A Wild Summer Summary

My last diary entry was back in July, and I was filled with silly optimism that I would post an individual entry about all the exciting places I had visited and wildlife I’d seen. Sadly, I have been busy busy busy and so this did not happen. To make sure it doesn’t get missed completely, I thought I would wrap it up in one entry – it’s time for a summer summary!

30 Days Wild

Eider duckling © Catherine Leatherland

After Orca Watch, my next wild adventure came in the form of the annual challenge set by The Wildlife Trusts- 30 Days Wild. As I currently live in Scotland, I signed up with the Scottish Wildlife Trust and got lots of tips and hints about what to do. This is the second year I have completed the challenge, the aim of which is to complete one random act of wildness for each day in June. I must confess, this year I had a couple of days where I didn’t complete an activity. But by committing to the challenge I was once again more mindful of my usual interactions with nature and ended up having more encounters than I otherwise would have done. This year some highlights were: exploring new wild places at lunch time; meeting some ducklings; spotting a wood mouse; finding an art trail in the sun; making some plastic switches and having a go at a lunchtime litter pick at work. I also like the community feel – the fact that everyone else is having a go at the challenge the same time as you. You can great ideas just by following #30DaysWild on social media. 

Isle of Eigg

Northern Eggar caterpillar © Catherine Leatherland

I am very lucky, in that my work takes me all over Scotland – so I get to have wild adventures during my working week as well as my time off! Once again, our team headed to the Isle of Eigg to help with their Hen Harrier Day (which is earlier than the national day, because the Hen Harriers nest earlier on Eigg). We watched a beautiful sunset, chuckled at the rabbits and sheep that would be in our garden at breakfast, enjoyed sharing amazing facts about Hen Harriers, saw the caterpillar of a northern eggar moth, and experienced a fantastic guided walk with the Scottish Wildlife Trust Ranger – Norah. You know you’re in a beautiful place, when it still looks amazing in the rain!

Isle of May

Puffins © Catherine Leatherland

From the west coast of Scotland to the East, a week or so later I was off on a day trip with friends to the Isle of May, a little island in the Firth of Forth. I was very excited about this day because I know the island is an important site for nesting seabirds, and I love seabirds – especially puffins! We enjoyed the boat ride over to the island, the sun was shining and the gannets were flying above our heads. As we approached the island we could see pufflings (young puffins) swimming in the water, and could hear the sound of the seabirds from the cliffs. 

Before we got off the boat, the crew advised us that we needed to be mindful as we walked along the path. This is because of all the nesting terns, which at the time had very adorable chicks to protect. And I have to hand it to the adult terns, they take their role as defenders very seriously! I put my cap on, and my hood, and walked calmly up the path. I could hear (and feel) how close the adult terns were getting as they warned us to move away. Later, on the way back to the boat, I had one particularly determined bird dive at my head about five times – I have to say I sped up a little bit to get back to the boat!

Young (left) and adult (right) arctic tern © Catherine Leatherland

As we walked around the island I was simply overwhelmed with the sight of puffins. Puffins here, puffins there, puffins everywhere! It was amazing! I took so many photos that I hardly know what to do with them all. Many of the puffins had been off catching fish and were standing calmly with their beaks full.

Puffin with fish © Catherine Leatherland

There were, of course, many other lovely seabirds and their adorable chicks. Those that caught our eye in particular were the chicks of the great black backed gulls – because they are quite large and fierce looking, but also cute and fluffy. They look a bit like grumpy balls of fluff which are constantly asking to be fed. 

Great black backed gull chick © Catherine Leatherland

I will definitely be going back to the Isle of May and can recommend it to any seabird fans. 

Chanonry Point

Bottlenose dolphin © Catherine Leatherland

In August, my sister came to visit me for a holiday so we spent the week out and about and having fun. I booked us into a B&B in Fortrose, near Inverness, so that we could try and spot the dolphins at Chanonry Point. I have seen dolphins in Scotland a lot, but my sister (who loves dolphins even more than me) has never managed to see them on any of her visits. So this was going to be the trip!

We headed along to Chanonry as soon as we had got to Fortrose, and we spent a few hours watching. We scanned the sea constantly, with eyes and binos, but there was no joy. So we shrugged it off to fate, decided we had had a nice day anyway, and headed back to the B&B. However, as I’ve mentioned before in these entries I tend to feel disappointment very deeply! So we hatched a plan to change the next day’s plan completely, and go back to Chanonry and try again. 

This time, we parked in Rosemarkie and walked along the beach. It was a lovely walk but about halfway along we could see a crowd gathered, and could see their camera flashes. “They’re watching dolphins!” I said “let’s go!” and quickened my pace along the beach. It took longer than we thought it would to reach the point (optical illusion of a curved beach!) but when we got there we were so relieved to see the dolphins hadn’t moved away. 

We had the best sighting of dolphinsn I’ve ever had, let alone my sister who was witnessing Scottish dolphins for the first time! They come so close in at Chanonry, that we could see their colouration, their eyes, their blow holes and almost (if you add a bit of poetic license) their expressions. We couldn’t help gasping and cheering with the rest of the crowd as the dolphins leapt out of the water, tail slapped, spy hopped, and chased fish. At one point three leapt out of the water together, it was like watching dolphin gymnastics!

I tried to take photos and videos on my camera at first, but soon realised I was not likely to get a good shot, and so decided to simply enjoy the moment instead. I did however take one photo (above) on my mobile phone and I love it – it shows a happy dolphin, wild and free.

I can’t describe how this encounter made us both feel – we were absolutely buzzing. We just jabbered excitedly for a good chunk of the journey back to Edinburgh and were riding on the feeling of happiness for a few weeks afterwards. It was, quite simply, pure joy.

Bird Fair

Bird fair © Catherine Leatherland

Around this time I realised that a work commitment had moved, meaning that I could go to the annual event that is Bird Fair – a massive gathering of all things bird related, and many things to do with wildlife, along with their respective enthusiasts at Rutland Water Nature Reserve. 

I looked the programme up online and planned which talks to go to, and which stands to try and visit. We made a journey plan and then on the Saturday, my Dad and I headed to the reserve. After squelching through the muddy field in our wellies and walking boots we were both very mud splattered – but that just helps you fit in at these events! We got to the events tent just in time to see Iolo Williams’ inspiring and entertaining talk. Then we got some seats ready for Chris Packham’s session, which included a debate about driven grouse shooting. It was good to see that both sides of the argument were getting a fair chance to speak, although I will pin my colours to the mast and say I am against driven grouse shooting and have signed the petition proposing a total ban. 

At the end of this session, a group of young people who have been taking part in the School Strikes for Climate came onto the stage. They each gave a short talk about what they had been doing, why it mattered to them, and why it needs to matter to all of us. Some of them had some great ideas for the next steps and how governments and individuals need to act in order to tackle the climate crisis. Their words filled the tent with inspiration and at the end of their speeches they received a very well earned standing ovation. If they can do it, so can (and should) we!

Also at bird fair – we had a yummy plastic free lunch (all the food providers are plastic free); saw a brilliant demonstration of bird ringing from the BTO; spent so much money at the book stand I got a free cupcake (which was yummy by the way) and enjoyed a great talk in one of the smaller lecture theatres all about seabirds in Shetland. All for the entry ticket price of £15 (cheaper if you book online). Absolute bargain. Dates have already been announced for next year: you can experience this wonderful event for yourself between 21st and 23rd August 2020 – pop it in the diary!

While the adventures continue, the summer is for most of us over for another year. It has been my busiest, and wildest summer yet – going to be a tough one to beat (but a challenge I readily accept) next year!