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July wildlife sightings from Nick Davies and other news from Hebridean Whale Cruises.

Shiants Top Destination

15th July 2007

Some reasonable weather so far this month. Again the Shiants have been a top destination. Our clients visiting the islands have been rewarded with lots of whales and dolphins en route, resulting in the usual three hour cruises being up to an hour late back! That has played havoc with my lunch break! On the 6th we came across our first fledged Razorbill chick.

First Orcas of the Year

24th July 2007

Yesterday will be etched in my mind! Enter the famous Scottish wildlife author Robin Hull. He and his wife were booked on the offshore two hour afternoon cruise – no pressure there then!

Robin Hull had been chatting to James in the Wildlife Centre before the cruise and said he had travelled the globe to see Orcas and had never encountered one. So if we could organise a sighting for him that would be great!

The weather was beautiful and we set off heading north west, hoping to find the Minke Whale again which we had been watching in the morning near the Shiants. Nearly an hour had passed and we had seen Porpoises and some Storm Petrels. Then I spotted something black about two miles in front of us and called out a whale.

Through the binoculars the black whale turned out to be something special – I could see the huge dorsal fin of a bull Killer Whale. 'Orca!' was my next call.

Then the approach! Always a nervy one with Orcas. There were five of them – two bulls and three cows. They were moving very slowly in a tight formation, surfacing every seven to eight minutes. They looked like they were up to something.

Killer Whales – July 2007

Photograph reproduced courtesy of M. Coulon – passenger on Orca 1

As I panned the binoculars around I saw Gannets circling and diving in a manner that usually indicates they are following dolphins. Sure enough there were 15 Common Dolphins about two miles off to our right and the Orcas were heading straight towards them. Was this coincidence or was it deliberate?

What happened next was unbelievable. I was cruising at a steady five knots, holding a parallel track to the Orcas who were about 300 metres away on my port beam, when the dolphins made a bee line for the boat and started riding the bow wave!

Then the Orcas surfaced again, still about 300 metres away, and this brought an instant reaction from the dolphins who disappeared and didn't surface again until they were at least half a mile away. The Orcas just maintained their course. We left the area to head back shortly after that, so I don't know what transpired.

John Coe – July 2007

Added later: One of the bulls we were watching has been positively identified as 'John Coe'. This Orca has been recorded in the Hebrides since 1992.

This is the first confirmed sighting of this animal in 2007. He is easily identified by a huge nick on the trailing edge of his dorsal fin close to the body.

Terns and Missing Puffins

31st July 2007

The Common Tern chicks on Glas Eilean are suffering big losses due to predation. The biggest culprit seems to be a resident Great Black-backed Gull who is picking them off at will. Even the mass efforts of the parents don't seem to deter the gull. I hope this doesn't put them off returning next year as Common Terns are notoriously quick to re-locate after a bad breeding season.

I mentioned above that we had seen a fledged Razorbill chick early in the month. Its significance may have become clear today. We visited the Shiants and at first all seemed normal – the usual Kittiwakes and Fulmars on the east cliffs. But when we rounded the corner into the main bay it was almost empty! No more than 300 Puffins there in total.

So where are the breeding colonies? Usually the Puffins don't leave the islands until the second week in August. Have they failed or just fledged early like the Razorbills? Significantly, I saw no Puffins with fish-laden beaks flying into the islands.

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