Written on 29/09/2014, Isle of Mull
It was all go this morning with an early outing to retrieve the remote camera (which captured absolutely nothing overnight, not even a sheep) finding us slap bang in the middle of a battlefield. To our left on the far side of the valley stood an impressive Red Deer stag, antlers thrust forward, sun shining from its sleek coat and voice clearly in very good working order. For the first time in days there was hardly a breath of wind allowing his bellows to travel clearly across to where we stood. What, or perhaps who, were they aimed at though? We didn’t have to wait long for an answer with another stag moving into view on the horizon up to our right. He too bellowed a warning across the valley before moving further up the hillside with his harem. Dispute seemingly settled that was the last we saw of either animal but let’s hope for some more direct action before the week is out!
Testosterone induced antics weren’t the only delights to be had on this first truly sunny morning in several days. Oh no. First up was a male Hen Harrier giving more superb flight views as it quartered the hillside before heading off in the direction of the deer (a rutting fan perhaps?), followed by a female Yellowhammer on our bird feeders. They’ve usually been a reliable fixture but had been strangely absent this year so it’s good to finally have one turn up. Also of interest were a family of Song Thrushes and four fly-over Mistle Thrushes, a new species for us in the valley.
It was a tough decision as to whether or not we should stay and watch for anything else to unfold but with no further sign of either stag we figured it would be safe to slip away. The walk we had planned would take us from Dervaig out to Quinish Point, one of our regular jaunts and a decent outing at just over nine miles. As usual on Mull the route offers endless possibilities for just about anything to turn up with this Slow Worm being our first surprise of the day.
Sitting as it was in the middle of the road may not have been the best idea for longevity (one captive Slow Worm was once recoded as living for over fifty years) so I moved her out of harm’s way. I say her as apparently males have smooth skin making this marked individual a female.
As at Langamull the forestry behind Dervaig has been subject to extensive felling of late completely changing the landscape we remembered. For me at least these changes have been for the better with the mixture of open spaces and thick woodland providing a better balance and allowing extensive views through what had been completely enclosed valleys.
A Great-spotted Woodpecker, Coal Tits, Buzzards and two very noisy Ravens kept us company until we once more emerged onto open grassland above Loch Mingary. Overlooking the Glen More estate this stretch of water is one of the most picturesque on the island and being relatively distant from civilisation means you normally have the place entirely to yourself.
Out on the water six Red-breasted Mergansers were busy chasing each other around the loch, literally running across its surface at times, making this probably one of our best years for the species. Sadly my dreams of migrating geese are yet to be fulfilled however with just the usual Greylags present, though this super tame Rock Pipit, complete with what looks like a small crab in its beak, was a definite highlight.
The main target for the walk, other than this lovely scenery of course, was a triangulation pillar atop Mingary Aird. Standing only 73 meters above sea level we first spotted it from Croig and as something of a trig-bagger it had to be reached. Of course we should have known better than to expect a limited height to mean an easy approach, a fact proven all too well after climbing the wrong hill for the second time in succession. When the correct summit was finally obtained the views stretching across to the Ardnamurchan peninsula were well worth the effort.
The return route took us back through the Quinish estate and normally passes off without a hitch. On this occasion though a somewhat shifty looking Bull seemed to have other ideas. Never one to enjoy passing through a field of cows the few steps taken in approach were enough to send us scurrying into the trees to find an alternative route. Cautious perhaps but a wise decision given that moments later the whole herd went careering through the gate at which we’d just been stood. At least our nerves were calmed by the appearance of a mixed flock containing Treecreeper, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Goldcrest. The racket being made was certainly something to behold. What was strangely absent however were the Siskins. Not a single one was seen, even at the normally packed feeders back along the road to Dervaig. If they’re reading this then please come back. Quinish just isn’t the same without you.