Thursday, 12 July 2012

Isle of Mull 2012

On 30th June I travelled to Scotland with Cain and the rest of the Cumbria University Wildlife Photography Society.

After seven hours our journey was complete and we had reached our destination for the next week, the Isle of Mull.

As soon as we got off the ferry and drove to the campsite at Killiechronan, I could see the subtle differences from the mainland. Carrion Crows had been replaced by Hooded and Black Headed Gulls by Common.

Killiechronan Campsite is on the shores of Loch Na Keal and provided us with excellent views of Mulls wildlife during the week.

Both Red and Fallow Deer occupied the fields behind the site and nesting colonies of Common Gulls were on a small island metres from the shore in front of us.

A Barn Owl hunted around the toilet block most nights, Sedge Warblers sang from every overgrown ditch and Hooded Crows and Raven could be heard early in the morning.

But perhaps most impressive of all was that a pair of White Tailed and Golden Eagles were breeding nearby and hunted over the Loch.

As soon as we started to pitch out tents the rain started but was gone by the next morning and only reappeared intermittently during the week where sunshine and high temperatures were more common.

Day Two: 1st July

Spread over three cars, the ten of us made the short journey to the harbour ready for a day trip to the Treshnish Isles. On the way we stopped half way along Loch Na Keal as three Otters were spotted in the water and a Harbour Porpoise.

After half an hour on the boat we reached Staffa where we could see the impressive Fingal’s Cave complete with volunteer bagpipe player.

In the sun we enjoyed watching the Fulmar colony on the cliffside and the Great Skua which was mobbed by them.

We were only allowed an hour on Staffa before moving onto the even more impressive Lunga. The sea around Lunga was lifting with Puffins, Black Guillemot, Manx Shearwater and Seals both Common and Grey. If nobody has been to Lunga before then just imagine the Farne Islands only 100 times better.

If you though the Puffins on the Farnes were close then think again as the Lunga birds move around your feet and nearly land on you!

I left the others trying to get the perfect picture of a Puffin and explored some of the island. The noise of the seabirds is deafening as they flypast and over at all angles. Space is at a premium on the island and some Shags had resorted to nesting under large piles of rocks, their green eyes all that could be seen peering from the darkness.
One large outcrop of rocks housed hundreds of Guillemots, many of them bridled birds. A family party of six Raven circled the outcrop cronking as they went.

The most interesting thing I saw whilst watching the Puffins dive into their burrows was a Meadow Pipit take a Sand Eel which was dropped by one of the Puffins.

Unfortunately we only had two hours on the island, which isn’t long enough to take in all this almost prehistoric place has to offer.

On the way back on the boat we saw a pair of White Tailed Eagles sitting in trees near Loch Na Keal.

Back on the island that night we drove up to the satellites above Tobermory where amazing sunsets over the surrounding isles were photographed, even I managed to get one!

Look at Holywell Birder for proper pictures from Lunga

Sunset over the Island

Day Three: 2nd July

It was back to the mainland for another day trip this time to the Ardnamurchan Peninsular a short ferry trip from Mull. At RSPB Glenborrodale it was too cold and wet to for Slow Worms and Adder but a nearby White Tailed Eagle soaring over the car made up for this.

Unfortunately I was ill during the day and stayed in the car whilst the others went out to the edge of the peninsular to see the Seal colony.

After recovering later on we went out at dusk, I say dusk but it was so light 2:00 in the morning looked like dusk. Plenty of Wheatear flitted around the rocks on the roadside and a Short Eared Owl hunted as the light faded.

Day Four: 3rd July

Whilst the others went on a seven hour cetacean boat trip, I stayed at the campsite. I missed crippling views of Minke Whale, Common Dolphins and Basking Sharks along with Storm Petrels but all was made up for.

Sitting scanning the Loch from the campsite I saw the whole Common Gull colony take to the air. Out of nowhere a White Tailed Eagle appeared low to the water before rising as it was mobbed. Soon it dropped down and landed on the island only metres away. It stayed there for a few minutes hopping around the grass as it avoided the bombardment from the gulls. After managing to escape the eagle appeared an hour later again close to the shore this time as it caught a fish. We had excellent views of the eagles all week but these were by far the best near the campsite.

Also that day I walked a few miles along the edge of the Loch at low tide where the best bird of note was a Greenshank fishing in one of the pools.

Day Five: 4th July

Another boat trip was planned. This time on the sea just off the mouth of Loch Na Keal. That trip was one of best birding experiences of my life.

The eagle boat tour lasted a few hours and also provided good views of over ten Black Guillemot as they swam next to the boat, a few Manxies and Rock Doves on the cliffs along with a heard of Feral Goats.

At first the White Tailed Eagles stayed a long distance away circling the boat, but as soon as the engine of the boat stopped and the fish were thrown it didn’t take long until a pair of eagles appeared.

Over the next hour they dived down and took the fish next to the boat avoiding the gulls as they went. One of the eagles sat on the nearby cliff edge before diving down next to the boat.

It was amazing to see these incredible birds so close up and the free coffee and biscuits made the whole trip very civilised.

In the evening we visited a vast site where a pair of Hen Harriers and at least three Short Eared Owls hunted. Sitting in the road the birds got quite close including a stunning male Hen Harrier. A family of Stonechat were also nearby.

Almost in the darkness we could see an Otter take its prey onto the bank and eat it before swimming back out into the Loch.

As we approached the camp a Barn Owl flew in front of the car so he stopped and opened the window just in time to see it hovering along side before turning its head and looking at us.

Day Six: 5th July

We spent most of the day in Iona, commonly known as Corncrake Island. Once on the island we only had to walk past the church yard before the first Corncrake could be heard calling from a small area of garden. Despite hearing over seven birds only metres away at times, we never saw any of them.

After a few hours on the beach we headed back to the mainland. A quick stop near the ferry terminal provided more good views of ringtail Harriers and an Irish Hare openly feeding in a field.

Along with Oystercatcher, Common Sandpiper is the most numerous wader on Mull so much in fact that we often saw them sitting on telephone and other overhead wires.

Day Seven: 6th July

Waterfall In Aros Park: Insert Twin Peaks theme tune here

We spent most of the day relaxing around Tobermory but did visit Aros Park just outside Tobermory. The highlight was a Dipper near the waterfall.

We spent out final evening watching a Golden Eagle nest. One of the pair were sitting on the nest before the other soared high over the mountain and came back to the nest.

Golden Eagle was my only bird lifer of the trip but Harbour Porpoise, Red Deer, Fallow Deer and Irish Hare were all new.

Many thanks to Cain for organising the trip and doing the driving and thanks to the others for the good company and for being such a good laugh.

Cain: Nike Airs on with pants tucked into socks, you can take the birder out of Whitley Bay but...


Cain Scrimgeour said...

Its was a quality week ! Liking the new layout and photos, haha especially the last one, it isn't the first time someones said that.

John Malloy said...

Nice account Phil!