With a coastline stretching to almost three hundred miles in length and boasting some of the best scenery in the country, it’s not hard to see why most visitors to the Isle of Mull spend their entire holiday along it. I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past so this year wanted to make a conscious effort to explore more of the inland areas of the island. From our position in the north we are really spoilt for choice when it comes to hill-walking with numerous peaks accessible, many of sufficient height to provide breathtaking views across large swathes of Mull. The only challenge really was choosing what to climb, a decision which for the purposes of this entry will have to remain concealed due to the sensitive nature of one of the species seen. Even so it shouldn’t be too hard to work out from the photos included as this is after all a well publicised route.
Setting off from the car I was immediately struck by a severe bout of hay fever, worse than I’ve ever experienced before. In hot conditions and with several hours of tough walking ahead this was far from ideal and almost brought an early halt to proceedings. Fortunately gaining height combined with the consumption of large quantities of Haribo eased my suffering until the birds managed to take my attention completely. A pair of Wood Pigeons (we don’t tend to see many on the island) followed by a group of at least eight Mistle Thrushes were quickly upstaged by a soaring Golden Eagle which gave fantastic views against the Ben More range. I’ve often seen people watching this valley with telescopes but had previously never been lucky enough to see for myself what they were waiting for. Now at last I know and can add another Eagle haunt to my map of Mull.
As we climbed higher the Eagle remained a fairly constant feature on the landscape until finally it moved beyond our range of vision. Very quickly though the next treat was upon as we reached the first of our two peaks and heard an unusual call drifting across the landscape. Instinctively I knew it had to be a Golden Plover and indeed moments later a single bird flew into view. From its behaviour it was clear that we were somewhere near a nesting territory as any passing Hooded Crows or Ravens were met with a barrage of abuse. From a personal perspective this was excellent news as I’ve not previously managed to find evidence for Golden Plovers breeding on Mull, having only ever seen them passing through near Caliach Point. Sadly I couldn’t spot any youngsters which would have really clinched the deal but it was still a delight to see this attractive bird in summer plumage.
At least another three individuals were seen in the same area with a similar number on the next peak we visited, just over a mile away. It was while watching these that we spotted a large herd of Red Deer highlighted against the skyline to the east and numbering at least thirty animals. I’ll admit to getting quite excited at this as I’ve never seen such a large gathering of these animals on Mull before and it was clear that several had an impressive set of antlers on display. Brief thoughts of stalking passed through my mind but it was obvious that even though we were a long distance away, we’d already been detected.
Leaving the Red Deer to their feeding we headed further along what had now developed into a gently sloping ridge with commanding views towards both the east and west flanks of Mull. In hindsight we should have been keeping our eyes closer to home perhaps as upon stepping onto an overhang I was startled to see two fully antlered Red Deer staring back at me, barely more than a couple of meters away. Cursing my clumsiness they bolted for cover almost immediately; another case of ‘nearly but not quite’ with these elusive creatures.
After that experience you’d think I’d learnt my lesson but no, scarcely ten minutes later another overhang but this time a pair of startled Red Grouse! In truth I’m not sure who was more surprised, the Grouse at having their peace disturbed in such a remote location or myself for having actually found them. Emma tells me that back when she was a child Red Grouse were a common sight near the house where we stay, but in recent years they have almost completely disappeared. The closest I’ve ever come to seeing one was a pile of droppings last year so for me this was a real treat. Thankfully Grouse are somewhat slower than Deer and I managed to fire off a couple of shots as they scurried away. Definitely find of the day.
By now the heat and unrelenting sunshine (how often do I get to type that!) were starting to take their toll, so we started our descent. Along the way we passed a small lochan that upon initial investigation appeared to be completely empty. Moments later though a Red Throated Diver emerged from the surrounding vegetation, quickly followed by a youngster! Seeing these normally ocean going birds high in the hills is always a slightly surreal experience but it’s great news to find more evidence of successful breeding on the island. Needless to say we didn’t approach any closer and quickly diverted to give the birds a wide birth. I just hope others that follow this route do the same.
There was one final quality bird to be seen near the car in the shape of a Dipper. Always good to find and not a guaranteed species during our brief visits. All in all a very successful day with some real Mull rarities thrown in for good measure. After finally seeing Red Grouse I think that just leaves me with Ptarmigan on my ‘must see’ birds list for the island, and to tick that one off I’m going to have to head up Ben More. One for next year I think.