I have to admit, as the ferry door lowered and Craignure came into view through my car's windscreen, I didn't have the usual feeling of elation to be arriving on Mull. Of course, I was happy, but I also felt slightly apprehensive, as this time the trip to this wildlife-filled island would be for the benefit of four paying clients, who had booked on the first fully-catered wildlife photography tour I had organised with my friend, and fellow professional nature photographer, Andy Howard.
Andy was already on the island, as he had some one-to-one sessions booked with another client, so I had a couple of days to help locate wildlife based on my knowledge of the best spots around Mull. I tend to visit Mull late Summer, as I have a passion for birds of prey, and by that time in the year the young have fledged, and hence there are more around. But the same knowledge soon helped me spot some of the species we wanted to show the clients, and I was pleased to see a ringtail hen harrier at one such location.
Ruth, a professional musician, arrived shortly after, and I didn't need much persuasion to take her over to the location we'd seen the short-eared owl, while the food was being prepared. Having never seen one before, she was asking about their appearance in flight, and pointing to a "gull" at the time when I looked and realised she was looking at the owl as it quartered the meadow nearby!
The main arrival day was Sunday, and everyone seemed to turn up at the same time. The other clients were Fary (retired neuro-surgeon), John (retired joiner and mountain rescue team member) and Mark (IT Engineer). After a round of introductions over drinks and snacks, we zipped out to see what we might find on the first afternoon and evening of the tour. While the otters failed to show this time, we did get to see a female hen harrier rob a short-eared owl of its dinner, dropping the vole in the process, before swooping down to complete the mugging.
The tour would start the following morning, with a trip to Staffa and Lunga via Turus Mara's boat trip, and we were all pretty excited about it. The weather however prevented us from visiting Staffa, meaning we would have longer on Lunga, which was actually good news for us as photographers. One can never have too long with puffins!
The benefit of having two guides on this tour meant we could have a one-to-two ratio, and as I'd brought some comms along, we could also ensure each vehicle was kept informed of anything spotted by the other one. The second day was spent looking for otters, and after dipping at one site, we managed to encounter four individuals shortly after. And while they were rarely all together in frame, we did get some good views of a pair mooching around on the rocks.
It was good to see Martin and Alex again, and we had great views of otters as we sailed out of the harbour area. Moments later, we were watching a majestic white-tailed eagle approach, and with advice on tracking the bird, and on recommended settings, some of our group managed to get some superb images right from the off. Having witnessed the event, we reviewed the images taken and addressed any concerns raised, and what we said obviously worked, as everyone soon achieved what they hoped for on the next dive.
The second trip soon came around, and we boarded the Lady Jayne once more. By now the sky was completely blue, and when Martin moored the boat in a calm bay, with the eagles soaring overhead, it was pretty heavenly. The pair soon returned to the cliffs, and after our drinks, we sailed out to choppier waters, where one of those magical moments that happen so often on Mull, surfaced to breathe... a pod of bottlenose dolphins.
We didn't have to wait long for another view, this time of a different golden eagle, whilst it was being mobbed initially by a pair of buzzards, and later by a raven and hen harrier. The skies had clouded over by now, and only record shots could be taken. Not a bad record, though...
With rain forecast later, on our final full day of the tour, we all decided on an early start, and it paid dividends almost immediately, when we spotted the group of otters once more. With swirling winds, it was tricky to find a suitable spot to watch from, but manage we did, and were delighted to watch a pair of them play fighting on the seaweed, before going out fishing. With the warmer waters at this time of year, the otters generally consume their catch without needing to bring it ashore, but some of the crabs being brought up to the surface were perhaps too tricky to deal with, so they swam back to the rocks to handle them.
Saturday morning, and we had to be out of the accommodation by 10am. Andy and I busily tidied up, while our clients packed ready for their travel plans that day. As the house started to empty, as each left, both Andy and I felt a hint of sadness as the week had been such tremendous fun, and the wildlife had been incredible. I can't imagine how we could have had a better group of people as clients really. Everyone got on, shared an obvious passion for wildlife and photography, were more than willing to follow our guidance and definitely had similar senses of humour, all of which made the week fly by.
I had intended to stay for the Saturday in a vain attempt to photograph hen harriers, but the rain forecast for the evening rolled in mid-morning, and by mid-afternoon I was sailing away from Mull, with the long drive home ahead of me.
Andy has run such tours before, so perhaps didn't have the apprehension I had before this one. I didn't know what to expect; would I even enjoy the challenge? Would it be successful? Could I successfully guide and advise others to enjoy and photograph the wildlife I have captured on camera over the years on this wonderful island?
Next July (2017) we will be running two tours, with the same target species and trips booked. If you fancy joining us, please take a look at Andy's website (Click Here), and sign up.