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Dolphin Spirit Blog

Dolphin and Marine Wildlife Boat Trips from Inverness Marina

The End...

Seasonal Sayonara...

Well this is it the folks; the final update blog for the season. With a week left until the doors close (and our big round-up of the season's hightlights), it's time to report what's been going on in the Moray Firth one last time. Sadly, there hasn't really been too much to report! After the excitement of the minke whale last week, our past few days have been somewhat lacking in cetaceans; but what it's missing in fins it has made up for in spellbinding weather and brilliant sightings of some of our other, generally shier wildlife. Charlie and Kesslet have made their appearance felt only once in the last week, checking the boat out as she headed under the bridge into the Inverness Firth. The pair followed to Meikle Mee, before splitting off for a bit of a rest as the boat carried on. Since then, they've left the Beauly Firth somewhat vacant. That being said, when the cats are away, the mice shall play for sure, as we've had a great time meeting some of the other critters in the area for a bit more than usual.

An Otter One

With the good tides, we've caught up with the cheekiest of the Moray Firth lot a good deal recently; earlier in the week, the tide's rise coincided quite nicely with the very start of our day and the rising of the sun. These conditions made it ripe otter-spotting time, and we were not disappointed. Whether in curiousity or in playfulness, the otters have been caught a good few times sneaking a peek as we come by. The two youngsters have been frolicking around North Kessock recently a fair bit too, and coming into the water together to hunt. The big male of the two was clocked with a lovely eel of some sort in his paws on Monday morning, chewing away as we passed him by. The smaller female was also seen near the harbour wall, coming up behind the boat as she turned out of the marina. The otters haven't been alone in taking advantage of the quiet, as we've had seals by the dozen across most trips the past week; some very close, some acting like dolphins! It was around this time last year when we noticed the same phenomenon occurring; young harbour seals making large breaches around the Beauly Firth. Upon delving into this behaviour a bit, this seemed to be a kind of mate-impressing behaviour, where the seals showed off their skills and physiques to potential females, normally after a fight with another male. While we've only seen this behaviour with seals on their own, it could be that some of the younger males are practicing for when their time comes. We've also had some of the more mature males wave flippers and spy-hop at one another when they encounter each other further out at this time of year, so the seals sometimes are more entertaining than the dolphins can be! 

Well, that's the end of the report for this season; join us for a bit of light Hallowe'en reading (between children coming to your door!) when we release our seasonal round up of all the best sightings and moments of the 2017 season. Thank you all for reading our reports, we hope you've enjoyed reading them as much as we've enjoyed writing them for you!

The Penultimate Update Blog

They Think It's All Over... (Well it will be soon!)

That’s right – there’s only two weeks left in our season! So this blog will be one of the last update blogs for this year; we’ll be doing a full recap piece on the last day of the season to highlight the best sightings and experiences of 2017!

Chilled Dolphins

But back to the matter at hand, the past week. It’s been a pretty standard one as far as October is concerned, with sightings of Kesslet and Charlie coming and going a bit like the tide. Kesslet has also been spending some time with Scoopy, as she was spotted in the evening of Sunday chilling out with him at Chanonry by one of our curious guides. They seemed to be having a great time enjoying the sunset together! When with her son Charlie though, Kesslet has been showing a bit more activity; she had some breaching fun with him on Tuesday just under the Kessock Bridge. They’ve been hunting like crazy too, and seem to be getting very picky on their choice of food; the sea trout and return salmon from the river don’t seem to be doing it for them just now.

Pups and Pals

The otters have been out and about a bit, playing near their holt on the rocky wall and around their usual haunt at the bridge over the weekend. Our mother otter has been spotted on her own again, so we’re still not sure what her current situation is. Speaking of pups, we’ve had some return visits from this year’s harbour pups, as well as a few big grey seal males making their way into the Beauly Firth to feed on herring. They’ve been a certainly welcome visitor in these somewhat quiet waters.

 

Although, the waters aren’t always so quiet. Near the start of last week, we went on a wild goose chase on the word of Charlie Phillips for a young minke snooping about Munlochy Bay. Sadly for us, he had disappeared before we could find him, but the prospect of spotting it certainly got our eyes open and the hairs on the back of our necks standing on end! Wouldn’t that be a sighting and a half to cap off the year?

Onward and October-ward!

The Final Curtain Call...

It's finally October, and that now means that there is only a month left until the end of the season; come Hallowe'en, our 2017 will have come to a close. It's been a weird and wonderful season, with some fantastic sightings, some drama, and a spattering of mystery here and there too. But we'll save our recap for the final blog of the season! The only recap worth doing now is our look back at the previous week, and what's been keeping us entertained there.

A Late Holiday for the Gruesome Twosome?

