I know what you're thinking. "Mull, again?" And you'd be right. I have spent a great deal of this year on the isle, and have blogged about each trip. This one, as with previous years, was for a vacation, but it didn't start too well. Wanting to book the same B&B as before, I found out new owners had taken it over in Oban, but after a couple of failed email attempts, received a reply, and confirmed by replying to that. In hindsight I should perhaps have called to confirm, but I didn't, and it wasn't the most pleasant surprise after an 8 hour drive up there, to be told by the owner that there was no reservation, that the B&B was full.
My fault too, apparently, initially because I'd used the wrong email address. Well, the one on the website (which I clicked on) failed, and I received an unrecognised email message back. I tried the old one, and received a reply from the old owner, who forwarded it on to a different account. Progress, I thought, so when I heard from that, I simply replied to confirm my details. He never received the confirmation, and I spent a night in another hotel sleeping on the floor to remind to check next time. That is, if I bother to use that B&B again.
As we were up earlier than usual, and the hotel didn't even offer breakfast (!!), we ended up being ushered on to the ferry before the one we'd booked, so arrived on Mull in very good time, and chose to head over to the Coffee Pot in Salen for a bacon baguette. Just the tonic. Then it was off to find some wildlife, taking in the sights around the lochs. I never tire of these expansive views. Usually though, the first day on Mull at this time of year, is fine, but this year, we were a week earlier due to my brother's wedding clashing with our normal dates, and the first day was horrid. It wasn't a huge surprise after getting the keys to the cottage, that Dad didn't want to go back out again, leaving me to explore alone.
My targets for the fortnight were to be birds of prey. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing and photographing otters, but the Photography Tours I co-run on Mull very much favour otters over raptors, and the latter were what tempted me to Mull in the first instance, all those years ago. As it happened, the first afternoon / evening session on the isle, provided a great appetiser for such hunters, seeing buzzards, a ringtail hen harrier, a sparrowhawk and a white-tailed eagle all within the space of a few hours.
The buzzard was initially hunting, then caught something which may have been a frog or toad, and ate it on the lochside rocks.
Despite my intentions of aiming for raptors, I did encounter quite a few otters, and I wasn't going to ignore them. That said, as it was mid-August, and hence mid-holiday season, there were a lot of other people around, and in almost every case, I watched the otter get spooked by them. Sometimes it would be from another photographer failing to approach properly, or from them having taken their shots, failing to creep away as silently as they approached (this really annoys me - you should apply the same level of stealth and effort to leave an otter as you do to get close in the first place, not just stand up, and walk off).
After the fortune of the Mull Summer Photo Tours both enjoying fabulous weather for the Mull Charters boat trips, overcast conditions greeted us for our first trip of the fortnight aboard the Lady Jayne. Still, Martin and Alex provided warm welcomes, and the eagles didn't disappoint either. It has been a phenomenal year for sightings from the trip, with some sailings seeing over 10 visits from the birds.
I started the car, but before I could get any closer, the eagle unfurled its massive wings and lifted off, soaring away towards the river and marshes. Something inside me told me to follow, so I did.
Initially, it seemed to have been a waste of time, with no sign of the eagle on the marshes, though the gulls, geese, waders and ducks had all scattered as normal. I turned the car round and was about to head back to the shore when something unusual caught my eye. When you spend as much time as I do looking for wildlife, anything unusual, even in your peripheral vision grabs your attention, and as I trundled closer, I realised that a white-tailed eagle was perched on a small rock near the shore of the loch, not a million miles from the road.
Then a large mobile home thundered by, and the moment was gone; one of the eagles lifting off to fly away to the other side of the loch, leaving the other to perch alone briefly, before also flying over to the rocky shore, further away. I didn't take another image that day, but do you know what, after that experience, I really didn't care. Incredible.
The island of Mull has stunning scenery of course, and amazing wildlife, but also seems to have a fair number of Highland cows and bulls around these days, and it seemed to be a missed opportunity to ignore these characters on brighter days.
With a break in the clouds one night, I tried for some astrophotography, which meant standing in the pitch darkness near the loch, grabbing long exposure images when the moon went into hiding behind a cloud.
The eagle relocated to some rocks along the loch, which allowed Dad and me to get some shots from the car. Wasn't quite as close as my encounter earlier in the week, but I was pleased Dad could share in something similar.
Crouching down, back resting against a rock to hide my shape, I waited, and waited for the otter to appear where I expected it to. It didn't. Instead, it climbed on to one of the rocks I was using for cover, and stopped in its tracks when it looked over the top and down at me. There was a moment of surprise for both of us, and knowing full well the otter had seen me, I grabbed a couple of shots.
Thankfully this time the otter didn't move, or spot me, and I enjoyed great views of it grooming, rolling around and then heading off up one of the streams to its holt.
After the incident with the rockpool, I hoped I might catch up with that individual again, and without any overnight rain, the rocks were safer to scramble over one sunny morning. As with many otter encounters, it took a while for me to enjoy any luck, with the otter bringing catches in frequently just out of view from where I was hiding.
Eventually my luck changed, and after missing another catch being eaten, the otter climbed on to a rock in the sunshine, to scan the area, before heading off out again.