Sunday, 4 September 2011

But there aren't any whales around now are there?!

The last few weeks have been fantastic for sightings however a bit more detail about that after I explain the title of today's blog.

As we all know there is never a guarantee with wildlife just general trends and helpful hints. Some of the longer running boat trips on Mull have witnessed many variations in the seasons sightings of Minke Whales, however the general trend is that they can be seen from April through into October, with a usual increase in sightings in late May and June. However just recently I have had a number of people come in and when they ask about boat trips they say, "but there aren't any Whales here now", where they are 'finding' this information I'm not sure but in my opinion this year later in the season has brought the best sightings. Obviously in coming years this may not be the case, however who knew after last year's amazing number of Basking Shark sightings that this year we would see them fewer times in the whole season than we did in June last year. The reason for this is not known and probably never will be however as with anything there are a number of possibles.

Anyway back to the actual sightings, the last few weeks with the exception of bad weather days Minke Whales have been seen on all trips and a number of times at least 2 whales have been seen on a trip. Last Wednesday the perfect conditions brought about some fantastic trips with an estimate of 3-7 Minke Whales being seen on a 4 hour trip. I tend to be more conservative in my estimation unless we have photographic evidence of that many individuals, however even 3 is a fantastic sight and left all on board very happy. Another bonus was that these Whales were all within an hour or so steaming from Tobermory. Another good sight on Wednesday was two Orca and two Bottlenose Dolphins seen from Ardnamurchan lighthouse.

We have had a few Dolphin sightings within the last couple of weeks, and there have also been another couple of Sunfish seen. One sighting that did seem very late in the season was a Puffin seen on the 1st of September, these little Auks will start leaving their grassy burrows from the beginning of August and usually we don't see any from the middle of the month, hopefully this little fellow will soon fly off and catch up with the others.

We're now into migration time and the boat trips will usually turn up some unusual bird sighting, so who knows what the rest of the season will bring.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Occasional visitor seen and wild weather

Last week had fantastic sightings, there was another sighting of 2 Orca this time just seen from the land at Ardnamurchan Lighthouse. This was once a land station for volunteers doing Cetacean surveys and although there are now no organised watches it is still a fantastic place from which to look out for marine wildlife.

Another special sighting was last Friday when the first Sunfish of the season was seen. This tropical species is seen occasionally during the later summer months, when they come to our waters to feed on the abundant Jellyfish.

This week has been a lot less predictable with rough seas and very wet weather thwarting our attempts to venture far from Tobermory Bay and the shelter of the Sound. However there were Bottlenose Dolphins seen from the Kilchoan ferry yesterday and our faithful Seals and Harbour Porpoise have been seen as well as the Eagles. Some of our seabirds have started to move onto their wintering grounds, the Manx Shearwaters for instance will be taking on a long distance journey to the coast of Brazil, the Puffins will also be toughening up for a hard winter out at sea.

However despite the weather taking an autumnal turn we still have a number of weeks left of the season and who knows what we will see in this time.

Friday, 29 July 2011


My last post was written in the wind and rain and today couldn't be more different. Yesterday was a slight blip but apart from that it has been sunny, warm and mainly calm for the last couple of weeks. However after the recent spell of very good sightings they have slowed down over the last couple of weeks. The last 2 days though have brought about some less seen wildlife, Bottlenose Dolphins yesterday and then Orca or Killer Whales today.

Orca can pass through at anytime but it has been a couple of years since any of the wildlife trip boats from Tobermory have seen these so it's very exciting. At the minute the individuals haven't been identified but there were 2 adults and 1 calf or juvenile. It seems like they have headed off now in the direction of Treshnish so hopefully some of the other boats from there will have caught up with them.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Good weather, good sightings and my return to the water

Well as I mentioned last time I couldn't wait to get back out on the water and I have now managed that. I will tell you more about my trip later on, but first about the last few weeks in general.

At the minute I am sitting in the office watching the heavy grey clouds and drizzle, a dramatic difference to the lovely calm, clear weather we have had for the last couple of weeks.

