Wildlife

Basking SharkSunfishBirdsDeerDolphinsEaglesMink (Faux Otter)Minke WhalesOystercatcherSea OtterSeals

Basking Sharks are the second largest fish in the sea and in recent years we have seen hundreds of them. On one occasion twenty in a day.

These guys are not the sharpest knife in the box and are completely oblivious to what is going on around them. On occasions we have had to dodge them as they cut across our bow!

That said they are very impressive, and look like the classical cartoon shark, although they only hoover up plankton.

With Basking Sharks you generally see two fins but there is only one shark you see the dorsal fin and the end of the tail. There is just as much again up front! Sometimes you see the nose and the gaping jaw.

Sunfish are one of the stranger fish we see occasionally. Often mistaken for a sick dolphin or even a bin-liner these denizens lie on their sides at the surface, soaking up the sun.

While more normally seen outside the Outer Hebrides we have seen these between Mull and Coll, and suspect we saw one off Castle Duart but are not sure.

like all fish these are hard to photograph but these pics give an idea of what to look for.

Puffins

These delightful little birds are most evident from May to the end of July. We see them on Canna, Staffa and Lunga in local waters.

Puffins are real exhibitionists who turn up on the cliffs when the human visitors arrive so they can pose for the cameras!

When flying they look like clockwork birds, very ungainly - but we are told they are better adapted for swimming under water.
A truly worthwhile visit as they appear very tame and one can get very close. Probably why when you see your first Puffin you will be surprised at how small they are.

Puffins are in their colonies to breed from spring to early summer. They are usually away at sea again by late July or early August.

Golden Eagles

Most recent Cruisers will be familiar with Von's excitement over "Her" baby Golden Eagle.

Chris is more phlegmatic. It has been variously identified as a "bin bag" or a white rock but enthusiasm seems to have paid off, and indeed we do seem to have witnessed the development of a new young addition to the Spelve eyrie.

This photo is the best we could do and we leave you to make up your own mind.

By their nature eagles tend to be a long way off, or soaring above the hilltops so good photographs from the yacht are tricky. Last September we were witness to more than eight eagles, both Sea and Golden, soaring above Loch Spelve and even having something of a territorial battle.

Guillemot

One of the most ubiquitous birds in the area the Guillemot is great fun. They have a very clear sense of "personal space" they are hard to avoid as there are so many but as you get nearer they first try to paddle away but at the last moment they will dive under water to escape.

When teaching their babies this technique it gets very noisy. Mum will paddle away and then dive, leaving baby alone causing much squeaking. Then baby dives and mum surfaces to find no baby - more squeaking. Peace is restored when baby surfaces and an indignant pair paddle off to a less busy bit of sea.

Great Skua

Great Skuas are often called "Bonxies" because they can get very aggressive and fly down and clatter you round the head if you get too close to their nests.

Biggest of the Skuas and brown in colour with distinctive white flashes on the wings these are the bullies of the skies, able to rob a Gannet and frequently killing other birds and their broods.

I well remember a Bonxie landing in the water beside us as we crashed out of the sound of Bernera in heavy seas. The Bonxie was carrying a dead Puffin and proceeded to dismember it right on front of us!

Gannet

Gannets are Chris' favourite birds. Huge, mostly white with a golden head and black wingtips. We see these all over our sailing area, wheeling and circling and occasionally plunging head first into the sea with wings folded and from a prodigious height.

One of the most spectacular places to see gannets is on Stac Lea off Boreray, St Kilda. During the season the stac is covered with gannets with thousands more wheeling around in the sky. It is a wonder there seem never to be any collisions.

A sure sign of something interesting going on is when you see a group of Gannets wheeling and mobbing something in the water. This frequently means that there are whales or dolphins around and everyone is getting a meal.

Cormorant and Shag

Cormorants and Shags are quite plentiful in our waters often seen together and frequently it is hard to tell them apart.

We see them flying low over the water and diving under the sea. The diving process can be quite funny as it is done from a floating position but the whole bird comes out of the water, feet and all, as it dives!

Razorbill

Very similar to the Guillemot the Razorbill has a sharp black beak with a white line on it. Strange white eyebrows as well give a slightly sinister air.

Fulmar

We see quite a few Fulmar on our travels. This one was spotted hiding in a cleit on St Kilda.

The St Kildans valued the fulmar for their oil which they will spit at you if you annoy them. The oil was exported to contribute toward the St Kildan's rent. Yes it seem they had to pay rent to live all the way out there!

Manx Shearwater

These birds nest in burrows and were originally confused with Puffins as both Puffin and Shearwater babies were much sought after for food and looked very similar.

Because they nest on the ground the Shearwater is very nervous and spends much of its time bobbing about at sea in huge rafts. They only return to their burrows after dark with a whooshing and rustling noise. This night noise seems to have impressed the Vikings who thought the noise was made by underground trolls.

Something like two thirds of the world's population of Manx Shearwaters breed on Rum. They migrate to South America for the winter!

Wheatear

This little chap is quite endearing. He will allow you to get quite close but not too close. He skips away when you do so but not too far!

This chap was spotted on St Kilda. Chris hoped it was the famous St Kilda wren but this was not the case.

Deer can be seen on many islands particularly Mull and Jura.

There is a certain majesty to seeing a twelve point stag all in velvet down by the shore on a bright morning. (unfortunately we missed a photo on that occasion but there is always next time)

When Dolphins come to play then everyone seems to lose their presence of mind - this is the time when we are worried that people are most likely to fall overboard!

On this occasion we had just left Oban and were charging along towards Lismore light at about 7 knots. Chris was at the helm, while juggling the camera and a pod of about 10 Dolphins came to play.

Most of them were bowriding under the port bow where Chris could not see them but one chap came and did a couple of jumps to starboard while Chris had the camera running.

Minke Whales are probably the largest creatures we see reasonably often in an average season. You have to be looking to have any chance of seeing them as generally they are travelling quite fast and come to the surface to breathe about 4 times an hour.

A typical sighting will involve three "rolls," the first two will involve a long slow and shallow roll of the whale's back with a small triangular fin quite a long way down the back. The third roll is generally a much deeper affair with the whale clearly lifting out of the water and diving at a much steeper angle.

When you see the steep roll then it is a good bet that the whale will have dived deep and will not surface again for 15 minutes by which time they can be miles away.

Minke Whales rarely pay much attention to yachts but it does happen as you can see on a video recorded in 2008 when a baby Minke came and gave Corryvreckan a close inspection.

Otters are very shy creatures as a rule and a glimpse of one in a remote loch is often all that one can aspire to.

Very early in the morning one sometimes can spot an otter fishing on the shoreline. But the normal sighting will involve spotting the arrow-shaped wake they make as they swim across the loch.

However there are some "New Age" otters around who have found that being more approachable has its compensations! There is an otter in Tobermory who chases folk up their masts, and this one was snapped on a fishing boat tied alongside in Mallaig.

Seals are very evident almost from the minute you leave Oban.

We find them off Kerrera in Loch Spelve and in many of the anchorages we visit such as Loch Tarbet Jura, Loch Scavaig etc...

You see them either "Stargazing" out at sea or on one of their favourite "haul out" rocks where they sun themselves while waiting for the tide to return.

Touch to Call!