Mumbles Kittiwakes with added video

Monday, June 28, 2010 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


While checking up on the Kittiwakes at Mumbles pier last weekend I took a few short video clips of the birds in action. It's a feature of my camera that I often forget is there and as a result rarely use it. In this case I was glad that I did remember as I was able to capture behavior that would just not have had the same impact with a still image. I am particularly pleased with the shot of one of the chicks feeding on regurgitated food from its parent as this was something that I had never seen before. You can also see just how hard the birds were panting in their efforts to stay cool.


If you want to check out another persons view and experiences of the colony then I recommend looking up Nick Davison here at gowerphotography.co.uk.

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Ever wondered what a very hot Kittiwake looks like?

Saturday, June 26, 2010 Adam Tilt 3 Comments


I certainly hadn't but it turns out that the Kittiwakes on Mumbles Pier have a very human way of dealing with the massive heat that we are experiencing at the moment; sit down, chill out and pant away.

22048 - Kittiwakes on Mumbles Pier

As I had yesterday off work it seemed like an ideal time to pop down to Mumbles Pier to get an update on how their breeding season is going. If you recall from last week only one nest had hatched with two very small chicks visible beneath the parent. If you can't recall then look at the previous post as I am ashamed to say that I haven't done any blogging since then due to boring life commitments. Things are much more lively now though with at least six nests having new hatchlings and I presume more on the nests that are out of sight from the main walkway.

22030 - Kittiwakes on Mumbles Pier
22045 - Kittiwakes on Mumbles Pier 22017 - Kittiwakes on Mumbles Pier

Many of the young seemed to be just as hot as the adults. Most were very fidgety causing their parents to constantly have to stand up and readjust, while others were happy to just loll around with their heads resting on the side of the nest. I am happy to say that the two chicks from last week are fighting fit and to my amazement seem to have grown to three times their previous size. There must be some decent fishing to be had in the bay!

22052 - Kittiwakes on Mumbles Pier

As you can probably imagine the pier was far from a quiet place with things reaching a crescendo when hunting birds returned to the colony from out across Swansea bay. At times the displays and territorial disputes were quite amusing to watch as I hope the next couple of shots show.

22054 - Kittiwakes on Mumbles Pier

22042 - Kittiwakes on Mumbles Pier

I will visit again in another week or so to see how things are progressing. This may be the last season that it is possible to get such good access to these birds as there are plans for the pier and its surroundings to be completely redeveloped. I just hope that the needs of the Kittiwake colony have been taken into consideration.

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Breeding Kittiwakes at Mumbles Pier, Gower

Sunday, June 20, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Continuing the theme of new birth I visited Mumbles Pier on Gower yesterday afternoon to see how the colony of Kittiwakes was getting on. I am very pleased to report that all seems to be well with at least twenty nests currently being occupied. The difference to my last visit was very impressive as almost every ledge is now covered in a couple of inches thick of nesting material and poo. I can't imagine that this mixture does any good to the underlying structure of the pier which is I presume why it appears that the remains of the nests are removed after each season.

22003 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier, Gower

I was very pleased to see that one of the nests closest to the area accessible by a visitor had two small chicks in it. One of the chicks was noticeably more mobile than the other, spending much of its time stretching, flapping its wings and generally making a nuisance of itself to its mother. Eventually it settled long enough so that I could actually see its head and get a picture.

21980 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier, Gower

The other nests all still seem to contain eggs, so it looks like the chicks above are just early hatchings. We were treated to several close views of the eggs as one bird after another stood up to turn their legacies.

21985 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier, Gower
21993 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier, Gower 21987 - Kittiwake on Mumbles Pier, Gower

I think that in another week or so many more of the eggs will have hatched and we will start to witness feeding behaviour and some more adventurous chicks. I hope to be there to witness it as there can't be many other such easily accessible Kittiwake colonies in the country.

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This Years New Arrivals at WWT Llanelli

Sunday, June 20, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Last weekend was my first visit to the WWT site at Llanelli for a good long while. The various lagoons and scrapes were relatively quiet with just the usual culprits present. It seems so much emptier without the vast flocks of Wigeon and Lapwing that can be found here at other times of the year. I wasn't really there for the variety though as I wanted to see how successful this years breeding has been. For one species at least it has been a bumper year with the main pools filled with juvenile Greylag Geese of various sizes. They were both swimming in the water and hauled up on the concrete beneath the windows of the Boardwalk hide. At one point a family group were clambering over each other in an effort to get comfortable and to keep cosy.

