Monday, 22 June 2009

Harbour porpoises at the weekend...

Wild Scotland Chairman, Ben Mardall writes about his wildlife encounters from a weekend on the water...

"While sailing this weekend on the West Coast of Scotland, we spotted harbour porpoises and a bottlenose dolphin. On Saturday, just after leaving Craignure on the island of Mull, we were making for the island of Lunga when I heard a ‘blow’ behind me. I looked round to see a dolphin two feet off our stern. It went under the boat and I went forward hoping to catch another glimpse at the bow but it had disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.

"On our way home on Sunday, again between Oban and the Sound Of Mull, we came across the tideline and saw two groups of harbour porpoises, about 8 or 10 in total. A great sight, watching them breaking the surface and disappearing again. Such a fleeting glimpse however it builds the tension and you are almost willing the next sighting on. It does not matter how many times you have seen dolphins, whales or porpoises, you never tire of that amazing feeling you get when they suddenly pop up in front of you.

"We did not make Lunga on the Saturday night so we anchored off a small just north of Lunga. With it being the night before the Summer Solstice it was light until very late on, even with a heavy cloud cover. Plenty of wildlife to watch though, seals relaxing on the rocks as well as gannets, shags and skuas.

"Back ashore, the drive over from the East Coast was not without wildlife encounters too. As we came through Glencoe there were more red deer by the road than I have seen for a long time and just as we came through Ballachulish, a roe doe with two kids right on the verge."

Please be very careful when driving late evening, early morning and at night, lots of wildlife about, do take care.

Please let us know of your sightings and experiences while in Scotland, especially if you have been out with one of our Wild Scotland members.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Whale Watching: the ethical alternative

This week I've been on Mull with the World Society for Protection of Animals (WSPA) and Really Wild Show presenter and naturalist, Terry Nutkins.

Wild Scotland is supporting WSPA's anti-whaling campaign which is being launched this Monday at the start of the International Whaling Commission's annual meeting (see here for BBC article).

Wild Scotland took WSPA and Terry to Mull to join whale-watching company, Sea Life Surveys on a boat trip to celebrate a more compassionate way to profit from these stunning animals.

The minke whales which frequent our waters each summer, and which more and more people are wanting to see are at threat. The annual Norwegian whale hunt, which takes place every year in April has been awarded a 2009 whaling quota of 885 minke whales and has killed over 150 whales so far this year. These are the very animals which come to the safety of Scottish waters each year.

Do help support the campaign. Find out more at

Photo Caption: Sea Life Surveys skipper & Wild Scotland Board member Richard Fairbairns with Terry Nutkins

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

A Note from Wild Scotland Chairman

Welcome to the Wild Scotland Blog, it has been very remiss of me as Chairman not to have contributed to the blog as yet. So I have to apologise to Caroline our excellent Project Manager for my delay.

Wild Scotland was formed over 5 years ago, it was created because the operators recognised that the industry was growing and there was concern that the fragile resource we aim to share with the public could be jeopardised. So the operators formed a charter to work to, sort funding to develop best practice guidance and set up a not for profit body to give the sector a voice and the mechanism to respond to wider market concerns and demands.

Those principles still remain and during that period we have worked with Visit Scotland to develop a ‘Quality Assurance’ for Wildlife Operators, with Scottish Natural Heritage on the ‘Best Practice Guidance’ and with Scottish Enterprise and Highland & Islands Enterprise to raise awareness and gather research on the sector.

There are currently just fewer than 100 businesses across Scotland working to the Wild Scotland Charter and up holding the principles that were laid out in our formative years.

If you are going to take a wildlife holiday I would encourage you to use one of our members and you can be safe in the knowledge that not only will you get a great experience but the wildlife you have come to see will there in the future for others to enjoy.

Have a great holiday and keep on eye on the blog and website over the summer as the members report in their sightings.

If you have any great wildlife experiences that you would like to share with us please do get in touch via our website.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Ben Mardall
Wild Scotland Chairman

Friday, 5 June 2009

BBC Cameras at Wild Rose Escapes, Ross-shire

Spring has sprung in the Highlands at Wild Rose Escapes. Rosie Hazelton provides an update on their activities:

'Our spring flowers and greens are here, we have had our first harvest of nettles and dandelions, the swallows are back and the seabirds are settled in.

The growing season has started! This week I have been cleaning our demi-jons ready to make a batch of gorse flower wine - from Lizzie’s granny’s recipe.

We spent today mixing clay and bracken to make our first bread oven of the year, the best way to mix is to stomp! We have ended up with a beautiful dome shaped outdoor oven ready for tonight’s homemade pizzas.

BBC cameras & us!
Last month we had the BBC filming one of our family holidays for the CBBC programme; Gimme a break- where the children choose the holiday, and they chose ours.

We started with a tour of Leckmelm farm with Lucy, feeding jock the Clydesdale horse, the pig with her piglets, holding the baby chicks, and collecting eggs. Lucy was a natural with the camera and the kids loved hearing all about the farm and its inhabitants both animal and human! The family returned to their cottage in Ullapool to a home cooked supper and still had time to pop out and see the stunning sunset.

