Mull is one of those places that always offers something new, something different, and this year has been no different. Whatever happens Mull is always memorable. We’ve been running trips to Mull for wildlife and bird photographers for the last four years, always picking May as the month for the best weather, newly arrived spring migrants, and reasonable dawn starts (5am is bearable!).
This year, due to demand, we kicked off earlier in April running our first White Tailed Eagle Photography private trips We charter the boat exclusively for our clients to make the most of space and so we can head out when the light is best. In April we got off to a flying start in glorious sunshine with Artur a Polish photographer and all round top guy, to photograph these magnificent birds with a few days in the highlands added just for good measure. Artur had a tight schedule and a mammoth target list, but we got through it and had great fun along the way. We were delighted to hear that Artur has already achieved recognition with his fabulous diving White Tailed Eagle (and what a shot!!) .
“Just back from 5 days bird watching/photo trip with Marcus Conway in Scotland. Marcus was a master in finding sites with great birds. Those were fabulous days packed with a lot of birds, excellent weather and impeccably arranged tour. What a fantastic experience to spend the night on the moor and wake up together with the Black Grouse. Photographing this spectacular bird of prey was a fantastic finish to the week.” Artur
After the glorious sunshine of April most of May was spent dodging showers and strong winds (did I mention strong winds!) as we kicked off our annual Mull week long tours. Yet again the wildlife on Mull did not fail to provide us with some wonderful opportunities.
“I much enjoyed the tour. Lots of opportunities to see and photograph birds” Nigel
We were joined on week one by Nigel, Carola, Gary and Bob, and, after travelling a long way, all were eager to make an early start the next morning. Our first target were the ultra confiding Black Guillemots that, in spite of some grey weather, put on a fantastic show. At one point a pigeon tried to enter the nesting hole of the guillemots and all hell broke loose – eventually the Black Guillemot chasing the Pigeon high, inland over the buildings!
This shot by Gary from the very first morning featured on BBC Springwatch on 14 June 2011 (well done!)
One of the several highlights of the week were incredible encounters with Otters. One area where the weather definitely helped! We spent several morning, afternoons and evenings watching Otters and some days seeing two or three Otters was not unusual. By being able to watch Otters for long periods of time it became possible to predict what they may do next and this enabled the group to get into position to get some high quality images and memorable close encounters. Check these fab images from our week one clients taken in torrential rain (did I mention the rain?).
Despite the weather we continued to find and watch fantastic species including Common Sandpiper, Hooded Crow and Oystercatcher. We were out at all hours and this enabled us to get some nice views of Grasshopper Warbler and Willow Warbler. I really can’t question the enthusiasm and all round positivity of the photographers!
“All perfect. Food was superb. I hadn’t given much thought to the accommodation/food before going bu tit is one of the reasons I will come back. Excellent. Advice was really helpful and certainly made me challenge my approach. Probably the most productive 5 days I have had in the UK” Gary
Of course one of the highlight of the tour is the time spent on the boat. The weather was too rough to head out for Puffins which meant we got a double whammy of Eagle action – and boy did the Eagle’s put on a great show for us. Not only that we were treated to great views of Great Northern Diver in sparkling summer plumage. The windy weather also brought its bonuses as we spotted the third Sabines Gull for Mull (but more Sabines Gulls and windier weather was still to come!)
“I would recommend this tour to anyone, you can only be truly amazed at the wildlife Mull has to offer” Bob – check out Bob’s website for more great pictures
And this beautiful Diver photographed by Bob Sharples (much better trip report on Bob’s site)
On our trip to the Western side of the island we were rewarded with some of our best views of a confiding group of Mountain Hare in a variety of pelts. It was great to be able to watch these animals enjoying the sun.
“Seeing new things – The eagles, otters, hares, divers. The highlights were the unexpected though like the grasshopper warbler and sabines gull. And the food! I loved the thorough and preparation that had gone in to every aspect from the rooms, reading material, etc etc. Also Marcus’s obvious knowledge and enthusiasm for it all” Gary
It’s not just unusual birds on Mull that make is such a favourite for photographers there is also a wealth of commoner birds. These wonderful compositions from Nigel (you can see more great images on his website).
As our first group were leaving we received news that some unprecedented weather was coming. We thought we knew what to expect but the maelstrom that hit Mull in May 2011 will live long in the memory. Early signs of what was coming was the cancelling of the Calmac ferries on the generally benign crossing to Oban. By the end of the afternoon trees were down, boulders had tumbled onto the roads and getting anywhere around the island was tricky and dangerous. We decided to sit it out and at this point we received a call that a Sabines Gull had been spotted nearby so we went to check it out. On the way we passed a wheelbarrow stuck in the fence and all burst out laughing – this is meant to be spring on Mull!
(below taken on google phone)
We arrived at a windswept bay in 80mph winds, barely able to stand, and found the Sabines Gull almost immediately.
Better was to follow! As we were enjoying the Sabines Gull a small wader appeared. Initial thoughts were that it may be a Red Necked Phalarope and after a frustrating 15 minutes of searching this dapper wader put in an appearance. The group carefully made their way to the shore and we all achieved stunning views of this diminutive wader – check out Tony’s image below! To see more of Tony’s fantastic images (and there are plenty) please visit his website.
The rest of the week settled down into a more regular pattern and we were occasionally treated to some amazing light as we photographed diving Gannets from a secluded sandy bay – where we also watched yet another Sabines Gull. Knowing where to go to enjoy the light available can make all the difference when good weather is limited.
The other thing about bad weather – it has to stop! And when it does many species that have not been able to feed put in an appearance. The highlight in both weeks was Short Eared Owls, which we watched daily hunting in their favoured spots – sometimes up to 5 on the wing – one night joined by a ghost like male Hen Harrier.
“This was the most enjoyable photography holiday I have taken. The small group size meant all were more involved and able to “get good opportunities” with the subjects. Super that everyone hit it off so well and I believe all are still in contact.” Tony
Phil, Brian and Tony all managed to capture a beautiful Short Eared Owl resting near a remote location.
However, all the wildlife memories were upstaged by a certain ‘driving incident’ whilst Otter spotting – fortunately a Landrover full of photographers failed to capture the moment – Helen have you stopped laughing yet?! Of course we saw more Eagles from our private charters – on just about the only slot on the whole week when weather was calm enough.
On Iona we heard several Corncrakes, but the wind made things too tricky so I recommended we called in at one of my favourite, remote locations. On Iona we did the Hebridean form of the Song Thrush.
I suggested we may find some summer plumage waders; 1 or 2 Dunlin or Sanderling. As we neared the shore it became apparent that there were hundreds of waders sheltering on the beach. Approximately 400 Sanderling and 100 Dunlin (and some Whimbrel for Brian!) gave ridiculously views in wonderful light. One of those moments that lives in the mind forever.
“Thanks for a tremendous few days on Mull, I enjoyed all aspects of the
trip. The accommodation and food were excellent” Phil
We continued our trips into June with earlier starts and later finishes. The Eagles being the obvious star of the show. However, thee highlight one evening for our clients – these fabulous, breaching Bottle Nosed Dolphins.
Thanks to all our guests this Spring for joining us (not just on Mull!) and making every event so memorable and particular thanks to Tony, Brian, Helen, Bob, Phil, Artur and Gary for sharing their fabulous images – there’s simply not enough space to comment on all the wonderful memories in one post!