From Snowman to Owl to Adder to Sunset

Monday, April 30, 2018 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


P1140674 - Snow on Isle of Mull
Words and images from 04/04/2018

Contrary to all expectations we awoke at first light to find that Mull had been treated to another helping of snow overnight. Even this close to the coast the ground was white over but despite many very kind offers I declined the opportunity to go and build a snowman (you may sing this line if you must) choosing instead the warmth of bed and a good book. By breakfast the earlier low cloud base had lifted, blue sky was visible and even the sun had come out making short work of any snow around our house. This left for a rather incongruous juxtaposition of this snowman against what for all intents and purposes looked like a warm summer’s day.

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Red Grouse, in Snow, in April!

Sunday, April 29, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1140639_2 - Red Grouse, Isle of Mull
Words and images from 03/04/2018

A sudden and surprising desire to perform carpentry meant that Monday was spent weather boarding the gable end of the house. Back at home with numerous DIY stores just down the road this would present no real challenge but on an island where the nearest shop is a good hour or so away? Not so much. Fortunately over many years a policy of never throwing anything away, just in case, meant that we already had a wide array of materials from which to choose including left overs from the last major building work here and tongue and groove panelling which once adorned the front sitting room. Re-purposed these materials seemed to take to their new life almost too well, although the lack of a working drill did increase assembly effort somewhat. With one success under our belts there was no stopping us and a long missing section of guttering was quickly erected, again from recycled materials, doing our green credentials no end of good.

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Slavonian Grebes of Loch Ba

Saturday, April 28, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1140559_2 - Slavonian Grebe, Isle of Mull
Words and images from 01/04/2018

I don’t know quite how low the temperature plummeted last night but by morning it was still minus one and the ground was frozen solid. Ice encrusted any lingering puddles and in areas as yet untouched by sunlight everything was white over. For a west coast location in April this is pretty unusual to put it mildly but as we drove down the side of Loch na Keal, things were about to get a whole lot stranger. Not only were there several sheets of ice floating out on the loch itself but where the tide had receded more ice had been left haphazardly straddling the rocky shore. As conditions slowly warmed a cacophony of creaks and splintering cracks could be heard, gravity and physics beginning to win their war for supremacy. Watching on from its mantle as Mull's highest peak Ben More still wore a snowy cap and seems likely to continue doing so for some time yet.

P1140541 - Ice on Loch na Keal

Despite these unusual occurrences Mull’s wildlife continued as only it knows how and whilst an adult White-tailed Sea Eagle basked from its perch high up in the trees a trio of Red-breasted Mergansers braved the icy waters below. At Knock we parked up and were immediately surrounded by the calls of Siskins and Redpoll, both species which we see relatively rarely. Despite offering some great views they remained lofty throughout making getting even a record shot distinctly tricky.

P1140591 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

Admitting defeat we pushed on through a small area of forestry before arriving at Loch Ba, our walking destination for the day. The plan was for a simple out and back route along the well made track on its southern shore, about eight miles in all and a pleasant change from the boggy conditions experienced elsewhere. Or so we thought. It turns out that although peat may not lead to the driest of conditions underfoot it isn’t half as wearing on the feet as mile after mile of stone and gravel. Not that there was too much hardship felt of course when the views were as good as this.

P1140589 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

P1140582 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

P1140567 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

What we were really hoping for here was overwintering waterfowl which we got courtesy of three Goldeneye, around thirty Teal and a small flock of five Wigeon. A trio of Red-throated Divers were also nice to see, if a little distantly, but I had never in my wildest dreams imagined that we’d be watching summer plumaged Slavonian Grebes. What little stonkers! With predominantly black plumage set off by a pair of crazy yellow tufts behind the eyes there really was no mistaking them, and then things got even better. From one lone bird we came across a pair which set about a short courtship display. Lining up alongside each other they began to mirror their movements perfectly, heads switching back and forth crisply before both dived beneath the surface in perfect synchronisation. I preyed that they’d continue and I could film a little of their encounter but alas it was not to be. Even so these distant record shots should go some way to showing off their fantastic plumage.

