Chris Packham's Fingers in the Sparkle Jar - A Review

Sunday, August 20, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments



I’ve never read a memoir before but Chris Packham’s “Fingers in the Sparkle Jar” seemed as good a place to start as any. After all I’ve been watching Chris on television since I was a child, have met him numerous times in the wild and even attended one of his talks. I felt I knew the man pretty well.

I was wrong.

Turning that first page I went in with no preconceptions bar a vague recollection that the press had thrown a wobbly when the book was first published over a passage where Chris describes eating tadpoles. I remember being perplexed at this and thinking what a shame more people don’t get those same opportunities to experience nature on such a basic level in their early years. Though I have to admit my own preference would probably have been for wild blackberries but each to their own.

Then I stumbled. Expecting a standard “I was born in a council house blah blah blah” narrative I was somewhat taken aback by the fluid prose which seemed to delight in excessive use of adjectives and unusual sentence structure, all told from another person's perspective. In fact the reading experience put me in mind of Bram Stoker’s Dracula which similarly had me re-reading whole passages in an attempt to better grasp their true meaning. Then the whole thing shifted into third person and then jarringly first person, confusing and unsettling me even more. Perhaps that’s the reason why the sudden interjection of Chris’s therapist discussing his suicide attempt in 2003 was quite so hard hitting. It was completely unexpected in both timing and content, a side to this public figure whom I greatly respected that up until that point I’d had no idea even existed.

From that moment the book just clicked. The previously confusing prose painted vivid images in my mind, the switch in tense perfectly used to demonstrate how Chris saw himself and how he thought others perceived him and the constant shift in time a way of weaving interlinked threads together. I found myself so deeply involved that my heart genuinely went out to his suffering, from schoolyard bullies to plain old cruelty. That he was so misunderstood in his youth is clear, his subsequent rise to prominence all the more surprising.

As much as I loved reading of Chris’s exploits in the wild, of his pet Kestrel and nature museum, this book is as much about his struggles to identify with others and to manage his complex personality at a time when Asperger’s was yet to be recognised. In parts heartwarming, others depressing it charts a life from which we should all take a little inspiration. I found some of the most powerful passages to be Chris’s own insights into how he dealt with, and indeed still does deal with, his issues and their causes including this one in particular:

"Happiness, that's it isn't it, that's the big problem.....because it's the same old paradoxical recipe for misery, Over the years I've seen people's cravings for stability yield squalor rather than sparkle, their too-easy contentment gives them none of the excitement of a struggle against the odds, none of the allure of being plagued with uncertainty or teased by the appalling option of giving up. Their so-called happiness has turned out to be a promise of emotional and experiential poverty, and that's' why it, and contentment, must be avoided at all costs."
If there’s a more powerful description of all that’s wrong with the lives we're told to strive for in this world of ours, I’ve yet to read it.

Needless to say I rate “Fingers in the Sparkle Jar” very highly indeed. It was an enthralling read from start to finish that left me questioning and pondering for many days hence. By the end I felt that I understood the place which built the man we see today, but it also left me wanting more, so much more. How for instance did this shy, awkward child lashing out as part of the punk movement find himself a children's TV icon. I only hope there’s another volume in the works.

Disclaimer: all views are my own based on a personal purchase, of my own volition, that I think others may enjoy.

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Trefil to the Chartist's Cave

Saturday, August 19, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1100590 - Chartist's Cave, Trefil
There’s something rather appealing about visiting a place that can lay claim to a title. Capitol of, most northerly, most westerly, most inebriated. You get the idea. For our first full day’s walk since returning from Mull we had another such location in mind, this one being the highest village in Wales. Sitting 409 meters above sea level Trefil, as it’s more commonly known, lies right on the boundary of the Brecon Beacons and to be honest hadn’t crossed my consciousness before now other than a glimpsed road sign as we blasted our way out of Wales along the Heads of the Valleys road. So why now? A good question with no more a complex answer than I happened to see a photo of the Chartist’s Cave whilst browsing the web and immediately thought to myself – I have to go there. Out came the OS maps, routes were plotted and on our first free Saturday we found ourselves looking down the broad Sirhowy Valley having just climbed out of Trefil itself.

