Friday, 19 September 2014

The rise of the sharks

Sea Life Surveys blog post...

The basking sharks arrived back in numbers during our shark charter with Kingfish Dive and Travel on the 19th July and moved further inshore to the west in the coming weeks as their numbers at the surface slowly increased. 

During a Whalewatch Explorer on the 28th July we encountered over twenty basking sharks leisurely quartering waters to the east of Coll. We observed some courtship behaviour with animals paired up in a linear position and we also observed the amazing spectacle of breaching. On the days to follow their numbers increased as we recorded over fifty in a close concentrated area on one particular cruise on the 31st July. As expected the plankton samples matched the abundance of sharks with high levels of copepods in the trawl. 

The third year of the basking shark tagging program involving the University of Exeter, Scottish Natural Heritage and ourselves got under-way at the end of July and the designated ten tags were fitted to sharks around the coastline of the isle of Coll. To follow the updated movements of these animals select the link -

A first report has been published for the basking shark tagging project which can be read here -

On the 15th August a film crew which included Martin Heyward Smith were aboard with us today filming basking sharks in Hebridean waters for an up and coming series on the wildlife in the area. We managed to track around seven sharks which included some very young animals.

The great thing about conservation research is that anyone can be directly involved in it. You can submit your Hebridean basking shark sightings to the HWDT ( Photo ID records of the dorsal fin can further add to the research, and information on how to take a positive ID shot can read here -


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Dragonfly diaries...

All wild animals have equal beauty and fascination but I must admit I do have a soft spot for dragonflies. Their vibrant colours and prehistoric history, along with their avian skills and predatory instincts are the main reasons why I stop in admiration everytime I encounter one. 
Again I have had limited opportunities to search for them this summer due to work commitments but here is the dates and records, when I focussed directly on dragonfly/damselfly observations...

Male common hawker
Female common hawker
My first field session was on June 24th covering local grounds around Tobermory. The habitat was bog and marshland around a young conifer plantation and I was rewarded with a four-spotted chaser, 5 golden ringed dragonflies, 6 large red damselfly and 5 common blue damselfly. The four-spotted chaser had very shiny wings so could well have been a new emergent (teneral). Two hours field time from 12noon - 2pm with sunny spells at about 18 degrees.

July was very busy work wise but I managed a few trips out in August starting with a day on the isle of Ulva on the 14th. My first record was a male black darter basking on the track and shortly after it a female common hawker on the wing. A male and a female common hawker followed it along with a large red damselfly. (16 degrees, overcast).

On the 24th August a day off in the sunshine as I headed down to Carsiag on the south coast of the island to cover the wildlife along that stretch from 1pm - 6pm. The first record was a dead female azure hawker on the path which is a nice record for the isle as far as I know. Other records on the day were golden-ringed, common hawker (m) and common darker (m). It was an amazing sight at about 5pm to see a common hawker in hunting mode in pursuit of flies on the wing and the speed and agility was just sensational as it caught its food source with minimum effort. (20 degrees, sunshine).

Male common hawker choosing my leg as a basking site
31st of the month and I headed down to Glengorm estate to persevere around the marshland and small ponds which provides excellent potential habitat for certain dragonflies species. I sat on a banking nearby with a bit of height and covered the expanse of marshland which was around 200 yards by a hundred yards in size. A two hour shift from 12 - 2pm rewarded me with 30 plus common darters, 18 males and 12 females. There was a lot of copulating observed with the animals in the 'wheel' position. One male common darter chose to bask on my leg and kept lifting off to chase off same species intruders before returning to the exact position on my leg over ten times. Other records were 2 black darters (m and f), 3 common hawkers and a single golden-ringed dragonflies. (18 degrees sunny spells).

A couple of trips to the south side of the island in early September rewarded me with good numbers of common hawkers very active in hunting mode. On the 7th I recorded eighteen individuals and on the 10th I recorded six. 

I have sent all these records to the BSC (British Dragonfly Society) to contribute to their ongoing sightings database -

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Tobermory peregrine - early bird catches the gull

Just before starting work in Tobermory on the 26th August I heard a huge commotion above me with herring gulls very vocal taking flight, then suddenly an adult female peregrine appeared and tagged one on the wing and carried the bird metres above my head, taking it to a nearby banking and feeding on it for over half an hour! It spent a good 15 minutes working through the feathers and down before having a good feed and then taking flight with the prey remains. 

An amazing spectacle...Here is a phone-scoped video of the bird...