Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Back on the Sea

Last week, whilst wandering through Uig Woods, I bumped into a local birder called Martin and we got chatting about pelagic birding trips into The Minch. In theory there could be shedloads of goodies waiting to be found out there, certainly Sabine's Gulls have been seen and Leach's Petrels breed somewhat less than a million miles away. Throw in passage skuas, shearwaters and the chance of a cosmic mega (Ascension Frigatebird was photographed just four years back on Islay, plus there was one on Tiree in 1953, clearly they like it up here...) and suddenly we were both very keen to see our chatting turned into a reality. 

Fast forward a couple of days and Martin approached a local skipper called Tom, had a chat, got a rough quote for a day long charter and spread the word to Bob McMillan. Bob, being the epicentre of the Skye birding network, sent an email to a bunch of folks and pretty soon there was enough interest to fill a charter. By sheer serendipity, Tom the skipper was having a beer at the hotel where I work that evening and, after a very useful introduction from my boss, we got to chatting about chartering his boat for the birder's pelagic. 

Anyway, the upshot of all that was that Tom invited me along on one of his daily nature trips and so today I jumped on the 1530 ride for three hours out into the sea loch. Yay, back on the water at last!!! 

NG3963 as I've never seen it before
As you can see, the weather was awful, but we persevered across the bay and were soon goggling at the sight of two White-tailed Eagles soaring overhead. I tried some pics but they didn't really come out too well. I noted 20 Black Guillemots as we steamed across the bay, then I stopped bothering to count them. We saw a Kittiwake city on steep cliffs, many parent birds sitting with half-grown grey chicks. I spotted an adult White-tailed Eagle perched on a nearby clifftop, presumably one of the pair we'd seen earlier. Also seen were plenty of Shags, one solitary Cormorant, a few Guillemots on the sea of which one was a 'bridled' bird and a decent flock of Greylag Geese on a grassy island. Low numbers of Gannets and the odd Arctic Tern were noted as we chundered along to see the Common Seal colony. One individual had a really white head and looked very odd indeed

Stressed to the max....yawn. Note that the pale individual is winking!
Next port of call was Eilean Creagach where I managed a bit of botanising for the 2020 BSBI Atlas Project. Nothing very exciting, Sea Campion, Thrift, Wild Thyme, Heather, Broad-leaved Dock, Common Sorrel, Bird's-foot Trefoil and Sea Mayweed was all I could identify as we bobbed offshore. I don't think anybody else was botanising at that particular moment seeing as we were receiving fantastic views of around 100 Puffins either flying past, sitting on the sea or standing at the entrances to their nest burrows. I took a few pics through my bins but they were all too awful to share. A summer plumaged Black-headed Gull was an unexpected bonus as was a Lion's Mane Jellyfish that floated beneath the boat, soon followed by a Moon Jellyfish. A Wheatear on the rocks was presumably nesting on the island.

Approaching the Ascrib Islands. Atrocious weather all the way...
As we steamed back across the bay on our homeward leg of the journey, Tom suddenly eased up on the throttle - he'd just seen a whale blow. Despite giving it several more minutes, we never did see it again. Next time, hopefully. 

Back at the pier I thanked Tom for letting me join him on the trip, came away with several questions answered regards chartering the boat for a birder's pelagic and left him with some homework regards routes, travelling times and the feasibility of catering for our mad birdy whims. I'm really hoping it works out, his extended wheelhouse is huge, can seat 10 in comfort and has an electric kettle so you can help yourself to teas and coffees. Juice, biscuits and crisps are also on hand and there's even free beer provided. Now that's my kind of host! 

Reardeck of the Radiant Queen can easily sit a dozen birders. More room in front of the wheelhouse too.
Just to keep it real, here's a coupla bits from NG3963 today, taken before the boat trip and both new for my stuttering 1000 in a 1KSQ tally

Mottled Beauty hiding from the bright sun
Rhagonycha fulva - aka The Bonking Beetle.


  1. Good luck with your pelagic. That kind of weather (as seen in your photos) would just make feel unwell!

  2. Trust me, buddy - it's been grey and miserable up here more often than not. Jumper weather couple of days back. We're overdue some nice weather! Course, it's meant to be rubbishy again by tomorrow...