P1100565 - Trefil

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Pembrey Terns

Thursday, August 17, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1100555 - Oystercatchers, Pembrey
I did wonder how long it would take me to start missing Mull and begin searching the property listings once more but even by my standards the afternoon of our return was unexpectedly rapid. The fact is that we had such a fantastic time that initially at least all I could focus on was how soon until we could get back? October’s looking like a potential option and is an attractive time of year too with the island’s Red Deer rut in full swing and all that choking Bracken well and truly dead. Good for walking and photography alike. The long drive home also got us talking about a new project we’d like to take on which should make our future exploration, in particular a tour of the entire Hebrides archipelago, a much easier and more enjoyable affair. For now though that’s all I’m going to say on the subject just in case nothing more comes of it. In the meantime the best way to take our minds off that Mull shaped hole in our hearts was to get back out into the great outdoors which is exactly what we’ve been doing.

First up was a late evening visit to the old Pembrey harbour a couple of weeks ago in order to coincide with both a spring high tide and sunset. Our timing was a little off arriving as we did after the main sandbanks had been inundated but that only made the views across the Burry Inlet all the more impressive. The less said about the sunset the better (it went cloudy).

P1100528 - Pembrey

Even as we watched the water level continued to rise, moving with a surprising turn of pace as it crept first up to the edge of its normal containment before spilling over. Footprints left from the day’s visitors were consumed one after another until the harbour looked fit to bursting, as indeed it was. This of course left very little space for any birds, the majority having been pushed over to Pembrey Burrows and out of sight. There were still gems to be found however which included at least thirteen Mediterranean Gulls loafing out in the Burry but I’d estimate that you could safely triple that number with ease and still not be near their true population. An impressive increase when I think back to even a couple of years ago.

Their stable-mates the Sandwich Terns were much noisier with special mention going to one particular pair which spent a good ten minutes flying in high circles overhead, each clearly not happy at the others presence. Equally vocal were a couple of hundred Oystercatchers huddled together on the eastern point of Pembrey Burrows, their evening roost slightly disturbed by a couple of kayakers wisely biding their time until the waters had ceased their race. Eventually even that position became untenable, consumed entirely and sending the flock skywards. Indecisive they milled around in front of us for a few moments before eventually heading over to Gower. We may not have Eagles down here but we do a fine line in Oyks.

P1100550 - Oystercatchers, Pembrey

P1100555 - Oystercatchers, Pembrey

Four Dunlin were also present briefly along with a small number of Common Gulls but there was no sign of the hoped for Ringed Plovers roosting on the inner breakwater. Probably too much disturbance. Not a problem for the colony of Sea Holly which also grows there and which was looking in fine health on this balmy summer’s eve.

P1100534 - Sea Holly

We finished off with a juvenile Linnet which briefly had us shouting Twite before our location brought us to our senses. It may take a few days to get my birding radar back into Welsh mode.

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The Curtain Call - Isle of Mull

Tuesday, August 15, 2017 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


P1100526 - Glac Gugairidh, Isle of Mull
Originally written 21/07/2017

And so to the last of my posts from Mull this summer, but what a fortnight it’s been. We’ve experienced everything from glorious sunshine to gale force winds and unrelenting rain, Eagles aplenty not to mention sharing an island with just eight other souls and several thousand sea birds. There’s been Dolphins and Otters, Red Deer and Hares, and my footsteps have been a little more cautious having discovered that we’ve Adders basking all across the valley. Both of us have suffered from a damp foot or two thanks to Mull’s boggy interior but all is forgiven after the fantastic and memorable time we’ve been able to spend out in our kayaks. There’s been no ascent of Ben More but we did make it back up Beinn an Lochain and Carn Moir and finally managed to squeeze in my first ever trip across to Ulva. In fact looking back it’s hard to believe we’ve managed to cram so much in and that probably explains the few aches and pains I’m now carrying. Nothing ten hours in the car can’t fix as we make the long journey back to Wales.

