Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Mull, Part Four.

Time flies when you're having fun, and Mull was no exception. It was midweek already, and Ian had managed to snap up some cancelled places on the Lady Jayne, for a second bite of the cherry. The day started well, in my opinion, seeing a WTE high over our cottage, though Ian mentioned that this might jinx the day. There's optimism for you! 

I also managed to see 4 buzzards and a sparrowhawk in the time it took me to drink a cup of tea, whilst wandering around the parking area. The birds of prey theme continued en-route to the boat trip, seeing one of the buzzards already photographed before, on another post. 

And high over the cliffs at the back of Na Keal, a pair of golden eagles were hunting. At the WTE viewing site, we left Ian's car with his parents, and a radio, and continued to the harbour in mine. Whilst waiting to board the boat, we were amused by the antics of a mink on the rocks below, which looked most annoyed at us being in its way, and it had to turn back, to find another way round. Hopefully into a trap on the way - I didn't realise they'd spread to Mull. 

As before, the boat chugged round to the feeding area, and the gulls were attracted with the bits of bread thrown over the sides. Unfortunately, as before, the eagles didn't come out. Ian and I looked at each other - we didn't need to say what we were thinking. Thankfully, the radio crackled into life - Ian's folks reported an eagle was making its way out to us, and we quickly spotted it through our bins. Thank goodness for that! 

I need to find some new adjectives for these birds, as magnificent and majestic keep springing to mind. They are simply huge when you see them so close. 

But their speed means despite their size, they can be easily missed when they snatch the fish put out, and we were all pleased that the adult male made three trips out to us, to collect the fish, and allow us more chances of getting better shots each time. 

There's still an element of luck involved, as the bird can be heading away from you when it takes the fish, leaving you with a set of shots, all from behind the eagle, which aren't great! 

But we all managed reasonable images, which made the second trip so worthwhile. 

And we made some new friends too, while we laughed at our attempts at photography, which is another great benefit of wildlife photography. 

After touring round to see some seals and a rock covered in shags and cormorants, we thanked Martin and Judith for their hospitality aboard the Lady Jayne, and made our way back to meet up with Ian's folks, and wait for the second boat trip of the day to go out. 

This also proved to be a good move, as the male went out twice to the boat, flying quite close to us on the way out, and very close on the return. 

This made for some good images, as generally from the boat itself, you get the eagle descending and perhaps taking the fish (if you're fast and accurate enough!), but rarely do you see it facing you, carrying the fish.
The third visit to the boat was from the female, and while she approached from a distance, I took a shot of her with the boat close by, which helps show how large these birds are! 

After a meal in Craignure, we were rather surprised to see 3 short-eared owls out hunting in Glen More. The light was very poor, and despite being able to get pretty close in my 4x4, the camera failed to lock on, and the best I got was rather rubbish, compared to efforts from Northants.

Still, they were fabulous to watch, albeit only for a few moments, and were a fitting end to a cracking day on the isle. 

Thursday was again wet, and Ian headed straight to Tobermory after a very quick look over the marshes. All we saw were buzzards, as usual, with the very pale one trying to hunt despite the torrential rain.

And another over the back of the loch, perched in a tree looking a smidge fed up with the weather.

I bumped into the couple again from the boat trip, who were hoping for either harriers or an otter sighting, but we all agreed that it was a day best left well alone, and I followed Ian up north for some shopping and a look round the inside of a warm, dry pub! There was actually a cruise ship in the harbour, but it was raining so hard it resembled a ghost, in the mist! 

And so we found ourselves at the last full day of the trip. Another early start and in the tradition of that week, it was wet. On the marshes were a herd of deer, something we'd not seen much of during our stay.

I found some interest over the back of Scridain with a buzzard on a post, a greenshank and some wagtails. Ian soon lost hope of seeing any eagle action there, and returned to the main part of the loch in search of otters.

I was also being entertained by a small flock of red-breasted mergansers that were heading in from the loch, and up the stream a short way, bringing them right past me, sat in my car.

It was around this time that I heard a crackled message (the radios struggled when hills are in the way) from Ian that he'd got an otter. With the mergansers getting closer, and some of them waddling out on to the shore, I stayed put. Besides, a diesel rolling up to meet Ian might have risked anything he was trying to do. 

Eventually I thought I ought to go see what he was up to, and after grabbing some shots of a sleeping greenshank, and then seeing a WTE fly across the road in front of me - I kid you not - being chased by ravens, I eventually caught up with a rather damp-looking Ian, scrambling up from the lochside. Damp, but wearing a massive grin. 

He'd had to creep through a stream and lie on wet rocks, and had thought for a moment that the otter, bringing something large ashore, would go out of sight to eat it, but it appeared in front of him, and he bagged one of the best otter shots I've ever seen. It had caught a lobster - obviously an otter with expensive taste. I'm not surprised he was grinning, Ian, not the otter, though that could have been too, had it not been obscured by the lobster! As hoped for, Mull had provided Ian now, with a very special image indeed. What a relief! 

