Tales from the Trail: Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

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Join us for our weekly blog as we share experiences from sites along the Hebridean Whale Trail - this week, an update from Ardnamurchan, with Tierney and Milo enjoying the opportunity to explore the peninsula.

A strong breeze is useful for many jobs and hobbies, but not so helpful for whale watching…this past fortnight has provided an average sea state 4/5 making sightings rare and hard to spot. When John Coe (resident killer whale) was sighted off Coll we were excited, but he hasn’t been spotted yet off the point. A couple days ago two minke whales were sighted in the Sound of Mull by a local and thankfully he let us know they were moving north, but again, they weren’t spotted from the lighthouse. This shows that these animals are still out there but it is made more difficult to spot in poor sea conditions. The fact that anyone can note down individuals they see in the Whale Track app helps conservation efforts in knowing where they go and what behaviour they are showing.

The poor sighting conditions gave Milo and I the chance to be tourists and the ability to help Pippa and Rian (Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust Education Officers) with the local school visit. Kilchoan primary school joined us for a morning at the lighthouse before returning to their school for some dolphin detective work. It was fantastic to have nine extra sets of eyes on the water scanning the water and skies for wildlife. We spotted a couple grey seals and many seabirds, including; gannets, great skua and a red throated diver. After blowing away the cobwebs we had a more sheltered afternoon photo identifying minke whales. There are some fantastic detectives and quick thinkers in Kilchoan primary and I think they all enjoyed the challenge and learning where some of our frequent visitors go over the summer.

Rian presenting Dolphin Detectives to Kilchoan primary pupils

Rian presenting Dolphin Detectives to Kilchoan primary pupils

Now for the touristy bits: I’ve been hearing and reading about the collection of fossils found on the beach towards Ormsaigbeg and had to find them. With the help of last year’s volunteer, Craig and a few sheep leading the way, I hit the jackpot. Scattered below my feet and at eye level within the Jurassic age limestone were belemnites, a bullet shaped relative of cuttlefish, and some ammonites, a group of extinct Cephlapoda typically ribbed and spiral in form. Thankfully the rocks sheltered me from the wind and I had a magical afternoon hopping round rockpools, photographing wildlife and staring with wonder at the species captured in time.

Example of fossils found on the beach, long shapes are belemnite s

Example of fossils found on the beach, long shapes are belemnites

I finally got round to hiking Ben Hiant, Ardnamurchan’s superlative viewpoint. Situated just east of Kilchoan and at the height of 528m provides a fantastic short hillwalk for views from the inner Hebrides, Ardnamurchan lighthouse, down the Sound of Mull and along Loch Sunart. Although it was slightly boggy it was definitely worth it! Plus on the way back I was surprised by a golden eagle gliding through the glens, this area continues to amaze us. This week I even hopped on Staffa Tours to see the famous Fingal’s cave, fantastic views, interesting history and brilliant guides. En route we passed their sister company, Sea Life Surveys, as we headed out of the Sound of Mull. If anyone would like the opportunity to learn more about the area, explore the coasts and have the chance to see the vast marine wildlife, the tour guides around this area are fantastic!

Panorama from Ben Hiant looking west

Panorama from Ben Hiant looking west

The weather improved last Sunday to bring 20 degrees and sunshine! Yes, I promise we do get warm, sunny, summer days without midges. The wind started to decrease and we got more hopeful. Unfortunately that was my day in the café so I was banking on Milo and Stevie (lighthouse tour guide) to radio if they saw any cetaceans (whale, dolphin or porpoise) but it was still quiet. After my shift I took the kayak out to explore neighbouring coves. Ardnamurchan is great to visit on land or water, juvenile kittiwakes flew past my kayak at a short distance, inspecting who was venturing on the water with them.

Thanks for those reading our blogs and keeping up with our adventures in this awe inspiring place.

Till next time,
Tierney and Milo

Number of sightings: 53

Effort (total hours watching): 210

Number of dogs petted on duty: 166

Start your own adventure along the Hebridean Whale Trail today…