This has greatly increased the sightings with most days bringing both Basking Shark and Minke Whale sightings from at least one trip. The sighting areas have been very different so far this season though. Last year we were very lucky in that we had regular Basking Shark and Minke Whale sightings within an hour or so of Tobermory, this year however they are tending to be a bit further out, also the number of Basking Sharks seen in one day has dramatically decreased, whilst we are always very relieved that these species return there does seem to be quite a difference this year. However we can only speculate as to whether it was the unseasonably bad weather in May that has brought about this change.

There have also been sightings of Dolphins in the last couple of weeks. July was in fact kicked off with a sighting of Orca in Sanna Bay on the 1st, they have also been seen again around Staffa on the 14th. A single Risso's Dolphin and a pod of Common Dolphins were both seen on the 9th.

One species that has been missing have been the Common Seals, usually resident around Calve Island. These animals, the smaller of the 2 Seals species we see give birth around June, they prefer to do this in quieter waters and are absent for a few weeks returning later on in July with their young pups in tow.

Sea Eagle sightings have been sporadic, as previously mentioned they have no young to rear this year so seem to be making the most of the freedom and we think they are probably spending more time on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, having seen them crossing the water between Ardmore Point and Kilchoan on a number of occasions. There have been no out of the ordinary bird sightings in the last couple of weeks, but there are still lots of Puffins around and Common Guillemots with their young. Also Bonxies and Arctic Skuas, Arctic Terns, Gannets and Storm Petrels to name a few.

Well back to my day out. Wednesday dawned bright and calm, but relatively quiet on the trip booking front. However the good weather brought out the people and we soon had a boatfull, 2 families 11 people in total, all French, time to rely on my long ago GCSE's! We set out via the waterfall, Salmon farm and Ardmore point. Apart from 1 or 2 Seals and a few birds it had been quite quiet. We headed out towards Ardnamurchan and then Paul made the decision to head across to Coll. On the way we saw a huge splash, presumably a breaching Basking Shark. We then arrived at the Cairns of Coll just North of the main island. We then started searching the tideline and soon I had seen my first Minke Whale, it was heading straight towards and we stopped the boat and watched as this quite large individual surfaced less than 30 metres away it then swam behind us and surfaced 20 metres away on the other side of the boat. It seemed intent on foraging which meant that we had a very good view and it stayed nearby for around 20 minutes, we were even lucky enough to get that unmistakable whiff of whale breath. We then stopped to serve tea and coffee and it was at this point that there was a shout from the passengers, I looked behind the boat and there was a Basking Shark trawling the surface. After we'd seen this individual for a while it was time to start heading back, halfway between Coll and Ardnamurchan there it was again the whiff of Whale. This was another large animal and although seen only briefly we got another good view and as we were waiting for it to reappear we had another encounter with a Basking Shark. A fabulous day all round, hopefully it won't be as long until I'm next out on the water

Thursday, 23 June 2011

June brings increased sightings

A personal note to start off this blog, and that is at this time of year I am really missing being out on the sea, with many days of calm weather and good sightings to report I hope it's not long until I'm out there myself.

The weather although not perfect has been much better than May and the wildlife is starting to be seen on a much more regular basis.

Minke Whales and Basking Sharks have been seen on the majority of the 4 or 7 hour trips in the last couple of weeks. There have also been some good sightings of Common Dolphins in the area as well.

The Harbour Porpoise have been showing well and despite there being no chicks to feed as mentioned last time the Ardmore Sea Eagles are being seen quite regularly.

Large numbers of seabirds such as Gannets, Manx Shearwaters and Auks suggest that there is a good amount of food to be had and hopefully this means that our Whale and Shark sightings will continue.

The Treshnish trips are also running full steam and everyone is once again returning delighted with such close views of the all the birds, but particularly the comical little Puffins.

On land there have been some unusual sightings in particular a European Roller seen on the 16th June and a Quail heard calling on the 17th.

We hope that these good sightings will continue and I personally hope it's not too long before I get out on the sea and witness these animals for myself.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Wet and windy May affects trips

It’s been almost a month since my last update and what a month it’s been. Usually this phrase suggests a positive experience but unfortunately not in this case. May usually one of the best months for weather off the West coast has been plagued by high winds and often very wet weather.

