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Cruise Report Fred Olsen ‘ BALMORAL ‘   to The Scottish Isles 

Sunday 29th July to Sunday 5th August 2018.

So another cruise for Fred Olsen which had originally been scheduled for mid September but had now been brought forward to July which presented endless wildlife watching opportunities. It didn’t start well as the car broke down on the drive up to Newcastle to get on board, still there is nothing like arriving in the nick of time. My remit on board was to deliver three lectures covering various aspects of Scottish Wildlife.

Mobirise

Checking in and saying good bye to the local kittiwakes, going out to sea it became somewhat choppy and the waves on the side of the ship sounded like a large wet Haddock being slapped against it. Before dark there was a steady stream of Gannets slipping by the ship.

A pre breakfast deck birdwatch brought great views of Fulmars what majestic fliers they are. A really unusual sighting was of a Swift flying over the ship many miles out to sea. Post breakfast we docked at Invergordon and after watching Eiders and Common Terns going about their business it was to be a tour of the Murals of Invergordon which depicted the local

culture and history, just fascinating. I had forewarned the passengers about the wildlife possibilities as we departed the port into the Cromaty Firth but on a calm, beautifully lit evening we were treated to a wildlife spectacular, in the form of four separate family pods of Bottlenose Dolphins going through their most incredible acrobatics. These ‘locals’ are regularly monitored by WDC observers and a lot is known about their movements.

So heading north, Kirkwall in Orkney was our next destination. Having pre booked a hire car, history in the form of The Italian Chapel, The Standing Stones of Stenness, Ring of Brodgar and Scara Brae were visited with some great wildlife being seen along the way. It was really significant that White Tailed Sea Eagles had bred here the first in over 100 years thus signifying a further rapid expansion in their range. A really special creature of the day proved to be close observations of a Stoat another amazing sight was of between 7 and 800 Curlew together close to St Margarets Hope apparently this is an annual occurrence and also very significant considering they are a specie in decline and already on the red species list. It was a seabird spectacular but there is always time for a first in your life, as I watched in anguish as a pair of Great Skuas joined forces and took a Gannet down into the sea as we sailed by, sadly I still do not know if the Gannet made an escape. Nature really can be so so cruel sometimes. 

After the Orkneys the weather closed in somewhat and really ruined the next day as we had a sailing day around Mull and the Firth of Lorne, no visibility and rain completely ruined what should have been a brilliant day.

The next day cleared up as we docked at Stornaway on Lewis again another hire car took us deep into the interior. A great find was a Golden Eagle coupled with the distillery at Tarbert which gave me my first taste of Harris Gin – simply devine ! Formulated using sugar kelp it really was a true taste of Harris, this was followed by a trip to nearby Luskentyre beach, what a spot. A return visit was already being planned as I left.  

Mobirise
Leaving the Hebrides behind our final port of call was Lerwick in the Shetland Isles another place I had always wanted to go to. Yet another car hire followed and the journey straight to Sumburgh head at the south end of the islands, incredibly friendly ponies and Puffins you could almost touch (see the photos). After St Ninians and the Tombolo beach was visited what an incredible place! I managed to catch up with Black Guillemots and approximately 150 Sanderlings feeding fervently in the strandline in various stages of post breeding plumage. Enough time was available prior to sailing homeward to have a look for Otters in the harbour no luck with those but a pod of some 60 + common dolphins in the outer harbour, sadly we did not connect with the local Orcas.
A brilliant trip, with my talks being well received and certainly made me realise not to leave it too long before I return to one of my favourite places - Bonnie Scotland.