Of all the hundreds of posts that I have written to date on this blog, I find none more difficult to construct than those which cover our visits to the Isle of Mull. Its wildlife and scenery is always outstanding, sometimes even unbelievable, and in trying to portray the sense of wonder and privilege that I feel whenever I am there, I often feel I fall well short. So whatever thoughts and ideas my ramblings and photos conjure in your mind as you read these entries, please multiply them by a factor of ten and even then be confident that Mull is greater still. With that said let us get stuck into another unforgettable seven days in the sun on `Eagle Island`.
Every great adventure includes a long and arduous journey and this trip was certainly no exception. Google maps tells me its 528 miles from my house to the port of Oban where we were to catch the ferry across to Mull, and let me assure you that I’ve never known nine hours of driving to pass so quickly. By midday we were stood on the seafront in Oban under blue skies watching Black Guillemots and Shags fishing out in the bay, but as ever it was the Gulls that found their way into the path of my camera first. Down on the shingle beach a particularly dour looking Herring Gull and a Lesser Black Backed Gull with legs to die for (if you’re a gull) were the pick of the bunch.
All too quickly we had to dash back to the car as the appropriately titled MV Isle of Mull steamed into view.
I could at this point tell you about the ferry herself but in truth I’ve only ever really explored the top deck. The passing scenery and a chance of spotting Dolphins during the crossing are too great an attraction to waste time sitting inside. On this occasion though it was objects of a man made nature that were grabbing our attention with a large military vessel passing across our bows just outside of Oban.
She is the German frigate F221 Hessen, a highly advanced air defence vessel who is presumably on manoeuvres in the area. At least I certainly hope she is! On a less aggressive note the lighthouse at Lismore was as stunning as ever with the snow capped mountains in the background reminding us that despite the sun there was a bitterly cold wind blowing in from the north. And in case you were wondering I hadn’t somehow jumped into the water to take a photograph of our own ferry as someone I showed the photo to suggested. This ship is in fact the Clansman who plies her trade between Oban and the islands of Coll and Tiree.
In no time at all we were docked at Craignure and starting our final drive to the family holiday home located at the north of the island. On our way we spotted Red Breasted Mergansers, Eiders, Wheatears, Swallows and even a couple of Teal, but what greeted us at the house exceeded all my expectations. By the time we’d unloaded the car we had already welcomed back a Willow Warbler that every year sings from the same couple of trees outside the door, as well as a male White Wagtail and a pair of nesting Great Tits. The Snipe that walked up to the sun-porch as bold as brass was definitely new however. We have heard them around the house in past years but never had one walk out into the open before. Photographing through glass is never ideal but the windows proved excellent at keeping us hidden whilst allowing great views.
The Snipe stayed for a good few minutes and called occasionally to defend its territory before finally being spooked into hiding. As ever on Mull the next spectacle was just around the corner, literally in this case, with one of the local Golden Eagles flying along the opposite side of the valley. As we watched the Eagle carried out a series of steep climbs followed by almost vertical drops with wings swept right back. This was new behaviour for us and was truly spectacular to watch. Under constant attack from a Kestrel and two Hooded Crows it eventually landed on the ground though too distant for any photos. We strongly believe that its mate was also just out of sight a few meters further along the hilltop if the diving Hoodies there were anything to go by.
Just as the sun started to set a male Hen Harrier flew into the valley and started to quarter the hillside where the Eagles had been less than an hour before. He only stayed for a minute or two but was soon replaced with a Short Eared Owl! Bearing in mind we are seeing all this from inside the house I think you can appreciate why I love the place so much. I quickly grabbed my camera, headed outside and tried to look invisible in the hope of snatching a few shots. Considering that the sun had now left the valley I am amazed at what I managed to get.
From our first sighting at roughly 19:50 the Owl stayed in the valley until after we had gone to bed. It was constantly hunting and was seen to make numerous dives to the ground, though we never managed to see if it caught anything successfully. This year has seen the Vole population on Mull explode as its prone to do every once in a while, so there is certainly no shortage of prey on offer.
Considering we saw all of the above in a few hours its not hard to imagine what the rest of the week had in store for us. Next up an eventful walk around the coast to Treshnish.