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Dolphin Spirit Blog

Dolphin and Marine Wildlife Boat Trips from Inverness Marina

Wildlife Worth Watching For

Not All Stars Have Fins!

We've done the introduction to our crew and the dolphins, but what you might also need to know more about is the other wildlife often seen in our little corner of the Moray Firth; not all of it has fins! In this list we will cover some of the biggest and best, where to see them, and what to look out for on the water!

Red Kites

Over your head you might come across a rather imposing shadow; one with a 5-6ft wingspan and a long, v-shaped tail. This is the tell-tale sign of a red kite, like the one pictured above. The red kites here were born of a long-running reintroduction program starting back in the 1980s. The population was expected to merge with another reintroduced group well to the south, in Devon. The Devon population have since done their bit, with red kites now being spotted in the Midlands commonly as a result. The Highlands population seems to have suffered a few setbacks in their regrouping, with only around 250 or so breeding pairs in this area. It is thought that the illegal persecution (killing, particularly poisoning) of these birds on farmland and shooting grounds has proven the biggest threat and blocker to the successful bloom of red kites in Scotland. Despite this, Scottish kites have been sighted in England, Ireland, and some even as far as Iberia! We are lucky to see them year-round in the Highlands, primarily over the trees on the Black Isle, or passing over water between Munlochy and Culloden, or North and South Kessock. 

Seals

The Moray Firth homes two kinds of seals, one slightly more commonly spotted on our trips than the other (which may explain the name!). The first, and smallest, species is the harbour (or common) seal; these are indeed the ones we see most. Compact, generally less than 2m in length, with a rather cat-like face, these seals are very active in summer. The main portion of their birthing season occurs in June and July, meaning that these midsummer months are the best times to look out for pups. Harbour seal pups are actually pretty great swimmers, and are sometimes in the water mere hours after birth. That being said, small bodies don't work well over long swims, and sometimes mothers will be spotted giving piggybacks to the youngsters while on hunts. We have a small population (roughly 12 or so) of these seals living on the mudflats just outside of Inverness Marina. Our other seals are the grey seals; with just around 500 of these seals visiting the Moray Firth, they number roughly a quarter of the overall seal population of the firth itself. Their Latin Name, which translates to "hook nosed sea pig" comes from their distinctively long snout. It is therefore very easy to differentiate between a harbour and grey seal when in profile. The grey seals are most abundant before their pupping season, which is around autumn-time, as they will leave then to return to their designated birthing haul-outs, which tend to be more to the north.

Osprey

Another feathered visitor to the Moray Firth is the Osprey; these white and brown birds summer in Scotland to hunt down the migrating salmon. About the same size as a kite, they have long, finger-like wings and can most often be seen near or over water. Their talons and feet are specially designed to give them grip on slippery fish, and they can even close their nostrils to prevent them breathing in water as they dive into the water after their prey! They are generally most active over three points in their season; just before mating (so immediately on their return to the nesting grounds), after the young have hatched, and after fledging. The osprey will leave Scotland in dribs and drabs over the early autumn months, with most gone by October, so the best time to see them will shortly be coming to a close! These impressive birds will return to their winter grounds in Africa and Spain, with some flying as much as 430km a day!

Otter

The otters are perhaps some of the shyest of the wildlife to spot on the firth; small, sleek, and very quick, the otters can be there in a second and gone the next. Essentially looking like water weasels, the otters in our part of the firth tend to be of the one mating group - a mother, her cubs, and a large male. There is no distinct pattern to the activity we see from the otters, but we tend to find them within the first 20 minutes of the trip most commonly; at the harbour wall, under the bridge, or on the piers at either North or South Kessock. There is also no defined breeding season for otters in Scotland, so determining behaviour based on season is very difficult. That being said, the otter pair here certainly aren't shy about their antics, and have been spotted copulating a few times over the past few months, so the possibility of new cubs is certainly a very real one. Feeding on a variety of fish and at times, birds, too, it's quite comical what you can see them with at times; last season's otter highlight was the unfortunate demise of a non-breeding guillemot in the jaws of the big male just outside the ICT Stadium!

Harbour Porpoise

A worthy mention has to go to our unicorns of the firth, the harbour porpoise. Sightings of these elusive little cetaceans are few and far between, with only an estimated 80 individuals living in the Moray Firth! Bullied by the bottlenoses, the porpoise will actively avoid all the areas the dolphins tend to inhabit; sticking to the shore in small groups, avoiding boats, surfacing only when required and evading detection through sound or sight. We have historically had a few good sightings of tiny little triangular fins in the firth, but it must be said, you have to have some kind of luck to come across them! Mischief's first cetacean spotted was a porpoise, all things being said, so you just never know when or where they could crop up!

