Friday, 13 September 2013

Mull, Week Two

The second week began with sunshine, and after failing to see any otters along the lochside, I headed to look at the marshes. At the end of the road, some of the cattle had made their way from the enclosures and out in a bid for freedom, blocking my route. As such, I diverted down the old road track and then spotted something dark perched on one of the posts. Handbrake on, bins up and a gasp of delight, as I realised I was looking at a perched merlin.

I approached slowly down the track to as close as I dared, turned off the engine and leaned across the passenger seat to grab some shots. What a lovely little raptor.

Just up from it had been a hen harrier too, but as ever, that had taken flight before I could start to approach. I could see the sunlight was moving across the marshes towards us, turning the vegetation to gold, but by the time it reached the posts, the merlin had taken flight.

Not a bad start to the day, which would mark the beginning of Steve and Ann's first visit to the Isle, so we headed up to the agreed rendez-vous, and from there, to Salen, as they wanted to photo the boats. With that tourist visit out the way, it was over to Kellan to tick off WTEs from their list. With 2 sat in the trees, that was easy and Steve managed to spot the local otter heading out of the loch shortly after, to address that tick too.

A short drive away and we were in an area I know is good for golden eagles, and with their beginners' luck in fine flow, we spotted a pair of adults with a juvenile, soaring over the hillsides. I gave chase along the coast, but a group of ravens headed the eagles off, and they all flew inland.

Without having to wait to be let into the cottage, as we were already in it, we headed back, via the scenic route and were rewarded with fabulous views of 3 more WTEs, including seeing them flying almost on top of each other, and landing on the hillside, plus a pair of goldies too.

An incredible start to the stay on Mull for Steve and Ann.

For this second week, I would have a partner out early mornings, albeit in a separate car, and as with trips with Ian, we had CB radios for comms. So handy and turned Steve into a child, with his "Rubber duck, rubber duck come in this is Donald" calls over them! Sadly his luck with the birds didn't work on the harriers, which vanished in front of us both, but it did seem to still have an affect with the eagles, and, as he clattered over the cattle grid at the cottage, he spooked a WTE from the shore, which must have been a sight as it flew past his car and under the phone-wires alongside the road.

By the time I'd got back, the WTE was hanging in the breeze over our heads, looking left and right for targets. Apparently the domestic wildfowl at the end of the road are one popular target, but with folks around that area, it headed out across the loch and dropped down in pursuit of a gannet. Goodness knows what the gannet must have thought when it spotted this monster approaching, but mercifully for the gannet, they're faster at flying than WTEs, and soon left it behind.

With all this local excitement, it seemed pointless heading anywhere else, so we headed around the back of the loch in the hope of seeing some of the waders or wildfowl that loiter around a stream back there. By now it was raining quite hard, and I dropped the window to keep the car from misting up. I could hear the oystercatchers, swallows chattering and... eagles calling!

Scanning the trees along the hillside revealed one of the local WTEs perched, eating something among the branches, and the continous calls lead me to another, further along the treeline, perched on some dead branches. Oh to have seen these when it was nice! Even so, a scramble up the road resulted in some close views of one perched, which got better when it flew towards me.

Monday was forecast to be one of those wet days from last year, and proved to be very wet. Even so, we chose to show Steve and Ann some of the isle, calling into Tobermory for a fish & chips lunch, and ending up at Calgary Bay where Steve spotted a large dark fin in the water. A basking shark, which was pretty close in. There were three initially, but by the time we had relocated to a loftier viewing spot, only one was left. First ones I have ever seen and they're massive. Had you seen the film Jaws and didn't know how harmless these sharks are, but spotted the fin as you swam, I'm pretty sure the water wouldn't remain clear.

When the nose broke the surface and the tail was flicking behind, the full scale of the fish was clear, and it dwarfed an otter that was fishing closer to the shore.

More WTE antics entertained us on Tuesday, again near the cottage. Steve spotted one of them perched in a tree behind the road, but it flew out into the loch channel in search of food. Steve was watching from one location and me from another, and when it moved, I let him know, assuming he'd join me. Before he could reach me though, the eagle took off, and flew low across the water, right at my car, before diverting along the loch. An awesome sight, and he got so close I could see some seaweed on his beak!

Unfortunately at the time of the eagle approaching, my lens hood clip decided to give up the ghost, firing a screw off into the footwell and leaving the hood held on by the waterproof cover alone. Not ideal, especially when I realised I'd lost one of the screws somewhere on Mull. None of us had any tape nor did the cottage contain any, so I tried the local store.

With a stroke of luck, I bumped into a local handyman at the store who gave me some strong tape, and moments later, in a Blue Peter style, I'd taped the hood to the lens. Not great but better than not having it in place. Another example of how friendly folks are on the isle. I owe you a pint, kind sir!

