Get to the Point

The beautiful weather of the last three weeks has finally broken.

Although the herby smell of warm, dry grass was delicious the smell of smoke rising from the resultant wildfires was much less so.

The distillery in Tobermory had to pause production because of the drought (a tragedy!) and Mull was officially – if briefly – the driest place in the country.

Rather than being the bright and verdant pasture for which Glengorm was named, the fields remain stunted and dull. This has been a bit of a worry for calving and lambing; things have been slow to start on the farm this year. However, if you visit us for a walk, you’ll see that the trickle is starting to swell to a flood. Little lambs are tottering after the ewes on over-sized feet, and within a week or two, I’m sure we’ll start to see gangs of them racing around and playing King of the Castle. This seems to be a universally enjoyed game for all lambs, in which they compete for a position on the highest piece of ground they can find (within shouting distance of mum, that is!)

The Skylarks and Meadow pipits are in full display mode; watch out for their lovely courtship flights as you walk through our fields. The Wheatears are back from their migration, and males can be seen singing boldly from prominent tussocks or boulders. The Hen harriers have been a bit quiet of late, so I can only assume that they are busy preparing to breed. Males have been seen “Skydancing” elsewhere on the island, so I’m keen to find out what our birds are up to. I did catch a very brief glimpse of a female yesterday, but she was off over the heather before I could see what she was doing.

In other news, Alex and I have re-homed a beautiful dog (if you were on the ferry last Sunday, you might have seen him!) “Big-George” as he is fondly known, seems to be settling in well. He’s a large black and white Pointer – perfect for keeping me company on those long upland walks. He was both well-loved and well looked after at his previous home, so we feel very privileged to have him.

Now, George is a bit of a foodie, so if you see him pottering around outside the Coffee Shop… you’d better watch your sarnies. There was a mildly embarrassing incident involving a wheelchair and a tuna sandwich in Oban, from which I have only just recovered. He also thinks my small parrot is a treat, and sits expectantly whenever Quito perches on my hand. Despite Quito’s desire to remain un-eaten, and George’s ambitions to the contrary, it really does feel like he’s completed our household.

I had secret hopes that George might engage in a bit of Pointing from time to time – we have lots of game species on Glengorm, and keeping track of them can be tricky. As it stands, the only thing George has pointed out so far was a particularly fetid deer carcass. Delighted with his find, he then embarked on a series of enthusiastic rolls. As far as George was concerned, I could keep my Grouse and Woodcock. He also eats deer-poo like Smarties, so if he offers you a kiss…

You might have heard about the Sperm Whale sighted in Oban Bay at Easter. This young male spent nearly nine days circling the harbour area – right where the ferries dock. He was estimated to be between 11-14 years of age, and roughly 11m in length. A group of these whales had been photographed off the coast of Sky shortly before his arrival, which was unusual enough in itself.

The Sperm Whale is the largest toothed animal on earth, and also the deepest-diving mammal species. They are usually found in waters reaching depths of several thousand meters. Here, they journey into yawning ocean trenches to feed on Giant squid and Octopus. They have the largest brain of any creature, living or extinct, and produce some of the loudest vocalizations known to science.

For this 20 tonne individual, Oban Bay – maximum depth 40m – must have been quite an experience. Save a few battered calamari rings from the local chippie, Oban isn’t famed for its abundant supply of Giant squid. People were both amazed and concerned.

For me, the whale might as well have arrived from outer space. Never in my wildest dreams had I hoped for a chance to see such an enigmatic creature. After two days of restlessly checking Twitter, I coughed up my seven-quid and galloped onto the ferry.

I kept imagining it – perhaps resting on the bottom. Feeling the warm fuel-oiled waters swilling around it. Hearing the apocalyptic thunder of CalMacs overhead. A frightened, alien presence in the bay.

I waited with other hopefuls on the pier. After about 30 minutes, a hump of greyish-black gently broke the surface, followed by a long stretch of crinkled skin. The look of it was odd: pinched but firm. It didn’t give the impression of being loose, but rather betrayed the powerful flexing muscles hidden underneath. This, of course, was the Sperm Whale’s distinctive flank. The dorsal fin was small and hardly more prominent than the breathing apparatus. The whale moved slowly, blowing out plumes of spent breath and water droplets as it circled the north section of the bay. 

I must admit, a sense of absolute dread filled me when I saw it. The curiosity and awe that had drawn me there was replaced with a kind of guilty sadness.  The photographs always seem to be the same: the whale lies stricken and canted on the shore. It is generally raining. Tiny people in jackets stand before it, desperate to help a creature they cannot understand but somehow feel connected to. As I made my way back to the ferry hours later I didn’t hold out much hope.

Nevertheless: the Oban Whale proved to be made of sterner stuff, and confounded the fairly gloomy expectations for its fate. After spending 9-days in the bay (and engaging in altercations with several boats), he left.

No drama, no big rescue operation – it literally just swam off. I couldn’t have been more pleased.

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward