During our recent holiday in Anglesey, Jen and I took several walks along the island’s rugged north coast. We do so every year: these are my favourite walks bar none. I always insist, in the unlikely event I turn out to be hopelessly wrong about the whole ‘reincarnation’ malarkey, I’d very much like to come back as a chough on the north coast of Anglesey. I say chough, rather than raven, as the local choughs seem to enjoy the place every bit as much as I do, wheeling and cavorting in the air, calling to each other in what sounds like unrestrained joy.
There were choughs (and ravens) this year. It’s always a thrill to see them. But this time they had some stiff competition for my attention. On my favourite walk of all, we briefly spotted three or four porpoises in hot pursuit of fish. They were escorted by a couple of gannets that dived among them after the same quarry.
But the biggest thrill came the following day, as Jen and I arrived, breathless after a steep climb, at the wartime lookout post high on a clifftop at the northernmost point of the island. A couple of women had arrived there before us, and excitedly announced they had just been watching a small pod of Risso’s dolphins. Seconds later, the dolphins reappeared: two or three of them directly below us, another two rapidly approaching from the direction of Ynys Badrig, a small island a short distance off the coast. One of the approaching dolphins was making quite a show of itself, leaping from the sea, flipping upside-down, and splashing dramatically into the water on its back. It must have repeated this manoeuvre at least 20 times.
Dolphins are thought to leap out the water like this for a number of reasons: to get their bearings; to dislodge parasites; or simply to play. Whatever the reason, this one seemed to be having great fun.
I’d never seen Risso’s dolphins before, and was surprised at the roundness of their faces, and the shortness of their snouts. To me, they looked uncannily like the faces of swifts—albeit with disproportionately large eyes.
The dolphins hung around for a good ten minutes before heading off further along the coast, leaving us to enjoy the sight of the small new gannet colony on Ynys Badrig—an island named in honour of the British-born St Patrick, who, according to legend, was once shipwrecked on the island as he tried to cross the Irish Sea to rid Ireland of its snakes (and, presumably its weasels and moles).