P1140560_2 - Slavonian Grebe, Isle of Mull

P1140559_2 - Slavonian Grebe, Isle of Mull

Against that kind of competition even the four Golden Eagles soaring high overhead had to play second fiddle.

The marshy ground around Rubha Gainmhich held good numbers of Curlew, Skylark and Lapwing, the latter in full on Nintendo* mode and hopefully looking to breed. A couple of Common Snipe did their usual trick of almost giving us a heart attack as they erupted from our feet unannounced and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t turn any of the Meadow Pipits into an early Tree Pipit. In fact we couldn’t find any spring migrants whatsoever as the Wheatear drought continues.

P1140585 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

Our surroundings remained impressive throughout and it’s clear that there’s many potential routes here for future visits including an alternative ascent of Ben More.

Retracing our steps mid-afternoon it was actually warm enough to remove my coat for the first time this week, a strange feeling given that we have snow in our forecast for tomorrow. Even stranger was the sight of a Carrion Crow in front of Benmore Lodge, well outside its normal range as up here Hoodies are king.

P1140594 - Ben More from Loch na Keal

We finished off with a tour alongside Loch na Keal picking up Great Northern Divers pretty much everywhere we looked. Recent reports have put the evening roost here at somewhere near sixty birds so there’s certainly no shortage of them about. Contrary to my earlier statement we also spotted a male Wheatear, only our second this week, but still no hirundines. Mammalian interests were taken care of by around twenty Harbour Seals hauled out on a small rocky island before it was back to the house and an evening spent trying to forget the sight of Cows giving birth. The magic of new life? A gory hell more like.


*Lapwings' display calls sound like an old Nintendo soundtrack to me.

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The Adder and The Egg Hunt

Thursday, April 26, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1140491 - Adder, Isle of Mull
Words and images from 31/03/2018

It’s hard to believe that another month is about to slip away into the annals of history but slip it will and honestly, I don’t think we could have gotten much more out of March if we’d tried. Well maybe just a little bit as today we held our Easter celebrations complete with full roast dinner and chocolate egg hunt. The latter was based on a series of ingeniously Mull themed questions, the answer to our second leading us directly to an Adder! Now that’s the kind of additional element of danger all Easter egg hunts should contain. With minimal warmth on offer the Adder had flattened its body almost doubling its width in the process, a photo opportunity just too good an opportunity to miss even with a competition at stake.

P1140491 - Adder, Isle of Mull

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Harriers, Divers, Auks and Tob

Wednesday, April 25, 2018 Adam Tilt 0 Comments


P1140451 - Tobermory, Isle of Mull
Words and images from 30/03/2018

We had a pretty chilled evening yesterday after our exertions in the hills, nothing more strenuous planned than lifting binoculars to scan the ever changing landscape and the escape of a good book. That was of course until an immature Golden Eagle decided to soar straight up our valley, skirting the house before heading away over the hills. Half an hour or so later and it was back, this time perched off in the distance being continuously harried by a pair of Hooded Crows. Even apex predators have trouble finding a moments peace it seems and eventually persistence beat size and the Goldie almost reluctantly lifted into the air and was lost from sight soon after. Although never close enough for anything particularly spectacular I did try for a couple of record shots nevertheless.

P1140415 - Golden Eagle, Isle of Mull

Iced over puddles this morning told their own story and it didn’t come as a shock to find temperatures struggling to tickle anything higher than mid single figures. Find a little shelter however and you could almost be convinced that hats and gloves weren’t necessary, the tropical white sands and crystal clear waters of Calgary Bay undoubtedly helping as well.

P1140424 - Calgary, Isle of Mull

Being still relatively early we had the beach mostly to ourselves and there was an incredible selection of birds on display including a simply awesome summer plumaged Black-throated Diver. It was ranging widely across the bay and when not submerged gave superb views of a species which until now we’d only seen once previously (and in winter plumage at that). Keeping it company were a pair of Razorbills, one of which came within a few metres of the shore, whilst at least two Great Northern Divers were lurking much further out. Then of course there were the usual regulars including Common Gulls, Oystercatchers, Cormorant (not at all common on Mull where Shags are more prevalent) plus Rock Pipits, a species unusually absent so far this week. Even the Hooded Crows were being strangely approachable and seem to have discovered that a knack for catching titbits mid-air is a sure fire way to attract more food from tourists. Clever birds those corvids.

