Dolphin and Otter Extravaganza - Isle of Mull

Monday, July 24, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1090745_2 - Otter, Isle of Mull
Originally written 09/07/2017

When we woke on Sunday morning the little burn running alongside our house had doubled in width and now resembled more a raging torrent than the gentle babbling brook to which we’d bid good night. Gone too were the expansive open views to be replaced with low cloud and drizzle. This was all feeling a little too Welsh for my liking. Thankfully conditions had improved slightly by the time we dragged ourselves downstairs, thoroughly well rested and raring to go. We didn’t even need to discuss our plans as by tradition the first day on Mull, regardless of weather, is spent walking to Treshnish. Personally this is my favourite route on the island and manages to sum up Mull in a single eight mile loop. Big skies, dramatic coastlines, volcanic geology, raised beaches, caves, illicit whisky stills, fantastic birds and more often than not a few surprises along the way. What would be on the agenda today? Only time would tell.

Setting off we retraced our footsteps from the day before and almost immediately came across the Whinchat family. This time though they were a lot closer and after working my way through the waist high Bracken I finally got some decent shots.

P1090700 - Whinchat, Isle of Mull

P1090702 - Whinchat, Isle of Mull

P1090691 - Whinchat, Isle of Mull

Here too were the Stonechats and Whitethroats but with conditions so dull we left them in peace and continued on to the coast. Fluffy juvenile Wheatears abounded and it was good to see that their parents had passed on the instinct to flee from my camera at the earliest opportunity. Not to worry as I had eyes on a more scaly prize and was pleased to find two of yesterdays Adders sunning themselves in exactly the same spot. From as best I could tell they were the largest female and one of the males and with drizzle starting to fall once again looked anything but amused. Feeling a little more confident this time around having become familiar with their movements and abilities I leant in closer to maximise my shallow depth of field.

P1090712 - Adder, Isle of Mull

Feeling emboldened I pushed things a little too far and in a flash both animals were slinking off into a tangle of Heather for cover, a departing ill tempered hiss to let me know exactly what they thought of me and the weather.

Arriving at Crackaig they may have had a point. It was dull, dreary and lent the strange atmosphere that surrounds this abandoned settlement an even greater sense of melancholy than usual. It’s a lot harder to romanticise the lives of the people who once lived here on days such as this. Still, there was beauty to be found and I couldn’t resist a rare plant photo thanks to Stonecrop which seemed to be growing just about everywhere.

P1090720 - Stonecrop, Isle of Mull

Having not been up here in the summer for a number of years I’d managed to forget just how busy the island can get. Granted we’re not talking Snowdon levels of absurdity but seeing more than one other person around here deserves comment. Thankfully the first gentleman we encountered was very friendly and we stopped to chat about the weather, his nearing of the summit (for we were now on our way down the steep path from Crackaig) and various other typically British small talk. Then he happened to mention that he’d seen a couple of Dolphins out in the bay and as if on cue two dorsal fins broke the surface below. Immediately I knew they were Bottle-nosed Dolphins, their size and jizz giving them away as easily as if they’d been labelled. Then came a third before one of the largest animals took four clear leaps free from the water, each time twisting so as to cause maximum splash once gravity went to work. Simply spectacular. Keen to get a little closer we bade our new companion farewell and hurried down the remaining path where we again saw a leap clear of the water before the pod calmed down and began working their way up Loch Tuath. Settling down for some lunch we watched their progress with keen interest, occasionally distracted by a passing Manx Shearwater or Gannet. Black Guillemots also made a reappearance with three off the cliffs, though significantly harder to get to than those in Oban.

Our choice of vantage point was clearly popular as a dining destination if the two large fish skeletons there were anything to go by. White-tailed Sea Eagle the most likely culprit.

P1090731 - Sea Eagle Meal, Isle of Mull

With the Dolphins seemingly lost to view and our appetites silenced we set off once more. The coastline here is simply stunning and even on a dreary day such as this can’t fail to take your breath away.

P1090735 - Isle of Mull

Then all of a sudden they were back. Two, three then finally six dorsal fins breaking the surface in quick succession, racing their way back in the same direction as us. There were clearly two pairs of animals sticking close together, surfacing in pure synchronicity and, judging by size, mother and calf. A passing yacht provided an immediate distraction for the Dolphins as a couple broke off to go and bow ride providing the occupants with enviable views. Having been there myself on many an occasion I couldn’t help but smile on their behalf and hoped that they realised what a privileged moment they were sharing.

P1090737 - Bottle-nosed Dolphin, Isle of Mull

As the yacht sailed further the Dolphins appeared to grow weary of their fun, or perhaps just had other plans. Regrouping they set a more determined pace now heading in the direction of Treshnish headland, a pace which gave us no end of difficulty in matching. Unlike our aquatic friends we had headlands, inlets and rough terrain to contend with so it was no real surprise when we eventually lost contact. Even so we’d spent at least an hour in their company and how often can you get to say that?

This magnificent stretch of coast had one last surprise in store however. I’d been keeping a keen eye on the various rock pools beneath us in the hope of spotting an Otter, so when a mother and two cubs popped up I very nearly had to do a double take. Thankfully Emma got onto them quickly as they looked to be in playful mood, constantly scrapping and moving along at pace. They clambered from one pool to the next before entering open water and vanishing around the next headland. Racing around after them we thought we’d lost contact until they reappeared on an outcrop of wave washed rock. It all looked a bit perilous and indeed proved to be as a large breaker ripped their grip free, casting the three into a cauldron of churning water. I couldn’t help but feel a moment of panic but I needn’t have worried. These hardy mammals are built for the rough and tumble of this environment and were soon hauling themselves back out.

P1090745_2 - Otter, Isle of Mull

Things surely couldn’t get better than that. And they didn’t.

But of course this is Mull so one must evaluate everything on a different scale. Anywhere else and watching a Golden Eagle perched on the hillside in late evening sunshine would have been a heart stopping, life defining moment. Here however it’s become almost the norm but I still savour every one of these encounters. Watching a bird as big as this soar just meters off the ground, its shadow racing along beneath and sun glinting from that golden crown as it turns its head to look at you is, and will always be, out of this world.

P1090753 - Isle of Mull

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