Friday, 1 April 2016

Mulling it over part 2

As well as stunning landscape on Mull, you also get a really good selection of wildlife. There are 3 stars of the show in the island which most people want to see - otters, golden eagles and white-tailed sea-eagles. All 3 of them are present in good numbers and with the right local knowledge, a bit of luck and a fair bit of patience you can get some good sightings. Like everything to do with wildlife though nothing is guaranteed.
The hardest of all the 3 to find are otters. Although they are now relatively numerous and widespread in the UK, in most places they are very shy and quite nocturnal. On Mull though, they have to lost some of their wariness and can be seen at any time of day, more dependant upon the state of the tide. Having been there before and also knowing other people who go there a lot we had a fair idea of how and where to see them.
Over the 6 days we were on the island we saw otters on 5 occasions at two different locations - Penyghael and the shores of Loch na Keal near Ben More. Each time was at a relatively high tide and we saw the otters fishing vigorously.
The best sighting was at Loch na Keal, where on two occasions we had a mother and youngster fishing just off the beach.

The first sighting we had was as a result of a tip-off from two walkers who told us about two otters close to the shore nearby to where we were parked. A swift pouring away of a cup of coffee and a racing start to the car got us half a mile down the shore where we could see two otters about 50 yards out in the water.

Finally one, the mother, came up from a dive with what turned out to be a large crab in her mouth and she rapidly made her way to the shore, followed by her youngster squeaking excitedly in her wake!
She came up onto a rock where with a little bit of scuttling around we could get a sight of them. Otters are often easily spooked but we were probably 50 yards away still, downwind and they were very focused on the crab!

It didn't take long for them to totally dismember the crab and go back into the water.

The last we saw was the cub still pestering its mum for food before they did that classic otter trick of totally disappearing.
The others sightings were of a single otter, probably a dog otter as it looked a lot larger, again fishing but this time a lot further out so no photos worth showing. Overall though a very satisfactory set of sightings.
Eagles were seen on virtually every day we were on the island, with at one point 5, probably golden, eagles all in the air at one time on the north west coast. Most of the time they were relatively distant fly-by's. At the start of the holiday you always take me tim to get your eye in, so to speak. "eagle" as a bird drifts past, "no, wait, it might be a buzzard", a crow comes up to pester it and the size difference is not great, "it's a buzzard". Eventually you realise that even at great distance eagles are MASSIVE and the mantra we stick to is "if you think its an eagle, it isn't, you'll know if it really is one".
This is a fairly typical first view you get, clearly a raptor, but which one.
Not a great photo but thus us the angle you need to start to identify them. Big birds, really square wings, almost like planks, with quite square ends. You can also see the wedge shape of the tail and with a bit of imagination the golden head - this is a classic golden eagle.

Compare this to the photos below.

Again you have a VERY large bird with very square wings, if anything even more plank-like, but the key feature to look for is the tail. It is a totally different shape, more rounded and this beautiful adult bird shows the characteristic white-tail, this making it the eponymous white-tailed sea-eagle.
We only once managed to get one not in the air, with this one sitting in a tree neat a nest site. Even at extreme range you could see how massive it was.
 Cropping in shows you a bit more detail around it's enormous yellowish bill. There were crows and buzzards mobbing it, which looked tiny in comparison, especially when it took off and drifted away from us over the hills.

Other birds present, and in some numbers, were the divers on the lochs. Mainly they were great-northerns but there was the occasional black-throated as well. They were just coming into breeding plumage as well, and on a couple of occasions we even heard the divers with their haunting call.

 We were also lucky to be on the island on the day the wheatears arrived. These birds are one of the classic harbingers of Spring, and for the first three days, not a one was seen. Then on Tuesday, suddenly, you couldn't move for them. They were everywhere, on the rocks, on the moors, giving song flights - lovely.

So, a really good weeks break. We got to see most, if not all, of what we wanted to see, the weather was generally kind to us and we ended up feeling much more relaxed and refreshed than when we went.