21935 - Greylag Goslings at WWT
21944 - Greylag Goslings at WWT 21934 - Greylag Goslings at WWT

Also showing well were both juvenile Coots and Moorhens. The young of these two species are very similar to each other and must rate up there with some of the least attractive offspring in the bird world. They do have a certain charm about them though and its always nice to root for the underdog so I spent some time trying to capture both. The Coots put on a particularly good performance with both adults feeding their single chick repeatedly, all in full view of the camera. The problem was actually capturing them in the process as it all happens very quickly.

21931 - Baby Coot at WWT

The Moorhen chick was one of a brood of four that again were being fed by one of their parents. Unfortunately the feeding this time was taking place out of view allowing only fleeting glimpses. The one chick that I did get a picture of appears to have a pretty awesome white moustache developing!

21956 - Baby Moorhen at WWT

Last but not least we come to the 'humbug', otherwise known as a juvenile Shellduck. There weren't as many around as I have seen in years past but this one was very close.

21932 - Shellduck Duckling at WWT

The Black Headed Gulls are also breeding very well, including for the very first time on the small island in front of the Observatory hide. There are loads of chicks across all the pools, calling noisily and being fed by their even noisier parents. If you want any peace and quiet then this really isn't the place at the moment.

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Parc-Le-Breos, Gower - After Dark

Saturday, June 19, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


I was feeling more restless than usual on Thursday evening when a clip on Springwatch showing Simon King handling a Nightjar sprung me into action. I have never seen or heard Nightjar and to be honest have no idea where to even start looking for any in my locality. I looked them up in the bird book and one of the suggested habitats was woodland with large open areas. The first place that sprung to mind was Parc-Le-Breos on Gower, and twenty minutes later I was there.

P1050446 - Parc-Le-Breos after dark

It was starting to go dark already when we arrived as a family of Song Thrushes got some last minute feeding in near the car park. We walked along the track past the neolithic burial chamber and into the almost silent inner sanctum of the ancient woods. The air was so still that we were picking up on sounds from all around us. Blackbirds were calling from everywhere interspersed with the cooing of Wood Pigeons and an occasional addition from one of the local farms Peacocks. At one point we could hear something moving through the undergrowth beneath the trees but it was getting too dark to see anything. These woods are the only place I have ever seen a Badger so your mind does tend to race at what might be lurking within. In reality it was probably just a rabbit. Something must have spooked the local Rookery as they made an awful racket for a couple of minutes. Their volume is certainly magnified when there are very few other sounds around.

By now the sun had long since set and the darkness was closing in. We started to head back to the car when two Tawny Owls came over our heads and flew down the track and up into some trees. We could see one sat at the joint of two large branches, it watching us watching it. Fantastic. We stood around for a while longer and could hear at least another two Tawny Owls calling from around us. There was also another bird with a fairly distinctive call but I have no idea what it was and didn't manage to record it for later research.

We glimpsed a Fox moving across the grass some distance away before something quite remarkable happened. We had been stood in the same spot for quite some while and in almost near silence when another Fox slinked out of the bushes right in front of us. It can't have been more than five meters away and seemed completely oblivious to us. I then made the fatal mistake of pointing at it to make sure my other half had seen it. A rather stupid thing to do in hindsight as it was fairly obvious that she had and that small movement alerted the Fox and it was off. Never mind as it was a superb encounter and I have at least learned one lesson on how to improve my bush craft.

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Great Skua and Ringed Plover on Mull

Thursday, June 17, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


I didn't go anywhere last night as I had to spend another fun evening up a ladder preparing walls for painting. If I wasn't such a perfectionist the house would have been finished long ago and I would be free of the continuous dust and mess. I did at least get to see a female Bullfinch in the back garden as well as the family of Greenfinches. Unfortunately that was about it as the feeders have been emptied yet again. Much as I like the Jackdaws and Magpies they don't half eat a lot of seed!