The following day the family went for spot of fishing with Steven, a local gamekeeper, and afterwards went out on Brian’s speedboat seal spotting. We ended the day with mussel collecting on the shore and a beach barbeque with freshly caught prawns donated by Gerry, a local fisherman, the family and crew loved them.

The family spent their last night in a castle just outside Inverness completed with a haggis supper and Highland piping.

If you are interested in watching us all we will be on BBC 2 and CBBC in September'.

For more information about Wild Rose Escapes and their holidays, click here.

May Wildlife Report from Isle of Mull

Arthur Brown of Discover Mull Wildlife Tours writes about his May wildlife highlights...

'May was very changeable weather wise with days when it rained incessantly and days when it was beautifully sunny.

The month began with great sightings of great northern divers and red throated divers and on the 1st May we saw our first fulmar of the year.

Golden eagles were seen on all but one tour in the month with a high count of 7 on the 10th. Hen harriers were about in good numbers at the start of the month and were joined in a few areas by short eared owls. These owls became harder to see as the month drew on as they started nesting. We hope the wet, cold weather does not prove to be a problem for these ground nesting predators.

I saw my first wood warbler of the year on the 9th and the next day we had 4 tufted ducks in the Loch Ba estuary, a duck we rarely see in North Mull. The white-billed diver was seen on the tour on the 15th much to the delight of the birders on the tour. In the middle of the month a lot of whimbrel were seen as were some beautiful golden plovers.

Shelduck ducklings were seen, 8 of them, but we have not seen them since, we hope mink have not taken them. The 21st proved to be a raptor fest with most of Mull's birds of prey were seen on the day including great views of a peregrine falcon.

Little birds prominent in the month include linnets and twite we are seeing these birds more often on the tours this year but the same cannot be said of the whinchat which have been in short supply, it was the 24th before I saw my first whinchat of the year.

It was 2 days later when we had a high count of white-tailed eagles with 6 being seen in the day. Bird-wise the month ended on a high with great views of a pair of summer plumaged long-tailed ducks, the drakes long tail showing very well and it was the first time I have seen the long tail on this predominately more northerly sea duck. The month finished with great sightings of Manx shearwaters and great skuas, I cannot wait to see what birdlife June brings.

The usual mammals were seen on most tours with grey seals being the obvious stars but mammal highlight of the month were 5 arctic hares all together on one tour, a terrific sight.

Bluebells and primroses got the month off to a fine start on the floral front and in the middle of the month a botanist pointed out 2 new flowers to me, the mountain everlasting near Eas Force waterfall and bogbean, a beautiful bog plant not far from Calgary Bay. The month ended with prchids, the wonderful narrow-leafed helleborine on the woodland walk at Calgary Farmhouse Hotel, then the heath and common potted orchids and the beautiful deep purple northern marsh orchid which I will endeavour to photograph in the next few days.

It has been a great month for wildlife watching and I can’t wait to see what June will bring, so get out there and enjoy it, or better still come up to Mull and see it with us from our self catering chalets or on one of our tours or both. Enjoy the summer and we hope to see some of you on Mull later in the year, cheers Arthur and Pam.'

For more information about Discover Mull, click here.

For special offers on accommodation and trips on Mull, click here.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Highland Wildlife & Birdwatch Safaris (Aviemore)

Late May 2009 saw us enjoy some fantastic dry, hot, sunny weather with temperatures soaring to 27.5c on the last weekend, and we now have almost 20 hours of daylight - great wildlife watching weather! With all of the Summer visitors now arrived, bird day-list crept higher up into the 60's, with mammal day-lists steady at 6-10.

Wildlife highlights included:
Most of our 'local specialities' - the species that my clients most hope to see (osprey, goldeneye, red-throated diver, black-throated diver, Slavonian grebe, dipper, red grouse, ring ouzel, crested tit, crossbill, red deer, red squirrel, mountain hare, etc) - continued to show well - though capercaillie & black grouse, with their 'lekking' season now over, have become much more difficult to see.

A new 2009 record (so far!) mammal day-list of 10 - rabbit, bank vole, wood mouse, roe deer, red deer, reindeer, brown hare, mountain hare, red squirrel & mountain goat.

Regular views of our local ospreys fishing (& sometimes actually catching a fish!) & delivering their catch to the female & chicks at the nest - a wonderful sight!

Great views of a ring-tail (female) hen harrier hunting low over heather moorland , impressing us all with it's very buoyant, acrobatic flight - sadly , this is a very rare sight these days.
Super close-ups of one of Britain's rarest and most beautiful birds - Slavonian grebe, on a lovely secluded local lochan (see pic)

A brief mid-afternoon glimpse of a beautifully marked woodcock on a quiet track - a rare & enjoyable treat as they are normally only seen at dusk.

Fledglings! first sightings of young goldeneyes, red grouse, greylag geese & ospreys.

More info: Highland Wildlife and Birdwatch Safaris