Sunday, 13 June 2010

Isle of Mull Diary - Part 2

After such a good first week on the island I was almost dreading the next seven days with my parents in tow. I desperately wanted to avoid the birders nightmare phrase “you should have been here last week”. As it turned out I needn’t have worried because what was to come simply blew our past adventures out of the water. Not an easy feat by any means but somehow we managed it.

Sunday started very well with the two Golden Eagles putting on a show as they soared overhead while we ate breakfast. The day was to be a rerun of our very first day with a walk from Crackaig to Treshnish Point before returning along the road. The Wheatears at Crackaig were providing a great deal of amusement as they gave my dad the run around while he attempted to get some photos. I had already learned that they were anything but tame so could thankfully avoid the wasted effort. Realising that he would never win we walked down the steep path from Crackaig to the shore, discussing as we went our sighting at Calgary of the two Otters and how we would pay a visit later that day to have a look for them. As it turned out that wasn’t going to be necessary as below us three Otters hopped off a rock and into the water. We watched them for at least a quarter of an hour as they played in the water and wrestled on the rocks. One was clearly bigger than the other two so I presume that we had found a mother and two well grown cubs. This is very interesting as we saw exactly the same family makeup along this coast a couple of years ago. It is clearly a very productive area as a Seal also put in an appearance. Unsurprisingly my parents were on cloud nine and we were pretty chuffed as well. I was almost as pleased when a short while later we spotted our one and only Stonechat of the holiday. This winter really has been a disastrous one for them on Mull. Linnets and Whitethroat were nice additions, as was the pair of Twite and a greedy Bank Vole back at the house. We did make a short trip to Calgary to show my parents the Sand Martin colony and picked up a couple of Common Terns fishing in the bay.

Monday was looking to be another scorcher so we chose to walk from Dervaig to Quinish Point, a walk predominantly through woodland that would afford some decent shade. About five minutes after setting off we stopped to listen to a strange call coming from the trees above. I had my suspicions and a moment later they were proved to be correct. Crossbills! And only a few meters above our head at that. In all we counted two males, a female and two juveniles which were calling madly and being fed by the adults. I couldn’t believe our luck and captured my first ever Crossbill pictures and my best ever view for that matter. After twenty minutes we had to leave them to get on with the walk. It seemed a shame not to stay but the birds had no intention of going anywhere. Another few steps and we picked up five Siskins on a guest houses feeder, and a few more again bought us the unmistakeable call of a Wood Warbler. Some intense scanning of the foliage soon had it located and another brand new island tick added. The rest of the walk was very pleasant and we even managed to find the fossil tree at Quinish Point itself. A couple of Goldcrest were calling as we returned and proved surprisingly difficult to actually see.

After the bank holiday masses had left we reckoned it would be a safe day on Tuesday to visit Iona, an island off the south of Mull and supposedly the birth place of Christianity. Unfortunately we woke to find the house in the clouds and rain. Not to be deterred we set out for the two hour drive south to catch the tiny ferry. (The distance was only about 50 miles but it is impossible to travel quickly on the single track roads). It was still grim when we arrived and boarded the boat. The crossing took about ten minutes but we may as well have been in a different world when we docked on Iona. The sun was blazing and the sky was blue. We were even greeted by a couple or Jackdaws and Rooks which I was amazed at as I didn’t think there were any in this area. We had a quick walk through the ruined nunnery and found a male Blackbird sat tightly on a nest within one of the walls. It was clearly very tolerant of humans as the nest was at eye height and in a very busy area. We headed on to the white sands of the north beaches where it really did seem that we had strayed onto some tropical island. On the dunes we had to step carefully as a mass of snails had emerged to feed and mate. A Ringed Plover on the beach was a nice distraction while we ate lunch before we turned around to explore the other half of the island. As you may know Iona is one of the only places left in the UK where Corncrakes can be seen. Even so they are difficult to spot. Therefore when we heard the distinctive rasping call of two Crakes we were ecstatic. We had a hopeful scan of the nearest Iris bed (their favourite habitat), just in time see one of the birds disappear into it. Shortly after we watched the Corncrake run the length of the bank before taking flight and heading out of sight. Amazing. After that anything is going to be a bit of a come down but a White Tailed Sea Eagle on the drive home made a good attempt.

