Older and Wetter - Isle of Mull

Monday, July 31, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1100195 - Oystercatcher, Isle of Mull
Originally written 13/07/2017

I notched up another year this morning and felt every one of them thanks to a chorus of aches and pains. Most of those I suspect were down to our adventures at Calgary the previous day where whole muscle groups which had lain dormant since last summer were suddenly called into action. It’s all worth it though and there’s nothing better at loosening up a hurting body than going for a good long walk. Our destination of choice this time was Langamull, tackled either via a simple out and back route or as part of a longer circuit depending on the weather. I’d already seen the forecast and was suspecting the former but nevertheless we set off with high hopes.

P1100180 - Langamull, Isle of Mull

And initially things were looking good. Cloudy but bright conditions meant a warm saunter through the previously dense pine plantations, now felled opening up the views considerably. This new landscape also seems to have benefited the birds in that although we appear to have lost the Crossbills we’ve gained an abundance of other species in their place. Today these included a lovely pair of Whinchats whose call initially had us flummoxed as well as a fine male Bullfinch, hoards of Meadow Pipits and a pair of fly over Mistle Thrushes. We also had decent views of an adult White-tailed Sea Eagle heading inland though sadly too far away for any photos.

It was good to see a couple more Grayling on the wing here as well but with the exception of a Common Blue butterflies were being kept at bay by an increasingly brisk wind. This proved moderately frustrating when what I think might have been a Scotch Argus was sent merrily on its way. Curses.

P1100186 - Langamull, Isle of Mull

Down at Langamull itself two friendly Goats welcomed our arrival and attempted to curry favour by nuzzling Emma’s bag. I suspect that it was actually our packed lunch within which held more of an interest than ourselves. Fortunately they weren’t too persistent and we soon had the tropical white sands to ourselves, unless of course you want to count a Bull and his herd of heifers. Needless to say we gave them a wide berth only to come under attack from an unexpected angle. Hurtling in on a direct intercept course came none other than an enraged pair of Arctic Terns hurling insults which I believe roughly translated as "keep your distance". Having been on the receiving end of those sharp beaks in the Farne Islands I was keen to heed their advice but why the aggression? We soon found out. Further along the beach sat a juvenile Tern, fully fledged but still being fed by its parents at regular intervals. This was fantastic news as it marks at least the second time in recent years that these birds have bred here, though quite how they manage it in a place frequented by numerous visitors and dogs is anyone’s guess.

P1100200 - Arctic Tern, Isle of Mull

Also out on the rocks were a pair of Ringed Plovers and a Common Sandpiper, not to mention the almost ubiquitous Oystercatcher. They were as boisterous as ever though one individual surprisingly landed quite close and seemed happy to pose for the camera.

P1100195 - Oystercatcher, Isle of Mull

It was about this time when everything went south. Looking out across the sea Coll, Canna and then Rum disappeared from view, followed shortly after by the first heavy drops of rain. There was just chance to don full waterproofs before the heavens opened rendering my momentary worry that over trousers might be overkill mute. At least the shower was short lived, if only it hadn’t been followed almost immediately after by one of even greater intensity.

We clearly had a choice to make. Slink back to the car defeated or continue on our planned route. With nothing but bravado to go on we decided to push onwards, hopeful that the showers would pass. They didn’t but we still enjoyed a great walk and even managed to explore a sliver of the island hitherto unvisited. And even though my camera was now packed away that didn’t mean an end to our sightings which included a couple of resilient Skylarks still singing and around at Croig four Redshank, three Curlew and no less than eight Common Sandpipers. That last is a personal record in terms of quantity and I can only presume that there must be something particularly enticing in the mud there. If, no, when the sun returns we shall have to pop back for a more thorough explore.


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Mumbles Kittiwakes and Mediterranean Gulls

Sunday, July 30, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1100637Mediterranean Gull, Mumbles
I thought we'd take a short interlude from the Mull blogs this evening to focus instead on some local news. More specifically Mumbles where amongst the holidaymakers we spent a surprisingly productive couple of hours this afternoon thanks to two stalwarts of the area's avian population. First of these were the Kittiwakes which for various reasons I've not caught up with since the pier was closed pending refurbishment a couple of years ago and their old nesting sites netted off. At the time I feared for the colony's future despite the provision of replacement ledges, feelings which weren't alleviated thanks to the birds sluggish uptake of their new digs. To my own relief things have improved considerably since then, at least for the Kittiwakes. Mumbles pier itself is still in dire need of restoration.