The prospect of that very drive meant I favoured a walk from the house with which to round off our Mull adventure. It only felt right really as we got to say goodbye to some of the sights and wildlife with which we’ve been living side by side these last couple of weeks. If only the weather would have played its part but things could I suppose have been a lot worse than the grey sky and showers which faced us. They did however make for slightly treacherous walking conditions as we rock hopped along the coast, one of north west Mull’s hidden secrets our destination.

P1100517 - Isle of Mull

As we’d seen elsewhere Black Guillemots seem to be doing very well this year with at least another nine individuals out on the water and likely more hidden up in the cliffs. Wheatears were about as well even along the rocky shore though I must admit the sight of a female Pheasant down here did cause us a degree of surprise. Something which was by now almost expected however was the view of a Common Sandpiper’s rear end disappearing off into the distance, one species which no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t get close to this time. Out in the loch a trio of Commic Terns were hunting not far from a small flock of at least ten Kittiwakes who as one would periodically dive down to the water’s surface. An impressive sight for sure.

P1100522 - Still Cave, Isle of Mull

Taking far longer than normal thanks to the slippery conditions we did eventually make it to the still cave. So called thanks to its association with the illegal distilling of alcohol back when these valleys used to be inhabited it now sits abandoned to the birds, a small raised level and a couple of old barrels the only hints to its illicit past.

P1100519 - Still Cave, Isle of Mull

And of those old communities we passed two on our way back out, first Crackaig which we visited on our first walk here two weeks ago and then Glac Gugairidh nestled over the rise just a little higher up the valley. The network of stone walls and well preserved buildings there make this one of the most evocative abandoned villages on Mull. It’s not hard to imagine what it must have been like for people living up here, a hard life of course but one with a great sense of community.

P1100524 - Crackaig, Isle of Mull

P1100525 - Glac Gugairidh, Isle of Mull

P1100526 - Glac Gugairidh, Isle of Mull

Back at our house it was as if all the valley birds had come out to pay their respects. The feeders were packed with two families of Great Tits and a variety of Chaffinches, fledgling Robins and Dunnocks littered the ground whilst juvenile Blackbirds and a very active Willow Warbler were constantly flying back and forth. The ever cautious Rock Doves even dropped in briefly before the sight of one another sent them into a blind panic and heading back the way they’d come. Our resident Song Thrush and pair of Swallows were also about as was the young Rabbit which has spent each evening carefully chewing its way through the daisies and buttercups outside our window as I’ve been writing these blogs. I’ll miss them all but I’m confident they’ll be waiting for us to top up the feeders next time we find ourselves on the glorious, Isle of Mull.

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Calgary, Caliach and Croig - Isle of Mull

Sunday, August 13, 2017 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


P1100512 - Croig, Isle of Mull
Originally written 20/07/2017

Our penultimate day on Mull and I don’t want it to end.

But there’s a time and a place for feeling sorry for ourselves and that’s on the ferry back to Oban. For now we had the prospect of a glorious sunshine filled day ahead of us and to fill it one of our favourite walks. We’d be sticking to the north west coast again, starting at Calgary before following the raised beach and lazy beds around to Caliach. To be honest though it was hard to push ourselves beyond the first hundred meters or so given the views were as good as this.

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A Valley Day - Isle of Mull

Friday, August 11, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Originally written 19/07/2017

One of the best things about visiting the same place year after year is the chance to build up an intimate understanding of its flora and fauna and as a result notice any changes that may occur. Indeed my ever present notebook in which we record our daily sightings began on Mull for that very reason and continues to this day. They however are just a drop in the ocean compared to the wildlife book which has been running in our cottage here for the best part of fifteen years now, its pages crammed with records from numerous visitors covering a wide range of interests. In fact I’m just about to set out on the daunting task of digitising the entire thing in an effort to preserve and consolidate it for posterity. Once complete we should have definitive lists of everything seen in our area, an added spur perhaps to seek out new species and populations hitherto undiscovered. To that end we decided to have a valley day on Wednesday and see if we couldn’t get a head start.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that as our primary interest is birds that’s exactly what we’d be concentrating on. And in the end we did pretty well. Thirty one species seen including a rare for here Goldfinch and confirmed breeding of Black Guillemots down at the beach. We’ve long suspected the latter having watched them flying up to their presumed nesting sites in the cliffs but today was the first time we’ve actually managed to see a juvenile fully fledged. It was hunting out in the small bay along with at least five adults of which there were several more perched on rocks along the coast. Now admittedly these birds aren’t anywhere near as tame as those in Oban but some judicious fieldwork ended up with me getting very good views indeed.

