Sea-Changers blog – January otters and dolphins

Sea-Changers
This is my blog about my wildlife photography partnership with marine-conservation charity Sea-Changers. For 
my main blog please click HERE .   


Otter attacking razorbillAn otter attacking a razorbill in the Inner Moray Firth this week. An extraordinary piece of behaviour to witness.


An otter sighting to remember
At times this winter it has felt like there has been no respite from the grey, the lack of light, the gloom. Low pressure has defined the weather since November – crisp, frosty days a rarity and a mild conditions bringing a seemingly endless supply of cloud. Spotting any marine mammals out in the choppy waters of the Inner Moray Firth has been difficult but this week my luck changed, and my efforts were rewarded with something quite unexpected.

Since the middle of January we’ve experienced a few spells of much colder weather, and this usually signals a good time to go out looking for otters. Lower temperatures cause otters to spend more time feeding to compensate for their higher energy expenditure, so they spend more time out in the water and less in their holts. In general my local otters are not easy to see – they frequent a beach covered in large boulders and the area of water they hunt in is frequently very choppy, so they are difficult to spot both on land and in the sea.

Earlier this week I headed along the beach during a few hours of very low winds and relatively calm seas. I reached the point on the beach where I always stop for my first scan out across the water, and (unusually) it took me less than 10 seconds to see an otter out fishing. I carefully started moving through the boulders to see if I could get a bit closer. Very soon however it climbed up onto a rock to eat whatever it had caught, so I stopped my approach, knowing that otters rarely allow you to approach them on land.


Distant otterA typical view of one of my local otters on a ‘feeding rock’ that it uses regularly. 


It did not linger for long and was soon out again hunting. Heading quite a long way out, it was quite hard to keep track of as the water was starting to become a little more choppy. I was concealed some distance back on the beach waiting, knowing that if the otter caught anything large it would have to come ashore to eat it, and I would attempt to position myself approximately where I thought it may land.

Five or six times in a row, the otter jumped out of the water to start a dive. I was expecting it to surface with a small fish such as a lumpsucker or flounder, but when it did come up it was immediately clear it had caught something big. A series of large splashes and the otter’s tail thrashing about got my heart racing as I struggled to see what was happening. Then I saw the outline of a large bird with its beak open pressed against the otter’s chest, and through my lens I was amazed to see that it looked like a razorbill or guillemot.

The otter repeatedly pushed the bird under, probably attempting to drown it, whilst making towards the shore as quickly as it could with such a large catch. My heart was in my mouth as I realised it was swimming straight towards my point on the beach, and for a moment I thought I was about to get my best-ever wildlife photographs. Then, and it was hard to see exactly what happened, the otter somehow lost the razorbill. I’m sure it must have killed it as it never re-surfaced, but despite the otter spending some time underwater, when it re-emerged it was without the bird and it started hunting yet again.

I’ve seen many different predators catching their prey on countless occasions but this was one of the most memorable. Otters are highly resourceful mammals with a large range of prey, yet before this I’d never seen one catch anything but fish, crabs or eels.


Fishing otterOut hunting in the Inner Moray Firth. With much colder temperatures over the past 2 weeks, the otters have been spending more time out feeding.


A few precious dolphin sightings
At this time of year the resident bottlenose dolphins are seen far less frequently in the Inner Firth than in the summer. Without a regular supply of Atlantic salmon to keep them visiting the Chanonry Narrows and the Kessock Channel, most of their time is spent hunting further out in the Firth. At this time of year in particular some of the dolphins can cover huge distances in the search for food, sometimes heading South and East as far as the Yorkshire coastline. Not only do the dolphins visit the Inner Firth less frequently at this time of year, there tends to be a greater swell on the water than in the summer, making it more difficult to spot dorsal fins between the waves.

I’ve spotted small numbers of dolphins in the extreme distance from Rosemarkie Bay a few times in the past couple of months. At this time of year each sighting feels special, even though the dolphins may only just be visible with binoculars. This week however I was treated to a welcome closer encounter.

