By WDC Volunteer Abi
As part of the Shorewatch programme, we visit the Shorewatch sites that are scattered across Scotland to help our community volunteers by providing them with support and some company while doing surveys. I was lucky enough to go with the Katie, our Shorewatch Officer, on a trip to the isle of Skye where we have 3 Shorewatch sites.
It was my first time visiting Skye and I was both intrigued and excited to see what the island held in store. As we drove over an impressive bridge and crossed onto Skye, I peered out the window to catch sight of the views! ⛰
The first Shorewatch site we visited was in the south of the island, at Armadale harbour. It is a quaint port with the sea stretching out in front of it and hillsides in the distance. We met two very dedicated Shorewatch volunteers there, who came out to join us despite the bitingly cold weather for April! As we chatted, I felt impressed by their infectious enthusiasm for spotting whales and dolphins. The continued efforts of community volunteers like these are what keeps Shorewatch alive and producing fascinating data about cetaceans around Scotland. 🐬
The volunteers at Armadale pointed out a rocky part of the shore where seals usually haul-out. “They’ve not been here since last year, though,” they mused.
Since seals are also recorded during Shorewatch surveys, Katie took the opportunity to dive into the data and discovered that an orca had been spotted there around the time that the seals abandoned it as a haul-out site. It’s possible that the orca is the reason why the seals have moved on…and the volunteers will be keeping a close eye out to see if they return this year or whether they have left for good!
After stopping in a small town on Skye called Portree to pick up some food supplies and have dinner, we found our accommodation where we were staying for the trip, nestled in a rural setting with a field of sheep (and cute lambs) right below our window! 🐑
The next day brought soaking weather – especially as the second Shorewatch site we visited in Bornestaig was right on an exposed clifftop! Within minutes we were drenched – along with the second group of community members who we were meeting that day. These people were new to Shorewatch and had never done a survey before, so we took them to the site which has incredible panoramic views over the sea below and showed them some tips for using binoculars and identifying cetaceans. 🌊
I had huge respect for these people for braving the not-so-perfect weather conditions, although sadly we didn’t spot any whales or dolphins – only a cheeky seal peeking its head above the water from time to time. Hopefully we managed to inspire them to look out for cetaceans in the future, and it’s safe to say that we all appreciated warming up in a nearby cafe called the Hungry Gull afterwards! ☕️
With the rain drizzling, Katie and I went for a ramble around a site called the Fairy Glen, where unusual cone-shaped hills create a bumpy landscape that reminded me of moguls on a ski slope – except much larger. Crystal clear waterfalls gushed down from hillsides around us, crashing down quickly to lower heights with an endless supply of water from the skies above. We walked past a stone spiral on the ground made from jet-black pebbles, and something about the whole landscape really did have a mystical feel, so Fairy Glen seemed like a fitting name. 🧚
The next day we went Shorewatching at Bornestaig again, and while the whales and dolphins eluded us, we caught sight of an otter out in the sea below. It was diving and feeding on fish, rolling onto its back in the water and showing its white tummy – I realised that I had seen this in pictures but never in real life before! Buzzing from that, we headed back to the Hungry Gull cafe, where we met another group of community volunteers who are based more in the north of the island, in the vicinity of a Shorewatch site called Kilt Rock.
We chatted to the volunteers because the site at Kilt Rock was undergoing carpark construction and this had been disrupting their surveys. It was important to hear their concerns and I was glad that we were able to help them and figure out a solution for the time being, until the site returned to normal again. We were all keen to see that happen, because Katie assured me that Kilt Rock is an excellent place for sightings! 🐳
On the final day, I was amazed to see the sun shining down and blue skies fighting back the clouds. We headed south and returned to the first site at Armadale for a last Shorewatch before going home. While I enjoyed the sun and started surveying, Katie got chatting to one of the boat handlers who very kindly offered to let us join them on their boat. Of course we said yes! 🚤
The men on the boat were working for the Northern Lighthouse Board and visiting a lighthouse on a tiny island that needed repairs. Within twenty minutes of leaving Armadale harbour, we spotted a pod of six or seven bottlenose dolphins splashing about in the cerulean waters. My heart leapt with excitement as they approached the boat and jumped out of the water, swimming fast and lithe. Even though I have seen bottlenose dolphins before, it always makes me feel just as awestruck when I see them again. 😍
We also spotted puffins, guillemots and a colony of seals as we wound our way past the isles of Rum and Eigg to reach the lighthouse. When we landed back in the harbour, I felt grateful that our trip had ended with such a highlight. I had amazing memories to take home with me!