After all the excitement of the last couple of days a trip to Tobermorey was again on the cards for a bit of a rest. Once again we set off in the clouds but arrived at Tob in the sun. A short walk to the nearby lighthouse delivered a couple of nesting Oystercatchers as well as eight Manx Shearwaters heading up channel. A Lions Mane jellyfish swimming in the water was something new for us all. After some shopping we stopped off at Caliach Point to try and locate the Great Skua again for my dad. Things didn’t look good initially so we climbed the peak to the trig point. While taking pictures of the sheep and view a call went up and I turned just in time to see the Skua drop out of sight. A moment later it returned heading straight for us with another two Great Skuas for company. They were calling as they went but were soon out of sight again. Thinking that was it we began to leave just as two of the birds came back. They circled us for a while before landing on the grass some distance away. It was a fantastic sighting.

All that needs to be said about our last but one day on Thursday is that it was without a doubt the day of the Eagles. From around 18:00 until 22:00 we were treated to almost uninterrupted views of our pair of Golden Eagles. Clearly after two weeks at the house they were comfortable with our presence and were busy hunting in the valley. We knew of a dead sheep further along the coast and it seemed that the Eagles had also noticed it as they kept flying in that direction. Unfortunately every time they were quickly chased back by a pair of Ravens and Hooded Crows. A shame for the Eagles but a great way to see the difference in size between the birds. At one point I was sat outside the porch when I looked up to find one of the Eagles just hanging in the air above me. It had a good look for a while before gliding higher and higher to join its partner. As the sun began to set we climbed the nearby hill to watch the sunset only to be joined once more by the Eagles. They once again came right overhead to have a look before spending the next hour soaring off the ridges. They didn’t seem to have a care in the world and just seemed to be out for the shear enjoyment of it all. I genuinely felt that they were happy with our presence after seeing us for nearly two weeks and that we had been accepted as part of the environment. Either way it was a great privilege and something that very few people will ever get to experience.

To finish our trip off with a bang we had booked a boat trip with Turus Mara to land on Lunga (one of the Treshnish Isles) and Staffa (of Fingles cave and basalt columns fame). The crossing to Lunga was choppy, grey and drizzly which did not bode well for photographing the seabird colonies. As we landed the sun once again came out as did the blue sky to round off an exceptional week of weather. I couldn’t believe it and quickly got snapping the Puffins. The numbers were immense, as was the smell. By lying on my belly I could approach the Puffins within touching distance, something which they didn’t seem to mind as they continued to leave and enter their burrows. I love Puffins and to get so close was wonderful. With only a limited time on the island I had to move on quickly in order to see the thousands of Razorbills and Guillemots that nest further around the island. On the way a few angry Shags sitting on nests made us feel particularly unwelcome, but the reward at the end was worth it. Seabirds as far as the eye could see, a couple even with early eggs showing. Even a Great Black Backed Gull posed for a couple of pictures. All too soon we had to leave for the boat but a new life tick in the form of a dark phase Arctic Skua was the icing on the cake. Staffa was as amazing as ever from a geology viewpoint, and the Manx Shearwaters that flew around the boat on the crossing were very nice.

It’s hard to sum up what a simply brilliant couple of weeks we had on Mull. All I can say is that you need to go and visit the island and its magnificent wildlife for yourself. Everything that we saw took little to no effort, much of it being incidental to the walks that we were doing. I am sure you could see even more if you were to look harder. I will be posting some more pictures up on the blog over the next week (as soon as I finally finish editing them) so look out for that. For now it is back to planning the next visit as for me it can’t come soon enough.

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