Sunday, 6 June 2021

Whale watching at Duncansby Head

Duncansby Head at John O'Groats is one of the top cetacean watching places in mainland Britain and is where I saw a pod of orcas in August 2018. Tonight we are staying near Thurso in preparation for our ferry over to Orkney tomorrow, so what better way to pass an afternoon than a walk along the cliffs to the stacks and then down to the nearby beach at the Bay of Sannick.

This is as wild a place as any I have been, there is a tremendous feeling of remoteness here. The cliffs are full of seabirds, mainly fulmars but also four species of auk, kittiwakes and shag, and they are harassed by patrolling bonxies.

But in my opinion it is that stretch of sea between the mainland and Orkney, known as the Pentland Firth, where the real excitement is, because this is where the whales and dolphins are usually seen.

It didn't disappoint today, I had a nice view of a minke whale breaking the surface several times in amongst a large raft of auks, before finally arching its back and deep diving. Perhaps surprisingly given how many other species of cetacean I have seen, this was my first minke but my seventh species of whale overall, following blue, fin, sperm, southern right, humpback and northern bottle-nosed.

Also today, a nice view of a Risso's dolphin which was about my fourth or fifth sighting of the species.

Lot's of flowers on the cliffs, mainly primrose, thrift, sea squill, tormentil, bladder campion and red campion.

The Bay of Sannick.

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