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Calgary by Kayak - Isle of Mull

Saturday, July 29, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Originally written 12/07/2017

No one could call the weather up until now poor but Wednesday was simply glorious. Wall to wall sunshine, barely a breeze to rustle the bracken and with temperatures troubling the upper teens we had the perfect excuse to deploy our kayaks for the first time this year. Regular readers may recall that we purchased a pair of sit-on-tops last summer and this was our first opportunity to bring them up to Mull. We may have taken a hit on fuel economy as a result but when this is your playground, I think it’s a hit worth taking.

P1100127 - Calgary Kayaking, Isle of Mull

Whilst the beach filled up behind us we had Calgary bay virtually to ourselves, a tropical paradise of white sands and turquoise waters rather incongruously set on the west coast of Scotland. Following the coast out along one side before crossing the bay and heading back along the other we had an absolute blast. Watching Emma trying to clamber back into her kayak having stepped ashore to explore and almost getting stranded in a large rock pool as the tide receded stick out as two particularly memorable moments. My personal favourite though was a brilliant encounter with an inquisitive Common Seal which popped up to investigate us while we were having lunch. First appearing on one side then the next, that first breath as it broke the surface often giving away its location. I willed it ever closer but we clearly weren’t quite interesting enough as it soon headed off.

Now being surrounded by salty water is not necessarily the best environment in which to take a camera, but thanks to the GoPro I can at least bring you a small sample of what we experienced.

GOPR0061 - Calgary by Kayak

GOPR0070 - Calgary by Kayak

GOPR0074 - Calgary by Kayak

GOPR0081 - Calgary by Kayak

GOPR0105 - Calgary by Kayak

GOPR0113 - Calgary by Kayak

After four hours it was reluctantly time to head for dry land once more, partly because it was beginning to get a little chilly but mostly because my right bum cheek had gone decidedly numb.

With late afternoon going spare we stuck to our valley for a little local exploration. I had butterflies once more in mind and managed to turn up at least six Dark Green Fritillaries in sight of the house as well as numerous Green-veined Whites. There was also a Magpie Moth on the wing but top billing has to go to another pair of Adders which I found sunning themselves beneath an old stone wall. That makes for six Adders so far this week which does raise the question of how many are actually out there!

P1100164 - Green-veined White, Isle of Mull

P1100167 - Adders, Isle of Mull

P1100175 - Adders, Isle of Mull

There was also chance to take stock of our little feeding station up here, only topped up when someone is in residence but always able to draw in a sizeable crowd. On the first day we arrived there was a single male Chaffinch but since then he’s been joined by no less than two juvenile Robins, a juvenile Stonechat, two Blackbirds, eight House Sparrows, three Rock Doves, a family of Willow Warblers, five Great Tits, one Blue Tit and up to three Siskins. Not a bad haul considering we are literally in the middle of nowhere and trees are in short supply. Of these the Siskins have probably been my favourite visitor to date, partly because they're attractive birds but mostly because I hardly ever get to see any. Even better is that they seem to love the camera if these photos are anything to go by.

P1100152 - Siskin, Isle of Mull

P1100155 - Siskin, Isle of Mull

We finished off with a truly special bird encounter the likes of which only Mull can deliver. It all started with an unfamiliar call from above which turned out to be a male Hen Harrier way up high. Backlit it looked almost completely white save for its black wing-tips and the reason for its alarm soon became clear. Soaring away in our direction was one of the resident Golden Eagles, its head positively shining in the blazing sun. It continued across the valley before joining its mate from where both seemed to delight in harassing the local Hoodies before vanishing out of view. Shouldn’t every day end this way?


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Glengorm Dun - Isle of Mull

Friday, July 28, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1100103 - View from Dun Ara, Glengorm
Originally written 11/07/2017

After a long journey and two full on days we were well up for taking things a little gentler on Tuesday. Quite how we ended up walking five miles across broken country and rocky shorelines then is anyone's guess..