Kesslet and Charlie have been very mobile since our last big sighting of them just over a week ago now, when Charlie's marvelous antics kept everyone on board (staff and passengers alike) entertained and gobsmacked all at once. They've been seen together and on their own too, with Kesslet spending a day footering around after herring early in the week by herself, and Charlie travelling east on his tod a day later. When they've not been spotted by the Spirit, Mischief has found them further afield usually, spending a bit of time with the hang-arounds, Zephyr, Honey and their little ones. That being said, we've had a couple days where they've went totally AWOL, and I've heard they may have been sighted even further eastward than usual when neither of our boats have found them. At this time of year it's not unusual, as herring and mackerel shoal more often in deeper waters past Cromarty than in with us; this is normally evidenced by the good sightings of gannets you get around there at this time of year too. Speaking of our fishing feathered friends, we've had a bit of excitement recently, not just over our own incoming juvenile gannet groups, but also of some apparent sightings of Sea Eagles again! RIB skipper George wasn't just whistling Dixie when he gave us a shout on Sunday about some kites bombarding a bigger bird over fish near Munlochy. We tried to check it out on the Spirit, but could only see one of the kites circling and nothing more. George claims (with witnesses too) that this distinctly larger bird was being harassed by several kites. Do you think George has found himself a white tail. or a tall tale?

Sleeping Soundly

We've been seeing a lot of laziness around the firth when the animals have been out and about. The seals are very nonchalant at this time of year, and thankfully this aids our sightings tremendously as they start to spend more time lazing near the surface when hunting. On Monday we didn't have a single trip that saw less than 5 seals, and all seen for a long time too. The otters have even been caught preening themselves while sat on the buffers of the bridge; whether hunting or lazing around, we've seen them quite a bit in that area recently. Kesslet and Charlie have also been caught snoozing near Meikle Mee, possibly after wearing themselves out chasing smaller prey and travelling more to find them. It's going to be a hard winter so it seems if this keeps up! We'll just have to wait and see; with only 4 weeks left to go, who knows what might happen!

Play Time!

The Gruesome Twosome Make a Splash!

It had been a quiet month up until a couple of days ago! Kesslet, and at times Charlie too, are starting to become more commonplace in the firth again. While they're not always in their usual haunts due to the dwindling salmon, the pair are still finding food around the Inner Firth towards Kilmuir and Bunchrew. It's certainly giving them enough energy, whatever they may be catching (most likely sea trout and herring), as they have been very active! On Friday, they came close to the boat on two of the four sailings they were seen on, even following the boat around the Inverness Firth as it made travels on the 2pm. Charlie's best show was on Saturday however, when, after a few very distant sightings of them prior, Kesslet and Charlie reappeared at the end of the trip in the river mouth. Charlie turned to come and say hello to the boat, at first coming in nice and close for a bow ride. He then came firing out from under us, nice and high! A tremendous breach! Then another, facing us! Then another, under us again but like a speeding bullet ahead! And a final one, tilted to the side! It was magical! But that was not all, he returned to our side as we turned into the marina entrance... and followed us in right to our berth before heading back! He joined up with mum Kesslet again before disappearing into the firth. It was a trip to make our jaws drop for sure! We're still waiting to see if we have some videos of the action to share with you!

Otters
Otters playing under the Kessock Bridge in the sunshine

Kesslet Capers

Kesslet was roaming the firth on her own today, and was nice enough to come and see us on two of the three trips that went today. She was missing at 12pm, but there's been a lot of really rowdy activity from a number of small power vessels in the area recently, and they've been seen chasing the dolphins while they're here. We think she may have been scared off this afternoon by a really foolish and selfish private boat, but she returned to us at 2pm before we saw her heading out to join up with Charlie and Honey's group near Chanonry (who were spotted earlier by Mischief and joined them for a bit of fun too!). We'll see what tomorrow brings for us sightings wise of the dolphins, but with a good splash of rain and favourable tides, things are looking up for the end of the month! We've been seeing a lot of our seals (commons mostly, as the greys have seemed to move out east to pup), and our otters have been making appearances too! It's a great time to join us, and with some stunning weather recently, you may even get sunshine to boot!

Like Herding... Dolphins?

A Difficult Month

Whew, and we thought August was a toughie! September is proving quite the handful so far, with our wildlife being so much less predictable than they were even last month! While the dolphins seem to be moving around a lot, Mischief is managing to catch up with them on the regular, Spirit is having a little bit of a harder time. That being said, Kesslet has managed to surprise us, both on her own and with friends in the past week. On Tuesday, she appeared for the whole day, catching salmon in the river as they were heading back out to sea. She seemed to do very well, and left at the end of the day with a nice full belly. She appeared on Wednesday too, again on her own for a bit of a nosey in the afternoon too. Charlie has been missing for a little while, but from what we've seen from others further out, he's spending a bit of time more to the east with some of the other social groups for a change. Mischief has found Spirtle on a number of occasions, and she's looking fantastic. She and her sister Honey are still hanging around, and we've been lucky enough to see them playing around while the boat has been near Eathie (see our Facebook for a little video of them having fun!). 

