Sunday 2 January 2022

Late May and June 2021

At the beginning of 2021, with plenty of time on my hands, and lots to see and do around Mull, the idea was to keep this blog updated every week or so. That was until the end of May, when the world opened up properly and a tsunami of work came my way in the form of workshops and crewing days out on the boat. And welcome it was too, after the drought of opportunities caused by the pandemic.

So over the next few posts, I'll try to cover off some of what I saw and photographed during each calendar month, here on Mull.

Late May

The end of May saw me spending a few days with Oliver Wright, a friend and also a genius with macro photography. He's spent many a week here on Mull before, but was keen to visit when he heard I'd moved here, and wanted to tie the trip in with a search for insect-eating plants, namely sundews. He was hoping to find insects trapped in the sticky goo on the plants, and be able to do a stacked image of one.

We headed down to a glen near Loch Buie and proceeded to walk about five miles in search of the plants. We found plenty along the way until eventually we spotted a small clump near a stream, and insects were trapped. Having learned how to do a macro stack during lockdown, I had a go too.

Amusingly, after hiking back to the car, we discovered a pool about fifty metres from where we'd parked, which had dozens of the sundew plants in, and they had caught insects too!

Also seen along the way was a striking and vibrantly coloured green tiger beetle, which never seemed to stay still. I managed to grab a couple of images as it scuttled around the ground, but amazingly, in one of the moments when the beetle stopped, Oliver managed to stack some images of it, and came away with a stunning shot.


As well as seeing Oliver up here on Mull, we welcomed first Andy for a few days whilst he was running a few workshops in June, and then shortly afterwards, Lyndsey spent a week here immersing herself in the wildlife. When possible I spent time with both, running workshops the rest of the time.

Rather than try to recount the numerous adventures enjoyed over the month, I'll post images and add some accompanying text. Most folk probably only look at the images anyway!

One of the sounds of the summer for me comes from the chatter of swallows. They're everywhere at times, even choosing to nest in the eves of the new metal shelter outside the local pub. But one old wooden building seems very popular, and I would often wait nearby to watch the antics of these acrobatic birds. A gap in the panelling gives a great look-out for them, and also makes a good frame for an image.

A bird that caught my attention on my very first visit to Mull over a decade ago was the cuckoo. It was May when we stayed, and we saw plenty of them, but I didn't get any really decent images. So this year, when their distinctive calls drifted through the glens, I was out taking images of them as much as possible. And with the amazing auto-focus of the Canon R5, I captured quite a few in flight too.

Another bird call that fills the air during the warmer months is that of the common sandpiper. They seemed to be on every shoreline during the summer, and once their young had hatched and were pottering around in the vegetation or around the stones on the shores, then the sounds became louder than ever. Mull is so quiet when they've left.

After seeing several when out on walks during the lockdown periods, it was great to spot another Irish hare on my way to collect clients one morning, and for it to still be out in the open as I headed out with them, enabling them to get shots of it too. They're usually out very early in the morning, or at dusk.

I'm hoping that 2021 wasn't a one off for breeding success of short-eared owls, as I can't recall ever seeing so many around Mull from late spring right through to August. Back in June though, when Lyndsey was here, we went out just for a mooch around the isle to see what might be about, and found a few of these, and it was amusing for someone like me, who almost obsesses about these owls, to see someone else fall for their charms.

There were signs of breeding success from resident birds like stonechats, and also from migrants, like their rarer cousins, whinchats.

As well as birds flying around Mull, there were masses of insects too, including the striking golden-ringed dragonfly.

And basking under warm vegetation, or in this case, some corregated metal laid out, were slow worms. Adders were seen, but were always on the move.

With all the flying insects around, it wasn't a huge surprise to find birds that like feeding on them, and I saw a few warblers around, though flycatchers were generally easier to photograph. That said, this one was posing in a small coppice and the air was filled with swarms of midges. I grabbed some shots before I followed Lyndsey's actions, and fled back to the safety of the car.

With numbers elsewhere in the UK falling, it was good to see plenty of curlew around Mull, feeding on the shore and around the moors. They seemed to have quite a few chicks too.

Pipits were a common sight, with rock pipits around the shoreline, picking up insects from the drying seaweed, whilst on dryer land, meadow pipits were busy targeting insects attracted to the plentiful supply of manure from livestock.

Late May through June saw me visiting the Treshnish Isles frequently, mainly for workshops. As usual, most of the time spent with clients focused on the puffins, especially as the island of Lunga was carpeted with bluebells for several weeks. As with previous years, there were plenty of other species around, and I thought this year the number of great skuas (bonxies) had increased, as they seemed to be terrorising the smaller seabirds constantly at times.

There were differing fortunes for the eagles on Mull. While the white-tailed eagles had a brilliant breeding season, to the point that one nest raised three chicks and two other nests were able to donate an eaglet each to the Isle Of Wight project. The golden eagles struggled, with several pairs failing to raise their chicks. One did though, and proved to be a popular spot for folks to watch on from the roadside. Almost all of my eagle images from May and June were of the white-tailed variety, and mostly from the Lady Jayne as workshops were very popular aboard her, and I also spent a fair amount of time helping out Mull Charters.

Hang on, you might be thinking, you've not posted any shots of otters! Most of my workshops are based around otters, so needless to say, there were quite a few encounters throughout these weeks with the various individuals and families living on Mull. I've selected a few from these days out.

Hopefully this covers off a fair bit of what I've seen and photographed over those weeks, and provides a taste of what might be encountered should you choose to visit Mull late May through June. July will be up next, and expect more otters, eagles and puffins, as it's the month that Andy and I run our summer tours.