Mull. Home from home, place of natural wonder and the closest I’m ever likely to get to true wilderness. Regular readers will be familiar with our numerous jaunts up to this island paradise by now, a jewel off the west coast of Scotland and a place to which I find myself being inextricably drawn time and time again. We spent a couple of weeks last summer birding its cliffs, kayaking its lochs and walking its hills and still left wanting more. Is it any real surprise therefore that last October we were back again, a week ours to spend amongst the Red Deer, bronzed bracken and soaring Eagles.
Before all that though we had to get there which being residents of south Wales involves a very long drive indeed. If we make it in under ten hours I’d consider that pretty good going but on this particular trip it seemed that we were going to have our work cut out for us. Cue biblical rainfall, roadside Stags and perhaps strangest of all, a Police roadblock. Not exactly what we were expecting in the early morning hours miles from anywhere but that’s exactly what we got. I’m not sure if the attending officer was surprised or glad to see us but what followed ranks as one of the most surreal conversations I think I’ve ever had. Needless to say we were of no use to their enquiries and I’m not entirely sure we managed to convince them that a) we weren’t local, b) we did know these roads very well and c) no we really weren’t local. All very odd but we eventually pulled into Oban at around three in the morning, parked up and enjoyed the uncomfortable delights of a night in the car.
When morning came it was pitch black, the shorter daylight hours this far north catching me out once again. No Black Guillemot photography this time then but the MV Isle of Mull was a blaze of artificial light and in no time we were underway, past Lismore and on to our destination at Craignure.
Before we go any further and to avoid me repeating myself endlessly it’s worth saying now that this week was wet. Very wet. It rained regularly, sometimes continuously, leaving the island a sodden mess of mud, peat and overflowing burns. I’d truly never seen Mull so saturated but had such conditions restricted the wildlife on offer? Not a bit of it. By the end of our first day we’d already watched a superb ringtail Hen Harrier hunting our valley, had a White-tailed Sea Eagle drift by the house and enjoyed the sight of huge mixed flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare streaming overhead. Add to that both Great Northern Diver and Red-throated Diver from the beach and other than soggy trousers it was very much business as usual. In fact the only real big hitter missing was Golden Eagle but one of the local birds turned up for breakfast the next morning, as you do.
Unlike previous Mull trips I’d made a concious decision this time out not to concentrate too much on photography and to keep my written notes to a minimum. The need to unwind and relax was strong so whilst we were as busy as usual my digital output was much reduced hence the rather truncated nature of the blogs for this trip. Indeed I recorded nothing from our second day other than a species list which included such delights as Manx Shearwaters, winter plumaged Black Guillemots, Snipe and our first Otter of the trip, albeit briefly, before the rain set in once more.
By Monday however the weather looked to be finally turning in our favour and after another morning sat in the company of our Golden Eagle pair it was on to Calgary where the sun even managed to shine. Taking advantage of this unexpected opportunity I couldn’t resist photographing the Rock Pipits which are often to be found feeding along the strandline here.
Mull being Mull of course you can never take your eyes off the ball for a minute and no sooner had I misplaced a probable Snow Bunting the call went up that there was an Otter in the surf. Right I thought it’s probably not that close but blow me if the Otter wasn’t right there fishing in the shallows. By the time I’d made it down it had of course moved off a little way but even so we got some stupendous views as dive after dive was rewarded with a series of unfortunate crustaceans.
Even better was to come courtesy of some more late evening sun which lit up the surrounding landscape beautifully, a rich tapestry of golds, bronzes and oranges.
To our good fortune the decent weather continued across the next two days which saw us first heading out to Langamull and then over Glengorm. At Langamull two Barnacle Geese flying past were a nice surprise as was a Peregrine Falcon, not always a species we manage to see on the island. Gannets passed by at regular intervals but unusually there was no sign of the Sea Eagles at what is normally a reliable site. The scenery remained as special as ever.
At Glengorm we repeated the route we’d first walked in the summer, out to Loch Mingary before looping back via Dun Ara. Again we were treated to more brilliant views of Hen Harrier, another ringtail quartering the hillside before us. Out at sea a few Kittiwakes battled the stiff breeze and it was nice to see a raft of at least sixty Guillemots and Razorbills in the Sound.
We finished up with a Greenshank at Dervaig and this rather cheeky looking Common Seal.
Little did I know that we’d shortly be getting views a whole lot closer than this.