Close to the city of Inverness by the village of Fortrose the River Ness meets the sea at Chanonry Point. The 18th century fortress of Fort George forms the backdrop to this location where bottlenose dolphins offer a spectacular wildlife encounter as they hunt for salmon running up-river. This is also a great show for non photographers and a good one to show children a special wildlife event.
How To Get Here
Chanonry Point is on the north side of the Moray Firth, 14 miles east from Inverness, just beyond the village of Fortrose on the Black Isle. At the east end of Fortrose turn right, signed for Chanonry Point. Continue to parking at the end of the road. Walk along the beach if the tide is out or a path behind the lighthouse.
- Car parking Lat/Long: 57.573789, -4.094210
- OS Co-ordinate: NH 748 556
- Nearest Postcode: IV10 8SD (1km)
Boat trips leave from the Harbour Office, Pierhead, Avoch, Inverness IV9 8PT. Phone to book: 01381 622383
What to Shoot and Thechniques
Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
The bottlenose dolphin is a surprisingly large sea mammal, especially to see at such close quarters. At Chanonry Point the waters run deep very close to the shore creating enough depth for these large animals to come within a few metres of spectators.
Present all year round they are best spotted in midsummer when they hunt for the salmon running up the River Ness. Different groups of dolphin frequent the narrow strip ranging from individuals to mothers with single calves and pods of three or more adults.
Opinion differs on the best time of day to see the dolphins. Many suggest that a couple of hours before high tide is good. The incoming tide coupled with the water running out to sea creates a patch of choppy water just off the point where the dolphins actively feed.
The first views are likely to be dorsal fins rising and disappearing and it requires time and patience and lots of empty frames to get a focused shot especially of a head coming towards you. After a while you can get used to their habits and get better at predicting the areas where they are likely to surface. A group is easier than an individual as focusing on one while it disappears will frequently capture the next individual surfacing slightly behind the lead animal. This is particularly so with a mother and calf.
Set the camera to a fast shutter speed, a medium aperture (f/8) and limited number of active focal points (see Technique section). The size of lens depends on the areas the dolphins are frequenting so there can be advantages to both a large telephoto and a smaller prime or zoom lens.
In addition to shooting from the shore there is an option to take boat trips from the neighbouring village of Avoch. These can often but not necessarily get you very close encounters where a small point and shoot camera can achieve good shots.
Car parking can be busy here. A short level path leads behind the lighthouse to a viewing area. To get close to the water requires crossing the narrow steep pebble beach. But wider views can be had by staying higher on the level ground (with picnic benches).
Best Time of Year/Day
June through to August is rumoured to be the best time of year coinciding with the all important salmon run. Opinions vary on the best time of day; they can be seen any time (and sometimes not at all). Usually the best time is at the start of the incoming tide when the dolphins start to chase the fish into the estuary.