P1100427 - Black Guillemot, Isle of Mull

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Tobermory Kayak and a Sunset - Isle of Mull

Wednesday, August 09, 2017 Adam Tilt 4 Comments


GOPR0227 - Tobermory Bay by Kayak
Originally written 18/07/2017 

What’s the story in Balamory, wouldn’t you like to know? Well on Tuesday at least it involved these two landlubbers hitting the water once more for a paddle around Tobermory Bay. Capital of Mull and famed final resting place of a legendary Spanish galleon laden with gold, though we were hoping for a slightly less terminal outing.

GOPR0205 - Tobermory Bay by Kayak

After the long carry at Torloisk it made a nice change to be able to park right next to the slipway in Tob meaning we were on the water in no time. Behind us the colourful high street looked resplendent whilst ahead lay a bustling marina complete with at least one yacht which must have easily stretched its owner’s pockets to seven figures. Our vessels felt slightly inferior when surrounded by such craft but we had one key advantage, a very shallow draft. This meant that unlike them we could stick closely to the steep sides of the bay as we headed across to Aros, enjoying dappled shade from the overhanging trees as we went. After a period of mixed weather (to put it mildly) we were now experiencing the hottest day of our trip so far. British weather, you’ve just got to love it.

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Kayaking With Added Comb Jelly - Isle of Mull

Monday, August 07, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


After our exploits on Ulva any sane person would have called it a day and headed home for a well earned rest, but isn’t that what work’s for? I can recuperate when I’m back in the office after all so with the mist finally burning off we headed back to Torloisk for a spot of kayaking. Conditions looked absolutely sublime as we got ready, a far cry from the previous evening when it had felt more like autumn than summer. The lighting however was very strange indeed, clear one moment only to take on a curious colour cast the next. I've not seen anything like it before or since.

GOPR0133 - Torloisk by Kayak, Isle of Mull

Hitting the water we immediately struck gold with a family of four Red-throated Divers just off shore, their quacking calls still an unexpected sound despite having heard it several times over the last few days. A couple of Arctic Terns were also doing the rounds flying right over our heads on occasion as we got down to the serious business of exploring all the nooks and crannies of this rugged stretch of coast.

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Ulva at Last - Isle of Mull

Sunday, August 06, 2017 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


Originally written 17/07/2017

I wonder if there’s something in the mentality of an islander that causes us to continually seek out other islands to visit. Are we carefully sizing them up against one another, trying to complete the set or simply on the lookout for that next great escape. There’s probably an element of truth in all of those but today our motivation was nothing more complex than the very fact that our next island was simply there for the taking.

Ulva sits just off Mull’s north west coast and is accessed via ferry on an epic journey lasting less than a minute. Granted the scenery is spectacular with Ben More glowering over you from down the end of Loch na Keal but it does make me wonder why on earth it’s taken us over a decade to finally make the trip. And what a brilliant way to start. No timetabled service or complex booking system required here. Oh no. Instead a wooden slat is slid aside revealing the red square beneath, all that’s required to summon the ferry and the start of your adventure.

P1100337 - Ulva

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Eas Fors - Isle of Mull

Saturday, August 05, 2017 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


Originally written 16/07/2017

Eas Fors is Mull’s most spectacular waterfall enjoying an unhindered drop directly into the waters of Loch Tuath. Even during a dry spell it makes for an impressive sight but after a full day’s rain? Thunderous is the word.

