A smooth crossing from Oban produced Black Guillemots close inshore and a few Gannets further out. First stop on Mull was Grass Point where we found Red Deer, Whitethroat, a family of Stonechats and plenty of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and buzzy Lesser Redpolls busy singing in the blue sky. Outside the hotel at dusk, a Woodcock would make sporadic roding flights and full marks to those stalwarts who endured the feasting midges each evening in order to add this tricky bird to our tick list.
Another glorious sunny day for our exploration of the south coast, and from the bridge at Strathcoil, we saw Siskin and Spotted Flycatcher, with several Tree Pipits in the woods beyond. Along the shore of tranquil Loch Spelve were numerous Common Sandpipers, including a pair with two little fluffy chicks, plus a Raven tussling with a Hooded Crow, Rock Pipits with beakfulls of insects and a sunbathing Common Seal, and, as soon as we realized we were just feet away from a well camouflaged Oystercatcher’s nest with three eggs, we cut short our break for elevenses and moved on. After a photo shoot at picturesque Loch Uisg, surrounded by gorgeous purple Rhododendron blooms, we enjoyed fabulous views of two Fallow Deer and a very handsome male Whinchat singing from a treetop near the circle of standing stones at Lochbuie. Just off the shore, three drake Red-breasted Mergansers were snoozing on the mirror of Loch Buie and then two Red-throated Divers put in an appearance. Apart from the birdsong and the trickle of a stream, the stillness was silent. What a lovely spot for a picnic that was. We spent the afternoon on a hike up a valley between Ben Buie and Creach Beinn, where our reward was a distant Golden Eagle perched amid some magnificent mountain scenery.
A mass of yellow flags, white cotton grass and pink thrift proved an irresistible photo-opportunity on our scenic route to Ulva, where we boarded the Hoy Lass for a trip to the isles of Staffa and Lunga. Staffa is famous for Fingal’s Cave, a sea cave guarded by tall polygonal columns of basalt, but on the grassy top of this little island lives a population of Twite. Sadly I was the only one lucky enough to enjoy the twangy song and pink rump of this ‘mountain linnet’ posing on a rock at close range, but at least I have some photos to prove it. Lunga is another treasure island as visitors can get so close to a variety of seabirds including Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Shags which shine glossy green in the sun, thousands of Guillemots and hundreds of cute little Puffins which will come right up to you for a closer look! What a fantastic day.
Today we crossed to Iona, where our target bird was the Corncrake. We soon had three calling from the same meadow, and a lucky few even got a fleeting glimpse of this notoriously elusive bird amid the swathes of tall buttercups, while a lively Sedge Warbler in a nearby garden gave brilliantly close views. We also saw some real wild Rock Doves. After time off for a tour of the historic abbey, tearooms and craft shops, we returned to Craignure via the spectacular Glen More. It was here we saw ‘our’ Golden Eagle again, and this time we were lucky enough to watch it at the nest, and even though it must have been over half a mile away, we could still see the adult’s golden head and its hooked beak tearing strips of prey for the little downy white chick; a great end to another super day.
It was still sunny but with a fresh breeze the morning we visited the Macquarie Mausoleum where a very bright green and yellow male Siskin gave smashing close views. Strolling along the shore of beautiful Loch Ba with the odd Grey Wagtail and numerous Common Sandpipers for company, we were joined by a pair of Golden Eagles, which glided straight over our heads, circled against the hillside and then returned across the valley, being tracked by three comparatively tiny Buzzards as they gained height and disappeared into the blue. Next two Cuckoos sped by, a Sparrowhawk darted into a clump of trees and then the unmistakable ‘barn door’ outline of a huge White-tailed Eagle with a shiny yellow beak appeared and slowly floated by. As well as Kestrel and an immature Golden Eagle with a black-banded white tail, a Peregrine made a total of six raptors in an action packed morning. An afternoon drive along the south shore of Loch na Keal, culminated in us finding a White-tailed Eagle’s nest containing a hefty chick well past the white downy stage, with an adult in flight nearby.
On the drive north to rendezvous with the RSPB Eagle Watch Ranger, we spotted the sleek profile of an Otter running along the tops of the rocks in Salen Bay. As we watched, it went for a swim and popped up several times in the following few minutes. A brief stop at the Aros bridge produced a Dipper, and then we staked out the White-tailed Eagle nest at Loch Frisa. As well as a large chick in the tree top nest, an adult sat nearby for much of our visit, while numerous Sand Martins and a passing cock Hen Harrier added further interest to our time here. After an afternoon in Tobermory, we explored the north west coast, finding a family of Wheatears and enjoying superb views of a very relaxed Red-throated Diver, soaking up the sunshine on the flat calm blue water of Calgary Bay.
All my springtime trips to Scotland have been blessed with wall to wall sunshine, in contrast to some miserable weather down south, and this trip was no exception, allowing us to savour the full experience of all the wonderful scenery and wildlife of marvellous Mull.