It hardly felt like I'd left Mull when I drove off of the ferry and turned right to head towards Salen and on to Loch Na Keal. The trip in July for the inaugural Photo Tour on the island had been a roaring success both in terms of capturing images of the wildlife promised on the itinery and also for everyone who had gone along, who we had become firm friends with.
This fortnight was mostly going to be a break though, and having been on Mull so recently, I already had a very good idea of where the wildlife would be. That said, at the usual layby for watching the white-tailed eagles on Loch Na Keal, there were none in the trees. One was however, across the water being divebombed by a black-backed gull, as it fed on something washed up on the shore.
Further along the road, I caught sight of something of a disturbance in the calm surface of the water, parked up and realised quickly that there was an otter fishing there. Within moments I had donned my camo jacket, attached the monopod to my camera and was hot-footing it across the uneven ground to where I'd seen it surface. With a more careful approach closer to the otter, both for the sake of spooking it and for me not slipping over on the seaweed, I was soon as close as I thought I needed to be, and as well hidden as possible amongst the rocks. Silent Mode activated on the camera, and it was time to wait.
The otter was in front of me, mooching around in a pool of seaweed, almost cut off from the main creek. Every so often it would surface, and look around. The pool must have been shallow, as I could see the otter lifting the weed as it searched the area for food, until it burst up pretty close. I took a couple of shots, and in the calm conditions, it was clear the sound of the camera had carried, when the otter froze and looked in my direction.
The evening seemed to be drawing to a close when a gap between the cloud and the horizon let the sunlight flood through, and we all emerged from the cottages and hotel to watch the sunset.
Autumn was already starting to show with the hawthorn trees laden with berries, gratefully received by the local hooded crows.
Bearing in mind my lens has a minimum focusing distance of about 5 metres, it wasn't much help when I found myself staring at a similarly surprised otter, only about 4 feet from me, in the rocks I had chose to hide in! There was a moment of both of us looking at each other in bewilderment, before the otter turned tail and shot off back into the water! If only I'd been wearing some sort of head-cam.
After collecting Dad from the digs, we continued on a tour around the area, and I soon spotted another otter, dragging something large ashore to feed upon. By now the sun was strong and I noticed that there was quite some shimmer between me and the otter. Annoying, as it seemed to be eating a huge lobster!
I crept as close as I dared, but being in an exposed spot meant I soon attracted a crowd, and the sound of car stereos and doors slamming, soon disturbed the otter, which vanished out into the seaweed-covered water. I've lost count of the number of otters I have seen spooked by people who don't realise they need to be quiet in such situations, and attempt to be discreet when viewing. But such is life, and the otter had eaten most of the lobster before it decided to leave.
The first full day ended with me watching distant hen harriers hunting over the marshes. I truly believe I am cursed when it comes to getting something really good of these birds, and this was proved during the week when Reg, out walking his dog, managed to get some full-frame images of a ringtail. I spent hours in the same area later that week and failed to see anything.
I chose to head to another spot where I had seen some the day before. As we drove closer, it was clear that another photographer was already working that patch, so I parked up some distance away, and we carefully approached the area, where we had both seen an otter fishing. I don't like treading on other photographer's toes, so to speak, so I suggested we watch from a sensible distance and see what happened. The otter headed ashore near where the other guy was hiding, I had to admit I felt envious.
But we chose to be patient, and it soon became clear that perhaps the envy was based on the wrong assumption that he'd got a great view. Maybe he had initially, but suddenly we saw the otter scampering over the rocks towards us, whilst looking over its shoulder, back at something. The photographer had perhaps lost sight of the otter, and had climbed up for a better view. We both grabbed a couple of shots of the otter before it dived back into the water.
Back to my holiday for the remainder of the trip and a trip out to Croggan yielded some good views of a pair of golden eagles, and a family of spotted flycatchers near one of the cottages.
As is usual for Mull, buzzards seem to be everywhere, and while some might choose to ignore them, I love to take advantage of the chances for images of them, especially on natural perches. There's even a very pale individual that has been around for some years now, that posed one morning for me. Gorgeous.
Initially it was a touch too far really, but the calm weather meant the loch was like a mirror.
I was initially gutted, especially when I got back to find Dad had photographed it, and didn't know where it had gone. I've not had the chance to photograph a hedgehog since I bought my DSLR gear back in 2006! I used to have some visit my garden but they, like so many others, have vanished.
Thankfully, I spotted Reg whilst driving out again, and he explained where to look and sure enough, there was the 'hog, pottering along a nearby track.
A thoroughly miserable day followed, with pouring rain. I still forced myself out and was initially rewarded with a fine double rainbow over the marshes.
Just then, another flew overhead, and perched in a tree across a field from where we'd parked. Reg went for a closer look, whilst I watched on. It soon took off, circled over us and headed towards where we had seen the other. Reg went one way, I chose to go look for the original one on the rocks, and as I did, I heard a horrible cry from a grey heron. Like the sound they make when fighting... or being killed by an eagle, in this case.
I drove down the road, and waited, and, after making sure everyone had gone, we returned, and waited some more. It was a good move, as one of the otters had obviously been hiding amongst the rocks, and once the audience and boat had left, it came back out to fish, and by then, I was kneeling close to the water's edge, in a swamp... so glamorous!