P1100304 - Eas Fors, Isle of Mull

Although the morning had started a little grey we managed to time our visit perfectly as a lengthy spell of blue sky and sunshine barrelled in on strengthening winds. We’d taken the decision to head down to loch level in order to make full advantage and had the place to ourselves, not that you’d have noticed had an entire brass band piped up. You see the sound of crashing water was just immense, amplified by the fact that there was so much of it coming over the lip that instead of pouring down the rocks as usual the torrent was leaping fully clear only to smash into a rocky outcrop roughly halfway down. This coming together was producing a huge amount of spray, some of which was being blown straight back up and over the top before carrying inland for fifty meters or more. Really quite spectacular, as I may have already mentioned.

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Fogbound - Isle of Mull

Thursday, August 03, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Originally written 15/07/2017

If it wasn’t raining today then it was pouring. After dancing with the rain gods and chancing our luck for the last two afternoons we had definitely lost the advantage and woke to find the valley gone and in its place a complete pea souper. Water ran in continuous waterfalls down the windows and even the sheep, hardened denizens of this climate, looked distinctly miserable. In fact a good number spent the day gathered directly outside our door in an attempt to shelter from the unremitting onslaught.

Never mind. If we weren’t going to be able to go walking (I do have to draw the line somewhere) then at least we could still enjoy the increasingly varied menagerie visiting our feeders. In recent days this had expanded to include a pair of Grey Wagtails, our first Greenfinch of the trip and yet more Great Tits swelling their numbers to seven. It might just have been cabin fever setting in but at one point I seriously pondered whether they might be building up for an invasion on the house.

Then in an instant it all changed. The cloud lifted, our valley returned and, was that? Yes it was. The sun decided to put in an appearance creating the most beautiful light that had us out of doors and down to the beach in a heartbeat.

P1100297 - Isle of Mull

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Beinn an Lochain and Carn Mor - Isle of Mull

Tuesday, August 01, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Originally written 14/07/2017

Mull’s interior is often, and perhaps understandably so, forgotten. A mix of ankle twisting tussocks, choking bracken and foot eating bogs it’s probably not high on everyone’s list of destinations, particularly when the island’s coast has so much to offer with considerably less effort required. Not all that’s good is easy however and here we have a case in point. If you’re prepared to tolerate the odd damp foot, cover distance a little slower and prepare appropriately then there’s some excellent walking to be had. There are no paths, plenty of wildlife and, if the weather holds, outstanding views for miles in all directions. Combine that with the knowledge that you’ll probably be the first person to tread that way or stand on a summit in what? Days, weeks, months even? And you’ll quickly come to realise why the extra effort is all worthwhile.

On Friday we decided that it was high time we took some of our own advice and headed for the hills. And of these there is no shortage on Mull with perhaps its most famous being Ben More, Scotland’s only island Munro. We’ve conquered its slops twice before and may do so again in the future but with the weather forecast looking decidedly dodgy we decided that something a little lower might be more sensible. Poring over our OS maps there were certainly plenty of candidates but our eyes were drawn to Beinn an Lochain, so called for reasons which will soon become abundantly clear.

P1100231 - Beinn an Lochain, Isle of Mull

Setting off from the main road (single track lane) we passed through a deer fence and into an area optimistically marked on the maps as woodland. Now I’m no expert but scanning around I’d have expected to see trees, even one would have been nice, but very quickly drew a blank. In defence of Ordnance Survey there was indeed a woodland planned for here but like so many Millennium based projects it hasn’t quite delivered. Yes trees were planted in their hundreds but I couldn’t help feeling at the time that expecting small saplings to suddenly flourish in this boggy ground might be asking just a little too much. And so it has proved to be. In fact the only real achievement so far has been to provide the Red Deer with a handy nursery for their young, despite the aforementioned fence designed to keep them out, as well as making the area a complete hazard to walk across. You see planting involved using a digger to scoop out a single buckets worth of dirt into which the sapling would be planted. This left behind numerous deep holes, irregularly placed, which have since filled with water and grassed over just waiting to catch the wary off guard. You need your wits about you to make it through here unscathed but we managed it and were soon out into more open countryside where the hazards were at least natural. As a few brief showers powered through it was clear that we weren’t going to be treated to much in the way of sunshine but there were still a few Dark-green Fritillaries on the wing as well as Small and Large Heath, all the while the views behind us beginning to open up.

