Monday, 10 August 2009

Isle of Mull

(Otters, promise.)

So, Mull, huh? As good as they say? It sure is!

Expectations had already been boosted on the long journey up there when a lay-by along Loch Awe produced a family group of Ospreys, a couple of adults and two or three fledglings. The skies were bucketing it down (too heavy to get out of the car even) so no pictures , just fantastic memories for us.

Onward to Mull we had booked one of the wildlife safaris you simply must go on when you make it to the island. There are seven currently running and we chose the Wild About Mull tour because it could pick us up from our campsite right on the tip of the Ross peninsula. Bryan, our guide, did us well with an Otter early on, a WT-Eagle in a tree across Loch Scridain and then Golden Eagles sailing across the highest ridges on the island. That's the big three ticked. The Goldie was a lifer for me (#218). Seals, Red Deer, Raven, Golden Plovers, Stonechat soon followed, with Red-throated Diver and Red-breasted Merganser coming earlier in the day, and all in all it was £37-each well spent.
Like most visitors we did the tour at the beginning of the week so we'd have a handle on the place for the rest of our holiday.

We camped for the whole week at Fidden Farm just a mile or so south of the Fionnphort and the ferry for Iona. Like the wildlife tour, Iona really demands you devote a day to it, at least then you might stand a chance of actually spotting one of the many calling Corncrakes that excite, frustrate, but mostly excite, all around the enchanting isle (video). Not a bad island if you enjoy your history or you're in with Jesus either. We failed on seeing a CC, so to tick or not to tick? That is the question. A lot of people have been pondering that all over England during this good Quail summer, another noisy skulking bird. I'm still undecided.

Back on Mull, we connected with the WT-Eagles again a couple of times, once back at a nest site we'd seen on the tour. The one chick apparently fledged the day before (grah!), but the good news is they tend to go straight down into the nearby woodland and stay there for several days so you still get to see the parents bringing in food.
Early mornings around Fidden did well for the holiday list, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Snipe all in the brook beside the farm, and the buildings themselves housed a not unspectacular summer Starling roost with perhaps a 150 birds funneling during the evening. Wheatear everywhere, same with Oystercatcher, Redshank, Hooded Crow of course. Nice surprise one morning was a male Peregrine chasing away either another male or perhaps a youngster directly over head at about 40ft on my way to the camp toilets one morning. The screaming sure woke me up.
Nearby the farm a dead end track leads off past Fidden to the scatterings of other farms on the south-west tip of the Ross to where we had some of our best birding of the holiday. Within a minute of each other we had a WT-Eagle sail in quite low from the west, and then sitting on a rocky pinnacle a Golden Eagle, which then took off to glide along the rolling ridges in the distance. Impressive!
An impromptu visit to Tireragan nature reserve followed after we picked up a map leaflet from the farm at the end of the track. A warning to visitors, the paths may start easy, but they soon disappear into a dense jungle of bracken, so taking a compass and an OS map would probably be a good idea. Do go though, we had a family group of ring-tail Hen Harrier careering across the sky, looked like they were tossing each other around the sky actually. Close views of Ravens checking out us checking them out followed, and then the briefest view of an immaculate male Hen Harrier - which be honest are the ones we really want to see - frightening every Mippit and Stonechat in the area.
Elsewhere along the Ross we very briefly had a single Twite, with reported flocks of up to 50 birds eluding us somehow.

Must briefly mention Carsaig bay, a short visit there discovered Spotted Flycatchers, they're always a pleasure.

Finally, for the girlfriend's birthday I promised we'd go find our own Otters, and this we did. I don't want to say quite where - somewhere west of Glen More will do - we found a mother and cub hunting on a rising tide. I say hunting, it really looks like play. Picked up a Merlin cruising across the shoreline here too.
On the day we left for home, one more stop by the same area brought us a dog Otter and we had reasonable close views of him 'sprainting' a small rocky island in the loch. A charming, if poo-themed, way to end our holiday.

There's gotta be a next time when it comes to visiting the Isle of Mull.
White-tailed Eagle at something toward half a mile distance.

Given a special invite to the ladies loos in Bunessan to see these fledgling Swallows.

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