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

P1100415 - Black Guillemot, Isle of Mull

One pair in particular caught my attention as it looked for all the world as if they were going to mate. What I’m presuming to be the male was strutting around with its chest pumped out uttering a series of high pitched calls before occasionally darting from one side of its partner to the other. This continued for some time with the birds getting ever closer until I thought the magic moment was finally about to happen. Camera poised I was willing the guy on just as a third bird arrived causing everyone to suddenly lost interest. I guess three really is a crowd.

P1100421 - Black Guillemot, Isle of Mull

P1100410 - Black Guillemot, Isle of Mull

There was much to enjoy away from the Guillemots including the usual roost of Shags, a gronking Raven overhead and several Gannets hunting out in the loch. There too was a lone Manx Shearwater which initially struck me as odd being more familiar seeing these swifts of the sea in larger groups. I certainly wasn’t going to complain though as it gave us great views, heading into the wind first only to bank up and back a moment later. Less good was another of those infernal Common Sandpipers which I’m sure laughed as it took off in the opposite direction. Thankfully Rock Pipits have been ever reliable this holiday and another couple feeding on rotting seaweed were only too happy to pose.

P1100393 - Rock Pipit, Isle of Mull

P1100395 - Rock Pipit, Isle of Mull

You may have noticed that I mentioned wind earlier but perhaps that should be rephrased as gales. It was blowing an absolute hoolie straight up the loch and felt not dissimilar from being hit by a wall as soon as you stepped out of cover. For that reason we kept our exploration firmly on the leeward side of the hills but even there couldn’t fully escape the occasional blast. These conditions were probably what kept us from seeing an Eagle of either species all day but when the views are as good as this we could hardly complain.

P1100423 - Isle of Mull

But as we’ve already seen, weather can change quickly up here. Before we knew it the sun had gone to be replaced with ominous looking clouds which continued to darken and lower with each passing minute. In fact we barely made it home before the heavens opened but fortunately it soon passed and a couple of hours later we were heading back to the beach. With so much to see I couldn’t just sit around and call it a day and what an inspired decision that turned out to be. As we approached our bay for the second time we spotted what I presume to be a large dog Otter swimming towards the shore. It looked to have just caught an item of prey and rolled over onto its back to take a bite before disappearing under water. I fired off a couple of distant record shots when it resurfaced but the next dive was the last we saw of it.

P1100433 - Otter, Isle of Mull

We sat and waited for a good long while afterwards but to no avail. That left us with two possibilities. Either the Otter had continued swimming along the coast and we’d simply lost sight or it may have a holt somewhere nearby. Based on similar sightings in the past from here we favour the latter but I’d love to be able to confirm our suspicions for definite.

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