It was a particularly blustery day on the Eathie coastline, with wet snow falling and the Firth a dark shade of grey. I knew that seeing any otters was unlikely but I was out trying anyway, and I’d stopped for a while to carefully scan the beach and sea for signs of movement. To my delight and surprise the water was parted by the dark bulk of a bottlenose dolphin only a few metres offshore. It is always more exciting when you aren’t expecting it. I was very happy to immediately identify the dolphin as ‘Kesslet’, a female sighted almost daily in the Inner Firth during the summer months. She spent quite a while foraging along this stretch of coast, never more than 200 metres away from me, catching several small fish and occasionally slapping her tail on the water’s surface. It was great to see her again after last seeing her in the Kessock Channel in December.


A visit from 'Kesslet'An unexpected visit from ‘Kesslet’ along the Eathie coast. Regularly seen in the Kessock Channel and at Chanonry Point during the summer, ‘Kesslet’ is presently one of the most well-known and well-loved of the Moray Firth dolphins.


Sea-Changers blog – Otters in Scotland

Sea-Changers
This is my blog about my wildlife photography partnership with marine-conservation charity Sea-Changers. For 
my main blog please click HERE .   


Through the seaweedScotland is an internationally significant area for the European otter (Lutra lutra). The large majority of the UK’s otter population exists in Scotland, concentrated around coastal areas of the Highlands and islands.


“The otter is 90 percent water, 10 percent God”. I can’t recall who originally said this, but it often comes to mind when I’m photographing or watching otters. Is there another mammal in the UK which can merge in and out of its environment so seamlessly? The memory of seeing my first otter is still very fresh, the sight of Loch Etive’s glassy still waters being parted by a strong, whiskered jaws. It swam past me before climbing onto the shore, and then just appeared to melt into the seaweed. Otters are animals that have us spellbound at their ability to elude, to disappear, and to silently move through the landscape un-noticed.

An Unbalanced Relationship
Unfortunately, like almost all of the predators found in the UK, our relationship with otters is one that turned sour for most of the 20th Century. From the 1950’s onwards otters declined dramatically throughout England and Wales, not to mention large areas of the rest of Western Europe. The decline was so severe that by the 1970’s otters were almost absent from some parts of England. Threats had come to otters on all sides – habitat destruction, hunting, disturbance and an increase in road traffic. However it was probably the introduction of of organocholorine pesticides in the 1950’s which had the greatest impact. Pesticide run-off from fields into rivers accumulated in the tissues of top predators such as otters, adversely affecting their physiological systems but crucially reducing their ability to breed. Scotland remained a haven for otters throughout this decline, the remote coastlines and rivers affected far less by human influence. Otter numbers in England and Wales are now far more healthy as a result of targetted re-introductions, legal protection, cleaner rivers and the banning of of organocholorine pesticides. However Scotland still holds the large majority of the UK’s otter population, possibly as much as 90%, with the coastal areas of the Highlands and Islands remaining the main strongholds.


Feeding otterAn otter feeding on a lumpsucker fish on the East coast of Skye.


 

‘Dratsie’

Otters are found throughout Scotland in both coastal and freshwater habitats, including in some urban areas. The coasts can support higher population densities, and it is Shetland that holds the highest numbers of otters in the UK. Here ‘dratsies’ are widespread and locally common, with some islands such as Yell being a magnet for wildlife photographers. The Isles of Mull and Skye are also well-known for their otters, as are some freshwater rivers such as the Spey and the Dee. In general the otters found on the West coast are less shy and more easily seen than other otters in the UK, and are regularly active throughout daylight and often seen from the roadside. I have otters within only a few hundred yards of my house on the Black Isle in Ross-shire, but they are shy and largely nocturnal, weeks often passing between sightings. I have put in many hundreds of hours of effort towards photographing my local otters, yet I’ve still never had encounters to match those that I’ve had on Skye or in Lochaber.


