European Otter – April

©Nick Sidle – Full Screen Image

Out of the sea for a short time, whilst hunting along the coast on a rising tide, just after dawn at North Kessock on The Black Isle in Ross and Cromarty, Highland Scotland.

Otters are shy and elusive animals and difficult to see but patience and getting up early can be rewarded. There are many stories about them, including the one recorded by J Wentworth Day writing in 1937, who described a belief on the West Coast that there were ‘Otter Altars’, flat rocks by the sea worn flat by centuries of use as dining tables by Otters on migration. Scientifically this is dubious, Otters do not really migrate and even for a well used rock, their numbers would be unlikely to erode the surface till it was flat. This is almost certainly a case of confusing cause and effect and association. Otters do not start by using pointed rocks and make them flat. They do however like to come out of the water to eat, often do this at preferred sites and convenient, already flat, rocks are very likely to be used again and again.

This otter is on the East side of Highlands and was found this morning in the traditional territories of Clan Mackenzie.


Gallery – Scotland’s Clans and Families

Gallery – Clan Mackenzie

Gallery – Black Isle

Gallery – Scotland’s Mammals

European Otter – Lutra lutra

Record Year for Basking Sharks


Full Screen Image – Basking Shark ©Nick Sidle

Wildlife tour operator Basking Shark Scotland has reported a record number of sightings, over 700 between April and October compared to 250 last year and 172 in 2013, mostly around the Inner Hebrides.

Basking Shark Scotland

The Basking Shark is the second largest living fish, smaller only than the Whale Shark, with the largest accurately measured individual being 12.27m (40.3 feet), making it way above even the Great White of mythic dimensions in ‘Jaws’. Basking Sharks are sometimes mistaken for Great Whites because of their size and are the basis for some of the reports of Great Whites there have been in UK waters over the years (whilst there are some that deserve serious consideration there are as yet no confirmed Great White sightings off the British Isles). They are however very different animals and are filter feeders straining out Plankton from seawater and so are of no risk to anyone. Great Whites are in no way the terrifying prospect portrayed in ‘Jaws’ but they do have to be treated with some respect and tragedies have of course happened, even if they are fortunately extremely rare.


Full Screen Image – Great White Shark ©Nick Sidle


Marine Scotland Gallery

Marine Australia Gallery

Basking Shark -Cetorhinus maximus

Great White Shark – Carcharodon carcharias


Losing friends is easy……

We’ve all done it and by far the most common reason is by what we do not do. Yes, friendships can end in a dramatic falling out but quite often real friends find a way of making up even after one of those. Most friendships that end are because of drifting apart when leaving somewhere or moving on in life, most end through not doing enough, not by doing something easily recognised as terribly wrong.

So a puzzle, spot the odd two out in the gallery below.

Long-tailed Duck

Full Screen Image – Long-tailed Duck, Merkinch Local Nature Reserve, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Atlantic Puffin, Fowlsheugh, Kincardineshire, Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – African Lions, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania ©Nick Sidle

Common Pochard

Full Screen Image – Pochard, Moray Firth, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

Common Pochard

Full Screen Image – Pochard, Richmond, London, England ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – African Elephants, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Slavonian Grebe, Loch Ruthven, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

Yes, you could be right by saying the Lion and the Elephant, both were in the Serengeti and neither can be found wild in Scotland whereas the Puffin, Slavonian Grebe, Pochard and Long-tailed Duck certainly are but, as you have probably guessed, that would be too easy. In fact, I’m now going to apologise for a trick question but it is a very sad trick question, the answer I was thinking of is none of them. All now share the unfortunate distinction of being on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species under the heading ‘Vulnerable to Extinction” which means that whilst they are still in the wild in significant numbers, their populations are falling at a worrying rate and all it would take would be for that to continue and you can predict that they will and even when they might become extinct. The Atlantic Puffin, Slavonian Grebe and Pochard have only just been added to the list, things are not going in the right direction.

BBC News – Four UK bird species including puffins ‘face extinction’

Like most things, their stories are complicated. Changes in climate feature prominently, for example rising sea temperatures are attributed with having greatly reduced the number of Sandeels, a staple food of Puffins and other seabirds, with serious negative effects on breeding success in their colonies.


Full Screen Image – Sandeels, Porthminster Reef, St Ives Bay, Cornwall, England ©Nick Sidle

Pressures on habitat and disturbance from people are also recurring themes. If we want to keep seeing these animals and birds, we all need to contribute to doing something, we all need to care a bit more. They are all important but Puffins and Elephants frequently feature very high up on lists of favourite species, the majority of us think of them in some way as friends and so that is why what we all need to take very seriously is that taking things for granted, neglect and not doing enough really are the most common ways that friends are lost.

