Isle of Mull - April 2015 - Edd Cottell

Eagles and Puffins

There is a lot to love about Mull.  For me it is the wild weather, superb light conditions, rugged landscape, and its incredible wildlife.  With Spring well under way, the target species for this visit were the Puffins on the Treshnish Isles and the mighty White Tailed Eagles.

I'd booked boats trips everyday of the holiday to hedge my bets, and I'm glad I did so!  As usual with Mull, you hope for the best and plan for the worst.  No boats sailed for three days due to the high winds, but throw in rain, hail, sleet, snow, and glorious sunshine and you've got some interesting lighting conditions.  The coastlines and fields were teeming with life; Oyestercatcher, Lapwing, Otter, Rock/Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Starling, Greylag Geese, Buzzard, Wheatear, Stonechat, Swallow, Great Northern Diver, Red Throated Diver, Common/Herring/Blacked Backed Gull, Curlew, Hooded Crow, Raven, and Wimbrel (a first for me).

By the fourth day, the winds had calmed and the skies cleared, just in time for the trip to the Treshnish isles.  We went with Turus Mara who were excellent, with their dry Scottish sea captain and knowledgable and friendly crew.  The boat departs from Ulva ferry and makes a clockwise circuit heading around the South of Ulva to Staffa and then on to Lunga before returning.  The journey to Staffa had lots of wildlife including the impressively large Atlantic Grey Seal, Harbour Seal, Gannet, Great Skua, Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Eider Duck, Razorbill, Shag, Great Northern Diver, Herring Gull, and Black Backed Gulls.  Once we landed on Staffa, I headed to the North of the island in search of Puffins.  Unfortunately they were still offshore.  We only had an hour on Staffa and just as we left, they started flying back to land.  Perhaps we'd have better luck on Lunga.

Once we landed on Lunga, there was a short walk across a rocky beach followed by a short climb onto the Western plateau.  Upon reaching the top, my luck was in, Puffins everywhere!  It was too early in the year for them to have chicks, but it was fantastic to see different behaviour, from beak knocking, burrow excavation, to nest building.  Having looked at my pictures of the Puffins taken on Skomer a few years ago, the one thing above all else that annoyed me was the lack of connection to the birds, simply because I was always looking down on them.  This time I lay down and got eye level and very close; Puffins are very confiding providing you stay low and don't move suddenly.

Finally, the White Tailed Eagle.  There is nothing quite like watching these beautifully powerful birds swoop down from the sky and take fish from the water.  But what about photographing them?  Mull Charters run a fantastic trip to do just that.  They'll get you close enough for the chance of capturing that moment.  This wasn't my first trip, in fact by the end of the holiday I would have been on eleven trips in total; yes its addicative if your a photographer!  My advice would be to get some practice in beforehand.  They might be huge birds, but they are fast and agile and can be difficult to track when they go from a slow circle to tucking in their wings and enter into a fast dive.  The whole thing lasts 2-3 seconds so it pays to be prepared!  Most people recommend using a 300mm lens, which seems to be the sweet spot between filling the frame and being able to track the bird through the viewfinder.  I was after something different, I wanted to get close.  Most of the time I used a 600mm lens which, due to its very narrow field of view, makes following the eagle in the dive tricky.  Get it right and you can get some very intimate moments, especially when the eagle thrusts its talons into the water or rises up with a fish clasped between them or even when the bird drops its head to inspect the catch.

The captain, Martin, also spotted this Iceland Gull (another first for me) that was following the boat.  Luckily for the passengers, it came really close and gave us a really great view.  On one of the trips, he took us to the Wilderness as far as the Fossil Tree, where the wild goats were grazing on the grassy slopes.  The snow on the high ground made for some interesting light conditions; the shot below is of A'Chioch ridge, just East of Ben More.

Whether you want peace and quiet, wild landscapes, Puffin therapy, or the adrenaline rush of the White Tailed Eagles, Mull is the perfect escape.

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