Other Finned Friends

While the dolphins have proven a little elusive for Spirit recently, it's opened the gate for some other little fins to make an appearance; the harbour porpoise! For only the third time so far this season we've come across them on two sailings this week, with them being the most obvious yesterday, surfacing nice and actively nearby in the Beauly Firth. We hope we may see a little more of our unicorns of the firth as the season closes, as they're such a special sighting. It's also a special time of year for another group of animals, our birds, as our gannets are returning to the area. We've seen them on most trips over the weekend, with a picking-up wind drawing them closer to the bridge. We've had mostly fledglings in the area, but a few adults to help teach the youngsters about life. Speaking of youngsters, we haven't seen our otter mum much recently, but when we have she's been around in the morning. We suspect she may have little ones just now, but her big male friend Pierre (as he's so called!) has been keeping us company as he hunts around the bridge. He's been quite the show-off over the past week! And it's not just the otters who may have little ones, as the greys have started to disappear from the firth; it's now the pupping season for the grey seals and they're moving more east to their designated pupping beaches. They'll return in spring, but for now, it's allowing the harbour seals to get out and about more, and to hoover up all the leftover fish in the firth! So while the season may be winding down, there's still plenty to see, and every trip is different. Nothing like a little bit of extra mystery to make a trip really interesting, eh!

Shhhh-eptember

It's Oh-So Quiet...

Welcome to the new, weekly blog here at Dolphin Spirit; as our season starts to wind down we'll be leaving all the blog excitement for a weekly recap to get the most out of every story coming out of our trips! But as it stands, after a stellar start, September is proving to be a rather quiet time, with all of our wildlife seemingly taking a bit of a breather after a hectic summer season. The seal pups have all been weaned and are now occasionally being spotted out in the water on their own, but for our Grey seals, all of the fun of the pupping season in just beginning. We'll see numbers of these seals drop off in the coming weeks as they make headway to their own preferred pupping grounds. Our otter mum hasn't shown up very much recently, and after all the eager anticipation over summer of new cubs, she seems to have not had any... yet. Her patterns have changed once again and she's being spotted early morning and late evening, which may be a sign of feeding youngsters. Her older cubs are still around, and sometimes have a bit of a sibling romp around the rocks and under the bridge, which is always good fun to watch. With the slow-down of the firth, we've been lucky enough to see (albeit briefly) some of the speedier visitors to the firth pop by now and again; the porpoise! Without doubt the shyest of all our wildlife, it's almost like spotting a unicorn when these little fellas appear, and luckily for us, we've had a couple within the past few days to get our hearts racing!

Dolphin Daydreams

It's been highly unpredictable once again on the dolphin front, with very little being seen of the resident terrible two, Kesslet and Charlie, but more visits from some of the Chanonry social groups now and again. Chanonry has been rather quiet for Mischief as well, but small, scattered groups are regularly being encountered off Eathie and over the other side towards McDermott Yard. We've seen a fair bit of Spirtle and crew, and Spirtle herself has gained even more fame after appearing on Countryfile! She had her own little segment describing what she's been through and how well she has been doing since. It's always an absolute joy to see her with all the spirit and joie de vivre a young dolphin like her should have, despite her injury and experience. She was recently photographed playing with friends and chucking about a huge chunk of seaweed like a true juvenile! In other calf news, there have been so far reports of around 5 or 6 newborns this season, including one for boat namesake Spirit! After her latest daughter turned three, Spirit surprised everyone by appearing with a tiny little tooty alongside near the Cromarty Firth! We can only hope they all have a lovely mild winter! It's also naming time for some of the older calves, who have had the old once-over from Aberdeen University and given their monikers for life. One such star from our trips to get his name is Zephyr's little boy, who is now called Zuzu! While convention normally has the names be in pattern with mum's name (and therefore we were expecting a more wind-based name like big brother Breeze), we think Zuzu's name is very fitting! What do you think?

Super Start to September

A Tale of Two Months

August saw the end of the most unpredictable month we've had in pretty much the entire three years Dolphin Spirit has been in operation. For better or for worse, we could never tell what we were going to see one trip to the next, never mind one day to the next! As the month came to a close, the dolphins all seemed to mysteriously vanish from the firth over the last couple of days; Chanonry was quiet, the river was barren, and as far as Findhorn there wasn't a fin to be seen. While some days the dolphins were a little further up the coast, sometimes they were in the Cromarty Firth, and others they were just gone. It certainly kept in line with the theme of August, where before we had big groups making a visit just because. With September starting to make its presence felt in the form of some spectacular weather over the past couple of days, it's certainly brightened up on the dolphin front too, with sightings a little more regular once again and even the otters and seals coming out to play in a major way!

Sunshine to Start

While September also saw a return of the dolphins, it saw a brief return to the guiding stage for Sue and a full-time return to guiding for end of season guide Raymond! With a long summer off to enjoy a break, Raymond returns to see the season out alongside Krystyna! With his teacher head still very much screwed onto his shoulders, Raymond is sure to give you an educational experience like no other; fun, a giggle, and learning without realizing! His classroom assistants of late have been Kesslet and Charlie, who have returned over the past couple of days to mill around and hunt back in their usual haunts after a bit of social sabbatical. We're hoping to see a little more of them as the month goes on, perhaps with the allure of salmon returning to the sea as the season comes to an end for the fish. We will certainly just have to wait and see, but it's starting off well for sure!