Lens sorted, I rejoined Steve, Ann and Dad who were tracking an otter down the shore. Steve had got right to the shore, whereas Dad, Ann and I stayed a little further back, though none of us had great views as it repeatedly came ashore to eat its catch.

We carefully moved around for a better view, and were hoping for decent shots when the otter suddenly seemed spooked, and headed out. Looking back to the road revealed the cause. A pair of tourists in brightly coloured coats had decided to walk over the rocks towards us, in plain sight. Great. Without thinking about the fact they might undo our stealthy approach, or wonder why we were all crouched amongst rocks and seaweed, they just strolled on over. It'd be nice if folks watching photographers engaged their brains before approaching. Photographing wildlife is a test of patience at the best of times with the subject, other wildlife, weather, light and luck involved, without having to contend with muppets too.

Rant over. With the otter seemingly gone, we were left to it, and after a while the otter returned, and we managed to get some shots after all.

We had been booked to be on the Lady Jayne this week, but the inclement, stormy weather at the start of the week had pushed the trip back to the Thursday. Having whet their appetite for seeing the WTEs, I had had all fingers and toes crossed for the boat trip, as it's an experience to treasure. Sadly on Thursday morning reality bit. Ann had suffered a relapse with her bad back, and when I got up she'd been unable to even put her socks on it was so painful. And Steve was apparently suffering with an upset stomach, which transpired to be from his own greed; he'd scoffed an entire box of fruit breakfast bars the day before.

So neither could make the trip. I consider cancelling our booking completely then thought better of it, and zoomed over with Dad to meet up with Martin aboard the boat, though I'd text him to alert him to the reduced booking. It was sunny. Not particularly windy either, though we'd not seen the eagles at Kellan on the way there. I hoped we'd go to the other site again, but we headed to the usual site...

On arrival, we eventually spotted the pair high up above us, circling. Despite the gulls taking the bread, the eagles continued to circle, before one headed off, at speed out towards the coast. I have to admit, I feared the worst. Floating in the loch, we had a drink and I started to wonder if I could persuade Martin to try the other site - maybe offer something towards the diesel! But I didn't need to. Martin had already decided to chance it, and he set sail as fast as the LJ could go towards the other site, calling the shore along the way to delay the second trip.

Approaching the cliffs, despite the trail of bread on offer, no gulls were around to alert the eagles to our presence, and I was about to comment on this to Dad when we caught sight of it, hanging in the sea breeze, only a few feet above the boat, looking well, enormous!

No wonder there weren't any gulls around!

Fish thrown out, down she came from the clear blue skies, to grab it gratefully, and return to the cliffs. Brilliant. And a short while later, she came back out, and repeated the trick, giving me the best views and photo opportunities I've had to get shots, with blue sky, blue water and a colourful eagle as the subject. Simply wonderful.

While the eagle was the star of the show, I think we were all very grateful to another star, Martin, who quite literally took us the extra mile(s) to ensure we got what we hoped for. Hats off to you!

As we were in the area, we tried Calgary but no sharks this time. Though on the way back, being nosey as to what someone else was looking at proved wise, when we picked up a pair of golden eagles flying low along the hills.

Never a bad thing to see. And one even landed on a post, just to disprove the theory of it always being a buzzard seen sat on one.

Friday already. Two glorious, wildlife-filled weeks living on the heavenly isle had flown by, and while my heart was starting to sink, I made sure we got out and enjoyed it, starting on the marsh for the last time. A hen harrier perched at a distance, just to remind me of another year that I'd failed to get close to one.

The Lady Jayne visited the Kellan site and we watched the adults fly out to collect fish for the vocal juvenile, though the male opted to take the second catch off elsewhere to eat himself.

More views of a golden eagle followed, though of a juvenile this time and I tried to immerse myself it it, absorb the wonder of watching something I'd probably not see again for months. It's something Steve didn't immediately grasp on his week up there, as while he was watching the eagles on the first day, he was bemoaning the overcast skies not being great for photos, while I was trying to explain the fact he should be just enjoying the sight (and grabbing record shots). But by the middle of the week he'd changed his tune and admitted he couldn't believe he had been watching eagles hunt, otters fish and that the Mull scenery had taken his breath away. Smitten with the isle, already, both of them. I completely understand.

The day ended with a colourful sunset, turning the loch from orange to lilac. I ignored the midges to photo it as well as I could. I hoped the sunshine forecast for the Saturday morning would fail to arrive, as leaving the isle in such weather would be heartbreaking.

Saturday morning, time to leave. It was pouring down. Made it easier, but I was still gutted to have to go. And as I thanked the new owner of the cottage for the stay, I accidentally made a booking for next year.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi, I run a blog covering Smestow Valley LNR. I have started a nature network to protect our patches and coordinate wildlife surveys. please could you e-mail and I can send you more information. Regards, Chris Millward Thank you