Friday, 20 March 2015

Solar Eclipse

We got there.  It was raining at 06.00 but breaks in the cloud let us see the eclipse at its best at around 09.30.   It did not get very dark, but most of the birds went silent and when the light started to return oyster catchers were the first to make a noise as if startled.
Eclipse 09.36

Eclipse 09.36

Half light 09.39

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Sleepless in Skye

It did prove quite a long night's vigil on Tuesday night / Wednesday morning, but it was worth it because we did see the Northern lights eventually.   In the evening high cloud obliterated the Northern night sky as the forecast Kp from the Kjell Henriksen Observatory in Svalbard, remained tantalisingly at 9 (on a scale of 1 to 10)   As the night wore on, I dozed off in my chair, but woke up to find the sky quite bright, as if moonlit, and most of the cloud gone.   The aurora light show was just beginning, the time being 01.30 am.   By then the Kp forecast had fallen to 7 and with the naked eye the colours were muted, yet distinct beams could be seen, brightening and fading.   The camera on a long exposure enhanced the colours, green and purple in the main.  The whole show lasted around an hour - I found that whisky keeps the cold away - and towards the end the sky seemed to shimmer and sparkle like sunlight reflecting off waves in the sea.

Daytime and yawning whole otter family made an appearance in bright sunshine, fishing in Loch Ainort at low tide. There is ample food available, but identification of what the otters are eating is difficult when most fish are eaten in the water.   What is apparent though is that they come to the rocks with scorpionfish, almost without exception, probably because they are spiny and awkward to deal with.


The eclipse next; my wife has got a colander ready as a super pin-hole.  Unfortunately the forecast is for cloud tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015


After what seems weeks of rain and wind, a few warm sunny days have lifted spirits.   

The otter cubs can now function independently of their mother.   Yesterday we watched, and filmed, one of them for over an hour fishing at low tide in Loch na Cairidh and Loch Ainort.   The mother was nowhere to be seen.  The cub was quite efficient and caught at least a dozen fish; the larger fish, or maybe just the more awkward ones, were brought out onto a rock for consumption.   I took over 10 minutes of film but as it is on mini DV, digitisation is not straight-forward and will have to wait a few days.  Here are a few still photos taken from some distance and not very sharp.

Then today again at low tide we saw, and filmed (!) both cubs fishing together, occasionally squabbling.  One is more cautious than the other and spends more time eating its catch on the rocks.  I suspect they are fishing at low tide because the kelp, where most of the slow moving fish will be, is in shallow water, and the dive distance reduced.

Later this afternoon we saw both cubs with their mother fishing in deeper water.

I had the moth trap over the last couple of nights, catching a few Mottled grey moths and clouded drabs.   The latter are very variable in appearance.

Clouded Drab Moth
Clouded Drab Moth
Finally its fingers and toes crossed.   The aurora forecast for the next few hours is a staggering 9.... but at the moment there is a lot of high cloud about.   It is forecast to clear later but will the aurora conditions last until then.   A long night ahead.  

Monday, 2 March 2015

Winter is still with us as is the otter family

Snow!   Rain and wind for the last few days, and now winter is back or rather it never went away.  
Anyone who does not know Skye assumes that we get severe winters, because after all we are a long way north, but the Gulf Stream sees to that and we end up with mild wet winters followed by cool wet summers.   Today was therefore a real surprise as we had snowfalls overnight, the soft flaky stuff rather than the balls of ice that we had in January.

I saw the otters just before breakfast, and stayed with them for about an hour; the breakfast pastries in the oven were unfortunately rather well done as a result, for which I was strongly chastised.     The family came up from Loch na Caraidh moving into Ainort where they  ran into  a male coming over from the Scalpay direction.   A brief set-to ensued with a few warning noises 'hah-hah', and one shriek when one of the otters must have got a bite.  After a wary parting, the family moved further along keeping very close to the shore while the male retreated to deeper water.   Eventually it lost interest completely and headed off towards Moll.

We like to anthropomorphise animal behaviour and impose on them our ideal such as neat and tidy family groups; male, female and two offspring   With otters, as for most mustelids, such family groupings are far from the case.     After mating the male does not stick around and leaves the female to bring up cubs alone (so maybe human behaviour is trending to that of otters in the present day).   Indeed cubs are at risk if subsequently a male is encountered, even if it is their parent,  as it can attack them and do damage.

The family came out onto the rocks for about 10 minutes beyond the bay then spent a long period fishing over the kelp.   The cubs, which are now about 6 months old, are fully proficient at catching their own food and eating it in the water.   Fish were caught and eaten at quite a pace, though too far away to identify the fish species, but the sheer efficiency was impressive; a short dive, a fish, a few bites and gone, then another dive, another fish.

Off to Fish


Approaching the Rocks

The trail camera picked up otters by the cliff holt twice in the last 8 days.    This is the best, though sadly brief, clip.