Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Where's Wally?

You may recall that a Walrus was found doing a wee tour of Orkney and the adjacent mainland some months back. It then disappeared for quite a while, everybody presumed it had re-orientated and successfully returned northwards never to be seen again (well, I did anyway). So it was a very unexpected surprise to discover that it was seen on Harris just over a week ago, its first appearance for several weeks. You can read about the Harris sighting here. Being the BBC they just had to name it Wally the Walrus, complete twats. 

Later that same day, whilst trying to find the backstory, I discovered that a guy from British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) had been watching the Walrus right here on Skye but had decided to suppress the news for fear of disturbing it. You can probably imagine the frustration I felt after learning it had been here for three weeks!!! Gutted, to put it mildly. It may have visited Applecross on the mainland too. In a nutshell, it was somewhere at the top end of Skye for three whole weeks and hence within ten miles of me the whole damn time. Bollocks! 

Having been quite the keen bird twitcher back in the day (London to Shetland and back being my furthest twitch. And, coincidentally, my furthest dip...) I'm well aware of the perennial argument that rages back and forth regards releasing news of a rare find versus suppressing it. Obviously in certain parts of Cornwall it will always be suppressed regardless of the situation (naming no names, but it rhymes with The Wizard...) Welfare of the animal should always be first and foremost in the finder's mind, followed by issues regarding permissions, general access, disturbance to habitat/livestock, the privacy of the locals etc etc. It can be a tricky matter sometimes. In this instance the finder happens to be particularly well versed in marine animal welfare and could see that the Walrus was underweight - hence undue disturbance could very well be detrimental to its health. So he sat on it (the news, I mean, not the Walrus) until it departed. Admirable and totally commendable. And obviously we all hate him with a passion.

It now seems to have departed Harris, it was seen and video'd swimming up a channel. Who knows where it'll turn up next, if it's ever seen again. You may have to sign in to Facebook for this link to work, I'm not sure. Anyway, here's a clip of it swimming in the shallows, proper gripping stuff! 

So where am I going with all this, I hear you ask?

Yesterday I was chatting with one of the breakfast waiting staff, let's call her Lynne (it's her name anyway, so why the hell not?) and she mentioned that a lady had told her the Walrus was "back in the bay". Knowing that I'm "quite into wildlife" (well yeah, dafink?) she thought she'd mention it to me. After two or three minutes of really rather harsh interrogation casual questioning, I deduced that this really was all she knew, other than it was supposedly somewhere near Earlish. Holy crap, that's just two miles away from where I live! I quickly put out a message on a Skye-related FB group, stating that it was only "a hint of a rumour" and, within not much more than an hour or so, there were eight of us heading out the following morning in search of Wally. I went to bed ever so slightly hyped. 

Today was that day...

'Us' comprised Tom the Skipper and Dunc 'Mad Hair' Tornado in the tripper boats, Andy 'Aurora' Stables and his lady 'Skye Hen' hit the Earlish Bay area, Nick 'Moss Man Chronicles' Hodgetts had already hit Earlish early doors (it was wet apparently), whilst his son Tom 'Quirky Clay' Hodgetts hit Uig as did Chris 'International Man of Mystery' Reynolds. I tackled the stretch between Cuidrach and South Cuidrach. Between us we covered a good few miles of coastline.

The area behind the right-hand headland leads to Earlish and was checked by others

I could see Greylag Geese on these, so would definitely have seen the Walrus if it was there

Perfect undisturbed haul out beaches. If I was a Walrus, this is where I'd chill. 2000 miles from home...
However, no sign of the Walrus by myself or any other members of the search party. It doesn't mean it's not still out there though. It also doesn't mean that my 'source' was entirely accurate - there are plenty of seals out there after all. But what did impress me was the mutual coming together of various Skye naturalists keen to be a part of the search team. Pretty much in a spontaneous act too, I just Facebooked "PM me your number and we'll keep in touch" and that was it! 

Had we found the Walrus, we would have then have faced the exact same moral conflicts that the marine rescue fella did. To release the news or sit on it? Maybe release the news to a select few - or is that being rather elitist and cliquey? Definitely so (and it's exactly what they do in that certain part of Cornwall I mentioned earlier - I wouldn't want Skye to gain that type of a reputation!) So, release the news to the national information services? Skye is far more appealing to mainland-based twitchers than is Orkney or Harris, that's for sure. Well maybe, but are the local tracks designed for hordes of twitchers? No, they aren't. But then again, Skye is inundated with tourists anyway and the roads are shot as it is so, a few more surely wouldn't hurt...

My own feelings are that there are plenty of Skye-based naturalists who would jump at the chance to see a Walrus on their home turf (shore, w'eva). If I found Wally, I'd definitely want to share him with others. Of course, I'd prefer those 'others' to be local folks as opposed to rabid twitcher types, but Skye is a remote part of Britain and in all truth I doubt there would be that many make the trek up here for the chance to tick and run Walrus for their list. Chances are they'd be bird twitchers anyway (birders are absolutely the worst type, I speak from personal experience through being one!) but chances are they'd also find a shedload of decent birds whilst up here. Skye simply doesn't have enough resident naturalists to do more than scratch the surface of what's on offer. 

Talking of incidental bird sightings, I stumbled into several small groups of Whimbrel, a party of four Ringed Plovers, a fly-over Lapwing and my first ever Skye Dunlin (a flyover bird that I heard but didn't even see) whilst out Wally Hunting. 

A few of the 25 Whimbrel (and an Oyk) feeding in the meadows
Four Ringed Plovers in the grassy meadow - it's not quite the machair but it's not too bad
You know me by now. I'm a HUGE Beatles fan, have been since I nicked my mom's collection of 45's back in the day. As such there was only ever going to be one song that fitted the post. I offer you this masterful classic. Spoiler Alert - The Walrus is Paul, not John. Shocker, I know!

All together now, coo-coo ca-choo.....


  1. Thankfully just a gripping read not a gripping encounter!
    Seriously though a Walrus on your patch/Skye would be amazing and hope you really do have to grapple with the moral dilemma about putting news out.

    1. Well, I think I'd personally have preferred the gripping encounter over the gripping read scenario - but thanks, lol :D

  2. I feel your pain. With orca in the Clyde it's been quite a year

    1. And the Bearded Seal on Harris (coincidentally found by the same fella who suppressed the Walrus on Skye). Who knows what'll turn up in time for your June arrival...Narwhal???