I thought I'd share a couple more pictures from Mull as I am slowly working my way through the backlog. I only have the Isle of Lunga left to deal with but given how close the Puffins were I took rather a lot. First up is this lovely Ringed Plover from the north beach on the Isle of Iona. This was a first for me in terms of species photographed and I couldn't really have asked for a better subject. He was perfectly happy to wander around the beach in our presence as long as you didn't get too close. The pinkish rocks of the island also show up well in this shot.

12655 - Ringed Plover on Iona

After such a small and gentle bird it is on to a real brute of the sky in the form of the Great Skua's from Caliach Point on Mull. Once again this is another new photographed species for me. Unfortunately I cannot get the hang of birds in flight with my camera but these are the best that I could manage.

21677 - Great Skua on Mull
21675 - Great Skua on Mull 21674 - Great Skua on Mull

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Linnet, Whitethroat and Dunnock at Worms Head

Wednesday, June 16, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Last night looked like it was heading to be a perfect summers evening with blue sky and the sun blazing down. It seems like an age since I last visited Gower so the destination for the evening was quickly decided. Twenty minutes later we were at Rhossili and starting the walk out to Worms Head, picnic ready for consumption at the first inviting area of grass. The Fulmars were making their usual racket out on the water and I spotted a few nests on the cliffs above the low water mark. It looks like it is going to be a good breeding season for them here this year. We had planned to watch the sunset but unfortunately had failed to take account of the change in location of the sun with the advancing seasons. As a result, nice though the sunset was, it was useless for photographs. Never mind as there were some very nice displays from the feathered residents as the sun slowly sank away.

First to put on a show was this singing Dunnock, perfectly positioned on top of the gorse allowing me to get a decent background in the shot.

P1050426 - Dunnock at Rhossili

Next up were a pair of Linnets eating seeds from the nearby vegetation. They were so involved in their feeding that I was able to approach quite close and get my best ever pictures of this species. I love the colours on this one as the red of the Linnet and the red of the seeds go brilliantly together.

P1050431 - Male Linnet at Rhossili

Last but not least I captured my very picture of a Whitethroat.

P1050442 - Male Whitethroat at Rhossili

The male above kept revisiting this gorse bush over and over again while we were watching. It wasn’t until it popped down out of sight and I heard the unmistakeable calling of chicks that I realised the bird must have a nest there. We backed off so as not to disturb them and watched from afar.

The final highlight was a Kestrel hovering at about eye level just off the footpath by the Worms Head Hotel. It was there for a good five minutes, taking the occasional dive down to the grass before flying back up, all whilst being mobbed by a couple of Swallows. It was a lovely sight and certainly seemed to be amusing the drinkers in the beer garden who were cheering the Swallow on madly. Poor Kestrel.

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*MEGA* Marmora's Warbler at Blorenge, Gwent *MEGA*

Tuesday, June 15, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


If you keep an eye on the UK's bird news then it is very unlikely that you haven't heard of the male Marmora's Warbler that has taken up residence at Blorenge, Gwent. It first turned up over two weeks ago while I was on Mull, and on my return I had to look it up in the bird book as I had never even heard of it. It was to be found hiding in the section in the back that should really be titled "Birds you will never see". For the Marmora's this would be very apt as this is only something like the sixth recorded example of this species in the country. I had no plans to go and see it for myself as I was on call last week so couldn't travel far anyway. Last night however I was free, BirdGuides was reporting that the bird was still present and the sun was even breaking through the clouds. Above all I felt that I was rather missing out on all the excitement. I was off. And was I successful?