P1100228 - Beinn an Lochain, Isle of Mull

P1100233 - Beinn an Lochain, Isle of Mull

Every stride took us higher, crossing off the contours via distinct steps in the landscape revealing layers of larva and ash lain down during Mull’s formative years. Along the way we’d occasionally startle a Hare or small herds of Red Deer, a mixture of females, juveniles and stags sporting velvety new growth antlers. Often they’d hear us long before we spotted them but every now and again we were able to gain the upper hand and sneak in, undetected.

P1100269 - Red Deer on Beinn an Lochain, Isle of Mull

There were birds here too. Meadow pipits and Skylarks being by far the commonest but also Ravens and even a passing Golden Eagle. Judging from its plumage I’d have said a younger bird, perhaps two or three years old, soaring a couple of levels above us just a few meters off the deck. It wasn’t long before we were up there too, looking over the waters from which Beinn an Lochain gets its name.

P1100259 - Beinn an Lochain, Isle of Mull

As far as summits go Beinn an Locahin’s is surprisingly indistinct. Normally I like my mountains to deliver a large cairn or even better a trig point, hell I’ll settle for just being able to tell where exactly the highest point is. Not here though where a wide plateau of eroded peat and bog is all you’re going to get.

P1100263 - Beinn an Lochain, Isle of Mull

Standing off in the distance however was something more like it.

At barely fifty meters higher Carn Mor took longer than you might expect to climb thanks in no small part to the intervening descent and, you’ve guessed it, bog which had to be crossed first. Once there though we were greeted by a cairn of impressive size and structure given its remote location and views which more than kept up their side of the bargain.

P1100273 - Carn Mor, Isle of Mull

P1100277 - View from Carn Mor, Isle of Mull

The only trouble was that we seemed to have lost some of the islands which we’d previously been able to see. Had Tiree been gobbled by rising sea levels perhaps? I’m sure its residents would be glad to hear this wasn’t so. What it did signal however was that the weather was starting to close in and with it we decided that an attempt on our third summit of the day would prove foolhardy, so instead started our return.

It was horrible.

The rain quickly became torrential and our plans to find a new route home through uncharted territory quickly started to look like a bad idea. The culprit? That damnable phantom forest which instead of cutting through at its shortest point we were now crossing lengthwise. I quickly lost count of the number of holes we stumbled over or simply sank right into but with a couple of miles still to go there really was no alternative other than a very lengthy diversion. Of course that meant going back through the horrors that we’d already completed which I’ll admit held little appetite. The only thing for it was to soldier on but I can safely say that those were some of the hardest miles I’ve walked all year. The sense of relief at finally spotting the road was palpable but our struggles hadn’t been entirely in vain. Along the way we’d spotted three Slow-worms and a pair of Grey Wagtails clearly defending territory, not to mention another pair of Golden Eagles. Of course looking back now it’s the climb up Beinn an Lochain and Carn Mor which I remember most fondly but I’ll be making sure we avoid this particular plantation in future.

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Older and Wetter - Isle of Mull

Monday, July 31, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1100195 - Oystercatcher, Isle of Mull
Originally written 13/07/2017

I notched up another year this morning and felt every one of them thanks to a chorus of aches and pains. Most of those I suspect were down to our adventures at Calgary the previous day where whole muscle groups which had lain dormant since last summer were suddenly called into action. It’s all worth it though and there’s nothing better at loosening up a hurting body than going for a good long walk. Our destination of choice this time was Langamull, tackled either via a simple out and back route or as part of a longer circuit depending on the weather. I’d already seen the forecast and was suspecting the former but nevertheless we set off with high hopes.

