Scottish West Coast Wildlife Adventure cruise on the Hjalmar Bjørge
Our first afternoon was spent travelling from our home port of Oban across to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull to seek some shelter for the night from the strong winds that were whipping up. A theme to be repeated through the week unfortunately.
Thanks to the continuing strong winds the decision was made to stay in Tobermory for the day and enjoy a walk around the town in the morning where we found a dipper in the stream, an otter hunting in the harbour and a white-tailed eagle flying overhead. The highlight though had to be a very late osprey seen flying over the harbour briefly.
We took a visit to see our friends at the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust's Whale Centre on the seafront where our guests were delighted to be shown the displays. In the afternoon we took a walk along the Aros Park trail behind the harbour which leads up into a mixed woodland where our guide Nick Baker shared his knowledge of the local plants and habitats along the way.
After a second night in Tobermory there was a window in the weather so we were able to continue our cruise out and around the Ardnamurchan lighthouse, the most westerly point on mainland Britain, turning northwards and passing between the mainland and the Isle of Eigg with its neighbour Rum looming behind. There were great views of the famous Sgurr of Eigg before we passed Mallaig and entered the Sound of Sleat off southern Skye.
There were some good seabird concentrations along the way, but mostly very distant so we couldn't see if there was any cetacean action underneath. A few porpoises showed themselves and there was a very brief sighting of 2 fins and a blow but it was all over too quickly to confirm an ID. A Sabine's Gull was spotted by our guest and avid birder Rob amongst all the other species, and once at anchor at Isleornsay on Skye we also saw a black-throated diver and some handsome eider ducks too.
During breakfast excitement was caused by a small pod of porpoise that surfaced right outside the saloon window and stayed around for a while to give good views. The wind was due to come up again so we cruised across the Sound of Sleat into Loch Hourn to explore a little down to the village of Arnisdale. Its dramatic mountain scenery kept us well occupied watching for eagles amidst the mist, squalls and sunny intervals. Rainbows every day had become the norm already in the changeable weather and today was no different with many enjoyed along the way.
We saw more porpoise taking shelter in the loch along with some buzzards and possible golden eagle that flashed past at one point. It was then back to the anchorage at Isleornsay for lunch to get ready for an afternoon treat.
Company owner and head guide and ecologist David had arrived in the SKYEFARI minibus to whisk us away to Ord on the other coast of the Sleat Peninsula. This lovely single track road wound over the hills to deliver a stunning coastal view on the other side. Just as we were enjoying this and inspecting some gnarled old rowan trees, a merlin appeared overhead chasing some hapless small bird very acrobatically. They quickly disappeared out of sight but what a welcome sighting.
After a second night at Isleornsay, the weather was yet again forecast to be very windy in the morning so we took another SKYEFARI tour with David, this time heading out to Broadford and Sligachan. We stopped along the way to scan for birds, the highlight being a single Brent goose in one of the small estuaries. It was also nice to see the Autumn migrants starting to appear with whooper swans, redwings, fieldfares and golden plover all seen as well.
By the afternoon it was decided to head out while we could and get up though the Kylerhea Narrows and then under the Skye Bridge to head for Portree before the wind increased again. We came across plenty of seabirds once we were past the bridge, with lots of gannets enjoying soaring around in the wind, whilst dainty storm petrels stayed close to the water to pick up a morsel or two where they could.
As we got close to Portree we had another good seabird frenzy over some baitfish when suddenly there was a large upwelling beneath them. Obviously a large cetacean of some sort (probably a minke whale), but it never broke the surface ,although some dolphin fins were spotted nearby.
A golden eagle started off the day nicely seen from the boat moored in Portree bay. Weather-bound again, it was back on the SKYEFARI minibus for another adventure and to reflect how lucky we were to have this alternative to fall back on compared to others.
From Portree, David took us out towards the Old Man of Storr where we had an otter in a roadside loch. We moved on to Kilt Rock for some shorewatching and had more porpoise under the cliffs, before moving on to the lovely little Staffin Dinosaur Museum founded in 1976 by Dugald Ross and still run by him today. We highly recommend this, especially if like us your next stop will be to go look for the dinosaur footprints on An Corran beach nearby. Footprints found and admired we took the road up and over the Quirang, stopping at the viewpoint at the top to marvel at the view and the famous rock formations.
From there it was back to Portree for dinner and our last night onboard the Hjalmar Bjørge.
While the weather had dictated that we could not complete our planned itinerary, the nature of our adventure cruises is such that we can always adapt and find something else to explore, backed up by the SKYEFARI experience when possible. We all agreed we had seen loads more wildlife than we had expected given the weather conditions and still had a fantastic time, testament to the crew and our guide who kept us well fed, entertained and educated each day.
All that was left was to leave the boat behind in Portree after saying our thanks and goodbyes to the crew - they would be sailing across to Stornoway the next day as the weather was due to improve, and yes, of course they saw whales and dolphins along the way.
We meanwhile headed off to Armadale in the minibus and caught the ferry across to Mallaig for the ride back to Fort William, stopping off at the Glenfinnan Viaduct and the Bonny Prince Charlie monument on our way. We had great views with some sunshine coming through and the Autumn colours really starting to show through on the hillsides. A perfect way to end our travels.
If you are interested in viewing our daily sightings logs for the different species seen, then please have a look below.