Glengorm was destination of choice with a route which would take us around estate lands and out to the coast where two Dun’s (forts to those of you outside Scotland) waited to be explored. It was a gorgeous day with seas so blue as to look almost unrealistic and barely a cloud in the sky. Thankfully a light breeze kept both the heat and midges at bay and hopes were high that in those more sheltered spots we might strike lucky with a few butterflies. Having walked through plantations draped with lichen we burst into the open and got our very wish.


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Overture and a Stranding - Isle of Mull

Thursday, July 27, 2017 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

P1100053 - Turus Mara at Lunga
One of the big ticket items we had planned for this holiday was a trip out to Staffa and Lunga with Turus Mara. It’s one we’ve taken numerous times before but summer is a particularly special time of year thanks to the magic of Puffin therapy. Now the opportunity to spend any length of time with these colourful creatures is not to be missed so when Andy mentioned that they were running a photography tour out there on Monday and would we like to tag along, the answer had to be a resounding yes! The best part? After the ‘normal’ guests had been taken off Lunga we’d have four whole hours left on the island alone. Just us, eight others and thousands upon thousands of sea birds. What a mouth watering prospect.


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Puffin Therapy - Isle of Mull

Tuesday, July 25, 2017 Adam Tilt 4 Comments

P1100028 - Puffin, Lunga
Imagine Skomer on steroids and you still won’t get close to envisioning quite how good the Puffins on Lunga are. From rafts numbering hundreds of birds on your approach things only get better, culminating in you sitting on the cliffs surrounded by these curious looking creatures as thousands more circulate above and below. They are so completely fearless that we merely become another obstacle to be negotiated allowing intimate observations that simply beggar belief. And I’m writing this having visited several times previously but each time I return I’m completely bowled over anew.

P1090840 - Lunga

The story of this particular trip is even more special than most but that can wait. Here I want to simply focus on the Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots and Shags which call this island home. It won’t surprise you to hear that I completely flattened my camera battery thus were the photographic opportunities, perhaps a saving grace from untold hours spent in edit. I literally didn’t know which way to look next.


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Dolphin and Otter Extravaganza - Isle of Mull

Monday, July 24, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

P1090745_2 - Otter, Isle of Mull
Originally written 09/07/2017

When we woke on Sunday morning the little burn running alongside our house had doubled in width and now resembled more a raging torrent than the gentle babbling brook to which we’d bid good night. Gone too were the expansive open views to be replaced with low cloud and drizzle. This was all feeling a little too Welsh for my liking. Thankfully conditions had improved slightly by the time we dragged ourselves downstairs, thoroughly well rested and raring to go. We didn’t even need to discuss our plans as by tradition the first day on Mull, regardless of weather, is spent walking to Treshnish. Personally this is my favourite route on the island and manages to sum up Mull in a single eight mile loop. Big skies, dramatic coastlines, volcanic geology, raised beaches, caves, illicit whisky stills, fantastic birds and more often than not a few surprises along the way. What would be on the agenda today? Only time would tell.

Setting off we retraced our footsteps from the day before and almost immediately came across the Whinchat family. This time though they were a lot closer and after working my way through the waist high Bracken I finally got some decent shots.

P1090700 - Whinchat, Isle of Mull

P1090702 - Whinchat, Isle of Mull

P1090691 - Whinchat, Isle of Mull

Here too were the Stonechats and Whitethroats but with conditions so dull we left them in peace and continued on to the coast. Fluffy juvenile Wheatears abounded and it was good to see that their parents had passed on the instinct to flee from my camera at the earliest opportunity. Not to worry as I had eyes on a more scaly prize and was pleased to find two of yesterdays Adders sunning themselves in exactly the same spot. From as best I could tell they were the largest female and one of the males and with drizzle starting to fall once again looked anything but amused. Feeling a little more confident this time around having become familiar with their movements and abilities I leant in closer to maximise my shallow depth of field.

P1090712 - Adder, Isle of Mull

Feeling emboldened I pushed things a little too far and in a flash both animals were slinking off into a tangle of Heather for cover, a departing ill tempered hiss to let me know exactly what they thought of me and the weather.

