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.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Mull, Part Three.

With Ian and his parents due to arrive just after lunchtime, I had arranged to meet up with them near the WTE site, so Dad and I had the morning to find something to photo. Little was happening either on the marshes or the loch, and just as we started to head north, Dad requested an emergency return to the cottage, as his stomach had gone into a spin cycle; made a change from me having such issues. A rapid drive back rivalled the speed that some of the locals drive at, and I left him at the cottage, where he said he'd find something to do around the immediate area. 

I zoomed back round the loch and north towards the meeting point, scanning the edge of the loch for anything. It was rather a windy day, and having parked at one end of the loch, to look for waders, I heard a roaring sound and the back of the car was thumped and lifted up! Then a mini-tornado / spiral of wind climbed up the hillside, ripping up anything it found. Nice, I thought. Good job I hadn't got out for a view! 

By the time I met up with the others, I'd seen a pair of golden eagles, albeit distant, and the weather had taken a turn for the worse. Old Hawkeye (Ian) had managed to see an otter and the WTEs by then though, so we headed back to the cottages, via Loch Spelve, hoping reports of the great-northern diver seen there the day before would yield results for us. Mergansers aplenty, but no divers. 

While the others were settling in, I zipped down to the local shop for some bits and bobs, and spotted 3 juvenile swallows perched in the arch of a doorway, sheltering from the now heavy rain. 

They looked so cosy sat together, and I didn't hesitate to take some shots. 

Sunday was already planned out, as Ian had booked us on to the Lady Jayne boat trip (Mull Charters) to see the WTEs, as we had the year before. We had to be up early and enjoyed the sail around the loch to the feeding site. Alas, despite the efforts of Martin, and trying twice to tempt any eagles down, it was a no-show. We saw a manx shearwater and black guillemot, but they're not really as thrilling to see as an eagle up close. 

Back on dry land, we went searching for golden eagles and found one, a juvenile high up over a ridge, being mobbed by ravens. 

Really shows the size of these eagles when one is next to something large like a raven. 

And the juvenile seemed pretty skilled at flying already. 

Heading back, we detoured to Grasspoint, but it was very quiet, and the day ended in rather gloomy conditions, watching hen harriers on the marsh. 

One actually caught something, and was spooked by a buzzard overhead, so had to carry the prey away elsewhere. Made a change from just seeing them drop into the reeds or grasses, and not appear for hours. 

For the first time in the trip, I wasn't the first out, as Ian beat me to it, and found an otter coming out of a drainage pipe on the other side of the loch. I'm not sure which was more surprised, the otter or Ian! Having caught up with both, the highlight of my morning was photographing a buzzard pooping, which was delightful! 

Back to the cottage for brekkie, and this time Dad and I were first back out, and we didn't take long to find something. Having stopped just down the road from the cottages, to look for otters, a bit of déjà vu with all the geese going up, quickly had me scanning the skies. Sure enough, a white-tailed eagle was on the prowl, only this time, it hadn't caught anything and flew right over us, to perch up in a tree not that far away, up the hillside. 

The light was as usual terrible, but I radioed Ian and suggested he got a move on down to where we were, for some shots too! 

Eventually the attention from firstly hooded crows and then ravens, persuaded the eagle to head off, back towards its nest site, though it didn't go too far, landing on some rocks on a piece of land which juts out into the loch. Too far for any pics, we soon caught up with one of the local otters, and watched as it groomed and shuffled about in amongst the seaweed. 

As much as we love photographing an otter, Ian's dad found us something more interesting to shoot, when he spotted a juvenile WTE flying in, to join the adult on the rocks, though it kindly flew very close to us first. 

I think it was enjoying the attention, though it soon headed off towards the adult. 

For a few moments, the skies seemed to clear, but as was becoming the usual, the clouds descended once more, along with a strong breeze and then rain, and I started to wonder what weather Ian had chosen to bring with him for the week, as it was worse than the first one! 

Tuesday brought some very rare sunshine, initially at least, and we were keen to try some other places. But not before the traditional marsh visit. We saw one of the local WTEs high up, using the breeze to hunt, though unsuccessfully, and it soon headed out towards the coast. A buzzard was using the same technique for watching over the marshes, and for once, we saw a hen harrier, reasonably close! 

It was hunting alongside the road, mostly in front of me, but it diverted once or twice, and I took advantage. 

They're such fantastic hunters to watch - wish we saw more down south. After breakfast, we tried Salen and the nearby runway for a change, though failed to see anything, and even the usual WTE site didn't deliver. Whilst driving back though, we spotted a flock of geese panicked in a field, and pulling over, saw one of the juvenile WTEs attempting to grab one, though it never got near, and disappeared into the Glen behind. We didn't follow as we had to get back for a meal in the hotel, which was rather nice, and in good company! 

We were halfway through the second week, and while we'd had some success, after the shots Dad and I had bagged from the first week, I was starting to wonder if Ian would get anything as special from his time up on the Isle. Dad and I crossed our fingers and hoped he would, though time was starting to run out...

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Mull, Part Two.

