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

An Unfortunate Sight

2nd October 2007

Good weather yesterday but the unfortunate sight of a dead Minke Whale floating about two miles outside Loch Gairloch. Obviously these wonderful animals pass away naturally, but this was a calf or juvenile of about four metres.

It had a six inch wound running laterally down its right hand side, underneath the pectoral fin on its throat pleats. The whale had signs of abrasions from being beached.

I have forwarded the photos to the Sea Watch Foundation to see if they can find any evidence of how the animal came to die. Alerted the coast guard of the navigational hazard posed by the whale.

Bad weather today hampered offshore work so we have stayed inshore. Sightings of the usual suspects plus a slow fly past by an adult female White-tailed Eagle by Longa Island.

Dolphin Mega-Pod

4th October 2007

I've heard of mega-pods of Common Dolphins and seen them on documentaries. Last year there was a report of one of these pods just off Wales and I was very jealous. I have travelled to hotspots like Baja California in the hope of encountering a mega-pod and been unsuccessful.

We set off yesterday morning with great weather and flat calm seas. We stopped for a pod of Porpoises about three miles outside Loch Gairloch and while the passengers were enjoying them I was, as usual, scanning the sea looking for the next area to visit.

About three miles to the west I could see Gannets circling! On closer scrutiny I could make out fins and a bit of splashing. I told our passengers that they could be dolphins and we set off in that general direction.

Common Dolphin – October 2007

As we approached I couldn't believe how many fins, splashes and Gannets were around and I thought this might be the pod of 150 dolphins which we had seen earlier in the year.

It soon dawned on me this was something I'd never seen before – Common Dolphins for miles around us!

In our immediate vicinity there were approximately 250! Then panning the binoculars around I could see the sea was erupting with fins, white water and Gannets, all actively feeding. This was a mega-pod!

Mega-pods occur when multiple separate pods all converge on a massive shoal of fish. In this case I'm pretty sure it was Mackerel.

I am only going to officially log 250 dolphins because I could not look and count everywhere at once and the water was alive for several miles to the north, west and south. Accurate numbers were impossible to calculate. I'm sure there were 1000-plus out there!

Pomarine Skua – October 2007

For the birders, we had a good run with a Pomarine Skua. The quality of this photo is amazing as I was doing 30 knots with one hand on the wheel!

The afternoon trip yesterday was hampered by some light rain but the dolphins were still out there.

The first pod we saw was just outside Loch Gairloch. The mega-pod had splintered but there were still dolphins spread out as far as you could see.

Bad news when I got back, I'd forgotten my phone and there was a message from one of the fishermen to say there were two Minkes on Rona Bank. We had been only three miles away from them!

They Just Keep Coming!

10th October 2007

Common Dolphin – October 2007

The Common Dolphins just keep coming! Pods of them on nearly every trip recently. This is an unusually late flood of dolphins indicating good Herring and Mackerel stocks. Boiling bait fish as well.

I had been wondering where the whales had gone, as the fish are here. Yesterday they returned with an adult and juvenile Minke just at the mouth of the loch. Not too many Harbour Porpoises around though.

There are still various Skuas to be seen offshore and a few Sabine's Gulls. Huge 'V' formations of geese flying south at the moment, annoyingly just too high for a positive identification.

Otters and a Lonely Goose

18th October 2007

Plenty of Harbour porpoises now showing inshore and offshore. Otters are very active at the moment with mothers and offspring being seen on Longa Island and singles on the south shore of Loch Gairloch around Shieldaig and Badachro.

We are seeing so many Otters at the moment because it's been very choppy offshore. Whales have been spotted from the shore around Melvaig, but it's been too choppy to locate them on our cruises.

On the bird front, we've seen a few White-tailed Eagles (Sea Eagles) again around Longa and Badachro. Some Turnstones and some (too quick to identify) passage migrant waders.

Barnacle Goose – October 2007

The most unusual sighting, not because of the rarity of this bird but because of it's location, has been a Barnacle Goose, happily grazing on Glas Eilean yesterday.

These birds usually migrate in huge numbers so it was very peculiar to see one on its own.

The adult bird was obviously fit and healthy as we watched it chomping away on the long grass on the island. We were only 20 ft from the bird without stressing it at all! You could never get that close to a wild bird on land, but on a boat it doesn't see you as a threat.

Any Birders who are up in this area can get good close look of a Dipper at work near the Old Inn at Gairloch.

From the old stone bridge over the burn next to the beer garden you are practically guaranteed to see it as long as it's not high tide.

Rocking and Rolling

26th October 2007

It was pretty bouncy offshore yesterday and we didn't spend much time on the migration routes. The time we did spend was worth it though – we had a Leach's Petrel feeding around the boat. Luckily it was close enough not to need binoculars – the motion of the boat would have made that very difficult. A Storm Petrel was also popping in and about.

Couldn't get any clear pictures – if there are any photographers who understand the difficulty with this type of environment I would be very grateful for tips on counteracting 'camera shake' at sea.

Quite a few Harbour Porpoises in the Loch and we are still seeing Otters on most cruises at the moment, especially around Longa.

Similar choppy weather again today so not much time outside the Loch. Really annoyed not to make a positive identification of a diver off Melvaig – couldn't get the boat close enough and stable enough. It did look to have a very white bill and it was still showing mostly breeding plumage.

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