After the enjoyment of last year's trip to Mull, I had decided to return but for twice as long, as I found the journey too much to cope with for just the one week. Unlike last year, the drive up was rather uneventful and Dad and I had a few hours to mooch around Oban, take in a lovely sunset and try one of the local, seafront restaurants, before getting some kip at the B&B, ready for the morning's crossing to Craignure. The sailing over was pretty calm too and we were able to take in the views from the top of the ferry, though some showers forced us inside just as we reached the other side.
Not being able to get into the cottage until 3pm, we headed straight for one of the white-tailed eagle nest sites, which had been so successful for pics last time, but this time, nothing. No birds even calling from back in the woodland. And so this panned out for the first day, with nothing of note being seen and worse still, in my excitement and relief at finally arriving at the cottage, I misjudged the entrance gate and put a deep scratch / dent in my car. Idiot.
The day ended with some distant shots of both a male and female hen harrier hunting over the marshes, but way too far off for a decent shot.
The first full day started as I meant to go on, with a get-up at dawn, leaving Dad to enjoy a lie in, and me driving over to the marshes. It turned out that the birds enjoyed a lie in too, as I didn't see anything for the first 90 mins of being there! The hen harriers showed briefly, but I had some more success with buzzards, perched up on rocks on the hillside of the loch.
Having bought and read Dave Sexton's birding book about Mull, I was keen to try a couple of places he'd suggested, and one was Carsaig. The road climbs up from Scridain, through woodland and over the moors, before dropping rather steeply to the shore. Apart from a distant hen harrier circling the tops of the hills, we drew a blank, and headed back again, to try around the back of Scridain, and head north, looking at whatever caught our eye.
Buzzards again, sat on posts. One even stayed still when we parked up, got out, took some shots, had a bite to eat and allowed Dad to walk pretty close up to it, before it flew off. And even then it was to another perch a few yards away! And we managed to break our ducks on seeing eagles, when a white-tailed flew over, albeit high up.
Near the white-tailed eagle site were a pair of juveniles sat at distance on the hillside, way too far off for a decent photo, but it was good to know they were around. When they failed to entertain, we headed off again, and called in at a site I know has a decent chance of seeing golden eagles from. And what happened next was pure Mull magic.
I spotted a golden eagle hunting along the ridge of the hills, and expected it to soar off, high into the skies like usual. It didn't, dropping down behind the hills perhaps after some prey. Looking all around, I eventually picked it up near where it had dropped, and it was low, flying along... towards us. Grabbing the cameras, we began to fire off shots as it approached, expecting it to change direction at any point, but it didn't.
In fact, it flew right over our heads, so close I couldn't get it all in the frame! To say I was buzzing with excitement was an understatement and I still grin thinking about it now.
Awesome - it was huge! It made its way up the hills from us, before vanishing over a ridge, and we didn't see it afterwards.
The day ended as it started for me, hoping to see hen harriers over the marshes, but as usual, they kept well away from me. Swines.
Monday was forecast to be wet, and so it proved. I was out early again (mad given the lack of light) though I saw the hen harriers hunting despite the poor, wet weather. Dad wisely opted to stay indoors, leaving me alone to waste diesel looking for something to photo. On the loch itself was a red-breasted merganser and as I followed her line of sight, I spotted 3 chicks preening on the edge, partially hidden in the seaweed. Never seen chicks before, so that was good.
Over on the marshes, I got some half decent shots of the hen harrier, though the sharpest of course were those when its back was to me, or its face obscured.
And I was pleased to see a pair of ringtails chasing each other.
Given the number of predators in the area, I was surprised to see a pair of stonechats had not only avoided these hunters, but also brought up a couple of young, and they gave their location away with the familiar chattering sound. Both male and female showed well.
Later, watching from a usual perch was the pale buzzard. It rarely stays still, so perhaps the weather had played its part, as it sat on the post while I took a few shots.
And I even saw one of the ringtails perched on a post, and not a mile off like usual.
While I was sat in the car, watching over the marshes, all the geese suddenly went up, and I wondered why. Then moments later, I saw a white-tailed eagle circling quite low, and another one on the ground, where all the geese had been earlier. I was a bit far to see clearly what was going on, but when the bird took off, it became clear that they had been hunting together, and the victim was a grey heron, hanging limply from the huge eagle's talons.
I took a few shots as it powered off down the loch, and moments later spotted the other following. I chose to do the same, and drove around the back of the loch to the old RSPB view point, where I was taken by surprise when the eagle with the heron suddenly appeared from behind me, and headed off at pace towards the nest site in the woods. Again, I grabbed a few shots. Quite a surprise to find such aggressive and large birds as grey herons on the white-tailed eagle's menu!
And not to be outdone, as I scanned the skies after the WTE had vanished, I realised a pair of golden eagles were high up, watching the events too, though they didn't come down, and sailed off up the coast. Not bad for a rainy day.
Tuesday brought less rain, but stormier conditions; windy with blustery showers. The light wasn't bad though, so we headed over to Grasspoint for a look. In the harbour was a great-northern diver, but even when I braved the showers and gales to try to get a bit closer, the bird was almost impossible to lock on to, and I came away with some dodgy record shots. Shame, as it was in breeding plumage. Over the other side of the bay was a pair of WTEs hunting, and we thought it might be worth a go to drive over that way, to see if we could get closer. The road through Gorten leads to a dead end, but a parking area overlooks the bay and we tried from here. It was raining, so we were sat in the car. Dad, however likes a smoke on his pipe, so as the rain eased, he got out. Leaning back in, he says "What's this flying over us?".
An adult WTE!! Another mad scramble for the cameras, and we bagged a few keepers before the eagle floated away out of sight.
Both adults were around but it was a juvenile that surprised us. It was so low as it came over the hill behind us, and it seemed to look down at us as it went over. The rain didn't help trying to get shots, and the eagle filled the whole frame. Incredible to see one so close up.
As the weather started to improve, we headed north to look around some more sites suggested in Dave's book. Croig reminded us of Devon somewhat, with the farming and lay of the land, and the harbour at the end was slightly Cornish in its appearance. Lovely, though quiet in terms of wildlife. Glenmore had potential, but seemed to be a favourite spot for folks from Tobermory to venture to, so was busy, relatively speaking. Again, nothing of interest there. Around at Calgary the beach was very busy, and we abandoned plans when there was nowhere to park. Turned out to be a good move, as a few miles around the headland, I noticed a couple of people looking skywards with bins, and caught a bit of conversation as I drove past, along the lines of "I'd never have noticed them there."
A rapid 3-point turn and I was back to investigate. Very wise move. There was a pair of golden eagles, gliding on the on-shore breeze, above the hillside, hunting. Fabulous. One seemed rather tatty - it was either old or suffering a bad moult. Looked quite evil, actually.
The other was in splendid condition, with a fiery golden crown, and rich dark brown feathers.
While they never came as close as the one from earlier in the week, they were near enough for exceptional views and decent shots.
They eventually decided to hunt elsewhere, and soared magnificently off across the bay over land where I could see no roads.
Was a bit late to try the marshes when we got back so it was a night to review images and look forward to what Mull would serve up next.