P1050416 - Marmora's Warbler, Gwent

Yes. The picture above is the only one that I managed but as a record it is more than adequate. I had my easiest drive up through the valleys ever, covering the 50 miles in just under an hour, before finding the appropriate car park at the first go and pulling into the last remaining spot. I got out just as the Marmora's stirred after being hidden for the last hour or so and flew behind me. I had brief flashbacks to the missed Gyr on Gower as that had also flown behind me as I got out of the car and had never returned. Not this time though. What followed were two hours of almost continuous views of a bird that I felt I already knew after seeing so many pictures of it on the web. It spent its time doing loose circuits around the car park, singing from its various perches and also whilst in flight. I got to see its full repertoire, including a visit to the nest that it is building in vain and a brilliant imitation of a Stonechat. At one point the bird landed literally at my feet but before I could react it was moving on again. Another time it flew right through the middle of a small group of us that were watching. I personally think that the bird knew what we were there for and was just toying with us. He would always stay on a perch just long enough for you to focus the camera before moving on again, or would sit just so that it was obscured by a twig. Whatever its motives it was such a characterful bird that you could forgive it anything. As one of the gathered people said, the chance of it choosing that exact location to stop at with such easy access is almost astronomical. Nature always finds a way to be just that little bit more amazing than you expected.

P1050414 - The view at Blorenge

Something that isn't often mentioned in reports of the Marmora's, apart from the view, is the number of Whinchats that are also in the area. This is the first time I have seen this species in Wales and was almost as exciting for me as the Marmora's. I think I caused a bit of agitation a few times while I was looking at them as people thought I had a good view of the Marmora's. Sorry about that. There were also good views of Meadow Pipit and Raven in the area, and the distant call of a Peacock. I don't think that last one counts as a tick though unfortunately.

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Isle of Mull - The Complete List

Monday, June 14, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Normally I don't go in for posting just a big list of species seen as they are hardly the most interesting thing for other people to read. I had already drawn this one up for my own records however so thought that I would share it here. 97 species was the final count which is my best yet for the island. There are a few notable exceptions in my eyes such as Bullfinch, Redpoll and many of the waders. Nevertheless I am very satisfied with it.

































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































1. Arctic Skua 34. Great Tit 67. Redshank
2. Arctic Tern 35. Greenfinch 68. Reed Bunting
3. Black Guillemot 36. Grey Heron 69. Ringed Plover
4. Black headed Gull 37. Grey Wagtail 70. Robin
5. Blackbird 38. Greylag Goose 71. Rock Dove
6. Blackcap 39. Guillemot 72. Rock Pipit
7. Blue Tit 40. Hen Harrier 73. Rook
8. Buzzard 41. Herring Gull 74. Sand Martin
9. Canada Goose 42. Hooded Crow 75. Sedge Warbler
10. Chaffinch 43. House Martin 76. Shag
11. Chiffchaff 44. House Sparrow 77. Shellduck
12. Coal Tit 45. Jackdaw 78. Siskin
13. Collared Dove 46. Kestrel 79. Skylark
14. Common Gull 47. Kittiwake 80. Song Thrush
15. Common Sandpiper 48. Lapwing 81. Spotted
Flycatcher
16. Common Tern 49. Lesser BB Gull 82. Starling
17. Corncrake 50. Lesser Whitethroat 83. Stonechat
18. Crossbill 51. Linnet 84. Swallow
19. Cuckoo 52. Little Grebe 85. Treecreeper
20. Curlew 53. Long Tailed Tit 86. Twite
21. Dunlin 54. Mallard 87. Whitethroat
22. Dunnock 55. Manx Shearwater 88. Whinchat
23. Eider 56. Meadow Pipit 89. WT Sea Eagle
24. Feral Pigeon 57. Merganser 90. White Wagtail
25. Fulmar 58. Mistle Thrush 91. Whitethroat
26. Gannet 59. Mute Swan 92. Willow Warbler
27. Goldcrest 60. Oystercatcher 93. Wood Pigeon
28. Golden Eagle 61. Peregrine Falcon 94. Wood Warbler
29. Golden Plover 62. Pheasant 95. Wren
30. Goldfinch 63. Pied Wagtail 96. Yellowhammer
31. Great BB Gull 64. Puffin 97. Cormorant
32. Great Northern
Diver
65. Raven

33. Great Skua 66. Razorbill


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Crossbills on the Isle of Mull

Sunday, June 13, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


A family group of Crossbills near Dervaig on the Isle of Mull gave me my best ever views of this species and my first photographs. I couldn't believe how close they got and how long they stayed around for.

