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The September Sunseekers

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Some hazy September morning sunshine with the Shiants on the horizon. Image © Lewis Mackenzie

September began with swathes of sunshine and just a hint of Autumn as the days started to shorten. And, as we waited for the gales to blow them away, the dreaded Outer Hebridean Midge took advantage of the calm to erupt in clouds every evening.

So, it made sense for our diver Lewis Mackenzie to set out to sea to avoid being bitten and spend time working on his new Sugar Kelp farm, where he’s exploring the cultivation of this key seaweed crop used in our Isle of Harris Gin.

Lewis gathers wild kelp for us by hand but he’s also been experimenting with sustainable rope farming using seaweed spores which will become beautiful golden fronds prime for harvesting each May.

A Great Skua, soon to be headed south to enjoy some African sunshine.

While working above the waves for a change, we caught up again to learn more about the island's marine environment at this time of the year…

He tells us the shifting seasons have cast a spell on the migrant seabirds and, responding to some unseen signal, they're preparing to head south to warmer winter retreats. 

A Great Skua flies in close above Lewis’ boat in their typically aggressive style, fast, bold and unafraid but spectacularly agile, showing off its speckled brown plumage and white splashed wings. 

Lewis explains…

“Once the winds turn to provide a tailwind, this guy, and those of his kind who have survived the recent avian flu outbreaks, will head for Spain and North Africa to soak up the warmer winter climates.”

Sunbathing seals spotted lounging on the warm foreshore rocks.

By mid-morning, the sun is high in a cloudless sky and the ebbing tide exposes reefs and rocks close to his seaweed farm. 

Grunts and barks from common seals break the silence and Lewis spies them lumbering out of the water and arguing over prime positions on the rocky foreshore. 

It’s a real effort for them to extract themselves from the blue waters of the Minch but with front flippers gripping into the seaweed and their tails propelling them, they make it onto their sunbathing spots.

Lewis says they were busy during the night and early morning chasing shoals of mackerel and pollock, but with bellies now full it’s time for a lazy day of basking in the sun.

Seaweed diver Lewis Mackenzie.

They carefully choose their rocky loungers, out of the wind and shade, with a good view all around - not unlike any of us would do on our beach holiday!

Life for these seals isn’t always quite so idyllic however, they are a favourite food for the local pods of killer whales and get bullied by their larger grey seal cousins too.

But, once out of the water it looks like these dangers are soon forgotten as the all-important daily regime of indulgent relaxation gets underway.

If the sun is shining on a September day in the Outer Hebrides, life for Lewis and his fellow water buddies doesn’t get much better.


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