P1100180 - Langamull, Isle of Mull

And initially things were looking good. Cloudy but bright conditions meant a warm saunter through the previously dense pine plantations, now felled opening up the views considerably. This new landscape also seems to have benefited the birds in that although we appear to have lost the Crossbills we’ve gained an abundance of other species in their place. Today these included a lovely pair of Whinchats whose call initially had us flummoxed as well as a fine male Bullfinch, hoards of Meadow Pipits and a pair of fly over Mistle Thrushes. We also had decent views of an adult White-tailed Sea Eagle heading inland though sadly too far away for any photos.

It was good to see a couple more Grayling on the wing here as well but with the exception of a Common Blue butterflies were being kept at bay by an increasingly brisk wind. This proved moderately frustrating when what I think might have been a Scotch Argus was sent merrily on its way. Curses.

P1100186 - Langamull, Isle of Mull

Down at Langamull itself two friendly Goats welcomed our arrival and attempted to curry favour by nuzzling Emma’s bag. I suspect that it was actually our packed lunch within which held more of an interest than ourselves. Fortunately they weren’t too persistent and we soon had the tropical white sands to ourselves, unless of course you want to count a Bull and his herd of heifers. Needless to say we gave them a wide berth only to come under attack from an unexpected angle. Hurtling in on a direct intercept course came none other than an enraged pair of Arctic Terns hurling insults which I believe roughly translated as "keep your distance". Having been on the receiving end of those sharp beaks in the Farne Islands I was keen to heed their advice but why the aggression? We soon found out. Further along the beach sat a juvenile Tern, fully fledged but still being fed by its parents at regular intervals. This was fantastic news as it marks at least the second time in recent years that these birds have bred here, though quite how they manage it in a place frequented by numerous visitors and dogs is anyone’s guess.

P1100200 - Arctic Tern, Isle of Mull

Also out on the rocks were a pair of Ringed Plovers and a Common Sandpiper, not to mention the almost ubiquitous Oystercatcher. They were as boisterous as ever though one individual surprisingly landed quite close and seemed happy to pose for the camera.

P1100195 - Oystercatcher, Isle of Mull

It was about this time when everything went south. Looking out across the sea Coll, Canna and then Rum disappeared from view, followed shortly after by the first heavy drops of rain. There was just chance to don full waterproofs before the heavens opened rendering my momentary worry that over trousers might be overkill mute. At least the shower was short lived, if only it hadn’t been followed almost immediately after by one of even greater intensity.

We clearly had a choice to make. Slink back to the car defeated or continue on our planned route. With nothing but bravado to go on we decided to push onwards, hopeful that the showers would pass. They didn’t but we still enjoyed a great walk and even managed to explore a sliver of the island hitherto unvisited. And even though my camera was now packed away that didn’t mean an end to our sightings which included a couple of resilient Skylarks still singing and around at Croig four Redshank, three Curlew and no less than eight Common Sandpipers. That last is a personal record in terms of quantity and I can only presume that there must be something particularly enticing in the mud there. If, no, when the sun returns we shall have to pop back for a more thorough explore.

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Mumbles Kittiwakes and Mediterranean Gulls

Sunday, July 30, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1100637Mediterranean Gull, Mumbles
I thought we'd take a short interlude from the Mull blogs this evening to focus instead on some local news. More specifically Mumbles where amongst the holidaymakers we spent a surprisingly productive couple of hours this afternoon thanks to two stalwarts of the area's avian population. First of these were the Kittiwakes which for various reasons I've not caught up with since the pier was closed pending refurbishment a couple of years ago and their old nesting sites netted off. At the time I feared for the colony's future despite the provision of replacement ledges, feelings which weren't alleviated thanks to the birds sluggish uptake of their new digs. To my own relief things have improved considerably since then, at least for the Kittiwakes. Mumbles pier itself is still in dire need of restoration.

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Calgary by Kayak - Isle of Mull

Saturday, July 29, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


Originally written 12/07/2017

No one could call the weather up until now poor but Wednesday was simply glorious. Wall to wall sunshine, barely a breeze to rustle the bracken and with temperatures troubling the upper teens we had the perfect excuse to deploy our kayaks for the first time this year. Regular readers may recall that we purchased a pair of sit-on-tops last summer and this was our first opportunity to bring them up to Mull. We may have taken a hit on fuel economy as a result but when this is your playground, I think it’s a hit worth taking.

