Arctic Adventure

This is what we went to Norway for!

Although I’m so happy to be back in Scotland, I can’t help missing Norway. Obviously the humpback whales and orcas were the highlight, but the northern lights, eagles, sunsets and even the cold were all so special too. There are already whispers about going again in 2021, but for now I’m still reminiscing over the incredible sightings I had during my trip this month.

If you’d asked me a month ago if I thought I’d be this close to wild orcas, I’d have replied with a straight no way. But somehow this is what happened. Within ten minutes of leaving the harbour we were surrounded by orcas. We kept our distance of course, but there’s no rule against orcas approaching boats and that’s exactly what they did. A pod of males, females and even calves cruised tightly alongside us. As much as I was itching to take photos of the entire encounter, I forced myself to glance over my camera too because I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing.


It’s the word every whale watcher wants to hear. On our fourth day on the boat one of our group screamed and pointed. I ducked below the cabin and glanced through the window to see a white splash as large as a circus top. Humpback whales often breach more than once so I darted around to the other side of the boat and lifted my camera, finger poised on the shutter. Seconds later the whale leapt again, flipping in mid-air from its front onto its back. I shrieked into my viewfinder as water streamed off the whale’s huge pectoral fins. The sound of the whale hitting the water was like a thunderclap. Seeing a forty ton animal erupting into the air like that left me with my jaw on the floor!

This is a moment that will stay with me for a very long time. On one of the calmer days we found this beautiful pod of orcas. As well as males with large triangular dorsal fins and slightly smaller females there were also some calves breaking the surface for air. Making sure we kept our distance, we drove the boat slowly alongside the orcas, which were framed by stunning snowy mountains. After a while they dived and disappeared, leaving us spellbound in their wake!

What a bird! Known as the “flying barn door”, white tailed eagles are the largest bird of prey in the UK. In the early 20th century they were hunted to extinction but were reintroduced from Norway in the 1970s. Now these huge birds can be found from the Isle of Mull to the Isle of Wight and are doing well in Britain. I’ve seen them a few times in Scotland but at a distance – in Norway they came so close that they soared right over my head!

I had an absolute blast in Norway with the best group of people! Nothing like being housebound in quarantine together for ten days and all going for a Covid test to break the ice. It was a trip of a lifetime for me and although I’m pleased to be home and looking forward to my first Christmas by the sea, being back in “the real world” has made Norway seem like a distant dream.

Carna – Day Three

Species seen:

  • Bog Myrtle – Myrica gale
  • Chaffinch – Fringilla coelebs
  • Common Frog – Rana temporaria
  • Common Porpoise – Phocoena phocoena
  • Common Shag – Phalacrocorax aristotelis
  • Common Tern – Sterna hirundo
  • Common Wood Sorrel – Oxalis acetosella
  • Cormorant – Phalacrocorax carbo
  • Eurasian Otter – Lutra lutra
  • Green-Veined Butterfly – Pieris napi
  • Grey Heron – Ardea cinerea
  • Hare’s Tail – Lagurus ovatus
  • Hooded Crow – Corvus cornix
  • Oystercatcher – Haematopus ostralegus
  • Pignut – Conopodium majus
  • Red-Breasted Merganser – Mergus serrator
  • Song Thrush – Turdus philomelos
  • Round-leaved Sundew – Drosera rotundifolia
  • White-Tailed Eagle – Haliaeetus albicilla
  • Willow Warbler – Phylloscopus trochilus
  • (Meadow Pipit – Anthus pratensis)

After another great night’s sleep we woke to learn about setting up a Longworth trap, a contraption used to live-capture small mammals. Usually the trap is initially set to pre-bait, meaning the door doesn’t close once the animal triggers the mechanism. This enables the creature to become more accustomed to the trap’s presence in the environment.

We filled the trap with ripped up grass for bedding and seeds for food, then nestled it amongst the rocks underneath a tree behind the cottage. We’re hoping to check the trap in a few days and see if we’ve managed to entice anything in.


The cotton-like hare’s tail

After the trap was set Cain talked us through the hides he’d brought with him; later today we’d split up and spend some time in them. For now though, Heather took us over to a different part of the island and we improved our flora knowledge. We learnt about many different species I’d never seen back home, including hare’s tail, pignut and wood-sorrel – the leaves of the latter tasted like apple!



I got round to some sketching of the landscape this afternoon before heading back to the cottage for lunch. Shortly after, we all headed off to the hides. Verity and Zahrah were occupying the site nearer to the house which promised glimpses of otters. Freya, Lequane and I chose to use a hide further on that looked out over the seal colony.