I would like to end on an upbeat note but perhaps there is something more important that still has to be shared. Work your way though the photographs of birds that follow. With a bit of patience and effort, you can see all of them in Scotland, just get out into the wild in the right habitats and they are all there. Why have I included them? Well take a good hard look. All these species, some of which are not thought of in any way as rare, appear on the next category down from ‘Vulnerable to Extinction’, which is ‘Near Threatened’. All of these birds, which it is so easy to take for granted, are waiting in the wings to take their place with the Puffin, Slavonian Grebe, Pochard and Long-tailed Duck. All we have to do is look the other way, forget and change nothing.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Full Screen Image – Bar-tailed Godwit, Udale Bay, Black Isle, Ross and Cromarty ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Eurasian Oystercatcher, Merkinch Local Nature Reserve, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

Northern Lapwing

Full Screen Image – Northern Lapwings, Udale Bay, Black Isle, Ross and Cromarty, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Razorbills, Fowlsheugh, Kincardineshire, Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Meadow Pipit, Merkinch Local Nature Reserve, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

Red Knot

Full Screen Image – Red Knot, Udale Bay, Black Isle, Ross and Cromarty, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Black-tailed Godwit, Udale Bay, Black Isle, Ross and Cromarty, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Red Kite, Black Isle, Ross and Cromarty, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Eurasian Curlew, Lochinver, Sutherland, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Eider, Newhall Point, Black Isle, Ross and Cromarty, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle


Full Screen Image – Redwing, Merkinch Local Nature Reserve, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

There never are easy answers in conservation and those responsible always have to weigh competing priorities and claims but it is up to all of us who care to make our voices heard so that those in power and who determine and lead policy and opinion always remember what is at stake and that there are some of us, enough of us, who really would like to make the effort to keep all the friends we can.


Scotland’s Birds Gallery

British Isles Marine gallery

Tanzania Land and Wildlife gallery


Long-tailed Duck – Clangula hyemalis

Atlantic Puffin – Fratercula arctica

African Lion – Panthera leo

Pochard – Aythya ferina

African Elephant – Loxodonta africana

Slavonian Grebe – Podiceps auritus

Sandeel – Ammodytes tobianus

Bar-tailed Godwit – Limosa lapponica

Eurasian Oystercatcher – Haemotopus ostralegus

Northern Lapwing – Vanellus vanellus

Razorbill – Alca torda

Meadow Pipit – Anthus pratensis

Red Knot – Calidris canutus

Black-tailed Godwit – Limosa limosa

Red Kite – Milvus milvus

Eurasian Curlew – Numenius arquata

Eider – Somateria mollissima

Redwing – Turdus iliacus

Energy Saving


Full Screen Image – Lion’s Mane Jellyfish, Ardmair Bay, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

A new study published this month in the journal ‘Nature Communications’ completely rewrites ideas about jellyfish movement;

Suction-based propulsion as a basis for efficient animal swimming

What the scientists have discovered, as the name of their paper suggests, is that instead of pushing themselves along using positive pressure behind them, as in most propulsion systems including swimming, jellyfish (and Lampreys) create a lower pressure ahead of their direction of travel and so are sucked forwards and that this is one of the most energy efficient systems that can be achieved. In the long term, it could even provide a model for lower energy technologies to power ships and submarines. If we could master it, it might even be a way of raising human performance in Olympic swimming events but somehow I can’t see top athletes plunging into the pool gripping a high technology straw between their teeth any time soon. More sensibly though, given the insight, it could lead to a recognition of more efficient movements in human swimming although collectively we have as a species had quite a long time to get it right through trial and error, even without the research.

The Lion’s Mane is a jellyfish that can be seen regularly around the North West coast of Scotland. It is the species which is the villain in the Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane’. Presumably since it is supposed to be a mystery at the start of the tale, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle relied on not enough of his readers making the connection from the title, apologies if I’ve given the game away for anyone who has not read it. A bonus piece of Sherlock Holmes trivia  for anyone who is interested, although that may be a limited audience, ‘The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane’ is one of only two stories written as being narrated by Holmes himself, not Dr Watson. The other is ‘The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier’.


Marine Scotland gallery

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish – Cyanea capillata

Who wants to live forever?


Full Screen Image – Beadlet Anemone, Ardmair Bay, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

A report in the BBC News Magazine quoting Professor Dan Rokhsar from the University of California, Berkeley notes the observation that Sea Anemones live a very long time and possibly even indefinitely, unless their luck runs out and they are eaten, poisoned or a similar disaster catches up with them.

BBC News – The creature with the key to immortality

The Professor of genetics points out that there are similarities in the genome structure of anemones and human beings despite their going back more than 700 million years. However, despite confirming that they do have a recognisable nervous system allowing them to respond to stimuli and function as predators, it does have to be accepted that they really only live for the moment. They do not have the complications of memories, culture and consciousness, so whilst they may be able to go on forever and can certainly regrow large parts of their structure on need, effective regeneration to preserve what we would say matters most still remains the sole preserve of a certain doctor with a police telephone box, unless of course what you care about preserving is your appearance and then even the anemones manage that. I’ve also acknowledged that they experience (or not as the case may be), luck. Perhaps the links with us are really strong after all.


Scotland Marine gallery

Beadlet Anemone – Actinia equina