P1100127 - Calgary Kayaking, Isle of Mull

Whilst the beach filled up behind us we had Calgary bay virtually to ourselves, a tropical paradise of white sands and turquoise waters rather incongruously set on the west coast of Scotland. Following the coast out along one side before crossing the bay and heading back along the other we had an absolute blast. Watching Emma trying to clamber back into her kayak having stepped ashore to explore and almost getting stranded in a large rock pool as the tide receded stick out as two particularly memorable moments. My personal favourite though was a brilliant encounter with an inquisitive Common Seal which popped up to investigate us while we were having lunch. First appearing on one side then the next, that first breath as it broke the surface often giving away its location. I willed it ever closer but we clearly weren’t quite interesting enough as it soon headed off.

Now being surrounded by salty water is not necessarily the best environment in which to take a camera, but thanks to the GoPro I can at least bring you a small sample of what we experienced.

GOPR0061 - Calgary by Kayak

GOPR0070 - Calgary by Kayak

GOPR0074 - Calgary by Kayak

GOPR0081 - Calgary by Kayak

GOPR0105 - Calgary by Kayak

GOPR0113 - Calgary by Kayak

After four hours it was reluctantly time to head for dry land once more, partly because it was beginning to get a little chilly but mostly because my right bum cheek had gone decidedly numb.

With late afternoon going spare we stuck to our valley for a little local exploration. I had butterflies once more in mind and managed to turn up at least six Dark Green Fritillaries in sight of the house as well as numerous Green-veined Whites. There was also a Magpie Moth on the wing but top billing has to go to another pair of Adders which I found sunning themselves beneath an old stone wall. That makes for six Adders so far this week which does raise the question of how many are actually out there!

P1100164 - Green-veined White, Isle of Mull

P1100167 - Adders, Isle of Mull

P1100175 - Adders, Isle of Mull

There was also chance to take stock of our little feeding station up here, only topped up when someone is in residence but always able to draw in a sizeable crowd. On the first day we arrived there was a single male Chaffinch but since then he’s been joined by no less than two juvenile Robins, a juvenile Stonechat, two Blackbirds, eight House Sparrows, three Rock Doves, a family of Willow Warblers, five Great Tits, one Blue Tit and up to three Siskins. Not a bad haul considering we are literally in the middle of nowhere and trees are in short supply. Of these the Siskins have probably been my favourite visitor to date, partly because they're attractive birds but mostly because I hardly ever get to see any. Even better is that they seem to love the camera if these photos are anything to go by.

P1100152 - Siskin, Isle of Mull

P1100155 - Siskin, Isle of Mull

We finished off with a truly special bird encounter the likes of which only Mull can deliver. It all started with an unfamiliar call from above which turned out to be a male Hen Harrier way up high. Backlit it looked almost completely white save for its black wing-tips and the reason for its alarm soon became clear. Soaring away in our direction was one of the resident Golden Eagles, its head positively shining in the blazing sun. It continued across the valley before joining its mate from where both seemed to delight in harassing the local Hoodies before vanishing out of view. Shouldn’t every day end this way?

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Glengorm Dun - Isle of Mull

Friday, July 28, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1100103 - View from Dun Ara, Glengorm
Originally written 11/07/2017

After a long journey and two full on days we were well up for taking things a little gentler on Tuesday. Quite how we ended up walking five miles across broken country and rocky shorelines then is anyone's guess..

Glengorm was destination of choice with a route which would take us around estate lands and out to the coast where two Dun’s (forts to those of you outside Scotland) waited to be explored. It was a gorgeous day with seas so blue as to look almost unrealistic and barely a cloud in the sky. Thankfully a light breeze kept both the heat and midges at bay and hopes were high that in those more sheltered spots we might strike lucky with a few butterflies. Having walked through plantations draped with lichen we burst into the open and got our very wish.

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