half an hour before losing it but persevered until about 1500 as we got onto the 'humpy' again along with two minke whales all feeding in close proximity. At one point I had all three animals surface in the same field of view in my binoculars! A solitary breech was made metres from a creel boat as Rachel and I just got the huge splash. Brian Wells on the vessel got a great photo that can be seen below. A wonderful experience and made extra special as it was in British waters. Another memory that will stick with me for life.

Top left - humpback fluking, top right - Rach scanning the Sound of Rassay, Bottom left - Eilean Donan caslte, Bottom right - Creel fishermans amazing capture
For the last hour of light we decided to see a bit of the isle so headed to Portree for a forage then back south so see what was going on. We covered the south west side of the isle, having a wee drive to take in the sights. Impressive dramatic peaks of the red (granite) and black (gabbro) Cullins providing impressive geology on the isle known as 'Dinosaur Island' because of its fossil records. 

We headed back east at dusk and arrived at Fort William where we had fish and chips in a busy town on bonfire night. I try not to moan and be negative but firework displays boil me up a little bit. The fact that hundreds of folk can congregate to watch a noisy artificial display of the same old nonsense and I have spent countless evenings watching northern lights, meteor showers and the general wonders of the night sky with no one in sight! We also saw a Chinese lantern being released into the sky, which is something that baffles me as well? You can observe thousands of bright things called stars in the night sky along with everything else to provide endless learning, fascination and curiosity. This is before talking about the environmental damage they cause, as 90% end up in the sea and can be consumed by filter feeding species like whales and can lead to fatality. So it's time to get rid of every single one of them, and I don't care if there is tradition involved either....if we want to talk about tradition, our natural heritage has been performing for 4.6 billion years so let's start taking notice of that a bit more. 

Anyway we headed back to the east along the district of Morvern and sightings of interest were two roadside woodcock and a pair of barn owls looking down on us from a young ash. We made it to Lochaline at around 2300 and after struggling to find a dark area because of street lights we finally managed a dark lay-by to settle for the night and target the first ferry in the morning as Rach was working at 9am. The weather turned right on cue in the middle of the night with a force 7-8 south wind and heavy rain but the ferry was on and we made it back to the promised land on the 0700 ferry as planned!

A wonderful adventurous 24 hours and thanks to Rachel who I shared it with. What a way to spend a day, watching some wonderful marine life and a huge variety of inspiring wildscapes in the progress. The best bonfire night ever!