Words and images from 04/04/2018
Contrary to all expectations we awoke at first light to find that Mull had been treated to another helping of snow overnight. Even this close to the coast the ground was white over but despite many very kind offers I declined the opportunity to go and build a snowman (you may sing this line if you must) choosing instead the warmth of bed and a good book. By breakfast the earlier low cloud base had lifted, blue sky was visible and even the sun had come out making short work of any snow around our house. This left for a rather incongruous juxtaposition of this snowman against what for all intents and purposes looked like a warm summer’s day.
Looks however can be deceiving and as with much of the past fortnight there was a strong and very cold wind blowing. Its effect was amplified having switched to a northerly overnight making today’s choice of walk all the more critical. In the end we plumped for the raised beach between Burg and Tostary, an old favourite with plenty of scope for the unexpected as we were about to find out. Before we’d even really got going two White-tailed Sea Eagles had filled the sky with their barn door silhouettes, adult and immature birds both seemingly heading out towards Gometra. Then came a harsh calling from the cliffs above us, a pair of Hooded Crows with something clearly on their minds. I looked up just in time to see them chase a Golden Eagle from its perch, all three engaging in a battle for dominance right above our heads. Despite the Eagle’s best efforts the combined attention of two assailants proved too much and in the end it drifted off out of view. Even so what a privilege to witness and if I’m not mistaken this is the same immature bird which we’ve seen on several occasions already this week.
With a start like that it was only a matter of time before we ticked off all of Mull’s big three once again, the set completed within barely half an hour thanks to the eagle eyes of Emma spotting an Otter heading our way. Hunting a couple of metres off shore it didn’t look to be having much success but still gave some great views, if a little distant by our last encounters standards, before vanishing into thin air. How on earth do they manage that?
As if all that hadn’t been enough we continued to pick up one incredible sighting after another. First came the by now regular selection of Great Northern Divers, Red-throated Divers and Kestrels before a Peregrine Falcon shot out from the cliffs beneath us. Although a few miles from our previous sighting at Treshnish this was almost certainly the same bird, a sub-adult judging by plumage. Then came a shout for Barn Owl, a species I’d yet to see on Mull, and blow me if there wasn’t one flying along the cliffs ahead of us. More used to seeing these hunters over the flat fields of Norfolk, watching one above a beach on the Scottish coastline was certainly a novel experience. The owl only travelled a short distance before disappearing into a narrow inlet and when passing that way it came as a shock to find myself looking straight into its eyes barely a couple of metres away. Camera in hand I should have got a belter of a photo but in the moment I hesitated to simply absorb what I was seeing, a couple of seconds in which my chance came and went.
The wildlife wasn’t the only remarkable thing about this walk however as whilst we may have lost our snow back at the house, it was clear that the rest of Mull was keen to hang onto its for a while longer yet. The Ben More range in particular looked spectacular, a series of crisp white peaks whose snowline we watched slowly rise throughout the day.
Heading back we passed the old Dunn at Burg where nearby a herd of Red Deer stags were chilling, again inside the deer fence designed to keep them out. Against the clear blue sky they looked every bit the classic highland fixture. Sadly I don’t have any images to share as would you believe it but heat haze ruined the sharpness of every single one!
Back at the house we spent the late afternoon warming up and enjoying the comings and goings on our bird feeders. The male Reed Bunting and female Yellowhammer have continued to grace us with their presence but were joined, albeit briefly, by a lone Rock Dove. As usual it spent more time scaring itself than actually feeding and ended up shooting off in a flurry of wings for no discernible reason whilst all around it remained calm. Needless to say I didn’t even attempt to get any photos but thankfully the Adder was back in its favoured sunning spot and far more accommodating. Who’d have thought that a morning which started by building snowmen would end with an Adder.
Although that’s not quite the end. With conditions remaining favourable late into the evening I just had to climb the nearest hill to see how the sunset would light what snow remained. With only a Raven for company we could have been the only people for miles and were undoubtedly unique in our vantage point taking in the neighbouring isles of Rum, Jura, Skye, Treshnish and Ulva, to name just a few. Ben More too was looking mightily impressive, its white coat taking on a pinkish hue as the sun sank ever lower.
Ultimately the sunset itself was robbed of any final brilliance by a bank of cloud on the horizon but even so, it wasn’t exactly what you’d call dull.
With the loss of the sun the temperature dropped like a stone and with storm clouds in the distance, who knows what we might wake to in the morning.