Who would have thought that it could turn out so nice north of the border after such a wet start in dreary Nott’s? On a flat calm crossing from Oban to Mull in lovely warm sunshine under a clear blue sky, we spot several Black Guillemots, Gannets and diminutive Harbour Porpoises, with short dorsal fins that barely break the flat surface. Once on Mull the sun continues to shine until 10pm!
It’s another glorious sunny day with a Siskin calling in the tall trees outside the hotel. Along the shores of nearby Loch na Keal we spot Common Gulls and a raft of four Great Northern Divers, followed by a White-tailed Eagle in the tree tops near the shore, plus a pair of Wheatears and a Common Sandpiper posing on a rock, and all before 9am! Ten minutes later in the ‘mill pond’ sea loch we spot an Otter and then a second one which climbs out onto seaweed covered rocks, giving lovely views in the scope, while a male Yellowhammer sings from a nearby wire.
Setting off from Ulva Ferry on a cruise to the Treshnish Isles, we spot Common Terns, Black Guillemots and another Great Northern Diver, with a plethora of rafting seabirds on the approach to Staffa.
After a circumnavigation of Staffa, with its curious polygonal columns of black basalt, we move on to Lunga, where a Minke Whale leaves a trail of ‘footprints’ in the calm surface as it porpoises towards the Dutchman’s Cap. Closer to Lunga, a Great Skua circles the boat and a Raven makes off with an egg in its beak.
Once ashore, we soon find several Rock and Meadow Pipits and a singing Wren amid all the Bluebells, Primroses and Thrift, followed by Twite, our main target, obligingly perched on a nearby stick as we tuck into our packed lunches!
Moving on past a cluster of old crofts, we stop dead in our tracks at the sound of a Water Rail calling from the bracken just yards away! We wait with a sense of disbelief at the discovery of such an unexpected visitor to this remote dry island and eventually the secretive rail breaks cover and scurries away over an outcrop of rock!
Next we make a bee line for Harp Rock, a stack heaving with thousands of noisy Guillemots, along with a myriad Kittiwakes, Razorbills and Fulmars. We also enjoy face to face views of glossy green emerald-eyed Shags, nesting below boulders beside the path while hundreds of adorable comical Puffins waddle around at ridiculously close range outside the numerous burrows which line the grassy cliff tops.
Back at the farmstead ruins we hear the unmistakable “crex crex” of a Corncrake and see the elusive bird as it dashes into the doorway of one of the old crofts! I wonder if seeing both Water Rail and Corncrake on the same day and in the same place has ever been done before.
On the cruise back from the amazing Treshnish Isles, we see plenty of Grey Seals and Eiders among the skerries, and as we sail alongside Ulva we spot an awesome White-tailed Eagle in statuesque pose and add a male Hen Harrier and a couple of Red Deer to an impressive list of sightings. What a fabulous day.
On the drive to Loch na Keal, a singing Tree Pipit is new for the list today while the ‘Killie male’ White-tailed Eagle is on his usual perch at the head of the loch, and further west along the shore we spot one of ‘our’ Otters again, repeatedly surfacing with freshly caught fish.
Back at Ulva Ferry we board the Lady Jayne for a ‘Sea Eagle Adventure’ as featured the previous night on Springwatch! Just forty minutes into the cruise we track ‘our’ male as he heads towards the boat like a flying barn door, before circling and swooping down alongside the boat to grab a fish in its outstretched three inch long talons; awesome! Fifteen minutes later he returns for ‘seconds’, providing another wonderful photo-opportunity, followed by a further two swoops at fifteen minute intervals, as each time he flies back to his nest hidden in tall trees at the head of the loch.
Sailing further west along the loch we spot the neighbouring pair sitting side by side on low lying rocks on the shore of Inch Kenneth and the cameras are soon whirring again as both birds approach the boat before carrying away their catch to the nearby shore, allowing more fabulous views as they tear into their lunches. Wow, what a spectacular show.
Back on dry land we explore the rugged northwest coast of Mull, starting with the lovely waterfalls at Eas Fors where a very obliging Spotted Flycatcher poses in the scope. After lunch at this beauty spot we explore the moorland near Cruachan Treshnish, on the lookout for Whinchat, and find a smart male showing well on a roadside fence. By now the weather is back to ‘normal’ with blue sky and warm sunshine again and so the blue water of Calgary Bay looks very inviting. Despite a thorough search of the moors along Glen Aros we are still missing Cuckoo and Short-eared Owl.
It’s grey and damp first thing so we begin with a short walk along the shore, finding plenty of Sand Martins, two Dippers, a Common Sandpiper and a three foot Salmon in the River Forsa plus a couple of Ringed Plovers along the shore.
Driving south, a visit to Duart Point produces a ‘new’ White-tailed Eagle sitting in the top of a clump of tall trees, while being harried by a couple of Hoodies. Further south, along the road to Grass Point, I announce that “this is a good area for Cuckoo and Hen Harrier” and within minutes Jenny spots a white-rumped hen hunting low over the wet meadows and bracken clad slopes! We also find Kestrel, Buzzard and a female Sparrowhawk carrying a hapless songbird back to its brood, making five different raptors in one wet morning which is quite good going. A little further along the same winding single track road we enjoy fantastic prolonged close views of a Cuckoo, sitting on various perches at the side of the road, trumping all the raptors for ‘bird of the day’ nomination. Where is the Springwatch film crew when you need them?
Further on amid the wet meadows near Grass Point, a Snipe shows well from the top of a telegraph pole and a pink-breasted Redpoll obligingly lands on a nearby tree top. Near the point we also see Skylark and both Rock and Meadow Pipits.
After lunch at the point, a group of Peacocks along the road to Lochbuie is an exotic find, but not tickable, while the nearby oakwoods produce a singing Tree Pipit; that’s all three British bred pipits today. At the end of this scenic road, with exotic Helmeted Guineafowl along the way, a Red-throated Diver is a good find in the bay at Lochbuie, where we enjoy afternoon tea and home made cakes. Not bad for a wet day.
Despite the meteorological promise of better weather today it starts disappointingly grey and damp, and as we drive through the dramatic scenery of Glen More the low cloud on the slopes makes a search for raptors nigh on impossible. Even in the low lying rough meadows near the mouth of the Coladoir River there is no sign of a Short-eared Owl, so we press on along the Ross of Mull to Fionnphort for the short ferry ride across the sound to Iona. Our goal here is the rare Corncrake but a thorough search of the Yellow Iris beds and Buttercup filled meadows produces only two calling males; probably the lowest tally of any of my ten visits here, so we make do with three new birds; Jackdaw, Rook and Greenfinch.
On the return drive alongside Loch Scridain we enjoy close views of another big dog Otter fishing close inshore, but by now the weather has worsened and so the windswept surface of Loch na Keal, where we were supping tea in an open boat just two days earlier, is now whipped up into a strong swell with plenty of spray from the breaking ‘white horses’. Still, we were lucky with the weather on the first two days on marvellous Mull, and we end up with a good list of sightings including Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Hen Harrier, Water Rail, Corncrake, Great Skua, Black Guillemot, Cuckoo, Dipper, Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat, Twite, Puffins galore at arm’s length and of course, those spectacular White-tailed Eagles, plus Otter, Harbour Porpoise and Minke Whale!