12576 - Crossbill on Mull
12590 - Crossbill on Mull

12585 - Crossbill on Mull 12570 - Crossbill on Mull

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Isle of Mull Diary - Part 2

Sunday, June 13, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


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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Golden Eagles on the Isle of Mull

Sunday, June 13, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


If you think of Mull then chances are you will almost immediately think of Golden Eagles. The island has always had a reputation for delivering on this mammoth king of the skies, one which was only enhanced by Gordan Buchanan's beautiful documentary 'Eagle Island' which I highly recommend if you haven't seen it already. For me the Golden Eagle almost had a mythical quality about it when I was growing up. It was the bird that I used to look at the most often in my dad's field guide and was a name tossed around as a joke when we saw something large in the sky. I never expected to ever see one in the wild and beyond a boat trip up a loch many years ago in mainland Scotland I had never really had the opportunity to go hunting. The first time that I visited Mull my partner pointed out a couple of Eagles but I refused to believe her, instead convincing myself that they were just large Buzzards. It wasn't until my second visit a year later that the mythical became reality. We had numerous sightings during that week, with individuals soaring just overhead and even tucking into a dead lamb on the opposite hill from our holiday house while we had dinner! Ever since they have been a regular sighting for us on the island but they have never lost that magic and excitement that they always had for me. This year was no different as the following pictures show.

21744 - Golden Eagle on Mull

We were treated to a pair of Golden Eagles overhead every day of our two week stay. Usually they were a bit to high for any decent photography but their sheer size was always a pleasure to capture.

21681 - Golden Eagle on Mull 21682 - Golden Eagle on Mull

The highlight though had to be on the last but one day when we chose to climb a nearby hill to watch the sunset. We had been at the top for just a few minutes when the Eagles arrived. After flying over to check us out they spent the next hour until dark soaring over the ridges and playing in the wind. It was a sight to behold and probably one of those once in a lifetime opportunities. I will certainly never forget it and just looking at this picture brings the memories flooding back.

21750 - Golden Eagle on Mull

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The Birds of Oban

Saturday, June 12, 2010 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


One of the highlights of catching the ferry from Oban to Mull is being able to watch the Black Guillemots that nest in the harbor walls while you wait. This particular individual was showing off the vibrant red interior of its mouth brilliantly.

12492 - Black Guillemot at Oban

12490  - Black Guillemot at Oban 12491 - Black Guillemot at Oban

Also present are the ever hungry Herring Gulls. It's probably my imagination but I swear that they are even bigger north of the border than down here in Wales. I certainly wouldn't argue if he decided that he wanted some of my chips!

12499 - Herring Gull at Oban

Last but not least we have the Eiders.

12485 - Eider at Connel

This family group with a single chick were just outside Oban in the waters around Connel. I presume this was an early hatchling as I didn't see any more throughout our stay on the Mull.

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Isle of Mull Diary - Part 1

Wednesday, June 09, 2010 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


I am back from the Isle of Mull and as you have probably gathered I wasn’t able to get an internet connection while I was there. It turns out that the house is too far away from an exchange even to get dial up. To make up for a barren couple of weeks on here I have lots to share as it was a simply amazing holiday both in terms of weather (14 days of sunshine) and the wildlife. I’ll start off with a couple of wordy posts detailing what I got up to, which will hopefully give me chance to sort through my pile of photos in the meantime. Enjoy.


After 600 miles and some eight hours of travelling, the sight of Oban and its ferry terminal was very welcome indeed. We had a couple of hours to kill before departure time which at most ferry terminals involves buying some last minute essentials and waiting in a queue. At Oban the shopping was still a necessity as we needed to pick up the meat and fresh produce that we would need on the island, but from there things take a different turn. After booking the car in for the ferry we were free to wander around Oban harbour until it was our time to board. Out on the water a small raft of Eider could be seen, still with the males around which is fortunate as I thought we would be too late to catch them this year. Even better than the Eider are the Black Guillemots that nest and breed in the harbour wall. We had seen a couple fly in and out of one particular hole so headed over. We were rewarded with one of the birds sitting at the entrance calling, allowing me to photograph the brilliant red colour of the inside of its mouth. My first Hooded Crow of the holiday was also on hand to reinforce that we had arrived in Scotland. They certainly look a lot larger and bulkier than our Carrion Crows.

