Thursday, 20 August 2015

Scotland - A Wildlife Wonderland Part 1

The Safari has another wildlife action-packed guest blog for you today from our young AFON mentoree Alicia who has recently returned from two weeks in the wilds of Scotland...and tells us she managed to survive the Scottish Mighty Midges and the (far worse) Ticks!
This is the first of two blogs she has written for you - enjoy..we certainly did!
Week 1

This Summer my family and I went on holiday to two different areas of Scotland. Having been to Scotland before I knew about the vast amounts of wildlife that roamed around the wilderness and I was really looking forward to returning.

Our first week's destination was on the West Coast of Scotland, just North of Skye – and it was an action packed week of wildlife!

On the Sunday, the day after arriving, we went down to a cove near some moorland – it was a very beautiful area although the day was a bit breezy. I saw plenty of animals including Grey Seals, Grey Herons, Buzzards & Kestrels all along the coast around the cove which was lovely to see. As we walked further inland closer to the moors we were greeted by a truly extraordinary display: two Hen Harriers dipping and diving on the skyline! I'd never seen Hen Harriers before, and the 'disappearances' of them have caused a steep decline in numbers in England so I was incredibly excited at seeing not one

Hen Harrier

but two! They were displaying to each other – a beautiful sight to witness, and several other people stopped to watch them. Even though they were far away, it was incredibly special  to witness the Hen Harrier pair together; they're such beautiful birds and so important to our country's ecosystem. It is truly horrific how they are persecuted, so I was thrilled to see these two, a first for me!

(Edit - Please sign the government e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting - the cause of this illegal persecution) 

A couple of days later, we went down to the coast. The west coast of Scotland  is breath-taking and wildlife abundant. We saw almost seventy Grey Seals and a wide variety of sea birds – we also saw a Great Northern Diver bobbing along on the sea – I'd never seen one before, another first! Even though the sea wasn't exactly calm, the Diver managed to swim along it very majestically, diving under the water every now and then before coming back up for air. We watched it for many minutes, and I took several photos which we looked at later to check its ID.

Stonechat with caterpillar to feed young

As the day progressed we made our way through moorland where we saw a Wood Warbler, Pied Wagtails, a Stonechat family, a Buzzard and a Sexton Beetle. All were lovely to see – especially the Wood Warbler as I don't tend to see very many in Yorkshire (although funnily enough we just ringed one at our LNR - Local Nature Reserve -  last week!).  On our way back from the sea, we saw something truly special – a Hen Harrier flew straight over our car! We got an amazing view of it, and I couldn't quite believe I'd seen another one! Hen Harriers have quite a 'strong-hold' in Scotland, I can only hope it stays that way.

Thursday 30th of July was definitely one of the highlights from my first week in Scotland, when my Dad and I went out on a two and a half hour trip on a RIB, to hopefully watch Dolphins and Whales - it did not disappoint!

The water was fairly calm, and it was a day where the sun was shining its warm rays on the west coast of Scotland – it was a perfect day for sailing and for wildlife spotting. We travelled far out into the blue so we were only about 10 miles off the North of Skye, this we were told was a prime area for Whales.  The sea hasn't been that warm this year due to the cooler weather  so the plankton hasn't come close to the shores of the mainland but is further out to sea; we were told where there is plankton there will be whales.


We stayed for half an hour watching a huge cacophony of seabirds including Gulls, Terns, Skuas and Gannets dive into the water as well as the odd Grey Seal bobbing about, however sadly a whale didn't join them. As we progressed further the driver told us he saw something fin-shaped, and so we watched the water, the swell was huge making it difficult to see at times, and the water sparkled in the blazing sun, like it was filled with diamonds. Suddenly an adult Minke Whale breached straight out of the water in front of us, sending sparkling water into the sky before splashing back into the sea. It was  spectacular – and every camera on the boat missed it! But the Minke Whales didn't stop there, eventually we saw more fins and backs as the whales turned through the water. It was quite difficult to count how many whales there were in total due to the large amounts of swell, however we saw at least 3! This was yet another first for me as I had never seen Minke Whales before – they were much bigger than I thought they would be, and most the time I only saw a bit of them!

Minke Whale

We spent almost an hour with the Minkes before our Skipper got a call from the Mainland saying that a pod of Common Dolphins had been sighted just off the coast of Gairloch, so we headed off to see them. We passed lots of fledged puffins bobbing around on the water on the way – they all looked very dull without their colourful beaks; I'd never seen a young Puffling so close-up so it was lovely to see.

When we arrived in the area, we were greeted by a huge number of Gannets streaking into the water like bullets, Razorbills, Guillemots, Puffins, gulls, Arctic Terns, Skua and many more sea birds were also diving in and out. Everyone was looking around for the Dolphins – and as I focused into the diving Gannets with my camera I saw a fin! All of a sudden the water was alive with over 20 common dolphins and their calves, they dived underneath our boat and leapt out of the water after the fish, chasing each other and surfacing. The Dolphins ran next to our boat, so close I could have almost touched some of them, and the calves stuck by their mother's side. It was beautiful to watch – I'd never seen Common Dolphins before either, so it made it even more special.

Common Dolphins and Gannets

After almost half an hour our skipper turned the boat away so the Dolphins could feed in peace and we returned to land – the boat trip was truly extraordinary, we saw so much despite the cold year having decreased the amount of plankton coming to our shores.

The next day was our last full day on the west coast of Scotland before we moved on to our second destination, and so we went to Inverewe Gardens,  which are full of plants from all around the world. The gardens are also on the coast, and as I was looking out to sea I saw a blob that looked like a thin Seal. My Dad and I took turns in looking at it and we came to the conclusion that it was an Otter! It was lovely to see this Otter even though I have seen them before, it was another species added to my now long list of things I had seen this week.

On the 1st of August, Saturday, we were travelling to our second destination and on the way we stopped at Chanonry point on the Moray Firth. I had been there last year - it was the place where I saw my first Bottlenose Dolphins, so I was thrilled to return this year. Although the weather was wet and windy the Dolphins still appeared, however not in the great numbers we had seen them last year – we saw about five, fairly far out to sea, playing and hunting in the waters; it was wonderful to watch. We also saw two Arctic Terns, a mini mumuration of Starlings, a large flight of sparrows, a huge harem of Grey Seals and a Buzzard.

Overall my first week in Scotland had been a huge success. I had seen multiple firsts; the Common Dolphins, Minke Whales, Hen Harriers and the Great Northern Diver (and the Northern Eggar Moth Caterpillar which we saw on a walk in the moors). The highlights were of course the boat trip and the Hen Harriers – it was a dream to see a pair out in the wild displaying; I  only wish that I could see Hen Harriers like that in England.

Northern Eggar Moth Caterpillar at Ben Eighe

My first wild week in Scotland had been a true wildlife wonderland, and I couldn't wait for my second week in the wilderness to start...

By Alicia        Aged 15                                            August 2015
An absolutely wonderful account of some amazing wildlife encounters. We're just a teeny bit jealous!
We hope that any youngsters reading this are inspired by the fantastic wildlife we have in Britain and we would encourage them to join AFON to meet lots of other like-minded youngsters and share their passions and experiences - it's a great community.
Where to next? You can either come on a safari with us round the Midlands or you could be back in Scotland with Alicia. You will get both in due course though.
In the meantime let us know who's  doing the diving in your outback.

1 comment:

cliff said...

Crikey, some really excellent encounters there Alicia, I'm very envious of the Whale & Dolphin sightings/photos - I've never seen either. Beautiful scenery in those photos too.
A very enjoyable read, looking forward to the next instalment!