Otter portraitIn Scotland the majority of otters are coastal, preferring rocky, sea-weed covered shores close to a source of fresh water.


Continuing Threats and Conservation

Despite the healthy recovery of the UK’s otters, they still face numerous threats and it wouldn’t take much to tip the balance against their favour once again. Habitat loss remains a big issue, with healthy rivers and sources of freshwater essential for an otter’s survival. Road casualties unfortunately are a high cause of mortality even in remote areas of the Highlands, as is drowning in fishing nets or lobster pots. Otter population dynamics are fragile, with the death of a single female otter having the potential to affect an entire local population. Otters have been the focus of some huge conservation efforts in the UK, and have been protected since the late 1970’s. The otter is a European Protected Species and is protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). It is illegal to deliberately kill, capture, injure or disturb an otter, as is disturbing or damaging their holts or breeding areas.


Glassy watersA shape as fluid as water’.


Watching otters in Scotland

As a wildlife photographer, no other species obsesses me so as the otter. Every high quality otter image that I have feels precious and hard-won, and even now I can find myself trembling with excitement when I’m photographing an otter as close quarters. Sometimes I have to remind myself that for many wildlife watchers, a glimpse is the most they’ll ever get of these famously elusive creatures. Luck can play a major role – the first time I visited the Isle of Mull I was rewarded with close-up views of an otter within minutes of getting off the ferry. It was swimming around only a few metres offshore outside the village shop in Craignure, and a few of us all stood quietly and watched smiling for a few minutes. Yet it took me two years of living on the West coast of Scotland before I ever saw my first otter. To maximise your chances, the winter is the best time of year to look for otters as they are forced to spend more time hunting to survive the colder temperatures. A rising tide is usually best and ideal places to look are sheltered areas of coastline with sea-weed covered rocky shores, preferably close to the outlet of a river or stream. Watching otters is a wonderful experience but their welfare must always come first, and to disturb them is not only illegal, it can also be damaging. To get the kind of close images that I’ve featured in this blog post requires adept and highly specific field-craft, research and a great deal of patience. Sometimes it is good to put the camera down and just watch these remarkable mammals.

Moray Firth otter

 

Sea-Changers blog – Introducing the Moray Firth dolphins

Sea-Changers
This is my blog about my wildlife photography partnership with marine-conservation charity Sea-Changers. For 
my main blog please click HERE .   


Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)


The Moray Firth in NE Scotland is rich in marine wildlife, but it is for its resident bottenose dolphins that is known world-wide. I am fortunate to live on the shores of the Inner Moray Firth and spend a great deal of time photographing and watching these dolphins, and over the coming months I will be blogging for Sea-Changers about my experiences. This blog post is a brief introduction to these remarkable animals.

Big dolphins in cold seas
The population of bottlenose dolphins found in the Moray Firth numbers approximately 200, and they are amongst the largest specimens of their species found anywhere in the world. Their average length is approximately 4m, compared to the 2.5m global average length of the species. This great size is due to their Northerly location and the cold waters they live in – the population is possibly the most Northerly in the world, and as such they have more blubber and bulk than dolphins found in warmer waters further South. Some individuals regularly travel great distances from the Moray Firth and are usually sighted moving Eastwards and Southwards along the UK coastline. The Moray Firth and Cardigan Bay populations are the two largest and most significant resident populations of bottlenose dolphins found in UK waters – other populations found along the West coast are far smaller in number.


The huge bulk of 'Mischief'A very large male dolphin approaching Chanonry Point. This individual is around 4 metres long – much larger than the global average size of bottlenose dolphins.


