Conscious of our rapidly depleting petrol supply and the vastly inflated fuel prices on the island we spent the next few days visiting places closer to home. First port of call was Eas Fors, a waterfall that tumbles straight off the cliffs and into the sea.
Having taken the usual tourist photos we decided to head off the beaten track and started to climb the steep ravine that carries the Burn to its dramatic climax from its source high up in the mountains. The land rises steeply at first but after a climb of two hundred meters it levels off to a plateau. From here we could see a Golden Eagle soaring high over the distant peaks which we watched until it was finally lost from view. On our way back down we spotted a Dipper flying along the stream. I always imagined that the environment on Mull would be too harsh for Dipper’s to survive but they absolutely thrive on the many mountain streams that traverse the island.
With half of the day still to go we looked at the OS map and picked an arbitrary point to go and explore. The joy of the Scottish countryside is that walkers have the right to roam over almost the entire country, making for an unlimited number of possibilities when it comes to picking routes. Our chosen location once again involved a steep climb up from almost sea level to the high moorlands above that so typify this part of the island. The birds we saw were mostly Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Wheatears and the occasional Raven but that was about to change. After cresting a rise in the landscape we came across a Lochan (a small body of water to those not of a Scottish persuasion) which we duly skirted around. It was only as we looked back down on to it that we realised we were not alone. Floating on the water were two adult Red Throated Divers and a small chick, though one not too young that it wasn’t already practising to dive for food. Red Throated Divers (Loons to my American readers) tend to breed on these high bodies of water for protection and solitude and travel down to the sea only to hunt for fish. Once the chick has reached a suitable age the whole family will move down to sea level but for now they are as isolated as it’s possible to get, ignoring the odd wayward walker of course. This is an aspect of nature that I have never seen before and it was absolutely brilliant, especially given its complete unexpectedness.
The above shot was taken at distance and cropped so please excuse its quality but I did not want to approach the birds for fear of disturbing them. We quickly moved away and out of sight, snatching a glance backwards to check that the birds were still happily going about their business which they were.
I read a lot of Stephen King books and he always finds a way to mention the call of a Loon at least once in every story. I had only been able to imagine what that must sound like previously but no more as we were fortunate to hear one of the Divers utter a call as we continued on our way. I can see why King, a master of horror, should have chosen to include this bird over all others as it certainly has a very haunting quality when heard out in the wilderness.
By now we had been on the island for well over a week and as we often find on Mull, time had completely ceased to be of any consequence. In truth we only had five days left but there was still so much that we wanted to see and so many places that we wanted to visit. Our second Monday on the island was spent walking from Calgary to Caliach Point. This is one of our favourite routes as the scenery is stunning and there is always the chance of spotting an Otter or two along the way.
On this occasion the Otters were keeping themselves well hidden but at Caliach we were treated to a Great Skua soaring past. There has been successful breeding by this species on the point for the last couple of years and we were fortunate to see a family group here just over twelve months ago. With just a single bird present this time around I’m not sure if that recent success has continued, but I certainly hope that it has. The point was also packed with Wheatears, many of which were juveniles from this year’s breeding.
Back at the house a late evening walk unearthed a pile of fresh Red Grouse droppings just the other side of the Deer fence that circles the moorland inland from us. Once upon a time this species was apparently plentiful around the house with regular sightings by visitors, but in recent years their numbers have fallen and I have yet to see one for myself. Emma’s parents were lucky and saw a couple at Easter roughly in the same area as the droppings we found, so there is hope that whatever remnant population exists is still holding on.
I barely think that Tuesday is worthy of a mention here, but I shall for completeness sake. The weather was wet and wild so we headed to the Ardmore estate to walk through the forestry. What we hadn’t realised was that large swathes have now been felled leaving the path just as exposed as if we had been out on the hills. There were still good numbers of woodland species present such as Siskin, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Goldcrest, but the rain didn’t give much opportunity to enjoy them. I shouldn’t complain really as after visiting Mull for the past six years, this trip has been the first one where we have had any rain to speak of! How many other people can say that of their time in Scotland?