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Met Office survey - 21 August departing Stornoway and towards K7

We departed Stornoway at 16:00 with light winds and a thin veil of high cloud which made light excellent for surveying. Leaving the harbour, we passed the small lighthouse at Arnish Point along with the cruise liner The World – a floating home from home for those who can afford the cost of a suite on board (photo 1). Not sure what the visitors would have done today, other than a walk around Lews Castle, there’s nothing open in Stornoway on a Sunday and I didn’t see any sign of coach or bus trips.

Photo 1: Arnish Point Lighthouse, The World (and Georg Stage in the distance)

We rounded the Eye Peninsula, passing the lighthouse at Tiumpan Head on the way (photo 2) then headed NE towards K7’s location. It was great to be surveying in calm seas and good light after the frustration of the force 7-8 winds yesterday and soon started seeing an interesting range of species. It’s always a delight to see skuas, the avian pirates of the sea, so I was pleased to be able to notch up 13 Arctic Skuas in the first hour, one or two even came quite close (photo 3).

As we drew level with the Butt of Lewis I saw my first Sooty Shearwater of the evening, over the next two hours or so I saw a total of 56, including a flock of 10 sat on the sea just ahead of Pharos. Globally this is the commonest shearwater species, the population running in the millions, with the bulk breeding on islands around New Zealand. In the Atlantic these fantastic birds breed on Tristan da Cunha, the Falklands and in southern Chile. In April/May they make their way up the eastern seaboard of the Americas to spend the summer feeding in the rich waters off eastern and north-eastern Canada before making their way back south in August/September down the eastern Atlantic, which is when we see them around the UK. A really elegant shearwater, it makes flying look effortless, even when it has to flap its wings, fortunately one or two came close enough for a good view (photos 4 and 5). For good measure there were also quite a few Manx Shearwaters around too (photos 6 and 7).

With the calm conditions I’d have been disappointed not to see a cetacean or two and was delighted to have six encounters with a total of 33 Common Dolphin. Even better were (typically) brief sightings of two Minke Whales and a single Fin Whale. Unfortunately, the whales were too brief or distant for a photo but one of the groups of Common Dolphin was more obliging (photo 8).

Photo 8: Common Dolphin

A beautiful sunset was a fitting way to round off a lovely evening (photo 9), the forecast is good for tomorrow so we should be able to deploy K7 and conditions hopefully favourable for seeing some more wildlife.

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