Mull tour 2009 part 1


Mull is without doubt one of the best places to visit for bird and wildlife photography, but only if the heavens are kind enough to provide some calm weather. In the lead up to the trip we had spoke to a number of other birders and photographers who had made the decision to leave the island early due to horrendous storms. Indeed, local information and blogs both spoke of horrendous conditions, so it was with slight trepidation that we began the long journey north.


Day one


Rain accompanied us for most of the journey with the only sighting of any note being a Red Kite in southern Scotland. We arrived at the ferry terminal and someone upstairs flicked the sunny switch on! The clouds broke and the sea flattened and after checking out the Black Guillemots we were soon on our way to Craignure. From the ferry we were treated to lots of Manx Shearwaters and some Arctic Terns as well as some seals and a porpoise.



We headed straight to our cottage situated at the tip of Grasspoint with stunning views over Lochdon and across to the mainland. I joined a couple of birders in our garden (!) and we soon got onto a skua. After some debate to the species the bird banked and revealed a deep keel and tail ‘spoons’- a very smart Pomarine Skua. A couple of Porpoises cruised by and a flock of five Twite twittered electrically in the seaweed and from our washing line.


I decided to investigate the ‘garden’ further and soon saw a couple of summer plumaged Great Northern Diver as well as some Oystercatchers. With the day drawing to a close we decided it was time for some nice red wine, and while I opened the bottle a Hen Harrier flew past the window – we really had come up trumps with our base. I went onto the patio to sup away and no sooner had I sat down than our first Otter of the trip brought a long his dinner (looked like a large dog otter) of a crunchy crab.



We watched the sun go down with high anticipation for the rest of the trip


Day Two


The full first day started just after 5AM and I could see that I was about 10 minutes too late for the sunrise. Still the light was unbelievable so I spent the morning in the garden around the cottage. Gannets drift passed the point continuously to an interesting dawn chorus. Tree, Rock and Meadow Pipit all singing in the same location was a first. The Meadows were keeping a very close eye on three or four Cuckoos around the point. We spent most of morning watching Ringed Plovers and another four or five Great Northern Divers.




After breakfast we headed to Iona to try our luck for Corncrake. We headed across the island seeing both Golden Eagles and White Tailed Sea Eagle en route. We arrived on Iona to a Sedge Warbler in full song and a Raven or two cronking overhead. It took nearly an hour for us to hear our first ‘crex, crex’ which was surprising based on previous experience. We tried all the noted areas and with the sun rising and the day warming more Corncrakes began to call. After an hour or so we were eventually treated to relatively good views of Corncrake as it ran across the lawn just beyond the fire station. With a record shot in the bag we headed back for some rest.



In the evening we headed to the Glenmore area picking up a pair of Golden Eagles and another female Hen Harrier on the way. We used the areas in line with the ‘three lochs’ and we were immediately greeted by three Short Eared Owls patrolling the moor. We watched them four about 30 minutes as the sun set at the end of another fabulous day on Mull.


Day Three



Another early start at just after 4:40 and yet another stunning sunrise started our third day. An Otter swam across the bay towards Lochdon and the usual Cuckoo’s were calling from the garden. Most of the morning was spent around Loch Scridian where we saw plenty of buzzards and a collection of waders. Common Sandpipers were everywhere and at one point we were delighted as one landed on the bonnet and showed it’s full courtship dance. The usual divers were present a long with a Red Throated Diver not quite in summer plumage.



The posts around Pennyghael were good for Snipe and we also saw quite a few Whimbrel in the area as well as the longer billed and more familiar Curlews.



We head onto a waterfall we found on the map that looks good for a walk on the road towards Ffiionport. The walk produces some more buzzards and some really nice Whinchat. I show how it is possible to produce a Cuckoo call by clasping hands together and to my shock four turn up and circle overhead! The local Meadow Pipits go crazy – sorry guys. We continue up seeing more Raven and also a couple of Adders. We scan the ridges and get on to another Golden Eagle as well as the usual hatful of buzzards. Too distant for any reasonable shots but still great to watch and a site for more exploration next time.






The rest of the day was spent in the garden watching the Otter distantly. Just before the sun sets a ring tail Hen Harrier performs a spectacular (and very fast) flyby heading towards Lochdon.