A Curious Cruise

Curiosity Caught the Seal

After a couple of quiet days out on the firth, with little more than a lonely porpoise spotted, it was about time for the gruesome twosome to make their appearances back in the river area. Surely enough, both Kesslet and Charlie were present today, but kept their distance... for the boat and each other! We first spotted Kesslet meandering and hunting on her own, in the riptide of the Kessock Channel. She surfaced a few times then disappeared into dust; we simply could not figure out where she had gone. As we came towards Kilmuir, we also found Charlie, dawdling his way in to the channel as well. He wasn't interested in the boat at all, and we could only but assume the poor lad was starving and on a fishing mission, since that simply isn't like him. The pair were not in the river as we returned, nor anywhere to be seen in the Kessock Channel or Inverness Firth on the 12pm trip. We thought they may have left already, but found them eventually at 2pm, where the pair were sitting off Kilmuir. Kesslet was about 100m from the Meikle Mee buoy, whereas Charlie was closer to Alturlie Point. They seemed to be sitting in the tide, surfacing rather relaxed when at the surface. That was until Kesslet made a short breach behind us and a big splash, and Charlie seemed to copy. Neither were spotted after that, so perhaps they were hunting salmon or a ball of mackerel in the central channel of the firth, but with no sightings, we can't say for sure. Unfortunately that would be the last we would see of them today, but we had some other curious visitors in the meantime!

Otter-ly Adorable!

While the dolphins weren't around at 12, we did managed to catch glimpses of our other 2 in the "Big 3" category. The otters were spotted by some keen eyed passengers playing around the harbour wall as we left, one diving off the rocks and into the water just behind the red marker. With the size of them, they seemed to be our mother otter's older cubs, having a romp. We also encountered many curious seals throughout the day, including a harbour and a grey, who both surfaced very close to the boat and stayed there staring at us as we passed by, which gave us all a good giggle. The grey even delighted passengers by squirting water out of his nose at them! With August being so unpredictable, weather-wise and sightings-wise, we can only wonder what tomorrow may bring; why not come aboard and find out with us?

Awkward August

As Unpredictable As It Gets

August is a particularly strange time for the wildlife of the Moray Firth; a time where every day is different and there's almost seemingly no rhyme or reason as to why it ends up that way. Over the past few years we have known this much, and it makes it particularly difficult for us to go into each day, because even knowing what the weather might be doing and what the tide state looks like, you will never be able to tell what you will see. For those planning a visit in August, be aware that it's pretty much pot-luck month! Over the past few days, we almost had a pattern of "all-or-nothing" going, which all changed again when we had two days of 4 and then 3 out of 4 sightings in a day. Yesterday was another no-show, with neither Kesslet nor Charlie actually spotted anywhere until the middle of the afternoon/early evening, when they rocked up to Chanonry to play with Zephyr's little one and eat some of the salmon travelling through there. Then today, it changed again, with only Kesslet appearing in the river first thing in the morning! The behaviour of the dolphins is so mercurial at this time of year; even the most predictable animals, like Kesslet herself, can be very hard to track down at times. In speaking to WDC Marine Mammal Officer Charlie Phillips, he tends to say he's normally ripping his hair out around now, because his adoption dolphins just seem to disappear - and some of those can be pretty hard to find even in peak season!

Additional Fun

This weekend is going to see some fun and games over the other side of the Beauly Firth from the marina, with the RNLI hosting their open family day all day Saturday! Visitors with us will likely get to see some of the events they have going on while out on their trips; including helicopter and lifeboat displays, rides on the lifeboat itself, and a chance to learn about what the RNLI do and why they're so important to an area like the Moray Firth and beyond! Those big enough and fit enough will also get the chance to sign up and volunteer themselves to train and become part of their local crew! The WDC will also be there, with Charlie and Chanonry Shore Officer Sam hosting a display table, talking about the wonderful wildlife locals are lucky enough to enjoy from their doorsteps (or on boat trips like ours!). We would highly recommend heading over there after your trip if you're coming on over the weekend, as it looks like a great time!

Whale, whale, whale...

Unexpected Visitors!