A notable omission from my tale of Mull so far is an otter. Last year we saw one within an hour of leaving the ferry, but it was midweek already, and neither of us had seen one, though I had seen something resembling one far out in the loch from the cottage, but couldn't be sure. The locals did mention that they had been harder to see than before, so I thought I'd concentrate on finding them instead of wasting time staring at an empty marsh in hope of a hen harrier flying nearby. 

Early start and while I was supposed to be looking for Tarka, I couldn't resist a buzzard perched on a post at the back of Scridain. Soon buzzed off when it realised it was on camera, but they're too hard to resist for shots. 

Back to a layby and scanning the water. It was fairly calm, so the water was smooth and I have to say, it didnt take long to spot the tell-tale wake of a swimming otter! Parking closer, I scuttled out of the car, and down to the shore. Usual mistake - not from spooking the otter (I move when it's under the water, and freeze when it's up, checking the wind direction first), but forgetting to take my hat and midge-spray. 

So while I was chuffed to be crouched watching and photographing the first otter of the trip, the midges' biting soon forced me back to the safety of the car. The otter didn't seem inclined to go ashore anyway, as it was busy fishing. And it was time for some toast, a cuppa and take Dad out for the rest of the day. Stopping momentarily on the way to get shots of a pair of ravens. 

After checking for the otter again (it had vanished) Dad and I headed over to the WTE site, and were slightly miffed to have missed the boat trip, by minutes, but on the plus side, all four of the eagles were visible. Before we could train our bins on them, a cry of "Otter" distracted us, and we both watched an otter swim past, close to the shore. So that was Dad's otter-duck broken now too. Phew! 

Turning our attention back to the eagles, we could see both the juveniles sat in one dead tree with their father, nearby in another tree, probably drying out after bringing back the fish from the boat. The juveniles occasionally took off for short flights, reminding us how massive they are even when young. 

While the adult just sat there, looking magnificent. 

When the adult male had finished posing, he headed back to the taller trees, displacing one of his offspring, and then crying out loudly, maybe saying "Get orf my perch" or words to that effect! 

Tootling round to the Ulva Ferry turn off, we failed to see anything of note, apart from more biting insects (I'm a Midge Magnet) so we headed back again, towards Craignure for a pint and bite to eat. Saw a razorbill on the loch along the way, and stopped for the obligatory shot of another buzzard perched up. 

Another early one saw me looking for otters again but finding one of the hen harriers hunting over the ferns, where its markings hid it very well to be honest, making it hard to see in the morning gloom, and hard to make anything of in terms of a picture. 

Round the next corner I thought I'd found an otter on the rocks, but the shape looked wrong, and I quickly realised it was a seal! Lying on the seaweed, obviously enjoying some early morning sunshine, which we'd found to be sadly rather rare during our stay. 

Also taking advantage of the sunny weather was the pale buzzard, which was circling over the moors, and begged to be photographed with some blue sky behind. 

With such a backdrop we couldn't resist heading over to see the WTEs again, in the hope of some shots with the sun on them, but while we did see them, they never flew close, so we had to make do with more cropped-in shots than desired. 

Typically, that was about it, for a sunny day. The wildlife seemed to go into hiding when chances of some brighter shots increased. That didn't stop us watching the last of the light disappear from a viewpoint on the marshes. Saw a short-eared owl, albeit from a considerable distance, and one of the ringtails chose a perch miles from the road to soak up the last sunlight of the evening.

We knew it wouldn't last, and the next day was wet. Very wet. Dad again chose to stay in the warmth of the cottage, whereas I opted to take a look around. Carsaig proved fruitless once more, less so as the low cloud made it difficult to even see up top. The road to Fionnphort was very gloomy and rather depressing, and aside from gulls, nothing else seemed to be braving the weather. I returned to the marshes, to see if anything was around. There was, an otter sat on the rocks beside the loch! 

Sadly he heard my car pull up, and made a hasty exit back into the loch, but I managed a handful of pics before he did. 

Around the loch were the usual suspects, mainly hooded crows and curlews, feeding on the shore. Though one did pose for a second or two on a branch for me, which was kind! 

The rain then started to get worse, and having seen the road through the marsh flood earlier in the week, I thought to park up the right side of it, for getting home, and as it happened, there was a rather bedraggled looking buzzard perched up, to amuse me. 

It seemed to be looking for anything to eat, and dropped down a few times, returning shortly after, amusingly moving its beak as it to say "Yuck, yuck, that was horrid"! 

Despite the risk of the road flooding, I wanted one last look around the loch before the light (?) failed, so I set off, and quickly realised folks had an otter performing. I joined the fray, and despite the pouring rain, watched and photographed the otter with the fish he'd brought ashore. 

Seemed a bit spiny to eat, and rather rubbery! 

But as seems to be always the case, the otter got it all down, had a brief scratch and sniff around, before heading back out into the water. I guess they're less bothered by the rain than the birds. 

Speaking of which, the soggy buzzard was still sat on the post when I headed back to the cottage. Poor thing! 

And so ended the first week on Mull. Weather had been mixed, but the wildlife had still entertained. And Ian with his folks was due to arrive for the second week. Bring on some more Mull madness!