Arriving at Crackaig they may have had a point. It was dull, dreary and lent the strange atmosphere that surrounds this abandoned settlement an even greater sense of melancholy than usual. It’s a lot harder to romanticise the lives of the people who once lived here on days such as this. Still, there was beauty to be found and I couldn’t resist a rare plant photo thanks to Stonecrop which seemed to be growing just about everywhere.

P1090720 - Stonecrop, Isle of Mull

Having not been up here in the summer for a number of years I’d managed to forget just how busy the island can get. Granted we’re not talking Snowdon levels of absurdity but seeing more than one other person around here deserves comment. Thankfully the first gentleman we encountered was very friendly and we stopped to chat about the weather, his nearing of the summit (for we were now on our way down the steep path from Crackaig) and various other typically British small talk. Then he happened to mention that he’d seen a couple of Dolphins out in the bay and as if on cue two dorsal fins broke the surface below. Immediately I knew they were Bottle-nosed Dolphins, their size and jizz giving them away as easily as if they’d been labelled. Then came a third before one of the largest animals took four clear leaps free from the water, each time twisting so as to cause maximum splash once gravity went to work. Simply spectacular. Keen to get a little closer we bade our new companion farewell and hurried down the remaining path where we again saw a leap clear of the water before the pod calmed down and began working their way up Loch Tuath. Settling down for some lunch we watched their progress with keen interest, occasionally distracted by a passing Manx Shearwater or Gannet. Black Guillemots also made a reappearance with three off the cliffs, though significantly harder to get to than those in Oban.

Our choice of vantage point was clearly popular as a dining destination if the two large fish skeletons there were anything to go by. White-tailed Sea Eagle the most likely culprit.

P1090731 - Sea Eagle Meal, Isle of Mull

With the Dolphins seemingly lost to view and our appetites silenced we set off once more. The coastline here is simply stunning and even on a dreary day such as this can’t fail to take your breath away.

P1090735 - Isle of Mull

Then all of a sudden they were back. Two, three then finally six dorsal fins breaking the surface in quick succession, racing their way back in the same direction as us. There were clearly two pairs of animals sticking close together, surfacing in pure synchronicity and, judging by size, mother and calf. A passing yacht provided an immediate distraction for the Dolphins as a couple broke off to go and bow ride providing the occupants with enviable views. Having been there myself on many an occasion I couldn’t help but smile on their behalf and hoped that they realised what a privileged moment they were sharing.

P1090737 - Bottle-nosed Dolphin, Isle of Mull

As the yacht sailed further the Dolphins appeared to grow weary of their fun, or perhaps just had other plans. Regrouping they set a more determined pace now heading in the direction of Treshnish headland, a pace which gave us no end of difficulty in matching. Unlike our aquatic friends we had headlands, inlets and rough terrain to contend with so it was no real surprise when we eventually lost contact. Even so we’d spent at least an hour in their company and how often can you get to say that?

This magnificent stretch of coast had one last surprise in store however. I’d been keeping a keen eye on the various rock pools beneath us in the hope of spotting an Otter, so when a mother and two cubs popped up I very nearly had to do a double take. Thankfully Emma got onto them quickly as they looked to be in playful mood, constantly scrapping and moving along at pace. They clambered from one pool to the next before entering open water and vanishing around the next headland. Racing around after them we thought we’d lost contact until they reappeared on an outcrop of wave washed rock. It all looked a bit perilous and indeed proved to be as a large breaker ripped their grip free, casting the three into a cauldron of churning water. I couldn’t help but feel a moment of panic but I needn’t have worried. These hardy mammals are built for the rough and tumble of this environment and were soon hauling themselves back out.

P1090745_2 - Otter, Isle of Mull

Things surely couldn’t get better than that. And they didn’t.

But of course this is Mull so one must evaluate everything on a different scale. Anywhere else and watching a Golden Eagle perched on the hillside in late evening sunshine would have been a heart stopping, life defining moment. Here however it’s become almost the norm but I still savour every one of these encounters. Watching a bird as big as this soar just meters off the ground, its shadow racing along beneath and sun glinting from that golden crown as it turns its head to look at you is, and will always be, out of this world.

