Thursday, 12 September 2013

Mull, Week One

For anyone who knows me or reads this blog, it's pretty apparent how much I adore the Isle of Mull, so I find myself counting the months then weeks before going. The last couple of weeks at work flew by and I soon found myself tootling up north, with Dad in tow as usual. The drive up was uneventful and the B&B great again. I even saw a peregrine falcon over the car park in the morning.

As with last year, after a brief shopping spree in Tescos, we were one of the first on the ferry and hence first off it too, immediately heading around to see if the white-tailed eagles were on show at Kellan. They weren't! In fact not much was apparent anywhere apart from something lacking from last year; sunshine. The afternoon turned out to be lovely so we took advantage and photographed the scenery in such conditions. The bright sunny weather really transforms the island, making the scenery so vibrant.

The only wildlife sighting and hence pics taken that first day were of an otter, fishing on the loch near the cottage at sunset.

Sunday was calm, sunny and very warm. Wanting to photo as much scenery as we could, we headed right up around Na Keal, up past Treshnish and over to Calgary. It became apparent that the breeding season had been kind to swallows, martins, pied wagtails and pipits, with flocks of the latter scattering from the roadside as we drove along. Also seemed to be more stonechats around, though very few wheatears.

In terms of wildlife, we saw a distant golden eagle on the moors near Calgary and a ringtail hen harrier on the marshes, but that headed off up the hillside and out of sight. Seems that fine weather makes the wildlife go into hiding.

After the brightness of Sunday, Monday morning was rather gloomy, but the loch was like glass. With a trip aboard the Lady Jayne booked for 10am, I didn't bother with my usual morning trip out, getting up after Dad for once. I did see him out front though, and realised he'd spotted an otter. Watching his step down the slope to get a bit closer, he'd not realised that the otter had resurfaced, and he had been made by it. It headed along the loch but I'd seen this and from the cover of the road, I could follow it. As usual, I'd not had chance to douse myself with Jungle Formula, so put up with the biting midges to grab a couple of shots of the otter as it came ashore, before it headed off across the water.

Having been on the Mull Charters trip every year since 2010, it surprised me when we didn't head to Kellan, but out across the bay to "The Wilderness" where there is a second nest site, which Martin has been visiting for 3 years now. Martin had also been joined for the season by Rachel, who had studied white-tailed eagles for her degree, and must have been delighted to get a place working on the best tour on the Isle! She was informative about what we were looking at and good a spotting things, such as a peregrine hunting the cliffs.

It was cloudy though, the cliffs dark and hence the water dark too, but I was chuffed to find the 7D and 100-400mm locked on to the eagle as it headed down, and stayed on it until it had taken the fish.

The resulting images look surprisingly good, and also show how something so huge, given the right conditions can blend into the surroundings.

The drive back consisted of many "Buzzard on a post" comments, and we managed a few shots of one which didn't fly away.

From outside the cottage we could hear the divers on the loch calling, and patience yielded some reasonable views of an adult with a juvenile, perhaps teaching it how to fish. In one interesting moment, the adult presented its offspring with a fish. Very kind of it!

Tuesday already, and it started wet. But I was determined not to waste a moment, and went out early anyway. One sheltered corner of the loch was home to several smaller birds; pipits, stonechats, wrens, robins and even blackbirds. So when (as usual) the hen harriers weren't on view, nor the otters, I parked up there and made do with these other local characters.

They seemed to like watching me, from the safety of the ferns.

By mid-morning, I'd returned to pick Dad up and head out for a look elsewhere. Steve (joining us on the second week) had suggested we look at Croggan, after reading in someone's blog of an otter being there. The road to reach Croggan was laughable - more track than road. But the views of the loch made it worthwhile. And we got sightings of a pair of golden eagles hunting behind the trees on the ridge behind the road, and also a white-tailed eagle, powering up the loch, against the strong breeze.

Parking on the road to Grasspoint, we were fortunate to spot both a ringtail and also a male hen harrier. Both were distant, but welcome to see.

The lure of the pub at Craignure for dinner was too much, and after that, calling into the view point in the glen proved to be a great move, as I spotted a shadow circling below us, which rose up and revealed itself to be a juvenile white-tailed eagle, hunting the hillsides.

It looked magnificent in the golden evening light.

Midweek and another drive over to Kellan, though that was after seeing an otter rather close in on the shore near the cottage. On the drive over we also saw a guillemot fishing on the loch, making rather a splash too. Maybe more noticeable on a mirror-like loch.

From the layby, we got brief views of the white-tailed eagles perched, and that improved when they went out to the Lady Jayne on the loch. By then there were a few folks in the parking area including Peter Hall from Mull Wildlife Tours who was busy entertaining his guests. I tend to leave these tours to get on with things; not one for poking my nose in, though I will offer info if directly asked, on sightings that day, for example. However as I was watching the eagle head out, I spotted something unusual amongst the gulls. Brown, large and flashes of white on the wings. A bonxie!!

I said it loud enough for the group to hear and Peter's ears pricked up. He was on to it in a flash and I reckon I made his day with the sighting. Turns out he went to school only a few miles from my house - another Brummie!

The Bonxie seemed to have a brief go at the eagle, perhaps more in defence than anything, before heading inland, leaving the eagle to collect the fish. With the eagles returning towards us, I managed to get some shots with the mountains as a backdrop.

Calling into the Gorten area again on the way back, we saw 3 hen harriers this time, though none close (theme developing here) and also a pair of WTEs flying along the coast. Too far for shots, but fabulous to just watch.

More gloom on Thursday and I couldn't see the loch first thing! When it lifted, the local otter performed some more magic and vanished in front of me. For once there were some hen harriers on the marsh, but both dropped out of sight. Was good to see some small waders around though, with golden and ringed plovers, dunlins and a turnstone feeding from the exposed mud. But too far to bother with for shots, especially having seen the golden plover in such magical conditions in Shetland. Photographed a lone seal sat beside Na Keal, which was something at least!

End of the first week already, and a wet day initially, with driving rain blowing down the lens each time I dared poke it out the car window. As with last year, one of the local WTEs attempted to catch one of the herons on the loch, this time just along the lochside from where I was parked, but failing. The normally vocal herons scattered in panic, and the eagle headed back into the edge of the low cloud to plan another attack.

It was then that I saw splashes amongst the sea weed, and through the torrential rain made out a pair of otters, siblings perhaps, play-fighting and chasing one another over rocks, through the weed and under the water. Was entertaining to watch, but nigh on impossible to photo, as the lens kept getting wet, and the distance made the shots suffer from noise with the higher ISO in use. Oh for a 1DX...

After another pub meal, we saw glimpses of a juvenile golden eagle in the glen, searching for somewhere to shelter from the driving rain. But it wasn't an evening to be staring up at the sky, and the warmth of the cottage tempted us back. With Steve and Ann already in Oban, maybe the second week would provide some better luck with the hen harriers and more magic with the eagles?

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