Given the weather that we've been privy to these past few days, anyone could be forgiven for thinking that we were anywhere else but the north-west coast of Scotland ... in October!! Up here, we're not that far from the Arctic Circle and at this time of year we could only dream of blue skies, a toasty sun and no wind ... but our prayers were answered and for the first time in almost a week we were able to see across to the Isle of Skye and we've been basking in the few days of "Indian Summer" that were forecast - although i have to say, I've been to India and an Indian Summer it was not ... warm yes, positively tropical, no! The only thing missing from it being classed as 'ideal sighting conditions' were a few clouds to keep the glare away but ... we weren't complaining.
Our survey area has been positively bubbling with animals and over the past few days we've been lucky enough to see an absolute plethora of marine critters passing by our doorstep. Harbour porpoises have been the most abundant, with over 60 individuals spotted in one day ... from lone animals to groups of 8, the most pleasing sight is that of mother/calf pairs gently rolling through the glassy calm waters of the Minch. A few minke whales are also still hanging around, possibly just filling up on as many sand-eels as they can before they move off to their wintering grounds, and another seasonal visitor, the basking shark have also been plentiful - although it's worth noting that the majority of them appeared not to be "basking" and instead were seen propelling themselves at great speeds through the water.
Although not venturing close enough to identify to a species-level, two separate pods of dolphins (at two separate times) were spotted in the north of the survey area. They were incredibly boisterous and demonstrative and were spotted breaching repeatedly and making a lot of splashes for an extended period of time! At one point however we were holding our breaths as we spotted a German Frigate (the German equivalent for HMS .. "Bremen"), heading straight for one of the pods. They were getting closer and closer and we were almost considering calling them up on the radio to warn them about what was ahead (and to ask them to identify the species for us!!) when at what seemed was almost the last minute (although admittedly distances can be deceptive at sea) they changed course and veered off to starboard and thankfully avoided what could have been a rather messy situation!
Our sightings wouldn't be complete without mentioning the other members of the animals kingdom that we encountered; both grey and harbour seals, eider ducks, noisy geese flying overhead and the avian equivalent of a killer whale (as in being a relatively infrequent visitor, and inducing jumping up and down behaviour by the spotter) ... a pomeranian skua!
The beauty of the north however hasn't only been confined to the daylight hours and we were treated to possibly one of the most magnificent natural wonders of the world ... the Aurora Borealis! Lighting up an otherwise star-studded sky (the milky way is like a white streak across the centre of the black sky - no light pollution up here!) the green and blue oil-slick'esque marvel that is the Northern Lights flickered across the northern extreme of our survey area and made us feel even ore humble than we had been before.