Local celebrities
It is only quite recently that the Moray Firth dolphins have become well-known, and even 10 years ago the best dolphin-watching spots were far quieter than they are now. However they are referred to in records going back well over 100 years, and they are an integral part of the coastal culture of the Firth. Many of the coastal towns and villages feature visitor interpretation regarding the dolphins, and numerous dolphin-watching boat trips can be taken from various places along the coast. They are now a major factor in the local economy, bringing in an estimated £4 million a year to Scotland. Many of the individual dolphins are well-known to locals and are a regular sight for dog-walkers, fishermen, and those lucky enough to live in homes on the water’s edge.  Each dolphin has an ID number but many of them are known by name, and thanks to the dolphin-adoption scheme run by Whale and Dolphin Conservation, many thousands of people closely follow the lives of several individuals.

Efficient hunters
Bottlenose dolphins are finely-tuned predators at the top of the food chain. They have developed numerous effective hunting methods and are seen working both together and individually to catch food. Their preference is for protein-rich, high-energy food sources – particularly Atlantic salmon and sea-trout, but their diet consists of a wide range of species. Mackeral, flatfish, squid, eels, herring, sprats and many other species are known to be eaten by bottlenoses. During the winter months in particular the dolphins will sometimes have to travel great distances in the pursuit of food, often covering many tens of miles in a day.


Violent endBottlenose dolphins are finely-tuned top predators. Their hunting behaviour can be a highly impressive spectacle to watch.


Chanonry Point

Chanonry Point near Fortrose is probaby the most reliable place to watch the dolphins during the summer, and it is regularly referred to as one of the best places in the world to see bottlenose dolphins from land. During the summer months dolphins are seen from Chanonry on almost every tide, often at a distance of only a few metres. The area of water just off the beach is particularly good for hunting salmon, and some individual dolphins will return day after day during the summer to find food here. Although the numbers seen at Chanonry are usually in the range of between 1 and about 20, up to 50 individuals are sometimes seen here. The Kessock Channel is also a very reliable spot from which to see dolphins, as are Cromarty, Spey Bay, Burghead and a number of other locations along the Moray Coast.


Dolphin-watching at Chanonry PointDolphin-watching at Chanonry Point, where it is possible to see dolphins most days during the summer months.


Threats

Despite the Moray Firth being a designated Marine Special Area of Conservation, and bottlenose dolphins being a European protected species, the dolphins in the Firth unfortunately face numerous threats. The population is considered vulnerable due to its small size and its isolation from other significant populations – the only other resident populations of significant size is found in Cardigan Bay and along the West coast of the UK. Oil and gas exploration in the Firth can cause significant habitat degredation and noise pollution, both of which can be highly damaging to dolphins. Chemical pollutants that make their way into the Firth can accumulate in the dolphin’s blubber, and over time adversely affect their immune system and reproductive ability. Industrialisation along the coastline is causing an increase in boat activity in the firth and disturbance of the dolphins, in addition to the disturbance already caused by boat users behaving irresponsibly. Over-fishing and declining food sources are perhaps the greatest threats – with Scottish salmon for example seeing massive declines in recent years.


 

Wet weather at ChanonryThe Moray Firth is a busy area for shipping, oil extraction, tourism and other human uses. Balancing human needs and marine conservation is a hugely complex issue.


My next blog post will be a photo-essay portraying a particularly memorable morning of dolphin-watching last August at Chanonry Point. In the meantime, more images of the dolphins can be seen here .

James

Sea-Changers blog – Introducing myself

Sea-Changers
This is my blog about my wildlife photography partnership with marine-conservation charity Sea-Changers. For 
my main blog please click HERE .   

 


James Roddie
My name is James Roddie and I am a wildlife and landscape photographer based on the Black Isle in Scotland. I sell images and write articles for magazines, with a particular focus on the wildlife and wild places of the Highlands.

I live on the shores of the Inner Moray Firth – one of the best places in the world to watch bottlenose dolphins from land. During the summer months I spend a great deal of time photographing the dolphins from the world-famous Chanonry Point, which I’m lucky enough to have only a 5 minute drive away. Observing the daily activities of these dolphins week after week is extraordinary and it has heavily influenced my outlook on the world around me.


