Bottlenose Dolphins on the Moray Firth. One of the very special things we did on our recent Scottish holiday was to watch the Bottlenose Dolphins at Chanonry Point on the Black Isle, Moray Firth. Unless you are lucky, this takes patience but the rewards are wonderful- here are some photo’s of the mother and calf we watched catching a large fish, which the mother threw into the air by flicking her tail fluke. They do this to stun the fish before eating. A nursing mother needs to eat 8%of her body weight each day , and young can suckle up to two years and stay with the mother 3-6 years. There is a colony of about 130 Bottlenose Dolphins along the Moray Firth and they are the
Mother and calf Bottlenose Dolphin
Bottlenose Dolphin catching a large fish
Bottlenose Dolphin with its catch
The Bottlenose flips its catch into the air to stun it
Bottlenose takes a jump after feeding
Bottlenose Dolphin calf tries a jump, too
most northern colony in the world. Because they have to survive in the cold north sea they are larger than other Bottlenose, needing extra fat and blubber to live in these waters. Conditions in Sheffield: Extremely hot, still day. Temperature today: Max 30C Min 15C.
Great Skua or Bonxie
Great Skua or Bonxie
Skuas– another couple of wonderful sightings from our Scotland /Orkney June trip, the Great and Arctic Skuas are predatory birds which will harass other birds, forcing them to release their catch of fish– they are sometimes called ‘piratical’ for this habit. Great Skuas, also known as ‘Bonxie’ In Scotland, will even tackle birds as large as Gannets and have been known to attack and eat Puffins as well as carrion. The Arctic Skua, now sadly on the endangered ‘red’ list, are very agile birds, flying fast and low, twisting and turning to harass birds to release their catch of fish- this one appeared over the coastal slope in front of me before zooming off across the heather. Conditions today in Sheffield: Warm and sunny Temperature: Max 21 Min 11C
The lovely House Martins, (they were my dad’s favourite), are in decline all over central and northern Europe so it was wonderful to see these on the Moray Firth recently, with the ingredients they so desperately need to breed- muddy puddles! about twenty were collecting mud pellets which they mix with grass to build their cup-shaped nests under eaves. It takes about two weeks to build a nest from scratch, lining it with feathers, but they sometimes recolonise their old nests, which takes less work. Pre-19th century, House Martins nested on cliffs but they have now abandoned these sites for domestic and farm buildings. The other thing then need is an abundant supply of flying insects which are also declining of course. The young can, amazingly, survive a few days without food, going into kind of mini-
House Martin, drinking
hibernation, but the sorts of extreme weather we are having more- both bad conditions and too hot and dry weather, are affecting breeding success. Conditions: Hot, humid with storms around. Temperature: Max 18 Min 12C.
Red-breasted Mergansers, which can be seen all round the uk in winter, only breed in the north of the UK, which explains why I have never seen their fascinating mating display until watching these (a long way off!) on a sea-loch in Orkney recently. The males (they appear to already be moulting their green heads, which they do after May-time) compete with each other for a female’s attention by doing ‘power-swimming’ beside each other, stretching their necks and then dipping their neck
Displaying Red-breasted Merganser
Displaying Red-breasted Merganser
and breast in the water, with bills open, calling (see photo’s). Mergansers are saw-bills, so named after their serrated bills, which help them catch the salmon and trout and other fish they dive for. Conditions: Sunny intervals Temperature: Max 20 Min 11 C.
Razorbills- just back from a wonderful holiday along the east coast of Scotland and Orkney, away from crowds and wi-fi (which explains the lull in blogs!) we had the chance to watch cliffs full of birds in several places. Razorbills are second only to Puffins in my favourite list at cliff such spots and these were at Fowlsheugh, south of Stonehaven (you won’t see them between the Humber and the Isle of Wight). They nest on cliff
Razorbill, attempting to land on nest-site
Razorbill, readying to land on cliff
Razorbill taking off
ledges and rocks, often lower than most Guillemots which they nest near, and they have darker backs than their cousin Guillemots, and broader bills with clean, white markings on bills and wings. They are necessarily equally acrobatic, as they try to land on and leave these crowded, narrow nest-sites. Like their fellow auks (Puffins and Guillemots) they have evolved their shape as a compromise between flying and underwater swimming, which is how they catch fish and small crustaceans. Hence their wings are short and they have to flap them fast to fly. Conditions: Showery (It has been drier on our trip than for many parts of England!) Temperature: Max 16 Min 8C.
Insects are in demand, and sometimes in short supply but at Coldingham Beach on the Scottish Borders there was a mass of flies which this Pied Wagtail was taking advantage of, returning again and again to catch a bill-full and take them to feed their young somewhere nearby, in a small cup-shaped nest in a crevice or hole nearby. So many young birds need the protein of invertebrates at this stage, which is one of the many reasons the drastic reduction of insects is affecting creatures further up the food-chain. Pied Wagtails often have
Pied Wagtail collecting flies for young in the nest
Pied Wagtail witha bill full of flies
a year and both male and female feed the young. This one was catching flies on the ground and in the air, displaying their great agility as well as their energy levels. They manage to keep hold of a bill-full while adding yet more.
Pied Wagtails catch flies in the air as well as on the ground
Conditions: heavy showers and a little sun. Temperature : Max 14 Min 9.
Ravens: These large Corvids can be hard to tell from Crows, especially as they are usually seen from a distance, but there are some tell-tale indicators. They are the largest corvids by far, and have wedge-shaped tails rather than the fan-shaped tails of Crows. They croak rather than caw, and they are very acrobatic, being able to somersault when flying and Even fly upside down as they display during courtship. If you are lucky enough to be near when they fly overhead you can hear the wonderful sound of their wings beating. This one was at St Abbs Head. Like all corvids they are very intelligent and they feature largely in mythological stories, usually associated with death and misfortune. In Genesis, they are described as the first creature to leave the ark after the flood.