Hitting the Bottle

There have been times this summer when, braced against horizontal rain and bellowing into the faces of distressed transatlantic tourists, I have had cause to re-evaluate my career choice. Sometimes being a wildlife guide just isn’t that easy.

Worse still, there are occasions when the wildlife is there with bells on… but your clients, dressed in pristine tennis shoes and casting wistful glances back towards the Castle and its Whisky Library, seem immune to its manifold charms.

It was at the end of just such a session when, deflated and frustrated, I returned alone to the rocks to search for Basking sharks. I only get to see these animals maybe once or twice a year; despite my every attempt to persuade the guests in question that they were well worth taking a closer look at, they had absolutely no desire to detour from our main route to see them.

I continued the walk in a state of puzzlement – evidently, I was expected to produce something even more spectacular.

Two cavorting Otters, a leaping pod of Bottlenose Dolphins and a White-tailed Eagle fly-past all failed to arouse so much as a flicker of interest. I was horrified.

When I arrived at the shore some time later, the sharks had long since disappeared. I hunkered down on a cushion of grass, plunking small shells into the water and brooding darkly on my misfortune.

It seemed unjust that these natural history ingrates had been blessed with a silver platter of island wildlife, when other [far more deserving] guests were delighted by the wooden spoon of foul weather and clouds of bloodsucking midges. Mother Nature can be capricious.

I waited hours. My backside transcended “numb” and reached some higher level of discomfort. The Sound was a shark-free zone.

Reluctantly, I slung my binoculars over my shoulder and turned towards home. I had already moved some distance before I turned to see a bright star flash in the water. Several others winked after it in rapid succession.  A couple of Shags scuttered over the surface, apparently moving out of the way. The dolphins were back.

Galvanised into action, I all but threw myself over the cliff and down onto the salt splashed rocks. My binoculars and camera swung wildly as I lurched from foothold to foothold. Breathless and more than a little sweaty, I watched.

There has been a lot of research into dolphin cognition. And really, I shudder to contemplate what they must have thought – casually swimming past this quiet stretch of the Mull coast, only to discover a crazed human being, literally bouncing with enthusiasm and grinning like an unhinged lottery-winner. No wonder they came so close; it must have been quite a sight. Two dusky silver calves popped up alongside the adults, and for a moment, I thought I might actually explode with happiness.

It’s days like that when I fall in love with this island all over again.

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward

Family Photo: the two adult females and the two calves!