First thing on the agenda this morning was to find the “midgie hat” … the constant wind that had been accompanying us the past days had subsided and we decided to head off at first light to see what activity was awaiting us at the “Head” (Tiumpan Head that is – our land-based watching site!) … but we weren’t novices at this and knew that the infamous wee biting beasties wouldn’t be far away so wanted to be prepared!! Nothing however can prepare you for the curse of the Islands, and believe me, we’ve tried everything, so it was a case of grinning and bearing it … and waving our arms (and paws) around like a bunch of mad women and dogs!!
It was however, worth every minute of it (and every bite), as the conditions out to sea were perfect – flat calm, not a ripple on the water – and the wildlife didn’t disappoint. Within minutes of arriving we had 2 separate pods of common dolphins (over 45 animals in total) making a bit of a ruckus off in the distance, closer to shore, several minke whales were breaking the surface with their graceful ease and the odd little porpoise even popped up to say hello!
Sadly, our time on the cliff was short-lived! We were no match for the midgies and even the dogs voiced their displeasure at being attacked. With nowhere to hide it was time to head for shelter … otherwise known as “getting out on the water”!!
As yesterday we’d headed south to the Shiants, today we decided to venture north towards our land-based site at the Head. With the Minch laid out in front of us as if someone had covered it in tin-foil, we went off in search of some flippered critters, preferably of the Risso’s variety but any kind would do.
And we didn’t have long to wait! As we approached the entrance to Stornoway Harbour we were joined by a pod of about 20 exuberant common dolphins who were keen to ride the bow wave … although the youngster of the group decided it’s be much more fun to surf the wake! We were up for some competition however, as the ferry over to the mainland was leaving the harbour and cutting across our path. We expected to lose our little companions to the larger pressure wave created by the “MV Isle of Lewis” as it powered out into the Minch. It seemed however that they preferred our company and stayed with us frolicking in the surf and generally having a whale of a time!
Leaving the common dolphins behind we carried on up north to position ourselves off the “Head” and see what lay in store! Sadly … it wasn’t to be dolphins, or indeed whales or basking sharks – the latter of which interestingly and slightly worryingly, haven’t been seen in these parts yet this year – but creatures of a feathered kind weren’t to disappoint and we were treated to an aerial display from a plethora of great skuas (who spent their time asking for “mac’ral” – although when given some were obviously amateurs and the mackerel made it safely back to the depths!), skimming fulmars and diving gannets.
As our day was coming to an end and we pootled back into our home port, we were treated to a magical encounter with some of the more elusive of cetaceans, the small but perfectly formed, harbour porpoise! First a sighting of a lone individual, then a group of 6, which included what must have been a relatively newborn calf, followed by another group of 4, with yet another new addition to the pod, sticking close to mum’s side! Harbour porpoises are notoriously difficult to photograph and as soon as you see them … they’re gone again … but today they defied all rules and enthralled us with a close encounter (or 3), swimming alongside and under the boat, and delighting us with their trademark “p’ffs” … !!
A wonderful end to another eventful day on the water – then it was home for a dinner of hand-caught Pollock, cooked in garlic and thyme!
Roll on the next good weather day … … in the meantime, look forward to the return of the “Dog Blog” because the forecast for the next few days ain’t good!