Wildlife watching from an open canoe

Wildlife watching on the water

For me there is no doubt that wildlife watching on the water, in canoe or kayak, is far better than on land.

It is almost as though the forna doesn’t expect you to be there. As less people venture on the water than on land we are the ones being watched. As you are in their territory perhaps they have the upper hand.

Wildlife watching in an open canoe
Out beyond the land there is open water and a greater possibility of seeing wildlife that does not come close in to shore. Those are the islands of Rum and Eigg in the background.

Whatever the reasons, it is far easier to glide silently along and drift past without disturbing them. Occasionally we can go unnoticed. Sadly, we occasionally startle a feeding otter or basking seal as we round a headland (ruabh).

West coast islands of Rum and Eigg
A perfectly calm day kept enticing us to paddle the 18km to Eigg…

Not always the best way

I have seen the negative impacts of too many visitors on the water. An area fairly local became incredibly popular with sea kayakers. Perhaps because of the islands (skerries) or the guarantee of seeing seals. A beautiful place for sure and worth visiting.

The seal population went into decline about three years ago. I saw it and several people who had been around longer than I also saw it. Anecdotal evidence, but to me it was sufficient. The repeated disturbance by kayakers had increased the stress on the seals and they left for quieter locations.

This is one of the reasons I rarely paddle between the islands at Ardery where there is a seal colony and try to avoid a small island near Laudale during tern nesting season. That is also due to self-preservation as I have occasionally had terms ‘dive-bomb’ me…

On a more positive note, and back to the trip I question. I was very fortunate to be able to paddle with the chairman of the RSPB and his wife in 2018. They knew that wildlife watching from a different vantage point would bring different species to see.

The weather and conditions were perfect; and I mean that.

The company was fantastic; and I felt guilty because I learned more about birds than they did about canoeing!

Beautiful Eilean Shona

As they were staying in one of the cottages on the Shiel Estate, we met in the car park and paddled out the South Channel alongside Eilean Shona. This is a magical place and well worth a visit. The ruins of Castle Tioram sit right by the car park and there is a large, flat beach at low water.

Our paddle took out out beyond Eilean Shona and into the Sound of Arisaig with stunning views across to Rum, Eigg and Muck. Skye was visible in the distance. Ardnamurchan Point was just round the headland out of sight.

Did I mention that the conditions were perfect?

I couldn’t help ‘drifting off’ into thoughts of paddling across to Eigg. 18km of open water, but on a day like this it would have been fantastic. Just a pity that this was not the day to make that trip – one to save for another glorious day…

Wildlife watching success

There was lots! Almost everywhere we looked there was something moving. This list of wildlife will give you an idea as to how much we saw in just half a day!

  • Red throated diver
  • Black throated diver
  • Great northern diver
  • White tailed eagle
  • Black guillemot
  • Great black backed full
  • Herring gull
  • Common gull
  • Oyster catchers
  • Cormorant
  • Comic Tern

Let me explain the last one. Apparently this is a bird watchers joke; the common and arctic terms are incredibly similar. So similar that the majority of ‘twitchers’ can’t tell the difference in the field. So they joined the two names together: COMmon and arctIC. Comic!

I am told that there are four types of ‘diver’ in the UK and that we saw three of them that day. Apparently, we wouldn’t have seen the fourth as they do not range this far north.

We should also add:

  • Lots of common seals
  • A few lions mane jellyfish (the ones that hurt)
  • Quite a few moon jellyfish (the ones that don’t)
  • Starfish
  • Sea urchins
  • A few sheep!

On other trips in the same area I have seen red deer, white tailed eagles (with baby), Eurasian otter (with cub) and dolphins.

While some of these are visible on the land, it is rare that you’ll get such a diversity in a sort space of time (under two hours on the water). We also got very close to many of the birds. I don’t have a very big lens on my camera, but managed to get a half-decent picture of a Black guillemot.

Oh! Did I mention the golden sandy beaches and turquoise waters?

Turquoise water under canoe
There are rocky islands around to break up the turquoise waters and provide resting places for wildlife.

If you would like to join me and see just why I think wildlife watching on the water is better than on land, then book a half-day canoe taster or kayak taster session. I’ll tailor it to your wishes and abilities and balance the amount of paddling you want to do with your desire to see wildlife.

If you have more time (and I’d really recommend spending more time outside), the I also offer full day trips in either craft.

Just remember, that I cannot guarantee any sightings. Especially the otters!

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