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Surprises Through My Zeisses / 2 Whales, Porpoises and Dolphins (1 Viewer)


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You are welcome to join me in this second of a series of articles taking a look back over my shoulder at some sightings that have not only delighted us but startled and surprised us.

Do good things come in threes, or is it bad things that do this? Well I can definitely testify that it is indeed good things that sometimes arrive in threes and here is how I found out.

It was in 2014, and I was carrying my HT 8x42s as we began scrambling over the steep slopes of the headland called Rubha nam Brathairean (The Brothers’ Point) on the north-east coast of the Isle of Skye, Scotland, searching for the tiny orchid called Bog Orchid, Hammarbya paludosa. We had found several populations of this diminutive orchid on North Uist, and found that now we had its characteristic yellowish colour lodged in our memory cells we could spot it, using our close-focusing binoculars even amongst the sometimes dense surrounding bog vegetation. We had read that this orchid had been recorded on Brothers’ Point and we thought with our experience it should be relatively straight forward to find it. How the mighty are fallen! We couldn’t find a single Bog Orchid despite searching for 2 hours, but in our defence orchids are notorious for appearing in large numbers in one year and failing to put up a single shoot in the following year.

Defeated but not down-hearted, we sat down to enjoy the magnificent view over the sea to the east, between Skye and the Isle of Rona, and that is when the fun started. At first it seemed we had the great good luck to catch sight of a single Minke Whale Balaenoptera actutorostrata as it cruised slowly northwards, but then another and another surfaced, until we were confident we were viewing a school of at least 6-7 individuals including 2 smaller ones, presumably youngsters. In the past we had occasionally seen single Minkes from the low view-points of the decks of Caledonian MacBrayne’s ferry fleet. Perched 40 metres above sea level on Brothers’ Point, we had a fabulous grandstand view as the big cetaceans slowly swam by. The tail-ender of this parade was finally lost to sight about an hour after we had seen the first.

We were still congratulating ourselves 20 minutes later when we noticed smaller cetaceans on the surface, and much closer to shore. Their size and small dorsal fins revealed them to be Common (or Harbour) Porpoise Phocoena phocoena and they were again cruising north following more or less the same route as the Minkes. How many Porpoise were there? We couldn’t be certain as they only showed briefly on the surface and no more than 3-4 at a time, but we estimate maybe 10-12, but there could have been more. Our previous sightings from ferries or ashore were of no more than half a dozen at the most. Once again, we had these in view for nearly an hour.

But this was not the end of the parade because coming up behind the porpoises and rapidly overtaking them was pack of Bottle-nosed Dolphins Tursiops truncatus performing the whole bag of Dolphin antics and showing much more of themselves on the surface than the ‘now you see me, now you don’t’ porpoises, and at intervals they launched themselves clear out of the water in the most extravagant manner. What a combination of grace, power and sheer exuberance! Did this behaviour have some social significance, were they spying out the area by leaping clear of the waves, or were they simply enjoying their own athleticism? We couldn’t decide which of these was most likely so we just enjoyed the spectacle through our binos. After all, we had graduated from hoping to see the tiniest of orchids to a stream of cetaceans including the big Minke Whale. What was not-to-like?

So, do good things come in threes? If three species of cetaceans viewed over a period of almost 3 hours are anything to go by then by golly, yes they do.

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