Isle of Mull - July 2014
I love Mull. As soon as the boat pulls out of Oban, there is a wonderful sense of wellbeing that sets in. On the island itself there is a constant anticipation that something will happen. Having not seen an Otter on Harris the week before I was a bit deflated, but a few minutes into the evening drive along Loch Na Keal, we saw a mother and cub swimming and playing right next to the shore! I pulled the car over and sat on the rocks. Seeing Otters playing is fantastic, but being able to hear them playing was even more special; like a deep chirruping sound.
The weather was the sunniest I’ve ever seen it on Mull, and in the morning we headed for Pennyghael and Lochs Scridain and Beg. Around the lochs there were lots of Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Heron, and Curlew, and the marshes around Beg were teeming with Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, and Stonechat. The afternoon was spent on Loch Na Keal, with the hope of seeing the Otters again. After a few hours of waiting, all the Heron scattered into the air. Scanning around, we couldn’t see what spooked them, then the bird that Mull is famous for flew up the loch; the White Tailed Eagle.
It is no secret that I love animals, and it is days like these I dream of. It was the morning of the boat trip to see the eagles and whilst sitting at the table eating a breakfast, a dog Otter was fishing right in view of the cottage. A few minutes into the journey to Ulva ferry, we spotted a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins in the loch; what a treat. Further round, two more Otters were seen fishing near the Ben More pier. But it gets better. Now on the boat, we spot the Dolphins breaching the water, and the skipper takes the boat over to the pod and begins to circle. They seem to love this, and they begin to jump and breach right next to the boat! Heck of a time to leave the wide angle lens in the car, d’oh!
Off to the main event, the White Tail Eagles. As we approached the stopping area, the skipper calls out that the female is perched near the nest and can’t see the male. At this point, I get a flashback from two years ago, same situation, but as the male does the majority of the fishing, and with him not around, we missed the chance to see the spectacle. The skipper throws bread into the water to attract gulls, which act as the early warning system. Half an hour in and the gulls are still loitering next to the boat, it didn’t look good. All of a sudden, the gulls scatter, and form a sporadic arc around the boat. An eagle must be close! We scanned the skies for five minutes and couldn’t see any. This was followed by the depressing sound of the engine starting, followed by the skipper turning the boat to head home. You could almost hear the collective sigh of everyone on board. Then someone shouted “He’s coming!” It was quite possibly the most majestic sight I’ve seen, as the male White Tailed Eagle broke the skyline and headed toward the boat. The enormous bird circled the boat a few times before the skipper threw a fish into the water. The eagle flipped onto its side and dived for it, plucking it from the water with ease. If you ever come to Mull, this trip is a must, with awesome wildlife and friendly and knowledgeable crew (www.mullcharters.com).
If you are wandering why there are no pictures of the eagle grabbing the fish, I missed it! On previous trips, a 400mm lens has either been too little or just enough, but this one was different. As there was no wind, the boat did not drift from the fish, which can’t have been more than 15 metres from the boat. As the eagle flipped over into the dive, I was not ready for how quickly it dropped toward the water, and I lost it in the view finder. The dive, catch, and the climb are over in seconds. This just makes me want to come back and have another go, hopefully learning from these mistakes!
More luck with the dog Otter the following day, as he appeared during breakfast again. It was lovely to watch him fish and come up onto the rocks. After he had moved on, I had a look a look around the rocks he was on and sure enough found a spraint, which did smell slightly sweet. Walking back to the cottage, I saw the Otter run across the road and up the hillside, probably in search of fresh water or perhaps his holt.
It wasn’t all blue skies and sunshine, the storms finally arrived. This was the weather I was expecting to be honest. Undeterred, we decided to check out MacKinnon’s cave on the edge of the Wilderness. The rough water, howling wind, and driving rain made for a dramatic scene. The Cormorants, Eiders, and Gannets seem to navigate the swells with ease. The conditions made Otter spotting difficult, and not even the “Eye of Sauron” could find them!
The last day was a perfect farewell to the island. In the morning, a pair of Red Deer were seen in a forest clearing at Pennyghael and a pair of Hen Harrier quartered the marsh at Beg. The final evening was spent on the cliffs above MacKinnon’s cave, where Ravens circled, Golden Eagles soared above the highest ridge, and a White Tailed Eagle returned to roost in the Wilderness. It is never dull on Mull.