Breaching bottlenose dolphinsThe bottlenose dolphins of the Moray Firth.


I have had some remarkable experiences whilst photographing marine wildlife. To see the new calf of a dolphin which you have been watching almost every day for months is deeply touching, and seeing my first ever whale is still as fresh in my mind as the day it happened. However I have also seen many things that worry and disturb me. My teenage years were spent on the Suffolk coast – a place known for its nature reserves and high-quality coastal habitats. Over the years I spent dozens of evenings exploring the mouth of one particular estuary – a great place to watch birds and learn how to use a camera. One day when I was 14 years old I finally noticed something gapingly obvious that somehow had escaped my attention. Over a mile-long stretch of beach there was barely a square metre of ground that didn’t contain some kind of plastic or litter washed up by the sea. It stirred something inside me, and since then I have become deeply concerned about our relationship with the natural world.

Our relationship with cetaceans (dolphins, whales and porpoises) is still a very unbalanced one, and these animals are still exploited, mistreated and killed in many areas of the world. But this issue is just one of countless problems concerning our seas and oceans. Some people argue too much emphasis is put on the ‘glamorous’ species such as dolphins and whales, when so much that is wrong with marine environments concerns the less obvious and less visible things. But change is inspired by understanding, and understanding only comes if people are interested. One of the main reasons I photograph the Moray Firth dolphins is to try and encourage people to learn more about the wider issues concerning our seas.

There are so many simple things that all of us can do that will help the condition of our seas – making responsible choices about what we eat, not buying ‘one-use’ plastic bags at the supermarket, reducing our family’s use of chemical cleaning products, decreasing the amount of food we waste. Through my photography I aim to inspire people about our seas and coastlines and hopefully encourage them to take more of an interest in how they can help.
I’m excited to be starting blogging for Sea-Changers. I will be posting images, issues and stories surrounding the Moray Firth with a particular focus on the resident bottlenose dolphins, and I look forward to sharing my experiences with you all.

James. 

Seven months with the Moray Firth dolphins


Moving to live within 5 minutes of Chanonry Point has been a dream situation. Most British wildlife photographers will have heard of Chanonry – it is one of the best places in the world to watch bottlenose dolphins from land, and on a good day it is an outstanding wildlife photography location. With some luck it is possible to get good dolphin images on your first visit without much preparation. However, despite the profusion of great images from Chanonry this often isn’t the case and a large amount of time, patience and skill is required to amass a really good collection.

Although you can watch dolphins for hours on end often only metres from shore, they can be a surprisingly difficult subject for photography. When a dolphin does something (like breaching) it does it very fast indeed, and although quick reactions are essential they’ll only get you so far without knowing what to look for, where and when. As I discovered this only comes with time, and the best collections of images out there are the result of hundreds of hours of effort spread over several years.


 

At their best the dolphins can put on an astonishing show. Getting really good images of the action requires very fast reactions and shutter speeds of 1/1250sec at the slowest. Everything happens very fast indeed.

‘Kesslet’ – a favourite of many dolphin-watchers for her acrobatic antics. She is regularly seen in the Inner Moray Firth with her son ‘Charlie’ .

Dolphins hunting at Chanonry. Learning about the dolphin’s ‘body language’ helps a lot in getting these kinds of images.

Dawn light catching a dolphin’s blow. Some 4am starts were rewarded with beautiful light and opportunities for some interesting compositions.


I first started to visit Chanonry about 4 years ago and managed to get a handful of good images spread over a few trips. On my first visit with a DSLR I photographed a group of very active juvenile dolphins for 2 hours, one of which repeatedly ‘spy-hopped’ only a few metres away. I came away buzzing but unaware of just how fortunate I’d been.