The 40 minute ferry crossing signalled the true beginning of the holiday as we steamed out of Oban heading for Craignure on the Isle of Mull. A Common Sandpiper was sat on the rocks at the exit of the harbour along with a couple of Great Black Backed Gulls. The sea was almost a flat calm allowing us to see several more Black Guillemots as well as a couple of standard Guillemots during the crossing. While passing Lismore Lighthouse I also spotted the first Common Gull of the holiday as well as an unidentified flock of some twenty Terns.

Once landed on Mull another half hour drive and a battle with a dirt track found us safely at the house. Remarkably the sun was shining so after unpacking we went for a wander in the valley. It wasn’t long before the call of a Cuckoo could be heard. A little searching had it spotted in a nearby tree along with a Meadow Pipit for company. That didn’t last long though as the Pipit chased it off. Also in the same trees were a good number of singing Willow Warblers.

By now we had become aware that a rather impressive sea fog was slowly moving its way into shore. We jumped in the car to head around the coast to a place on the cliffs where I knew we would get a good view. I wasn’t wrong on that point but for reasons I wasn’t quite expecting. We looked over the edge to find two Golden Eagles not more than twenty metres away! One was sat in a tree while the other was busy feeding on a dead lamb. I rattled off a couple of pictures before backing away so as not to disturb them. An amazing sight and a proper welcome to the Isle of Mull.

Sunday started cloudy but quickly brightened up so we decided to walk around the coast from the abandoned village of Crackaig to Treshnish Point. The walk was very enjoyable and the birds put on a great show. Top billing has to go to another couple of Golden Eagles that despite the best efforts of the Hooded Crows were enjoying an early morning soar. We saw another three Cuckoos at various points, every time surrounded by Meadow Pipits. Wheatears are present here in massive numbers but I am sorry to say that we did not see a singe Stonechat. I fear that the very harsh winter this year has dented their numbers rather severely. A male Whinchat helped to make up for things on Treshnish farm, as did my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year and also a male Reed Bunting. A couple of sea watches delivered the expected Kittiwake, Fulmar and Gannet, but more unexpected was a single Puffin. These are rarely seen from the coast of Mull so was an added bonus for us. Also surprising to see was a Lesser Whitethroat back at the house. This was the last bird to be seen of the day however as the sea fog once again reared its head and completely enveloped the valley until dark.

By Monday morning the fog had thankfully cleared and the sun was once again blazing down. Feeling a bit tender from the day before some sun cream was in order before heading around the coast to Calgary from where we would walk to Caliach Point. The white sands of Calgary were as beautiful as ever and we had them pretty much all to ourselves. That is apart from the Sand Martins that nest in the dunes here. Another Cuckoo was calling from the woods near Calgary farmhouse with yet another seen out towards the point. A scan of the bay revealed lots of Shag and a Common Scoter before we spotted sight of some ripples in the water. A moment later two Otters appeared, rolling and playing in the water and seaweed before pulling themselves up on the rocks for some sunbathing. The water must have been too tempting though as they were soon back in. After that anything would have a job matching up but a couple of Great Skuas, three Manx Shearwater and two absolutely superb Northern race Golden Plovers in summer plumage at Caliach Point came close.

After all that walking Tuesday was officially designated as a rest day, which on my holidays mean we do slightly shorter walks and maybe visit a bit of civilisation. Port of call this time was to be Tobermory, one time home of the BBC children’s programme Balamory and unofficial capitol of the Isle of Mull. On the drive over we stopped off at the mudflats of Dervaig for a quick scan and picked up a group of forty five summer plumaged Dunlin feeding away feverishly. A pair of Greylag Geese had six new goslings as did a pair of Mallards. Other than that things were relatively quiet so we continued onwards. After stocking up on a few missing essentials in Tob (hard to imagine how we had forgotten anything given the amount of stuff we had packed into the car) we moved on to Aros Park at the other end of the bay. This used to be the planted gardens of Aros house until the familiar tale of debt and ultimate abandonment took their toll. Now they are fully restored and one of the best places to go on the island for woodland birds. Almost immediately we had a singing male Blackcap and a pair of Siskins as well as a couple of Goldfinch. All the Tits (Blue, Great, Coal and Long Tailed) put in an appearance before we found the stars of the show. Up one of the less used paths a series of high pitched calls alerted us to the presence of something. A quick eye on the part of my partner soon located the culprits to be a family group of Treecreepers. They were flying from tree to tree with at least one incidence of an adult feeding a juvenile taking place. I hadn’t realised that Treecreepers were even on the island so it was certainly an added bonus. Happy with our haul and feeling much rested we started the drive back to base camp. We hadn’t gone far before my other half indicated quite insistently that I should stop in the next passing place. Never wanting to be in the wrong I duly complied. Boy was I glad I did. Gliding in from the moorland was a magnificent male Hen Harrier, a first for us on the island. It headed towards us before banking sideward’s, displaying its full plumage, and disappearing out of site. A final stop above Dervaig at the standing stones failed to deliver on the hoped for Crossbills but White Wagtail and Mistle Thrush were nice additions.