Seconds later, I managed to get the same otter out on some rocks, checking spraints, before trotting back into the water once more. 

We followed the otter back to its holt, and as it headed upstream, it spooked a dipper out, which shot down to the edge of the loch, allowing us to grab a few images of it, with seaweed nearby. Most unusual. 

After returning to base, recounting the tale of Ian's luck to Dad, and then seeing the image itself on Ian's iPad, we set out once more to make the most of the last day, finding another otter almost instantly, very close to the cottage. I tried to call Ian on the radio, but he'd switched his off...

The otter was rolling around on the seaweed, checking spraints and leaving some of his own, but I guess he could hear our shutters firing, as he stared over for some time, as we played statues behind our cameras. By now Ian had guessed we were on to something, as he'd tried contacting us and got no reply, and didn't have far to drive to locate us. When the otter made its way back into the loch, we all met up and crept down to the shore.

It had caught something too large to handle in the water, and was heading in, towards us. A ruddy great eel! It almost let it loose twice, but grabbed it again each time, before starting to consume the slippery, wriggly fish.

It had a real battle with it, as the eel didn't stop moving until the very end was being eaten! 

Amusingly, whilst watching and photographing it, a local bus pulled up behind us, and all the passengers moved to the one side to also have a look at the scene. 

The otter was too busy with its meal to notice! Once finished, it had a quick groom, mooched around the seaweed and scratched at perhaps bones caught in its teeth. After leaving more deposits on the rocks, it headed far out into the loch, and we chose to head elsewhere. 

Not far though, as Ian spotted a distant male hen harrier. The Holy Grail, but as usual, it never came close. We watched and hoped, and took distant record shots, but yet again this bird avoided us. One day... 

Yet again, the weather was trying its level best to ruin things, and with low cloud, seeing anything flying around would be a miracle. Just as well we had Hawkeye on hand, who managed to spot a golden eagle, sat on some rocks at the top of a steep hillside, being pestered by hooded crows. How he spotted it through the mist and low cloud is anyone's guess, but when it cleared slightly, we could see it. 

Looking at the slope from the road, I reckoned that I might be able to get closer with a short hike, so set about the slightly insane idea of climbing up a wet grassy slope, carrying my camera and tripod, while the others watched on, hoping for something to send to You've Been Framed. While I got a bit closer, it soon became clear that in order to approach without being seen, meant climbing up a sheer face, and I thought better of that.

Just as I started to zig-zag my way down the hill, the eagle headed off, being chased by one of the hoodies. That would have been just my luck, to have clambered to a safe viewing point, only for a crow to scare off the bird! 

A late sighting of a WTE later was all the last day provided, but by then we had decided to pack during the evening and have one last early morning, before heading for the ferry. 

As before, round the back of Scridain was a buzzard on a fence post, but the light was poor and while I got some shots of it, you're probably sick of seeing buzzards on here by now! And again, Ian managed to locate an otter on the loch, which this time I went round for. We watched it fishing for a few moments, when it became clear it was heading for its holt again. 

Having time to get in position, we waited on the bridge, and watched the otter keep low, as it swam up the rocky stream towards us. Surprisingly, it was pouring with rain, and the midges were out biting too. But it was the last hour of fun on the isle, and we put up with such things. 

Out of the blue, the otter climbed up and out of the stream for a sniff around a grassy bank, and as we fired off shots, it heard us, and at that distance must have seen us too. It was back into the water in a flash, and then swam right underneath us. It vanished for a moment, only to appear out of the water on the rocky bank, where it showed real pace as it scampered off up the stream, back into the water and out of sight. Seeing it swim from above was a real treat though. And made the effort of one last early get-up, well worthwhile. 

Back to the cottage, then to Craignure, the ferry to Oban and the long drive home. 

Another Mull trip over, another mountain of images to process and yet more memories to treasure. The weather hadn't been kind, but the wildlife had been amazing, and as ever, left me yearning to return.


Brian Carruthers said...

A Terrific Story filled with a feckin' fabulous selection of Photographs, leaving me a little green with envy !!

Di Stone said...

A wonderful recount of your adventures once more on Mull Pete. Always good to read and make everyone reading them jealous that we weren't on the trip as well.

You WTE going in for the catch is one of the best I've ever seen, truly superb.

Christian said...

Hi Pete

Stunning images of the Eagle and the side-on view of it hunting the water is top-notch.

What lens were you using for that?

You've definitely shown Mull in it's best light - even if the light was grim at times!

Pete Walkden said...

Thanks for the kind comments. :o)

Christian - I used the Canon 100-400mm L for the boat trip shots, as it's a great lens for getting birds in flight. I had the Canon 7D on it as well.

Christian said...

Yes, the 100 - 400 with IS is a must on the boat, I presume. I've just bought the 400 f/5.6 so I'd need a steady hand to replicate your images!

Dean Eades said...