Morning Madness!

A Season Record

We're beginning to think that our dolphins and buses run on the same schedule; just when you're sitting about waiting for one, six turn up at once! We had a great day overall, with dolphins spotted on 3 our of 4 sailings, but the true jewel in today's cetacean spotting crown was this morning's 10am trip. It started off like most 10am trips this week, with Kesslet hunting on her own around the river. She swam along with us as we went off into the Beauly Firth, and we continued to watch her there with her salmon for a short while before heading off again. As we came under the bridge, a group of 5 other dolphins magicked themselves into the area just ahead of us, and passed alongside to head into the channel where Kesslet was occupying herself. This group of five included Scoopy, Bonnie (and her calf), and Porridge (and also her calf!). We later found out they were not alone either, as Zephyr and her youngster also arrived in the area to make a total of 8 dolphins in the Beauly Firth area alone! So far this season, this is a record sighting, and we're certainly keeping our fingers crossed for more visits from groups like this in the rest of the season! The group did not leave empty handed either, as they spent a good while corralling fish between the North and South Kessock piers; hopefully they'll go off and let everyone else know about the feast Kesslet's been keeping to herself so far this year!

 

Breaching buddies in the Kessock Channel
Breach buddies!

Special Visitors

We were lucky enough to get a lovely visit from Charlie Phillips of the WDC today, and Mischief's 12.30pm passengers were lucky enough to even have him join them on their trip. Skipper Gus was excited just to have such a knowledgeable body on board, as for these new skippers it's a great opportunity to learn more about the dolphins and have a keen outside eye over the work they are doing and make sure they are doing it right and well. After the excitement of the morning, everything went quiet through the afternoon though, and the visiting group seemed to disappear into thin air with the turn of the hour. That being said, the fishing conditions seemed to be great all day, as we also spotted a Skua scouring around Munlochy late in the afternoon, as well as a hefty cloud of terns near Kilmuir most of the afternoon. Seems like the little fish were plenty for these birds, but the dolphins may have been after something more substantial. Maybe Kesslet was hogging all the good stuff as usual; she had three impressive salmon in the short times we spent with her, so who knows how many she had stowed away!

Showers and a Show

Getting the Timing Juuuuust... Wrong!

We had a rather lovely start to the day, with glorious sunshine for the first three sailings of the day. We weren't the only ones enjoying it either, as the seals were out sunning themselves as soon as even just an inch of mudflat became available! One of our seals has been in a bit of a predicament recently though, as it was sighted with a particularly nasty gash on its neck; perhaps in a fight with another seal, or in an accident of some kind, but it didn't seem to bother it very much all being said. We also got to watch a little bit of drama around Meikle Mee, with the terns fighting among themselves over who should sit where on the buoy; at least 8 of them were vying for top spot! With the tide dropping all through the day, at the end of the 2pm sailing, the seals were beginning to drop back into the water, almost as if they were anticipating the arrival of two finned visitors... and the storm they brought with them!

Visit from an Angel?

The heavens opened on our 4pm sailing, putting a bit of a damp mood on the end of a very quiet day all in all. That didn't deter us though, as we got out into the firth, jackets at the ready! Good thing that we did, as when we approached Kilmuir, two very active fins crossed our path. Kesslet and Charlie finally decided to grace us with their presence, Kesslet struggling with a rather small but obviously troublesome fish! As she surfed by atop the waves, mouth agape, it almost looked like she was laughing at us! Charlie on the other hand was distracting s couple of curious and hungry gulls, flapping his flukes in the air in big long dives. They moved off towards the bridge, so we left them to it, hoping to return to the area and catch them later. Luckily enough we did, encountering a cheeky Charlie, who excited us all with a fleeting dive and surface right under our noses on the left hand side of the lower deck. We watched him disappear off into the rain as we returned to the marina, hopeful for a quiet moment in the squall to dry off! A successful trip all in all!

Not Alone!

We're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat...

Mischief got out today to enjoy the rays which graced the Outer Firth this afternoon; after the forecast of heatwave conditions for the rest of the country, we here up north were understandably wondering where ours would be. We got our "heatwave" in the form of some late sunshine and 15 degree heat. It wasn't just the humans who were enjoying the lovely weather, but the dolphins too, who graced Mischief with a visit as she passed through Chanonry in the afternoon. Our relatively imposing 9.5 metre RIB was also dwarfed by a passing cruise liner leaving Invergordon in the distance; it made even Dolphin Spirit look small!

