Friday 12 February 2021

Moved To Mull!

It's mid-February, and the days are getting noticeably longer. We've just had a spell of cold, but sunny and dry days, unlike the rest of the UK, which has been in something of a deep freeze, with some of the lowest temperatures on record, and a good dumping of snow.

Not here. On Mull.

Yes, during the latest lockdown, the various pieces of the puzzle finally fell into place, and we were able to move from Blackwell in Worcestershire, where I had been lodging with my brother, to the Isle Of Mull, here on the west coast of Scotland. Unlike the first lockdown, the housing market was allowed to stay open, and we were legally able to move.

I was going to spend hours recounting the nightmares and stressful days we had trying to sell three houses, and secure one in Tobermory, only for the latter to fall through, and us (my brother Rob and I) ending up buying a place in Dervaig instead. But this is supposed to be a blog about wildlife, not the "joys" of moving house.

Armed with a legal letter from our solicitor, should we be stopped on the way up, we made fairly easy progress to Scotland, and stayed the night just outside Oban in about the only hotel that would allow us to stay (we had a dog with us, which made it even harder). Of course no breakfast, because of the CV19 situation, but they did give us a packed lunch which was handy when we finally arrived at the house on Mull.

The first night here was cold. Really cold. Coming from a place where boilers use gas, we were faced with an oil one, and we just couldn't get it to work. For fear of blowing something up, we left it alone, called a plumber out for the next day, and tried to get some sleep. Easier said than done, when the removals team weren't due until the following day, and all we had were some "summer" sleeping bags. I ended up getting up at about 3am, getting dressed again, and sleeping in my clothes, in the sleeping bag.

That seems like a distant memory now, as does the 10+ days we spent isolating in the house after the removals team left. Neither of us had symptoms of the virus, but we wanted to be sure of it, and not risk the residents on Mull, who are in a lower tier to the rest of Scotland, because of having hardly any cases on the island.

Since then though, we have been out and about, exploring the surrounding area, and further.

The house we have is lovely, has views of wooded and open hills from most rooms, and from the end of the garden, a beautiful view across the glen, with the river and reed bed at the bottom, the tidal loch, and more woods. I'm hoping we might have a view of the white-tailed eagles from here, if they nest in the forest over there again.

That said, my "garden bird list" already has white-tailed eagles ticked off, and buzzards, a kestrel and hooded crows. I'm missing seeing the foxes that used to visit my garden in Birmingham, but there aren't any on the island, so I won't be seeing any anytime soon!

Once we were allowed out from the isolation, we enjoyed a long walk through the woods north of the village, and I looked at some spots that might be good for watching for otters from. A drive over to Loch Na Keal resulted in an amazing view of six white-tailed eagles perched on a spit of land, with an otter. I could only fit five in the shot, and I have to thank a local lady for taking the time to tell us about the eagles being over there.

The best place we've found for walking the dog is Calgary Bay, which is a beautiful white sandy beach, surrounded by cliffs, and always seems to have something to look at. Mostly pipits and gulls, and hooded crows. But there are waders occasionally too, such as ringed plovers and oystercatchers.

But it's worth keeping an eye to the hilltops, in case an eagle soars over, and also out to sea, as divers often come into the bay to find food.

When not out walking the dog, I have been back to some of my favourite spots for watching for otters, and have seen two families so far, both with two cubs.

And on another day, I watched a dog otter kill and eat a shag. Certainly not something seen very often.

But the best moment so far came after a walk on Calgary, and I suggested to Rob that we should take the long drive home, taking in the sights from the cliff road. As we drove over the moors, I spotted an eagle circling in the distance. Parking up, I could tell it was a golden eagle. As it sailed off over the hills, we followed, and found a safe area to park to watch. One eagle was circling some cliffs, and I was just about to curse my luck that it was against the sun when Rob spotted a second eagle, coming out from the hills nearby, in glorious light, and low down.

It flew right over us, having a look down as it went, before circling higher, and heading off over the hills again. It was calling too, so was perhaps chasing off a rival.

Seeing golden eagles is always a special moment for me. I know the white-tailed eagles are larger, but because they feed lower down on the edges of the loch, and of course visit the boat trip, they seem a bit more accessible. Golden eagle encounters are generally more from good luck, even when I know where to look for them, and getting a sight as close as this one was wonderful.

I know I have neglected this blog for a while, but now I intend to keep it updated with my adventures here on Mull, at least monthly. And for anyone wanting to see more day-to-day posts, why not follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. I'm using all three platforms to air images, not just from my camera, but also from my phone, which is usually easier to use to grab landscape shots.

Lastly, I need to mention my dear friend Max Silverman who sadly died just after Christmas, after a short battle with cancer. He was a real character, eccentric at times, but always cheerful and funny, and a pleasure to spend time with. He often accompanied me on days out looking for wildlife, or would happen to be in the same place as I was, and we'd hook up for an hour or so, exchanging stories and banter. I know he'd have been envious of my move up here, but had he been fit enough, he'd have come for a visit eventually. I'll miss him a lot, but I'm glad I got to know him, and spend some time together, enjoying a hobby we both adored.

Time to batten down the hatches I think, as the gales forecast have already arrived, and I can hear the wind whistling past the windows. Tomorrow might be a day to spend time reviewing images, or perhaps watching the birds in the garden. Never know, an eagle might drop in...