It would turn into a day of many heightened emotions out on the Moray Firth, but started off just like any other day. Krystyna sat quayside prior to the 10am trip (after arriving to her post nice and early at 8am!), and spotted Charlie and Kesslet making their way into the Beauly Firth. With that knowledge burned into her brain, she joined Brian and Sue down on the boat to prepare. The boat left sharpish with 25 passengers, dondering out of the marina and on the hunt for fins. It wouldn't be long until they found some... but there were a lot more than two! At first glance, roughly ten tall, dark fins breached the water in a long row. Was this another group of dolphins having a party off North Kessock? Had Charlie and Kesslet brought buddies? Well, they were dolphins alright, but as the crew quickly realised, not the ones they were expecting. Not bottlenoses at all, but pilot whales. Excitement turned into panic, realising that this was likely the same pod that had been hanging around Rosemarkie and Cromarty yesterday afternoon. With how far they'd come and how far inland they were, there was a very real possibility that this was going to develop into a stranding event. The crew burst into action, making calls to Charlie Phillips of the WDC to notify the British Divers Marine Life Rescue of the situation, to the Coastguard to put a warning out to boat users, to the Sea Lock and RNLI to ask boat users to take care precautions if they had to travel through that part of the firth. We committed ourselves to doing all we could to make sure this pod had every chance to make it back out the firth without issue, and thankfully, by the end of the afternoon they did. But not before attracting a throng of curious shorewatchers to the piers at North and South Kessock to get a good look at them!

Fun and Some Sun

The pilot whales weren't the only cetaceans in the area we soon found out, as Charlie and Kesslet came to say hello too right under our bow; almost as if jealous that we'd spent a good deal of time watching the pilots! They left us to scoot past Carnarc Point and into the river, away from prying eyes and the whales, who'd taken up residence outside the Clachnaharry Sea Lock by this point. That was the last we saw of the "local" dolphins, as we lost them in a sea of dorsal fins as they moved into the Beauly Firth once again. But almost as if the 10am trip had all the luck of the world behind it, we found 3 otters at the harbour wall mucking about on our way back home and a few seals along the way too! It was more than enough to leave Sue and Krystyna speechless (and trust us, that's an impressive feat in and of itself!). We did see the pilots again at 12pm, and they had moved more towards North Kessock by this moment, but seemed rather relaxed about the whole thing. Some squid were getting chucked about, flippers and flukes waved in the sunshine... it seemed we worried for nothing! The group started making travel plans to leave the Kessock Channel around 1.30pm, making tracks over to the pier at South Kessock, having a bit of fun as they went. By the time they're reached Carnarc Point, the tide was fair flowing again, and the pilot whales took their opportunity to horse it, making good speed out under the bridge shortly after 2pm. A relief to us all! We had cancelled the 2pm to give them ample opportunity to leave, and it seemed to work; off they went without a fuss. As much as we enjoyed seeing them, it was a bit too much stress for a Sunday morning, and we're glad they made it out safe again. 

Fish Frenzy!

Wouldn't Want to be a Salmon...

It was a very varied day sightings-wise aboard Dolphin Spirit, but one in which all the animals spotted had something in common; the migratory fish were their primary target! In the morning, we were alerted to Kesslet and Scoopy being in the Kessock Channel, hunting for fish. We rushed out on the 10am to find them, and did immediately, getting a lovely greeting from Scoopy who came by for a closer look. Kesslet by this time was further upriver, but just visible with her distinctive, curved fin. We kept our eyes peeled as we moved into the Beauly Firth, looking for any sign of Charlie, as he's been around the area with his mum quite a bit in recent days. And sure enough, he made his presence felt in quite dashing style! Bow-riding a fishing vessel which had just exited the canal, Charlie seemed to be having a whale of a time; he breached sideways, he breached backwards, he spun in the bow waves like a torpedo. It was fantastic to watch. After the boat had passed us, Charlie changed tack and came to see us, swimming alongside and then at our bow briefly before heading off behind us. As we turned, we found out why; Kesslet and Scoopy had moved out into the Beauly Firth, where a strong riptide had formed. Kesslet had also caught a huge salmon which she was happily displaying. As we came back down the channel we watched for them, and Charlie came to see us again, following us easily and making lovely, splashing surface rushes along the length of our bow. He bounced his way into the river after that, leaving mum and her suitor to it in the channel, and we left them to it as well. As we returned, we found Scoopy just under the bridge, where he was waiting for the Carnarc pilot boat to leave the marina. Upon seeing it he approached, and followed it out past us into the Inverness Firth, breaching at least some of the way. We also found Charlie back at the river, with a great big salmon of his own, before watching him head out after Scoopy. That would be the last we would see of the terrible trio today.

Feather and Fur

But it wasn't all bad, with the dolphins gone, the seals made their appearances, and we also got a couple of lovely interactions and a surprise visitor appear later in the afternoon. The 4pm trip proved the most successful after the 10am, with a couple of young seals to start, before a sudden sighting of a hovering osprey near the ICT Stadium. We watched him scan the water for prey, before heading over the Kessock Bridge and out of view. While the talons of the osprey were one less danger for the salmon, they weren't out of the woods yet! As we returned to the marina, we found our local male otter sitting just at the river mouth. He ducked and dived a couple of times, coming up a third time with a little trout juvenile in his paws and jaws. It was great to see him just chilling out on his back, munching away. He obviously wasn't too fussed about us, as he came back up to surface two more times to see us before we went back into the marina! All in all, a successful end to the day (though maybe not so much for the fish!). 

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!

No-Fin!

Well That's Not a Good Start...!

