Written on 30/09/2014, Isle of Mull
Sheets of rain lashing across the valley kept us cooped up until late afternoon. By then my Kindle was protesting ever louder that its batteries were about to expire (never a problem with paper) so when a break in the weather appeared we went for it whole heartedly. It appeared as if the improving conditions, which did not include a drop in wind speed nor an increase in brightness, had also brought the locals out of their respective shelters. First up was a male Yellowhammer on the feeders, its vivid colour standing in sharp contrast to the gloom cloaking everything and everyone. Even the Golden Eagles appeared as mere silhouettes though by flying right over the sun porch they still achieved an impressive showing. It’s not often you look up from a good book to find yourself literally meters from an approaching eagle.
With only a couple of hours until dusk, and probably even less before the next storm arrived, we set off to explore the hill directly behind our house. Standing wide and squat its mixture of peat bog, moorland and rocky outcrops makes for a challenging walk at the best of times though almost minimal human visitation means that anything found is often being done so for the very first time. So it proved today with the remains of a young Red Deer foal located just below the summit, its short life a mystery for now and evermore. Based on recent observations there are plenty of Red Deer which did make it into adulthood though and it didn’t take long to spot signs of their habitation. For most of the week we’ve been finding shallow, muddy pools which up until now had remained a mystery. They looked almost as if they’d been dug to provide a watering hole though for what and by whom we couldn’t fathom. That was of course until Emma remembered reading that stags will often roll around in such pools to spread their strong rutting odour across the entire body. Suddenly all those little details started to make sense with hoof/antler marks visible in the mud and material thrown wide in the process scattered across surrounding vegetation.
One question still remained however. Where was the stag now? Stretching our legs further we strayed deeper onto the neighbouring estate until Emma’s frantic pointing brought me to a halt. At first I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about but then I spotted the stag facing us down with his harem of eleven females standing nearby. On the one hand it was interesting to note that his allure had clearly been bringing in the ladies since our last count but I was also busy working out just how quickly he could close the distance between us. Admittedly it was probably over half a mile but when there’s nothing but a single stone wall as protection for a considerably greater distance in any direction the mind does have a tendency to focus.
After several minutes of us watching him watching us the whole herd moved off further into the next valley. I won’t deny a feeling of slight relief but I’d have loved to have had a chance at photographing the stag. Even from this distance he looked in fine form though perhaps it was better that my sense of self-preservation won out in the end.
Back on the correct side of danger I was delighted to find three Red grouse hunkered down against the wind. We first saw this species on Mull near the summit of Beinn Bhuidhe last year but there are historical records from the family of them being present nearer the house. Undoubtedly their numbers have diminished over the years but the occasional sighting has kept my hopes up that we’d get lucky in the end. As it turned out today was that day and I managed a distant record shot before they flew off after the Red Deer (apologies for the quality but conditions really were pretty dire). They’ve certainly got their protection strategy sorted.
Our return to the shelter of base camp could not have come soon enough as the ever increasing wind delivered the next in a long line of stormy downpours. Even now the rain is pounding against the windows though I’m assured of better tomorrow. Fingers crossed everyone?