P1090753 - Isle of Mull


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Adders, Eagles and Black Guillemots - Isle of Mull

Sunday, July 23, 2017 Adam Tilt 3 Comments

P1090608 - Black Guillemot, Oban
Originally written 08/07/2017

I’ll admit that lying on the pavement at five in the morning trying to explain to a trio of last night’s revellers that the black and white birds I was desperately trying to photograph were in fact Black Guillemots may, to some at least, appear a little odd. On any normal morning hell, I’d have probably agreed with them, but this was by no means a normal morning. Instead of the sound of slamming car doors and fretful children the first rays of light seeping across the sky were met with a deep grumble as giant slumbering diesel engines were slowly coaxed into life. Their acrid fumes seemed in sharp contrast to the fine rigging of a schooner at berth nearby, the high tide lapping gently at her sides as along the shoreline just beneath where I lay. It all seemed a million miles away from our everyday lives and yet at the same time familiar, like an old friend whose re-acquaintance we were just beginning to make. And in many ways that was true for the town of Oban is one which I have visited numerous times over the years, our arrival here the final hop on a long journey taking us away from the stresses and worries of our lives back home and on to a place where time loses almost all meaning save for the rise and set of the sun each day. The hours between are ours to do with as we please. No one judging, no one demanding. A true sense of freedom let loose on the Hebridean wilderness where Golden Eagles display over breakfast and the views appear almost endless. And of the magical vessel which was to take us to this special place? Well she, the MV Isle of Mull, was beginning to stir.


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Butterflies of Bryn Lliw Grasslands

Thursday, July 20, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

Remember when I wrote that we'd only ever seen Marbled White's in England prior to our discovery at Whiteford? Lies all lies. Due to what I can only blame on old age it had completely slipped my mind that last year we'd stumbled across loads of the things literally just down the road. As we were on a long cycle ride the plan had been to return with the camera at a later date and do a proper explore but, well you know what happens to best laid plans. Still, there's no time like the present for righting a wrong so a couple of weeks ago we returned and virtually from the get go couldn't help but stumble over Marbled White's such were their number. Of course that doesn't mean they were necessarily playing ball when it came to photography but after an hour or so toiling in the heat I finally got the result I was after.

P1090407 - Marbled White

So where then is this place? Well if you'd been driving through Swansea in 1996 you very likely had it to blame for the closure of the M4 as that was the year the old colliery tip here caught fire. Left idle since the closure of Brynlliw it continued to burn for an astonishing three years until a legal case finally forced the Coal Authority to act. In the meantime residents were left to endure acrid fumes and thick layers of dust coating their properties. There's a fascinating article on BBC news here from the time. Reading that it's hard to believe we're talking about the same place but it's remarkable what a lot of landscaping and mother nature can achieve. Just look at it now.

P1090476 - Bryn Lliw Grasslands

The lush meadows were alive with insect life with yet more Six-spot Burnet moths and umpteen other day flying species which I didn't get chance to identify. Overhead we had both Red Kite and Buzzard at close range whilst the scrubby vegetation held a Garden Warbler, Chiffchaff and several Stonechats. We also caught sight of what we believe was a juvenile Green Woodpecker but it disappeared before we could get a better view. In such surroundings I decided that a challenge was in order and set ourselves the relatively ambitious target of seeing and photographing ten butterfly species before the heat forced us to retreat. How did we do? Judge for yourself.

P1090474 - Green-veined White
Green-veined White

P1090468 - Small Skipper
Small Skipper

P1090454 - Comma

P1090444 - Common Blue
Common Blue

P1090421 - Meadow Brown
Meadow Brown

P1090400 - Ringlet

P1090395 - Large Skipper
Large Skipper

For anyone numerically challenged I can confirm that there are only eight species there and of them the Common Blue barely counts given its sorry state. I'm amazed it could still fly. Even so not a bad haul but what did surprise me was a complete lack of Speckled Woods along the wooded boundaries. All that's done however is encourage me to try again. Indeed having read up a little on some of the other butterfly species which can be found in our local area I'm beginning to think that 2018 may even see us going for a year list. Now there's something I never thought I'd be saying!