So with the turn of a new week, we started our recording of sightings from Dolphin Spirit and Mischief for National Whale and Dolphin Watch. Pity that today had to be an anomaly as far as our recent sightings record has gone! An overall quiet day, Dolphin Spirit was unlucky enough to find absolutely zero dolphins at all today, while Mischief's pickings were rather slim up at Chanonry too! Where have all our fins gone?! We still live-tweeted sightings from our sailings as best we could for today, and will be keeping our eyes peeled and fingers crossed for the rest of the week for slightly better sightings! Although, what we've learned over the years is that when the dolphins aren't hogging the limelight, other animals come out to play in their place!

An Otter-ly Different Kind of Day

On 3 out of our 4 sailings today we were lucky enough to see our seals resting out on the mudflats, with what looks like another new youngster to add to the population! With the neap tides, there wasn't a lot of change between the low and rising tide points today, barely enough to cover the mudflats by the end of the day! This meant our seals got to enjoy a lazy Monday, with only a couple of the younger harbour seals sitting in the water. We also had some really good sightings of the otters today too, who appeared on 2 out of 4 trips, and were really quite active! Two young otters (or so it looked by size) were spotted under the Kessock Bridge early this afternoon, and later by the harbour wall on the 2pm. There was a lot of diving and splashing, indicating they must have been hunting while the waters were quiet. We also received report of the first newborn dolphin being spotted at Chanonry today, which is something new and exciting for Mischief to be looking for (and being really careful around!) in the coming weeks! 

A Chill Out Kind of Day

Sleepy in the Sunshine

With the second day in a row of actual summer weather, it was a great day to be out on the water! Not only is the glittery reflection from the water great for topping up a tan, but the soothing sea breeze meant it wasn't too warm out on the firth either; with highs of 25 degrees Celsius today, it was certainly welcome for a change! The good weather seemed to have the same effect on everyone, making them chilled out and in a good mood throughout the day, even our local wildlife! The seals were out and present on all 4 sailings for Dolphin Spirit today, with those on the mudflats snoozing away rather peacefully for the best part of the afternoon. Those on the water were making the most of a lack of dolphins; the terrible trio didn't turn up until the later stages of the day! But as they say, when the cats are away, the mice shall play...

And Play They Did!

It wasn't just the seals who saw their opportunity and took it; the otters came by for a visit too! In the early afternoon, two of them were spotted just off the harbour wall mucking around. It's been our first sightings of the otters at the marina for a while, with resident male "Pierre" spotted recently back on his perch over on the South Kessock slipway again too over the past couple of days. We're still keeping our eyes and ears open for any signs of otter cubs, but no definite signals yet. The Kessock Channel went to the dolphins shortly after two, with a lovely visit from Kesslet and Charlie right up next to the boat. Charlie always brings that playful side out of his mum, and can often be seen actively pushing her to the boat. That being said, it seems to be rubbing off on old Scoopy too, who didn't turn up until later this afternoon, but he too has been getting close to both Mischief and Dolphin Spirit too! The three of them spent their afternoon around the river and Kessock Channel, and are still being reported there even at the time of writing; enjoying an evening salmon feast in the lovely weather it would seem! 

Gotta Spot 'Em All!

Another Big 3 Day for Spirit AND Mischief!

What a day! Not only Dolphin Spirit have a fantastic Big 3 day (and then some!), so did Mischief! Despite the forecast, the day was dry for the most part and while enjoying the calm, we also enjoyed some great sightings of the lovely local wildlife. Sightings started literally first thing in the morning for Spirit, when Kesslet appeared just in the river with a nice big salmon within the first 5 minutes of the trip. After letting her approach us and disappear off again to dodge the incoming gull horde, we continued on into the Beauly Firth, where we encountered one of the seal pups out for a swim! That was for the most part how the morning went on, but as the afternoon wore on, our sightings only got better!

Strange Sightings at Chanonry Point!

While Spirit was making friends down in the Beauly Firth, Mischief was watching some weird and wonderful goings-on up near Chanonry Point. On approach to the Point, the boat spotted a lone dolphin having interactions with a seal. The seal, according to skipper George, wasn't too keen on its big new friend, but the dolphin was approaching with seemingly playful intent; I guess around 400kg of dolphin can be quite intimidating when it's in your face like that! Moving on, Mischief also encountered an otter at Chanonry! They also managed to spot a fair bit of dolphin activity throughout the day, with all 3 sailings going out! Skipper George is also keeping his eyes peeled for juvenile Sea Eagle which he is certain is in the Munlochy area! Next time you're out with our boats you might want to keep your eyes peeled for these so called "flying barn doors" to see if he's right!

Not a Sea Eagle But...

While Dolphin Spirit spent some extended time out near Munlochy and Alturlie Point today due to a fair amount of harbour traffic, we didn't see any sea eagles. That being said, we did have a very close flyover by a red kite passing over the firth from the Black Isle towards Culloden! In the same area we found ourselves a Charlie in the afternoon, who was initially resting near Meikle Mee before coming to see us and zipping off towards the shore with a few bouncy breaches to boot! The last sighting of note was on the 4pm trip at the last minute, where a cheeky otter appeared next to the mudflats on our way back in, swimming alongside towards a small lone rock near the harbour wall and climbing up onto its back feet to have a better look at us! A great end to an overall fantastic day!