P1140436 - Black-throated Diver, Isle of Mull

P1140445 - Razorbill, Isle of Mull

P1140428 - Rock pipit, Isle of Mull

P1140423 - Hooded Crow, Isle of Mull

P1140419 - Hooded Crow, Isle of Mull

Our next stop was Dervaig where with the tide out there were plenty of feeding opportunities for waders. Five Redshank and a pair of Greenshank were pretty good counts for here as was a male and two female Mergansers.

Crossing the hills towards Tobermory however blew even Wednesday’s raptor spectacular out of the water. Above Loch Tor we watched seven White-tailed Sea Eagles occupying the same section of sky whilst just down the road next to Loch Frisa there were three Hen Harriers (one male and two females) quartering the hillside. These were personal record counts for both species on the island with the male Hen Harrier an especially rewarding sight. There’s just something about that grey plumage which bares no comparison.

Tobermory was its usual cosmopolitan self with most shops now open or at least putting together the final finishing touches before the season begins in earnest in a couple of days time. Conditions had gone noticeably cloudier since this morning but even so the classic high street photograph had to be taken.

P1140451 - Tobermory, Isle of Mull

I had no real need to visit Mull’s capitol other than to walk the newly reopened path to Rubha nan Gall lighthouse. This used to be a favourite route of ours before it closed four of five years ago as a result of landslips and subsidence. Since then some stellar work has gone into making it safe to pass once more and in doing so the views have been opened up considerably. I was pleased to see the lighthouse itself looking resplendent as ever and if anyone fancies accommodation truly off the beaten track then it looks as though the old keeper’s cottages have recently undergone their own extensive renovation and are open for business. A few quid in the donations box on our way out seemed appropriate for all the work that’s been put in.

P1140466 - Rubha nan Gall, Isle of Mull

Wildlife sightings along the way included a Grey Seal and winter plumaged Guillemot whilst a Black Guillemot in Tobermory harbour itself was a nice surprise.

Back on the road we were delighted to spot a trio of Goldeneye on the Mishnish lochs at the second time of trying and equally pleased to find six Common Snipe had joined the wader collective at Dervaig. Another ringtail Hen Harrier from the hill road and impromptu hail storm saw us delivered to Torloisk, our final stop of the day.

P1140475 - Torloisk, Isle of Mull

Against a dramatic backdrop there were another couple of Great Northern Divers and in what had been a day for birds in unexpected places it was almost poetic that a male Goosander would be fishing the rock pools north of our position. We finished off with another White-tailed Sea Eagle as we neared the house but couldn’t stretch our Wheatear count beyond the lone male seen a couple of days ago. With more snow forecast for early next week the chance of any more turning up before we have to head for home is looking slim.

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The Amphitheatre Walk

Tuesday, April 24, 2018 Adam Tilt 1 Comments


P1140390 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull
Words and images from 29/03/2018

After the bird heavy escapades of yesterday, today was all about the hills. For a long time now we’ve had our eyes on a ring of peaks located west of the hill road above Torloisk, ancient formations which encircle an area of lowland creating an almost perfect amphitheatre. Throw in an as yet un-bagged trig point and I find myself wondering why on earth it’s taken until now to finally tackle this inviting area.

Once again the weather was simply glorious with a clear blue sky and just the right amount of wind to keep temperatures when climbing comfortable. Visibility in all directions was outstanding and, in all honesty, words will never be able to do justice to the experience so instead this will be a photo heavy romp across the summits of Cruacahn Odhar, Beinn nan Clach-corra, Beinn Bhuidhe (our second Mull summit of that name), Meall Ruadh, Cnoc an da Chinn and Cruachan Loch Trath. I hope you enjoy.