Hunting Buddies

The point was relatively quiet this afternoon, with Zephyr and calf, Moonlight and calf, Scoopy, and young Spirtle the first to arrive for a spot of hunting as the riptide formed close to the shore. Zephyr and her little one got into a little bit of animated antics, with her son breaching nice and high over her head as she spyhopped to look; it was like something out of a toddler swim class! Spirtle disappeared with a group of young friends, leaving the "nursery group" behind. Unusually, Zephyr was not the one to be catching fish today, as Moonlight had beat her to it with a fantastic salmon that she was very reluctant to show; seems like Zephyr could learn a thing or two from her about table manners! Scoopy milled around, entertaining the youngsters from time to time, travelling in and out of the rip with them by his side. Things suddenly spurred up in the distance with the arrival of Bonnie, who, in great fashion, punted a terrified and stunned salmon into the sky with a tremendous surface rush. She would later move towards the point in an attempt to find a quiet patch to swallow her catch. Keeping their distance so as not to disturb all the action going on, Mischief got to enjoy all this action in comfort. Who will you see on a trip with us?

Zephyr and calf breaching
Zephyr and her calf engaging in some cute duo acrobatics

Date With a Dolphin

Kesslet gets up close and personal with our passengers!

Even if the weather has been a little bit miserable of late, there's nothing that gets us (and our passengers!) smiling more than a wonderful encounter with the Moray Firth dolphins. Today, Kesslet was in brilliant form, hunting from the falling tide into the afternoon. We saw her on 3 of our sailings today, and she was certainly showing off! It's wonderful to see Kesslet getting back to her old self, especially when she feels confident enough to engage with the boat; it really makes a trip that little bit more special when a wild dolphin comes over to see you, instead of the other way around!

Sightings of all of our "Big 3"!

The "Big 3" here at Dolphin Spirit is our dolphins, otters, and seals. Today, we saw all of them, which is fantastic! The otters were mucking around a little bit further out than usual, around the stadium of (the now relegated) Inverness Caledonian Thistle. It seemed to be two smaller, so probably female, otters who were ducking and diving their way back towards their holt (or den) around the marina. We saw more seals in the morning and early afternoon, chilling out in the waters of the Inverness Firth near Meikle Mee. One cheeky little harbour seal was spotted just off the North Kessock pier, poking his head up just as our guide was talking about keeping an eye out for them! Speak of the devil and it's sure to appear, so they say! We had plenty of sightings of terns too, some of which getting very close to the boat.

Common tern near Kilmuir
One of the Common Terns out near Kilmuir

You Should Join Us!

With the weather set to brighten up into next week, now is the perfect time to get out and enjoy a trip around the Moray Firth! There's barely a breath of wind, so if you've been waiting for the perfect time to get aboard our new Mischief RIB, you should get aboard ASAP! Dolphin Spirit has had some picture-perfect sailings over this weekend too, enjoying a little bit of sun and some very calm waters; perfect for wildlife spotting! If you're still undecided on whether you should come along, check out what you're missing over on our Facebook here!

A Nice "Tern" of Events!

The Local "Air Force" Come to Town!

We're not talking the RAF here, we're talking terns! It's been a long while since we saw our delightful little feathered friends over the firth, but today was got quite the showing. Around 20 or so terns, mixed in with some gulls, were hunting around Kilmuir most of the day. Photographing them is hard going since they are so small and so quick, but even just watching them dive at almost 90 degree angles into the water is an absolute joy. We will be keeping an eye on the population of terns hanging out around Kilmuir and the Meikle Mee buoy, as over the summer we are more than likely to find some Arctic Terns in there too!

Kesslet Capers

Local girl Kesslet was present for every sailing today as well, though this time without any sign of Charlie. When she's alone, Kesslet is quite withdrawn and tends to keep her distance from the boat. That being said, at 10am this morning we had barely left our berth before she made an appearance, diving right under the bow of the boat before heading upriver. She spent most of the day in the Ness, at times wandering out into the Kessock Channel or around the Kessock Bridge itself. She seemed to catch a few salmon on her travels today too, though wasn't exactly forthcoming in sharing it with everyone else. I spent a good while between sailings watching her from the quayside, buteven then, she was teasing me at the surface more than anything else!

Kesslet sneaking around the river

Kesslet sneaking around the river just outside Inverness Marina

Weather Watch

The weather has been quite good recently, but over the next week or so is set to get a little rainy and perhaps a little windy. Make sure you bring a jacket if you're planning to join us on the boat! Don't worry if you forget though, as the Dolphin Spirit's cozy cabin is sure to keep you warm and dry in even the worst weather!

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