On Wednesday we planned to visit the Sea Eagle hide on Loch Frisa, and had booked ourselves onto the one o’clock tour. We spent the morning at Croig where you are almost guaranteed to see Seals hauled out onto the rocks. The Seals were their as usual, as were a small raft of Eider and our first Great Northern Diver of the trip. As we moved to get a better view we were audibly accosted by a pair of Oystercatchers, and then by a pair of Redshanks. Obviously near a nest we retraced our steps and made our way to Loch Frisa. Now began the farce that was our Loch Frisa experience. Whether the person on the phone who took our booking got it wrong or we misheard, we were under the impression that the tour started from the Dervaig end of the loch. After waiting until half an hour past our allotted rendezvous we assumed that it had been cancelled and headed home. As it turns out the tours actually start from the Salen end of the loch on the other side of the island. Sorry Skye and Frisa but we will have to catch up next time. Seeing the local Golden Eagle soaring overhead as we arrived back helped to overcome our annoyance.

For anyone that knows Mull you may have noticed that so far we have only really visited the very north of the island. This is partly because this was where we were based but also because it is the part of the island that we know best. In order to explore a bit more widely we have made it a yearly tradition to drive around the whole island, seeing what we can spot from the roadside. In the past we have had very good results and as Thursday started with very heavy showers it seemed like the perfect opportunity. A female Whinchat at the end of the track was very nice and a male Pheasant at Torloisk added some colour to the grey as did our first and only Greenfinch on the island. A Yellowhammer, Great Northern Diver, Sedge Warbler and a large flock of Mergansers were all very welcome before the real action of the day started on the banks of Loch na Keal. For the last couple of years a White Tailed Sea Eagle has been nesting in the trees here and this year was no different. A couple of the island wildlife tour buses were already present when we arrived, just in time for the heavens to open. A brief respite though allowed just enough time for one of the Eagles to soar into the air, the sun catching its white head and tail perfectly. The nearby Hooded Crows were just dwarfed next to its bulk, really putting into perspective their size. As we continued around the island the weather did improve, allowing us to pick up new species in the shape of a Collared Dove and Curlew at Salen and a Black Headed Gull at Garmony. It makes a nice change for what we consider to be common birds at home to be such a challenge to find on Mull. The final highlight was another Sea Eagle nest near Loch Schridain. This time we were just in time to watch one of the birds arrive at the nest where the other was already sitting. I couldn’t see any sign of a chick bit I hope that they have been successful after the failure of the nest on Loch Frisa. On a slightly smaller scale we arrived home to find a couple of Twite feeding next to the front door. Now that doesn’t happen every day.

The next two days were spent around the valley where the house is, catching up on some of the local wildlife. A pair of Swallows had spent the week building a nest at the back of the house but could still be seen collecting mud from the nearby stream. I have never known Swallows to sit down as much as this pair, as they regularly fed from the ground and sat on one of the window lintels. A pair of Wheatears had built a nest in the walls of the garden house and were defending their territory vigorously, whilst a pair of Pied Wagtails were nesting in a gap at the top of the wall of the sun porch. We were again treated to some superb views of Golden Eagles soaring high above, as well as the return of the male Cuckoo and also what was to become a daily appearance at the house by the pair of Twite from the day before. Also arriving were my parents for their first visit to the island, along with a second week that promised visits to both Iona and the Treshnish Isles.

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