Return of the Queen

Kesslet Joins the Hunt

A grand day to be out on the Dolphin Spirit once again, with some fantastic sunshine through the early sailings and even better sightings, managing to fit all of the "Big 3" in throughout the day! The seal group was certainly enjoying the weather, popping up near the surface often through the morning when the sun was at its best. When the clouds started to roll in again, so did Kesslet, appearing at first near Kilmuir where she was milling around for sea trout. Spotting the Dolphin Spirit, she approached with care to show off her prize; tossing and ejecting the fish in close proximity to allow our passengers a good viewing. She then hitched a ride, following the boat all the way back in towards the river, enjoying the streamlined travel from sitting under the bow while she enjoyed her lunch. She stuck around for the rest of the afternoon, around the river as usual, hunting for salmon again. She wasn't the only body floating around the river either, as the otters managed to appear last thing in the day too, completing our mammal sightings sheet for the day!

Making Mischief

Mischief has been very lucky over the past couple of days too, with some fantastic sightings caught on our new Dolphin Dashcam! From breaching babies, to bow-riding buddies, we've encountered some very playful and active individuals throughout the day on our trips. The biggest players at the moment have really been the "Porridge family" and Zephyr and youngster. Spirtle and Honey are becoming very common sights around the Chanonry Point area and beyond, with Zephyr the "Kesslet" of Chanonry, hunting there pretty much every day. Her youngster got his five minutes of fame as the first feature on our Facebook from the Dolphin Dashcam a couple of days ago, giving a cheeky little breach ahead of the boat as everyone else was having a look for his mum and travelling companions! If there's anything that can be said about the Moray Firth dolphins, it's that they certainly have a sense of humour; one which develops very early on in life it seems!

Ladies' Night!

Quite the Crowd

It was an enjoyable afternoon for Mischief up near Chanonry, where several groups of dolphins were milling around and hunting together. Dolphin Spirit didn't have quite the same luck, as local fail-safe Kesslet was actually up at Chanonry too! She had taken Scoopy and Charlie with her as well, but seemed to drop them off with Bonnie and her youngster when the boys started to get rowdy. Instead, she enjoyed the company of the "Porridge" girls, Honey and Spirtle, as they came through from further out. Zephyr also turned up with her little one, babysitting a little for Honey early in the afternoon while she and Spirtle socialized and hunted on their own. Spirtle's wound was quite the topic of discussion at the point (as off-duty guide Krystyna found), with many onlookers inquiring about the unusual dolphin. There is very little redness left on the burn, and the blubber layer is all that remains visible, showing that maybe once the year is out, that wound may be fully closed. Certainly by the second anniversary of her incident at the latest one would think! Mischief spotted this lot near Craig Mee, where they had left the point until the rising tide by the early evening. A calm experience for a change, but probably mostly because they were in the company of the local "mother and toddler" group!

Ott-er for a Walk

While Dolphin Spirit was ditched by the dolphins today, it wasn't all bad! This afternoon saw the return of the cheeky otters, who are seemingly just getting bolder by the day; today they actively approached the boat, making for some fantastic viewing for our passengers! We also got to see the seals in all their usual glory, enjoying the sunny spells while we had them. Maybe now that Kesslet has had her time catching up with the girls, she'll return to the river again to enjoy the salmon running there, as Chanonry is proving to be quite quiet on that front at the moment. We all know how much Kesslet likes a full belly! Maybe she might even bring some friends with her too!

Watching in the Wind and Waves

Attack of the DSWs!

For those who haven't been out on a trip with us, the dreaded DSW (or Dolphin Shaped Wave) strikes most often during dolphin-watching trips on the Moray Firth on a windy day. For today, we were inundated with sightings of the DSWs, before the actual Ds (or Dolphins!) turned up in the afternoon. Unfortunately, the sighting was so fleeting of the two fins surfacing out the rear of the boat, that we could only hope to hazard a guess at who it was. But WDC Field Officer Charlie Phillips went out to investigate after getting a heads up call from us, and found the pair herding fish in an impressive display up near Bunchrew. He, too, couldn't discern an ID through the choppy waters. It was a difficult day in that regard, and a steadily increasing wind throughout the day eventually managed to cancel the 4pm Dolphin Spirit sailing and 12.30pm and 3.30pm Dolphin Mischief trips. We made the best of what we had though, with some great sightings again of our lovely seal colony and cheeky local otters.

