Regular readers of this blog should by now know just what a special place the Isle of Mull is when it comes to wildlife. A typical day for us normally involves eating breakfast whilst watching a pair of Golden Eagles stretching their wings, often followed by a walk where Otters and Seals are all but guaranteed. Evening comes with Hen Harriers and Short Eared Owls quartering the hillside opposite and never rule out the evocative tones of a thrumming Snipe once dusk starts to fall. With our visit this year being so late in the season I fully expected to see a change in the wildlife we recorded and that proved to be just the case. All of the spring migrants had long gone which meant no Wheatears, no Swallows and sadly no Short Eared Owls either. In their place were a plethora of autumn migrants including my first ever sighting of Redwings and Fieldfare on Mull. Even better though were the large flocks of Whooper Swans passing through, often on days with the worst weather, battling their way into Loch Tuath against sometimes severe head winds. Their ghostly forms were easy to pick out against the vast seascape and we even got great close-up views of a lone individual resting on Mishnish Lochs. More waterfowl migration came in the form of a flyover Brent Goose (another Mull first for me), two Greenland White-fronted Geese and a lone Barnacle Goose feeding with a large flock of feral Greylags at Croig.
The Golden Eagles were still very much in residence with at least one adult and one juvenile bird seen over the house at least twice a day. These birds seem to have replaced the pair that held this territory for many years and with the arrival of fresh blood hopes have to be high for a better rate of breeding success in the future. They were kept company on most days by a White-tailed Sea Eagle which we often spotted travelling along the coastline presumably on the hunt for fertile fishing grounds. Now this is a species we’ve been seeing more and more regularly in our area but thus far they appear to be having no impact on the Goldies. I’m very glad about that as who can complain when the Eagle was happy to hover directly above our heads whilst we gazed on in awe.
Other raptors in our valley included pairs of Buzzard and Kestrel plus a female Hen Harrier which gave superb views on most evenings. She was often observed quartering the hillsides over which our house looks and that is something no one could ever tire of. Another ringtail gave similarly impressive views at Dervaig but, as ever, what we really wanted to see was a male. We were very fortunate to get just such a wish granted on our very first evening as a male Hen Harrier passed across the valley high in the sky. We watched it for as long as we could until it disappeared behind the hill and let me assure you it was easily one of my birding highlights this year.
On a smaller and slightly less deadly scale another notable first for the island was the discovery of a Dipper fishing on our local beach. The large rock pools there seemed to be providing ample food and with cover supplied by large boulders I was able to creep in relatively close. The sight of such a small and seemingly vulnerable bird against a backdrop of crashing seas was really quite something and hopefully I’ve captured a little of the drama in my second image below.
Another bird which became a regular companion throughout our stay was the Rock Pipit, a species which normally keeps its distance especially if you happen to be holding a camera. To find this tame individual on Langamull beach therefore was definitely a bonus and what a stunner it turned out to be.
Casting our eyes seawards, as one must do on a regular basis when inhabiting a small island, delivered the usual collection of commoner species including Gannets, Shags, Common Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls and our first Common Scoter for Mull. The latter was a cracking female/juvenile type which flew right beneath us during a short sea watch from Caliach Point. Great Northern Divers also proved quite numerous with a group of four in Calgary Bay our largest single count of the holiday. Several were still in almost full summer plumage which looked quite stunning against a relatively barren backdrop of grey water and even greyer skies. Surprise sighting of the trip probably goes to a winter plumaged Black Guillemot which I spotted out in Tobermory Bay. Almost entirely white it had me baffled for a while before a flap of its wings gave the game away. There was also an Otter here but all remained distant, a complaint which could not be levelled at the Hooded Crows looking for scraps at Calgary.
Away from birds we enjoyed good views of both Grey and Common Seals throughout the week, not forgetting of course Red Deer with which we shared our valley. At least four stags were keeping a close eye on their respective harems but other than a couple of roars, things proved rather quiet. I’d really been looking forward to a good rut this year but either we’ve missed it or the males simply couldn’t be bothered, content instead to stick with what they’d got. Can’t blame them really as I’d have done the same. Other mammal sightings included a much maligned Mink near Croig taking fish back to its den (a sign of youngsters being present perhaps) plus of course the Sheep of which you’re never more than a few foot distant.
Waders were also better represented than during the summer months with good numbers of Curlew present plus a Greenshank at Dervaig. I’m pretty sure there was at least one Redshank there as well but despite being able to hear it we never did manage to get eyes on. What a fantastic way to spend a week and we’ve already turned our thoughts towards 2016 and our next trip back to the brilliant, superb Isle of Mull.