I go through phases when it comes to wildlife watching. For the past couple of months, I’ve been deep in a forest phase and all I’ve wanted to do is wander through trees and look for birds and red squirrels. My Instagram was full of greens and the first hints of autumn oranges.
But then the ocean started pulling me back. After a few weeks with no sightings, bottlenose dolphins started to make appearances along the Moray Firth again. It was looking unlikely that I’d see my first orcas this summer, but I was still looking forward to getting dolphin photos that showed slightly more than the departing splash. I was back in an ocean phase.
Earlier this month, on a particularly choppy morning, I found myself running full pelt along Burghead harbour to reach the end of the sea wall that juts out conveniently into the sea. From there, I could watch three different pods of bottlenoses as they caught fish. With so many breaking waves and white peaks, I didn’t know what I’d managed to capture until I returned home and uploaded the photos. I was thrilled to discover I’d caught a little face just as it breached the surface.
A few weeks later, I received a text alert from the local shore watchers saying there were bottlenoses heading west around the headland. Snatching up my camera, I made a beeline for my favourite vantage point at the end of the harbour. Unlike last time, the water was completely flat and every flash of fin caught my eye. Unfortunately all the feeding action happened far out, way past the range of my lens, but I did have an unexpected visitor pass close by.
The action continued the next week. Another text alert had me hiking up to the Burghead Visitor Centre at sunset and before long I had my lens pointed at a small pod who were following a jet ski and giving the driver some sensational views! As well as belly flops and tail waves, there were plenty of breaches. It was amazing to see the dolphins so active.
In the last of a flurry of excellent dolphin sightings, I paid Chanonry Point on the Black Isle another visit: one of the prime dolphin watching spots. Within moments of arriving – being sure to time my visit with the rising tide – a pod cruised straight past. Although there were no breaches this time, one particular dolphin dived three times directly in front of the crowd, revealing a distinctive notch in its tail fluke. I was also delighted to see a newborn calf among the adults, sticking closely to Mum as they passed by.
As summer blends into autumn, the dramatic display of emerging fungi will undoubtedly draw me into another forest phase, but I’ve loved having so many marine wildlife encounters this month. I’ve now got plenty more dolphin photos to add to my portfolio too!