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#Walk1000Miles - Six Month Update

Sunday, July 16, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

As promised it's time to take stock and see where six months of walking has gotten us. Will we still be on track for our year long target of 1,000 miles or will we find ourselves suddenly requiring a few marathon distances to catch up. The only way to know for sure was to sit down, average out our various pedometers and phone apps before totalling everything up. The result? See for yourself.

To my own genuine surprise we have just cracked the 530 mile mark which means we are bang on where we should be right now. Most of that distance has come through short walks after work each evening, when the weather allows of course, and it's amazing how quickly those can add up. Granted we've had a couple of weeks holiday in there as well which allowed us to set our current seven day record of 41.9 miles, and with another fortnight coming up I'm aiming to push that total even higher. 

The impact on me personally is that I'm probably the fittest I've been for several years but there's definitely still room for improvement. Motivation a plenty to crack on and see where we can get to before Auld Lang Syne once more graces us with its presence.


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Juvenile Skylark and a Meadow Pipit

Thursday, July 13, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

It's not escaped my notice that there has been a slight dearth of bird photos on this blog of late. Trust me, it's not for want of trying but we're currently in that time of year which we birders like to refer to as "the doldrums". The fact is that in general June and July are pretty quiet when it comes to our feathered friends, the odd rarity excepted. Why else do you think so many of us have ended up turning to butterflies, moths and even in some cases, dare I say it, plants! I've not yet been desperate enough to go quite that far but am definitely eagerly awaiting more interesting times. That's not to say that there's nothing out there to see of course, it's just that one needs work a little harder to find it. Our trip to Whiteford just over a week ago was a prime example where some good field craft ended up allowing me to get close to both a juvenile Skylark and adult Meadow Pipit in truly appalling lighting. I'm always up for a challenge however and ended up fairly satisfied with the fruits of my labour.

P1090122_2 - Juvenile Skylark, Whiteford

P1090120 - Meadow Pipit, Whiteford

Now if the local Caspian Tern would like to show itself at a time when I'm not in work then that would be much appreciated as that's one bird which is just crying out to make it onto these pages.


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Bird Skulls

Monday, July 10, 2017 Adam Tilt 0 Comments

It's part of our innate human nature to want to collect and hoard. How many of us for instance have walked a beach's high tide line searching for interestingly shaped pieces of driftwood? At what age did you bring home that first cherished shell from your summer holidays? I'm no different and for as long as I can remember have been collating an ever changing assortment of natural items. Giant pine cones from southern France, bird feathers and enough driftwood to create several works of art around our home are just an example. One thing I really wanted to get into though were bones, or more specifically skulls. I lay blame on this latest area of interest firmly at the feet of several blogs and fellow twitter users whose own personal collections are envious to say the least. Jake's Bones I'm looking principally at you here.

It's not exactly the easiest of hobbies to start however requiring an element of luck and plenty of time spent out in the field. Thankfully the latter is in no short supply around here and over the last couple of years I've begun to pick up a few items, one of which has already featured on these pages. My very first find and still my personal favourite was this Oystercacther skull discovered near Llanelli, but since then I've also added skulls from a Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Jackdaw, Robin and Meadow Pipit.

P1090522 - Bird Skulls

With the exception of the Jackdaw skull which I miraculously found in the middle of our lawn completely clean, all have required a degree of preparation to get them to this state. Principally this involved several months soaking in water with a small amount of biological washing powder, a distinctly unpleasant process which works wonders at stripping off any remaining flesh. Then followed a couple of days soaking in Hydrogen Peroxide (surprisingly tricky stuff to get hold of) to sterilise and whiten the bones before a final thorough drying. As a first attempt I'm pretty damn impressed with the results as you'll hopefully agree.

P1090479 - Gannet Skull

Manx Shearwater

P1090491 - Manx Shearwater Skull


P1090501 - Robin Skull


P1090506 - Jackdaw Skull

Meadow Pipit

P1090507 - Meadow Pipit Skull

Seeing how well these have turned out has only increased my desire to keep searching and see what else I can find. All that's for certain is I'm going to need some bigger shelves!


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