Seal Update

Our seal colony showed well today, with 8 individuals spotted lazing around in the morning; a number which included our 2 newborns and 6 adults, including the bull of the harem. The bull has been in some competition lately, as he has a tremendous slash across his neck, but thankfully this has been healing well over the past week or so. Our pups seem to be feeding well too, with sightings of them suckling from their mothers a common thing these days. We're still keeping watch for any other youngsters, as well as keeping an eye on the main body of the colony at Redcastle, which seems to mirror numbers in our own when the shore is exposed their too. So far, as far as we've seen, our two pups are the only little ones around, so it may still be early days yet. The otter's recent spate of activity is leading us to believe there may also be the pitter-patter of tiny paws around the harbour wall soon, as cubs for her also seem to be a high probability. It's going to be a busy river mouth soon!

An Osprey A Day...

If Only!

We wish we could see an osprey a day here at Dolphin Spirit, they are just such beautiful birds! That being said though, we were very lucky to see one hunting and hovering just over the Inverness Caley Thistle Stadium as we headed out this afternoon! It stuck around for a while, allowing passengers a good look before heading off across the bridge and into the murky, rainy abyss. We got to also enjoy sightings of our two new seal pups and the rest of the "mother and toddler group" as they chilled out on the mudflats, and our otter, who was out hunting on the 2pm trip near the bridge and rocky harbour wall. That really summed up our day today, as everything seemed to go the same way - chilled out and calm. Despite the rain which spattered us all day in dribs and drabs, Dolphin Spirit and Mischief both got out on the water and enjoyed the calm sea state; that makes a change from yesterday and Wednesday that's for sure! Unfortunately, the weather does not look good tomorrow at all; forecast of gale force 8 winds from 6am tomorrow may put the halters on our trips tomorrow. If you're in doubt about your trip, be sure to call ahead when the office opens at 9am to double check before setting off. We'll keep you updated across our social media if cancellations are on the cards.

Mischief Meets A Local Superstar

Dolphin Mischief had the joy of heading out to Chanonry twice today, and enjoyed some lovely encounters with some of the younger members of the Moray Firth dolphin population. One little visitor included the now-famous Spirtle, the sunburned dolphin. Spirtle, who will be 5 now, stranded at Nigg Bay last year for over 24 hours; she was found, luckily, by some lost dolphin watchers, who called out the correct rescue services to her aid. Despite the heavy burns to her right hand side, her rescuers gave Spirtle the benefit of the doubt and refloated her back into the deeper waters of the Firth. Spirtle has since taught onlookers the power of dolphin healing and seawater magic, as her massive burn scar has nearly all but healed. Spirtle is now also swimming correctly, and not letting her injury hold her back, and was today babysitting for sister Honey, who must have been nearby. The rest of the dolphins spotted were simply enjoying the calm, and hunting around for any available fish. There didn't seem to be many though, as those caught were quite small in places. Another of the dolphins in that area today was Kesslet, who had disappeared from the Kessock Channel for the day to spend a bit of time catching up with Zephyr and her youngster, catching a small fish, before meandering back down home. Sadly for us, the 4pm Dolphin Spirit trip didn't get to go out, so we didn't get to catch her on her way down! Hopefully we'll get to hear all about her adventures from her tomorrow, if she decides to be sociable with us landlubbers again!

A Big 3 Day!

Dolphins All Day!

Well if ever you needed a cure for the midweek blues, today was it! We saw all of our big three - otters, seals, and dolphins - on 3 out of 4 trips, and were blessed with dolphins for every trip too. Only the otters failed to appear at 12pm, but it was a cracking day out on the water for sightings despite the rough, windy weather! The day started off fine, with seals out on the mudflats and wind rustling up some minor waves. As we returned from the Meikle Mee buoy near the end of the trip, who should pop up but Kesslet and Charlie, spotted by a keen-eyed passenger who glimpsed their fins among the waves. They slowly but surely were heading inward, going at a fairly relaxed pace. We left them out there and managed to spot on otter (pictured above) making its way into a dummy passage just in above the low-tide surface. It poked its head up again at the passage's exit, before bounding up onto the dry, bare rock and into a real entrance to the holt. Possibly one of our best otter sightings to date!

Sun, Sea, and Sealife!

The afternoon came on quick, and as the 12pm set out we were keen to see where Kesslet and Charlie ended up! With no sign of them in the river, we went to the Beauly Firth. They weren't there either, nor were they further out past the bridge. Perplexed, we returned to the marina again to be delighted by a huge splash from Kesslet as she hunted just up by the South Kessock side of the river. We continued to watch for a while, and were even more amazed to see young Charlie breaching with a terrific salmon that was almost a metre long! It was so big, our guide had to do a double take at her pictures to ensure it wasn't a porpoise! Charlie wandered off with his prize in his mouth to join his mum, who had sneaked further up into the river, and again, we left them to it. They stayed up there for the rest of the day, so we were lucky enough to see them at 2pm and 4pm too, with Charlie greeting the boat in his usual way, before having a porpoising match with Kesslet, the pair just skimming across the surface like stones behind us. We didn't see them at the end of the 4pm, but with the high tide and the catches that were made, it's quite safe to assume they were happy enough to go and relax elsewhere for the evening. I'd be tired too if I'd had a day like them!

Charlie with a huge salmonCharlie and his catch just upriver of the marina


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