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Dolphin Spirit Blog

Dolphin and Marine Wildlife Boat Trips from Inverness Marina

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!

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!

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!

Found Him!

Cheeky Charlie Arrives in Style!

If you've been following our blog, you will remember that yesterday Kesslet had a different visitor with her in the Kessock Channel, Scoopy. After anticipating that Charlie must have been at Chanonry Point with the others then, and finding out that he wasn't, we could only wonder where he'd got to! Well, he couldn't have been too far away, as he turned up in the river this afternoon alongside his mum! Always the playful devil on Kesslet's shoulder, Charlie nudged his somewhat unwilling mum over to come and play with the boat as we left the marina on our 12pm sailing. As they followed us out into the Beauly Firth, they dived deeply in tandem, hunting for fish together, making their way up beyond they Caledonian Canal when we saw them last. Sadly, that would be our only sightings of the terrible two today, but the day didn't end there!

Otter Visitors

It was a strange day, being quite quiet on the passenger front. The bad weather in the middle of the afternoon may have put people off, which meant our 2pm sailing didn't run. Guide Krystyna spent the extra time sitting quayside, keeping a vigil for the dolphins and any other wildlife that may pop up in the meantime. Seems like it was a great shame that the 2pm didn't go, as there was plenty to see; plenty of swallows floating around, herons fluttering between hunting spots, and a hunting otter ducking and diving near the rocky wall, all just outside the marina! When the 4pm went out, it quietened down again, although the otter was still briefly present. But around Munlochy Bay, a red kite passed overhead, and a black throated diver popped out of nowhere right in front of the boat! We have never documented seeing one of these before, so in that regards it was quite special. Maybe it was a bit lost, straying a little away from the lochs into the saltier waters of the Moray Firth!

Dolphins, and Otters, and Seals, Oh My!

A Mighty Sightings Day!

Today started off with a little sunshine and some pleasant wind, but it quickly turned back to its usual grey with a fairly oppressive heat for most of the day. The weather certainly didn't put us off going out though, and both Dolphin Spirit and Mischief got out for all of their scheduled sailings! Both's first trips turned out quiet however, with only seals to be spotted on the dropping tide. As they day wore on however, they were in a for a treat, as some of our less spotted visitors came out to play!

Afternoon Delights

After a morning spent with a great many seals, Dolphin Spirit went out at 12pm in search of more. After watching a couple desperate seals cling onto the last remaining shred of mudflat just outside the marina, the boat made its way out under the Kessock Bridge. One passenger duly noted there was "nothing to see yet", but not to be outdone by the comment, one of our dolphins popped up out of nowhere and buzzed past the boat. Without getting a good look at the forward-facing fin, we could only assume that it had been Kesslet. With fingers crossed that she may appear again, we headed off to complete the trip. Kesslet sadly didn't turn up again, and was absent again at 2. In her place however, were two cheeky otters playing in the water just shy of the rocky harbour wall. They made for some excellent viewing, being quite active at the surface, but still enough to get a few shots of them too! We also had a different kind of visitor in the form of a red kite, spotted circling around South Kessock on our 4pm trip! Mischief's trip out towards the deeper water past Chanonry found some other hunting dolphins; roughly 6 of them were present at the point, fishing for some hefty salmon!

An otter stares at the Dolphin Spirit
A curious otter gets a good look at the Dolphin Spirit

Scoopy-doo, Where Are You?

Kesslet did eventually turn up again at 4pm, this time with her big pal Scoopy in tow. At first, we thought her companion was Charlie, as the cheeky youngster hadn't been spotted among the group at Chanonry. However, on closer inspection, we noticed that the dorsal fin was not only notched on the rear, but blotchy at the front. This meant that Kesslet had brought a different friend down to the channel for a visit; one who had managed to evade both the Spirit and Mischief on his way down here! The pair seemed quite relaxed, cruising along together very closely. We watched at they disappeared out under the Kessock Bridge and away past the ICT Stadium. Scoopy even got quite close to the boat, which is rather unusual, as when we have seen him in the past he has always been quite shy; but with Kesslet at his side, Scoopy was more than happy to give us a little hello before going off again. That leaves us with the question then of "where's Charlie?". We might just have to wait and see if we get an answer to that one!

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