I moved to live on the Black Isle in January, and from the end of March I started to spend 4 to 6 days a week at Chanonry. April was a great month with lots of bright conditions and crisp light ideal for photography. The dolphins started to appear in larger numbers, rather than the 1 or 2 which might appear a few days a week during March. I was lacking full-time employment so I sometimes would be on the beach for 6 or 7 hours a day, and after a few weeks it started to feel a bit like a new way of life. I had begun the rewarding process of getting to know the behavioural patterns and characteristics of individual dolphins, and started to learn which dolphins to watch for getting images of particular behaviour.

Spending so much time on the beach meant that I befriended several of the Chanonry ‘regulars’ – local people who spend a great deal of their time watching the dolphins, and almost every day I’d learn something new from them. Some days we would get only 1 or 2 dolphins being quite inactive, but on occasions we were rewarded with big groups of 15+ dolphins socialising and hunting.


 

‘Kesslet’ breaching at sunrise. 

‘Kesslet’ breaching on a calm day with bright conditions. The socialising behaviour of the dolphins can range from dramatic to hilarious, and can result in some wonderfully dynamic images.

Juvenile dolphins are often very active especially when in amongst larger groups. 

Two dolphins breaching in an ‘up-side down’ position

Double breachAn impressive double-breach.


The beginning of May saw a change to more challenging conditions at Chanonry Point. Unseasonably cold conditions, strong winds and overcast skies became the norm with lengthy periods of rainfall. Days on the beach would sometimes be tests of endurance and I’d get home chilled to the bone despite wearing several layers of winter clothing. Additionally the dolphin activity seemed to drop rather than increase as would be normal, and the consensus seemed to be that the season was not shaping up well. Plenty of tides would go past with very few dolphins at Chanonry, with far more being sighted up towards Cromarty instead.


Zephyr’ – possibly the most regularly-seen dolphin at Chanonry Point this season.  Known for her dramatic hunting behaviour, she often provides opportunities for spectacular images.

‘Zephyr’ with a fish late one evening. Chanonry Point offers uniquely close views of the dolphins hunting.

‘Zephyr’ at the start of a breach. In the Spring she would often be the only dolphin present at Chanonry but later in the season she would often be seen breaching with other dolphins close to shore.


However the third week of May was spectacular, with some large groups of dolphins hunting and socialising for lengthy periods. I got more good images in two hours on the 18th May than I had in the previous 2 weeks combined. The individual dolphins were becoming increasingly familiar to me and I’d become totally fixated with watching their day-to-day life from the beach.

The challenging weather lingered into June and many of the regular dolphin-watchers were repeatedly saying how the dolphin activity wasn’t at the level it should be for the time of year. It has been a very bad season for salmon in many Scottish rivers, and with a very sporadic salmon-run the dolphins have been increasingly distracted away from Chanonry to hunt other fish instead such as migratory mackerel or herring. Many of the regular dolphins at Chanonry have been spread widely around the coast instead of being concentrated in the Inner Moray Firth as would be more normal for the time of year.


The massive bulk of ‘Mischief’ approaching Chanonry Point. The Moray Firth dolphins are amongst the largest bottlenose dolphins in the world and ‘Mischief’ is one of the larger males. A truly impressive animal.

A young male in mid-flight. The dolphin was still fully submerged only 1/4 sec before this.

Dolphins moving fast. At times they can appear to ‘surf’ over the surface of the water at great speed.

‘Moonlight’ and her calf were regular visitors close to shore during May. The calves usually only surface for fractions of a second so good images of them can be particularly hard to get.


June was a frustrating month and I got very few good images at all. In addition to the lull of dolphin activity and poor weather I seemed to have a run of bad luck, with the best tides for dolphins being the few when I was elsewhere. At times it became very frustrating but it was hard to stay away, and if anything my temporary lack of success made me more determined. And even on a bad day there would almost always be something interesting going on –  a surprise visit from a Slovonian grebe, fly-pasts by Great Northern divers, a dead long-finned pilot whale and the never-ending banter amongst the regulars on the beach.


A large group passing Chanonry at speed.