P1140310 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

This was our view not long after starting the long climb up from the hill road behind Torloisk. After only a few minutes the road itself was completely hidden and we were beginning to get our first glimpses of the landscape which would mark this walk out as something really rather special.
 
P1140313 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

Our first peak, although a relatively indistinct one, came in the shape of Cruachan Odhar. Despite being named it's easy to miss on the ground.

P1140316 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

A short distance away sits the much more impressive summit of Beinn nan Clach-corra. At 315 meters high it's officially classified as a Tump and offers commanding views out across the islands of Ulva and Gometra. For those who read my posts from last summer the distant peak to the right is Beinn an Lochain, another summit well worth bagging if you ever get the chance.

P1140319 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

Beinn nan Clack-corra is also home to what would be our only trig point of the day, a new one for my collection and a rarely visited example at that if the logs on Trigpointing UK are any indication.

P1140323 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

Despite appearances the going underfoot was relatively dry but that didn't mean there wasn't the occasional bog to be carefully negotiated. Definitely a walk only for those wearing decent boots.

P1140329 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

Looking back towards Beinn nan Clack-corra having dropped down into a hollow located south west of its position.

P1140330 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

From here you get a really good sense as to why we call this the amphitheatre walk. To the right is the rapidly retreating Beinn nan Clack-corra and in the distance on the left, Cruachan Loch Trath.

P1140332 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

Red Deer were an almost constant presence throughout, these stags standing proud between us and the distant glen road.

P1140334 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

Looking down the glen to Dervaig with Rum, Skye and the Ardnamurchan Peninsula beyond.

P1140340 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

P1140341 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

Summit number three was Beinn Bhuidhe, the second peak we've climbed on Mull carrying that name. I believe it translates roughly as big hill and is used fairly commonly across Scotland. Indeed Mull herself has a third over by Calgary and that is definitely on our to-do list next time we're up.

P1140354 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

Meall Ruadh followed soon after and is marked by a simple stone cairn.

P1140359 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

P1140367 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

Whilst heading over to Cnoc an da Chinn we got our first proper views across to the mainland and its snow capped mountains. Ben Nevis is out there somewhere but as to which one exactly? Your guess is as good as mine.

P1140371 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

Closer to home Mull's very own Ben More hove into view, the only Munro on the island and a classic climb which we've enjoyed several times in the past. I'd have loved to have made another ascent during this trip but with that much snow on the final approach to the summit we decided it would simply be too dangerous to attempt without the use of crampons.

P1140378 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

P1140380 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

Another summit cairn marks the top of Cnoc an da Chinn, our highest point of the day.

P1140383 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

I recommend the small detour while up here to see Lochan Leirg, quiet today but worth keeping an eye on as spring develops.
 
P1140385 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

P1140390 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

Then all too soon we were arriving at Cruachan Loch Trath marked by its twin stone cairns, our final summit of the day and arguably the most spectacular. In perfect light we could see for miles in all directions, not another soul in sight.

P1140394 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

P1140401 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

P1140405 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

P1140409 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

Of course everything that goes up must come down and our long descent was via what we refer to as the "dragon's tail", a long, curving ridge of rock which leads down from Cruachan Loch Trath and into the bowl at the centre of this amphitheatre.

P1140411 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

Being down on the level again after a day amongst the hills felt strange but what a way to round off an epic walk.
 
P1140413 - The Amphitheatre Walk, Isle of Mull

At just over six miles this was an excellent day’s walking with plenty of height gained (and lost) with conditions underfoot relatively dry considering. Birds were thin on the ground as they usually are at these altitudes with Meadow Pipits and Skylarks most numerous. We also got good close views of a passing Raven plus two Red Grouse which didn’t hang around for long. Mammals were well represented by a couple of sizeable Red Deer herds and a lone Brown Hare, and in a sign that things may be warming up we also enjoyed brief views of our first Common Lizard of the year before it too scarpered. Really though it was the hills and surrounding scenery which make today so memorable, another walk to add to our “must do again soon” list.

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