The tide was yet to fully come in so there were only a few seals dotted along the coastline, basking in the sun. Birds fluttered around them; oystercatchers, shags and herons alike. I was just admiring the hills of the mainland when I noticed a black speck in the sky. Binoculars up in an instant, I spied what I hoped and prayed to be an eagle. The three of us gazed up at the mystery visitor and deliberated over eagle or buzzard. A few moments later Cain came running out of the bluebell wood to tell us he’d just seen a white-tailed eagle swooping overhead, so our suspicions were confirmed. Giddy with excitement, we watched the ‘flying barn door’ glide through the sky, barely moving its gigantic wings. This was my first eagle sighting and I was thrilled.



A few hours later, when the eagle was long gone and the seals were still fast asleep, we vacated the hide and wandered back. Just before dinner we were treated to both a male and female lesser redpoll just outside the cottage, the male in his beautiful breeding plumage.


After our meal we set out on the boat with Cain. The sun was sinking low and casting a beautiful orange light across the water; even despite the boat’s engine the loch’s surface was smooth as glass. Our eyes were peeled for otters but we were rewarded with an equally special visitor: a porpoise. A brief flash of black every moment or so, dorsal fin slicing out of the water and back down. Despite the blinding sunset in our eyes we watched the elusive animal meander across the loch until it drifted off. Moments later a lone seal took its place, studying us with big black eyes.

Cain showed us where the shags were nesting amongst the rock face. A year old juvenile perched proudly in the tree, supposedly trying to find a place to roost amongst the expecting parents. Several jet-black adults guarded the nests, squawking to each other.

Common Sandpiper in flight

Young shag on the rocks

As the day faded we completed the loop back to the cottage. All was calm until the single word ‘eagle!’ got everyone’s attention. Once again the magnificent bird was above our heads. It was fantastic to see such a formidable bird in the wild; even so high up above us the eagle’s wingspan was vast. I’d never seen anything like it. Sadly the light was too low to get good photos.


Settling into bed after yet another successful day, I felt so grateful to have seen so much wildlife in two and a half days. So far we’ve covered an array of birds, mammals and insects – all I can hope for is more of the same for the rest of our time here!

A Flight To Remember

Yesterday afternoon Wildlife Media students were given a real treat – a visit from local falconer Gary Swainson from the Cumberland Bird of Prey Centre in Thurstonfield, Carlisle. We all got to meet Gary and his raptors for a magnificent display of the birds’ agility and speed.

African Spotted Eagle Owl (Bubo africanus)

At first, the birds posed beautifully for us on their perches, gazing into the surprisingly warm afternoon sun. We couldn’t have asked for better weather. The cold still numbed our hands, but there was no wind and the sun shone brightly, giving us the chance to capture some beautiful shadows as the birds flew.



First up was Meg, a stunning Harris hawk. Unique among raptors, Harris hawks are gregarious, meaning they hunt in groups. This allows them to bring down large prey that would be impossible for solitary hunters (BBC, 2014). As Meg demonstrated her flying technique, Gary explained that Harris hawks fly close to the ground to prevent their silhouette being seen by their prey against the sky. This allows them to approach unseen and ambush their unsuspecting victims.

Harris Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)

Next to take to the air was Willow, a camera shy but beautiful Barn Owl. She hunts in a different way to the Harris hawk, relying heavily on sound. Described as “crepuscular” (Svensson, 2009), barn owls are twilight hunters. Their flight feathers have a comb-like fringed edge to them, which effectively muffles sound and allows them to fly in complete silence. This enables them to hear their prey – usually mice, voles or shrews – at much  higher frequencies. Barn owls, along with some other species, have a very pronounced facial disc, which works like a radar dish, “guiding sounds into the ear openings” (The Owl Pages, 2012).

Willow getting some limelight

Gary guiding Willow to a member of the group

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)


Finally we got to see Bungle stretch his wings. Bungle was a Bateleur eagle, a magnificent bird 60 cm long. Their name comes from the French meaning “tight-rope walker”, referring to the way their wings rock from side to side as they come in to land. This individual was the only bird we saw who was born wild. He came to the Centre as a rescue, after having been illegally imported into the country. Bungle was suffering “cut primary feathers and broken wings” (Cumberland Bird of Prey Centre), but has recovered well.

Bateleur Eagle (Terathopius ecaudatus)

I feel extremely privileged to have seen and been able to photograph such beautiful birds of prey. Gary’s enthusiasm and passion was contagious and I was inspired to write about my experience so others can see and appreciate the good work that the Cumberland Bird of Prey Centre does. Please visit their website for details on how you can book a day with these incredible birds.


  • BBC (2014) Harris Hawk. Available at:’s_Hawk (Accessed: 12 February 2016)
  • Cumberland Bird of Prey Centre. Gallery. Available at: (Accessed: 12 February 2016)
  • The Owl Pages (2012) Owl Ears and Hearing. Available at: (Accessed: 12 February 2016)
  • Svensson, L. (2009) Collins Bird Guide. 2nd edn. London: Harper Collins Publishers