‘Fin-shots’ are often discarded by photographers. They have their place however, and can make some good and simple compositions.

Shooting in all weathers has been a necessity this season, with some very challenging conditions on the beach. I took this image as an hour of torrential rain set-in.


 Going into late June and July I became far busier with other things and I was only able to spend 2 or 3 tides a week down at Chanonry. It was disappointing to see from friend’s photos that I missed what looked like some very good dolphin days with good light, and it just goes to show that even when you put hundreds of hours into a project, luck can still play a major role.


Dolphins approaching Chanonry during a cold dawn.


A young dolphin breaching high just off Fort George. For a short period in early July a group of young males would breach repeatedly off Fort George but not come any closer to Chanonry.

‘Sundance’ with a large salmon. A huge male, ‘Sundance’ can often be found in the middle of impressive breaching displays.

 More of ‘Zephyr’s’ hunting behaviour.


The second week of July saw some very quiet days indeed. A lack of salmon was obvious, as for example on one day when we excitedly watched 20 or so dolphins appear and forage for quite a while without catching a single fish. This was followed by 3 days in a row with no dolphins at all, unusual indeed for the time of year. Then a wonderful day came out of nowhere, with the most salmon caught in a single hour that I’ve seen so far. ‘Zephyr’ alone caught 4 fish in quick succession. Was this the start of something more consistent? No, as the next morning only ‘Zephyr’ appeared and failed to find any fish after 2 or 3 hours of foraging.

Late July brought some good days with some groups of juvenile dolphins being quite active. Repeated large splashes in the distance would give them away on their approach to Chanonry and we’d wait with excitement for them to arrive. However, more often than not the best of the action rapidly stopped as soon as the dolphins were close enough to the shore for good images, and I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated.

Thankfully everyone’s patience was rewarded by the first two weeks of August. We had some spectacular breaching displays day-after-day for a while – close to shore and in good light. A particular combination of dolphins behaved in the same way several days in a row – ‘Kesslet’, ‘Zephyr’, ‘Charlie’ and ‘Sundance’ (and others) often putting on a great show for us. Additionally I was thrilled to spot a very tiny dorsal fin appear amongst a group of dolphins early one morning, the first new-born calf of the year that I’d seen. A few weeks later and we were all delighted to see that ‘Zephyr’ had a new calf too.


Sideways breachingSoft early-morning light.

'Zephyr' breaching‘Zephyr’ breaching very close to shore.

Head-on breach‘Kesslet’ breaching head-on to my lens. This was probably the most unusual breaching shot I managed to get this season.


All wildlife photographers have ‘dream’ days that come around every once in a while, and the 10th August was just such a day for me. A calm and clear dawn was forecast to coincide with a rising tide so I had decided to go down to the beach to try some images of the dolphins at first light. When I arrived there were no dolphins, but just as a fiery sunrise started I spotted some ‘blows’ in the distance. The dolphins appeared fast and started hunting just at the right moment. ‘Kesslet’ caught a salmon but behaved in a way I’d never seen before – repeatedly lunging sideways out of the water whilst throwing the fish. My heart raced and I couldn’t believe my luck as she did this 7 or 8 times all silhouetted against the golden light of the sunrise. Not only this, but the dolphins then started breaching and I got my most unusual breaching images of the season.

During the first two weeks of August I finally managed to nail the majority of images that I’d wanted, after months of learning, improving and waiting. I continued to go to the beach for the rest of the month but less often, and I’m still turning up for a few tides as the dolphin ‘season’ draws to a close at Chanonry.

The last seven months have been incredible for me and it has been a total privilege for the Moray Firth dolphins to have become a part of my every-day life. Whilst photography has been a major aspect of it, learning about these amazing animals and simply observing them has been by far the most rewarding outcome. I’m still awe-struck by some of the things I’ve seen at Chanonry in the last few months, but even all the quiet days there have been days well-spent. I am already looking-forward to next summer and the 2016 dolphin season.

James