After spending the best part of a month on Mull during the middle of summer, guiding clients on bespoke workshops and tours, I was keen to ensure my holiday there later that season would focus on what I wanted to see, and not be so intense that I came home feeling like I needed a rest! Otters are always top of the most-wanted list for clients, so I told myself that I'd concentrate on my preferred birds of prey instead.
The debarcle last year with the usual B&B not having my booking, meant I booked somewhere else this time, though the beds in the new place were only marginally more comfortable than sleeping on the floor! Didn't matter too much, as after a decent breakfast, some shopping, and a quick scan of Oban harbour, we were ushered aboard the smaller of the two ferries serving Mull, and it took just four minutes to see an eagle after arriving at Craignure. A white-tailed eagle soared over the main road as we drove north towards Salen!
With clear blue skies and barely a breeze, Mull was glorious, and reminded me of the weather Andy and I had enjoyed with our clients earlier in the year. The lochs reflect the colour of the sky and the whole place is transformed, to resemble perhaps a holiday island in the Med. By mid-afternoon I'd dropped Dad off at the cottage to settle in, while I zipped off into the hills nearby, in search of raptors. And within minutes of parking up, the distinctive shape of a hen harrier quartering over the hillside grabbed my attention.
A female, looking tired in terms of her condition, from a busy breeding season. She kept her distance from where I was parked, which is something I am well used to! But a joy to see, nevertheless. As was the male that appeared soon after, hunting further along the hillside. Having observed at least four different harriers searching for food in one area, I decided to relocate to a closer spot, and hiked up the hills. Nestling in beside a boulder, wearing camo and coated in Smidge, I waited. The harriers had been appearing every half hour or so. They'd appear soon, right?
No. Whatever mystical, magical, telepathic warning these birds use to avoid me getting images had been sounded, and nothing flew over the hillside for the next two hours. Would my luck ever change with these birds?
As is typical with Mull, after a day of glorious weather on arrival, the first full day on the island was grey and very damp. The picture-postcard blue lochs were choppy and murky, and the tops of the hills blanketed in cloud. And boy did the rain come down! With Dad's health not being great of late, I suggested he stayed in the warmth of the digs, whilst I braved the elements. I didn't struggle to get him to agree! And I wondered why I had bothered after failing to see anything on my first circuit of the loch.
Suddenly the second otter started to head ashore, at speed. I tried to see if it had caught something, but it hadn't. It appeared down the shore from me, and sprinted up towards the hills. Naturally I pointed the camera at it, and grabbed some shots, though at an awkward angle to where I was facing (sometimes big lenses aren't the best solution!).
Despite my intentions of targeting raptors for the break, I kept spotting otters, and certainly wasn't going to ignore any, where there was the opportunity to approach.
And boy were we treated to some action.
One of the sounds of Mull at this time of year is the chatter of barn swallows, both young and old, as they gather in flocks, making the most of the harvest of flying insects, before they head south, away for the winter. Nesting under the eves of houses and farm buildings, they often use the wire fences nearby to rest up on, and they can be quite accommodating to photographers. I used the car as the hide, and was able to get very close to one group. Strong light isn't a photographer's friend normally, but it did highlight the blue tones of their feathers.
Suited me, and I left him admiring the views and soaking up the sunshine, while I went looking for Irish mountain hares. And much like the visits earlier in the year, they appeared from out of nowhere, and scarpered, allowing me only a handful of distant shots when one paused to look back at me.
It appeared, right in front of me, heading up the same channel between the rocks where I was sitting! Way too close for me to photograph, and having to play statues anyway, I just looked at it, only moving my eyes in its direction. It was no more than two yards away. It too stopped, looking at me, obviously curious of the strange shape in front of it. Then I heard it sniff, deeply and again a second time. But without any wind to carry my scent, it simply couldn't determine what I was. It took a step closer and just as I thought it would pass within touching distance, a cyclist rushed past on the road behind me, and that was enough for the already wary creature to turn tail, and bound back to the water.
Without moving, I watched the otter looking at me from the water, before it swam along the shore, and up the stream I had assumed it would use before.
While I was getting productive sessions of photography early morning and late afternoon, Dad was struggling to find anything much during the day to interest him, so we arranged another trip out with Mull Charters. Again the weather was calm, and the water like a mill-pond. Whilst waiting for the Lady Jayne to moor up, I realised one of the other photographers queuing was one of my clients from the winter! He and another photographer I follow on Social Media were staying over on the mainland for the pine martens, but had driven over for the boat trip. Always lovely to catch up with such friendly folk, and of course led to amusing banter throughout the trip.
Alex always says folks need to be ready for the eagles early doors, but I think even he was surprised at the speed of the take from the first visiting eagle. The fish had barely hit the water when the eagle decided to dive straight down from over the boat, snatching the fish and heading off to a small skerry to eat it. I reacted almost without thinking, and somehow managed to get the shots, and I was about the only person to do so.
Thankfully for the other punters, the eagles visisted several times, and with some great positioning of the boat, and subsequent throwing by Alex, I managed to get some more unusual images of the eagles, against dark water.
It started heading across the marsh and towards where I was waiting. I grabbed some distant shots waiting for the inevitable change of direction, but it kept on coming. Would one finally come close enough for a half decent image?
Suddenly the last full day was upon us. As usual, I headed out early, and despite hoping to see a raptor, it was another otter that stole my gaze. The light and wind-direction were at odds with each other for any sort of approach, so with the otter moving along the shore, fishing as it went, I managed to get in position and hoped it might bring something ashore nearby, up wind from me. It did, but right behind about the only large boulder on the shore. Sometimes that's the way it goes, but as it was so close, I couldn't move away until I was sure the otter had gone. Then the rock in front of me moved.
A head appeared, and the otter studied me carefully. Needless to say, I froze. The head shrank back into the weed again. I was able to get the camera lined up, and sure enough, moments later it peered out again!