This has therefore had a knock on effect on the trips, for a period of about 10 days none of the boats could go out to Staffa and the Treshnish Islands, luckily they are now sailing again and people are enjoying the ‘Puffin Therapy’! It also had an effect on the boat trips from Tobermory, the rough seas meaning that although not many trips were cancelled we were much more restricted in our range, with most if not all trips staying in the Sound of Mull, this is an area that can bring fantastic sightings but unfortunately there was a period where not a lot was seen, obviously there’s always the faithful Harbour Porpoise and Seals, but the Sharks and Whales just weren’t showing. However towards the end of the month it started to calm down and again the boats could reach the further out feeding grounds and once they did there was the bigger wildlife waiting patiently. Since the beginning of June Minke Whales have been seen every day along with a number of Basking Shark sightings and Common Dolphins on Friday.

Since the last blog it has been confirmed that ‘our’ pair of Sea Eagles have not been successful in hatching chicks this year, what went wrong I’m not sure, but it is a huge shame, although hopefully next they will try again next year. For a couple of weeks they were not seen often but recently they have been back and seen regularly along with Golden Eagles. There were also some rare bird sightings, possibly brought in by the bad weather. There have been numerous reports of Pomarine Skuas and at least 2 Long-tailed Skuas have been seen.

The weather this week although showery is forecast to be quite calm and today is my chance to get out on the waves and I can’t wait to see what’s about. Hopefully the next blog won’t be so long away and we’ll have better weather to report!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

May brings increased sightings

May started off on an exciting foot as we had the first sighting of Orca this year plus numerous Basking Sharks and Common Dolphins all within 2 days. Since then Basking Sharks and Minke Whales have been seen regularly and we’re hoping this will set the precedent for the coming months. The recent increase in sightings of the Minke Whale has been welcome as until this week the number of sightings has appeared to have been down on the last few years, however the very early sightings of Basking Sharks just go to prove that the changing of the seas is affecting the wildlife and we should never take anything for granted.

One thing that has been missing over the past couple of days though is our pair of Sea Eagles. Usually seen on most trips, their absence has raised some questions, especially as they were sitting on eggs. Hopefully they will return soon, and go on to have another successful breeding season.

Just a quick update this time, but hopefully with this week being Wild Isles week up here meaning even more people than normal are out looking there will be lots of sightings to report soon.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Another update

Well it’s been a couple of weeks since I last wrote anything and what a fabulous time it’s been. The island has been getting increasingly busier, which mean there are a greater number of people out looking for our returning wildlife. The fantastic weather has also surprised and delighted both visitors and locals alike.

From land lots of the summer migrants have been seen arriving in good numbers. Wood Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Whitethroat, Whinchat, Sedge Warbler, Redstart and Garden Warbler have all been seen in the last week or so with the first Cuckoos being heard as well. It has also been a fantastic time for seeing as well as hearing Corncrake over on Iona. With the vegetation still being quite low these secretive birds lack their usual hiding place and therefore you have a greater chance of spotting them skulking around. The first Mull Magic Corncrake walk on Iona was very successful, with at least 5 birds being seen or heard.

On the boats it has been a very exciting time. The Puffins and other breeding Seabirds have now arrived in good numbers to the Treshnish Isles and Staffa. As well as the birds, Seals and Harbour Porpoise one of the operators running to Staffa has also seen a Basking Shark, this is still very early for this species, but hopefully within a few weeks they will be being seen on a much more regular basis. The first Minke Whale has also been sighted from a passenger boat from Tobermory. This was seen last Thursday, and another was reported earlier in the week. It’s good to have these visiting Cetaceans back, every spring it is always an anxious time as we can’t take if for granted that they will continue to return year after year with the changes in the marine environment.

