Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Scotland: Mull

I probably ought to point out that I've not been living north of the border since the start of the month, but have been battling to get the images processed from the fortnight spent in Scotland, and as a result this Blog has been a bit out of date. We actually spent a few days in the Aviemore area first, then over to Skye for 2 more, 4 more in North Uist and finally, the last 4 days at the start of June in Mull, which is my last entry for the trip report.

Mull. A beautiful isle, slightly more accessible than the Uists, so more folks on it and more in the way of civilisation. After Ian's promises that there would be birds galore here, we were full of hope and optimism, especially given the glorious weather when we arrived. The Uists reminded me of the moors of Cornwall, but at sea level, combined with the Cornish beaches. Mull was very much like Scotland, with mountains and lochs, and a rich variery of habitats. So pretty in fact, that I had the "scenic" lens almost permanently attached to my 40D.

As with Uist, we then proceed to drive in convoy around the isle, to spots where Ian knew to be good. Unlike Uist though, there was surprisingly little around. Sure, the white-tailed eagle was sat on the nest, viewable from the RSPB watch-point, but with the warm weather and heat haze, the photos weren't ever going to compare to those from Portree. Good to see though, and the Live View on the cameras aided us, as you can focus in, switch on, and then digitally zoom in to see the birds much more clearly than through your binoculars.

Oystercatchers, common sandpipers, eider ducks and hooded crows were common though, as were herons, which seemed to be on every stretch of water. No sign of the tourist eagles that Ian said were everywhere when he's been, albeit in August. Which was a shame, as despite the obvious awe-factor of seeing a proper eagle, I still love to see buzzards and try to photo them.

So what did we see? Well, on the Mull boat trip, we saw almost nothing. A real disappointment, as we had hoped to have WT Eagles overhead. And the peregrine was MIA too. We'd seen it before from the cars though, and knew if it was about it'd be miles up the cliff face.

It wasn't a total loss though, birding wise. We spotted a cuckoo out hunting caterpillars early one evening, and that was fascinating to watch and photo. It was hopping down fence posts towards us and was about to become a frame-filler when Rob managed to lose grip of his lens and it bounced off the door frame, sending the cuckoo the opposite way. Easily done though, when these lenses are so awkward to manage in a tight area such as a car.

I took advantage of the swallows one evening as they perched on ferns near their nest - made a change to see them on natural perches, instead of wires or fences. And a hooded crow mooched around in the shallows of a loch, which made for some interesting shots - much prefer these crows to the "all blacks" we have back home.

No Mull wasn't great for birds this time around. But it did have another trick up its sleeve and was arguably more special than anything witnessed during the whole trip. I know this is a Birding Blog but these stars have to be mentioned.

Otters. Ian had an idea where we might find some and he was on the money from evening one of the trip. Initially we encountered a dog otter, as he munched a crab on the shore of a loch, glided effortlessly along in the water, slipping under and over the seaweed, and rolling around on the rocks, possibly marking his territory and drying off in the process.

Subsequent nights (and one morning) yielded sightings of a mother and cubs, though they were almost as large as she was. Fabulous to watch. The highlight for me though, came on the last night of the trip when we were parked along the lochside, CBs on, covering as much area as we could. Ian spotted the pair seconds before I could say anything on the radio, and they were headed my direction. "What the hell" I thought, as I donned my hat for what little protection from the midges I could get, grabbed the camera and bean bag, and scurried down to the lochside, lying prone on the rocks.

Midges descended like a swarm and were in my eyes, all over my hands and face, even in the viewfinder of the camemra, but I wasn't going to let them ruin the opportunity. Ignoring the feeling of needles on my face, I was delighted to see the pair of otters clamber out on to the seaweed, about 40 feet in front of me, for the mother otter to consume something she'd caught. Messy eaters - quite comical as they crunch and lift their head up to toss back the food into their mouth. Seemed to be a real effort to eat, but must have been worth it as didn't hold back, nor did she offer any to the cub.

A truly unforgettable moment and one I shall treasure, captured on camera too. The pair eventually moved off and further down the loch, at which point the pain in my face became unbearable and I retreated to the car. As I write this now, I can still feel the tiny bumps on my face from the 40+ bites which left me looking like a monster the next day for the drive home. Worth it? Oh yes. No doubt about it.

So the trip was over. Several thousand images taken, fabulous memories and a new set of target destinations for future trips.


Paul Foster said...

Brilliant account of your forays to the islands.Hope to do the same soon!

Max Silverman said...

More excellent stuff Pete.Mind you the midges are a bit off putting.