Day four



Another dawn start enables us to enjoy another spectacular sunrise on Mull. The area around the head of Loch Scridian is the place and we watch some more Common Sandpiper. In total for the trip we may have seen over 300 of these smashing little waders as they seem to be everywhere. We also watch a small flock of Golden Plover that are nearly in their very dapper summer plumage. The previous day’s Snipe and Whimbrel are also still present.




We stop to watch another Short Eared Owl (perhaps the tenth of the trip) and a Grasshopper Warbler starts reeling. Everything is falling into our laps nicely and there is plenty of opportunity to grab shots in each direction. More Whinchat and a nice flock of Eider from the northern shore. We head to Loch Na Keal which holds more Great Northern Diver – in total we count 24 summer plumage spankers. There are also a couple of Slavonian Grebes here too.



The afternoon is spent on a walk around Lochdon and towards Duart Castle and we see lots more warblers and Red Deer. Another Otter evades the camera and we also see our first male Hen Harrier over a distant croft.



Mull 2009 part 2

Day five


We head at more civilised time toward Tobermory for our third trip out with the good people from Sealife surveys. Our good luck continues when we find out the White Tailed Eagle Warden is on board to check out some of the cliff nesting birds. Needless to say we see some White Tailed Eagles and Golden Eagles from the boat although we were slightly perturbed by how close we got to the nest and that no discretion was shown about the location.




The boat continued out towards Colonsay and there are huge numbers of Manx Shearwaters and Kittiwakes feeding on the rich ocean micro fauna. In most directions from the boat Manxies are evident and by the end of the day we see approximately 2000 of these pelagic crackers. We also get onto a couple of Storm Petrels pattering the surface above a pod of Harbour Porpoise – does it get better than this? Yes.



After several hours at sea watching group after group of seabirds we start heading back to the port. An unusual looking gull grabs ourattention but it looks just like another juvenile kittiwake heading to a feeding frenzy. As we follow it to the frenzy a hulking monster breaches. WHALE! An adult Minke Whale has joined the feeding party of manxies, diving gannets and petrels – this is just like Blue Planet. An awesome few seconds of total action and then calm is restored.



The day is finished off with the usual Harriers and Short Eared Owls feeding around Lochdon.


Day six


Another later morning before heading to Ulva Ferry and our second boat trip of the tour. We spend the day on Staffa and Lunga on the Tour from Turus Mara. We see all the expected birds plus some bag some great Puffin shots. Including some for the new ‘Birdscape’ project .








Overnight we had our first rain!


Day Seven/Eight


Day seven and eight were spent along the south side of the island visiting areas such as Loch Spelve alt the way to Fidden. Despite intensive searching we were unable to find any showy Mountain Hare near Fidden Farm, but we did see some more Hen Harrier. We also saw more of both species of eagles on we also added to the raptor list with Merlin and Peregrine.



Uisken beach was really productive with good views of Sanderling and Whimbrel. The fields in the surrounding area produced some linnet and more Twite ads well as some Rock Dove (wild ones!).



On both evenings we saw Short Eared Owls and we finally saw our local White Tailed Eagles at Grasspoint along with Redstart and Wood Warbler in the forest.



We were disappointed to be leaving without any otter shots, but then one last search produced the best views and one final photo opportunity. A cracking Otter right on the peninsula a Grasspoint.



All in all a fantastic tour of Mull, which produced everything we had hoped for and a very relaxing time. I would say to get the most form a visit it is worthwhile to get up early and go to bed late. Not only is the light better for photography, but everything seems much more active and confiding.

Next year we hope to run some photographic tours to the island. It would be great if they went as well as this trip!


Black is back

One of the highlights of any spring is the arrival of one of Yorkshire’s finest breeding birds – the Black Necked Grebe. These charming smallish grebes are extremely rare breeders with perhaps only 40 pairs in the whole UK. Despite their rarity they can be quite confiding and an early morning visit will reward a photographer with excellent light and beautifully lit birds.

One thing I always emphasise on the workshops is using light to help to take better pictures. In the ‘golden hours’ at the start and end of each day even normally drab scenes can receive a huge boost. Here’s a boring Coot!