The faithful Harbour Porpoise have also been putting on a fantastic show as usual with Ardmore point once again being a hotspot with one boat seeing at least 20 individuals there yesterday. Another species this area is good for is the Sea Eagles. This was where our young pair bred last year and it appears that they are using the same nest again this year; I hope they are as successful at their second attempt, as in 2010 they had two young that fledged the nest and as far as we know are doing well.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Day off in the sunshine

Yesterday saw the warmest and sunniest day of the year so far for Mull and I was lucky enough to have a day off. Deciding to forgo the usual mundane day-off tasks, we decided to get out and enjoy the sunshine. Having heard about the Pied-Billed Grebe seen in Salen Bay and not yet having had a chance to go looking for it we headed off in the glorious spring sunshine. Even before we had reached Salen I had seen my first Swallow of the year; during the winter months I always forget how fond of these summer visitors I am! We then stopped at the old boats on Salen shore and had a walk down to the edge of the water.

There was no sign of the Grebe but we saw a good number of Common Seals hauled out on the rocks enjoying the sunshine, along with Oystercatchers noisily making their presence known, a couple of Red Breasted Merganser, Curlew, Greylag Geese and a single Mute Swan. We had a wander along the shore and saw a number of Buzzards soaring above us and heard at least two Willow Warblers singing from the bare branches, but even with no leaves they were impossible to see. Just as we were about to head back to the car, another bird came towards us, even from a distance you could tell it was something different and as it came closer and flew over our heads I instantly saw that it was an Osprey. This is a bird that whilst not common, is a summer visitor to the island and despite having seen them elsewhere this is my first sighting on Mull.

Unfortunately this isn’t a picture I took but from

After this we started to head home, but with the lovely spring sunshine still beating down on us we decided to have another stop by Aros Bridge, this is where I had spotted the Swallows on the way down and is a notoriously good spot for Dippers. Again the Swallows were seen, but no Dipper today, however it was lovely just to be outside, enjoying the bird song from the Chaffinches and Blue Tits amongst others. It was also lovely to see the bright yellow flowers of the Gorse and the Daffodils as well as hearing the young lambs call to their mothers in the field.

When we arrived back in Tobermory we were greeted with the news that there had been a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins in Calgary Bay. It is likely that these are the same animals that were in Tobermory on Friday evening and with the lovely weather bringing lots of people to the beach there it is likely that their presence was enjoyed by many.

All of these sightings mean it has been a fantastic start to the season and long may it continue.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

A new season is upon us

With the sound of drilling, sanding and hammering coming from all areas of the pontoon you can tell we’re coming to the beginning of a new season. With Easter being so late this year the boat refurbishments have taken on a more leisurely pace, however with a number of boat trips starting at the beginning of April last minute work is being done until the late evening. Luckily the weather has been kind to us lately and with the increasing day length this is a pleasure not a chore. Even I have been drafted in to assist with a bit painting! Despite there still being a sprinkling of snow on the mountains there is a definite feel of spring in the air and the animals know it too. Last week, St Patrick’s Day saw a pod of 7 Bottlenose Dolphins come into the bay and spend a couple of hours showing off courtship behaviour. Whilst many locals and visitors watched from the main street, staff from the HWDT jumped on the Harbour Association Rib and went out studying behaviour and taking photo identification pictures, further information can be found on their website The Eagles have been good to us all winter and there have regularly been 3 seen above the bay and flying to Aros park, reports are that one is an adult bird released in Fife last year and we think the other 2 are juveniles. Also the Tobermory Peregrine Falcons have been making themselves known, they often sit on top of the gallery in the main street, eyeing up the local feral pigeon population. With the regular sightings of feathers on the pavement it looks like they are living up to their name of fearsome predators. Even when not in sight you can hear them calling from over much of Tobermory. Last week there was another first for the year with a single Basking Shark seen near Tiree whilst one of the local boats was carrying out a bird survey in the area. This is an incredibly early sight, however looking into other Basking Shark reports for the year it looks like there have been a few more sightings, have a look at for more information. This is just a quick round up of some of the recent sightings around Tobermory. This season we are going to try to keep a weekly report of all interesting sightings and hopefully we will set up a link so that visitors and locals will be able to send us their wildlife sightings. For now all I'll say is that Explore Mull is now open and operating from the Aros Hall on the main street in Tobermory.