• Paul Sharman

Spring Migrations - A Special Time to be in the Hebrides!

The Isle of Lewis is a wonderful place to watch natures natural cycles unfold. Despite the complexities of ever-changing human routines and influences on the planet, nature has a calendar tied in with food sources and length of daylight. Now we are past the spring equinox and the days are already much longer at this latitude, wildlife is already in full flux and it is an exciting time to be in the Outer Hebrides!

As sunlight hours increase, the waters off the coast here become more productive in terms of food, and subsequently an abundance of wildlife comes here to feed. The food chain commences with tiny plankton, which flourish as the sunlight hours grow longer, and as a result the numbers of small fish, larger fish and foraging seabirds, dolphins and minke whales also increase. Soon jellyfish will start to appear and by May, the first plankton feeding basking sharks tend to turn up around the Hebrides. A few minke whales winter in these waters and have already been seen, but numbers will grow with the lengthening days, and photo ID has shown that many whales return to this area season after season. Common dolphins have also already been sighted in the area and should start to show in greater numbers as the pods move in to feed. The local population of Risso's dolphins generally first show in the area by late March after a mysterious winter absence, sometimes accompanied by calves. Sightings of white beaked dolphins in coastal waters also increase towards spring and summer. Will this season reward us with fin and humpback whales, scarce but possible visitors, depending on food abundance? Fingers crossed that the seas teem with life both small and large!


Many birds are now also on the move, and as winter visitors such as Greenland white fronted geese and whooper swans head for their Arctic breeding grounds, our first summer visitors such as wheatear, and great skuas are starting to appear. Soon the air will be filled with the chatter of terns, some of which have travelled here all the way from Antartica, and the magical and globally important colonies of the Shiants and St Kilda will become 24/7 bustling "seabird cities" of non-stop bird action after a dormant winter with their inhabitants out at sea fishing. Puffins are returning to their burrows after a winter in the ocean (today I saw my first of the season), and many of the birds that breed here will have travelled back across the equator from their southern hemisphere wintering grounds. Did you know that some of the Manx shearwaters that fledged on our remote Hebridean islands will have not set foot back on land for 5 years since first taking to the skies and waves, migrating to the coast of South America until they reach breeding age? Amazing, welcome back ocean travellers!

So, its exciting times in the Scottish wildlife calendar right now! Today I watched a wintering Iceland gull, and soon long tailed and pommerine squas should be passing en route to the Arctic tundra, dolphins and minke whales are arriving and resident white tailed eagles are on the nest. Who knows what we'll see tomorrow, only nature and our keeness to witness can tell!

We sincerely hope you will join us on one of our cruises or day trips this season at Hebridean Adventures, where we can show you a slice of this magnificent wildlife that surrounds the beautiful islands of the Outer Hebrides. You can check out all the details and book your trip today at www.hebrideanadventures.co.uk .

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Isle of Lewis, HS1 2XQ

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