Monday 22 July 2024

Mull Birds.

 At this point it would have been good to be able to go on about the Eagles of Mull. However, unfortunately, the boat trip out to see the hunting White-tailed Eagles, was unfortunately cancelled due to a breakdown the day before our trip. This meant a spare part was needed for the boat which took a couple of days to come in. We were hoping for a rescheduled trip, but time unfortunately ran out. We did get some nice views of the White-tailed Eagles during our stay, but mostly distant. One however, did fly right over the first cottage we stayed at.

We did however, see a few decent birds, and we got close enough to some for some photography. Before we caught the ferry across to Mull we spent a bit of time with the famous Black Guillemots in Oban harbour. 

A pair of Black Guillemot getting passionate.

On Mull it was great to see many species breeding, that we only see on migration in the south of England, such as Wheatear and Whinchat. Stonechat also seemed to be doing very well there.

Female Wheatear with food.

Wheatear fledgling.

Whinchat collecting food.

Another bird that was very numerous was the Common Sandpiper. All around the lochs there appeared to be pairs of these birds. We also loved watching the little bundles of feathers, that were the chicks, as they wandered around the banks of the lochs, with the parents keeping a watchful eye on them. One family were right outside our cottage.

Adult Common Sandpiper.

Common Sandpiper chick.

Common Sandpiper chick, just metres away from our cottage.

On one of the rivers we also had some close views of a juvenile Dipper.

Juvenile Dipper.

Finally, a long walk down to one of the isolated beaches gave us a few waders, other than the Common Sandpiper. I was particularly pleased with some images of Ringed Plover. These were very approachable at this location. The Oystercatchers, were not so keen on us getting close, but one or two photos were still taken.

Ringed Plover.


We also spent a very windy day on Iona, hoping to hear the call of the Corncrake. Iona is particularly well known for Corncrake, but it was quite late in the day before we heard them. A fantastic sound, and one I would be happy to listen to a lot more. The windy day probably didn't help us as the birds were probably keeping their heads down!!

Monday 15 July 2024

Puffin Day.

 I don't think I ever got over the day that Matt and I had many years ago, when, during our trip to Wales, we got up early and headed to Pembrokeshire to get close to the Puffins on Skomer. Matt was still a very keen young birder, and when we arrived to learn that the trips to Skomer were full for the day I could feel how upset he was too. We did still get on a boat that sailed around the island, so at least we still got to see Puffins, but not super close, which is what we had really wanted!!

One of the days on Mull I was looking forward to most was during the 2nd week, after we had moved to the southern end, was the trip to Lunga, to see those Puffins close-up that I had missed all those years ago with Matt. The boat trip also had the additional bonus of visiting the amazing Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. So on the boat trip the music of Felix Mendelssohn kept going through my head. The Hebrides Overture that was written by Mendelssohn in 1830 after inspiration from visiting Staffa and seeing Fingal's Cave.

After several days of a stiff breeze, Lisa and I were not sure the boat would be running, but fortunately, on the day we had booked the trip, the breeze was slightly lighter. The sun was also shining well, so for the hour or so of the trip to get to Lunga, we were getting pretty excited. After mooring we followed others across the rocks, to climb up the steep section of the path to get to the area where we would see the Puffins and other Auks. On the way we saw Eider ducks with chicks, Oystercatchers, Wren and Wheatear families. With both of us being pretty fit, it wasn't long before we reached the top of the cliffs and started to see the Puffins. We only paused a short while as we wanted to get to the large rock at the end of the path that some of the other Auks were using, mainly Razorbills, but also several Guillemot. It really was amazing how close the birds came to us, with absolutely no fear of us at all.



Close-up of Razorbill.

Close-up of Guillemot.

However, it was really the Puffins that Lisa and I concentrated on the most, and after getting the photos of the Razorbills and Guillemot, we headed back to the main Puffin area. We had been told by Brian, our Otter guide, to do this, otherwise you could use all the 2 hours we had on the island photographing and watching the Puffins, and run out of time for the other birds. We are really glad we listened to him too as we could quite easily have got distracted by the lovely comical Puffins.

We certainly filled our boots when we got back to the Puffin area. We both tried to get some flight shots too. Pretty mixed results with these though. We were both also hoping to get shots of them flying in with beaks full of Sandeels, but we didn't get lucky there.

How could anybody not LOVE a Puffin!!

A Tufted Puffin??

Coming into land.

A ringed Puffin looking around a corner that isn't even there.

Puffin looking out to sea.

All to soon it was time to head back to the boat. The fun had not stopped though, as we were now off to Staffa. The geology of this island is totally amazing, and although I'm not particularly into geology, it really was something to admire, and you can see why so many people over the years have found inspiration from Staffa, and particularly, Fingal's Cave.

As the boat disembarked, nearly everyone went straight to the cave. We decided to do that after a walk away from the cave. We had lovely views of a pair of Great Skua and lots of Shag. When we got back towards the cave, everyone was leaving that area, so we actually had the place to ourselves. Perfect!! Well, it was just us and a handful of divers that were mostly under the water.

Fingal's Cave.

Selfie in front of Fingal's Cave.

Isle of Staffa.

We then had a 40 minute ride back to Mull, and as the wind was now behind us, the sailing was a lot less rough. As we approached the water between Iona and Mull, we were greeted by a small pod of Dolphin that performed well for us all. We were not in the best area of the boat to see them, but we did get a few views of them swimming fast and jumping out of the water very near.

When we got home, pretty tired from a full on day, we enjoyed dinner listening to the Hebrides Overture by Felix Mendelssohn  (several times).

Friday 12 July 2024

Bee-hawk and Marsh Fritillaries.

 On our 2nd day in the Fort William area, during our searches for the Chequered Skippers, Lisa found what was possibly the find of the holiday. She spotted what she thought was a large bee, looking very odd. She called me over, and I immediately knew it was a beautiful Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth. One of my favourite species, and one that I hadn't really managed to get any decent photos of before. The moth was obviously just emerging from the pupa. Looking back, I should have searched for the pupa, but as it had just started raining pretty hard, we quickly took a few photos before retreating to shelter in the car.

Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth.

Underneath view.

After an hour or so, the rain stopped, so we headed back to where the moth was, and it was still in the area, pumping up its wings and looking even better than before.

Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth.

I have always enjoyed watching the Bee Hawk-moths, ever since I used to cycle out to a wood several miles from my childhood home to watch the Broad-bordered Bee Hawk-moths. Unfortunately, the moths have not been seen at that site now for many years, so the Narrow-bordered is the one I see more often when I'm searching for Marsh Fritillaries. The Narrow-bordered and the Marsh Fritillary use the same larval food plant, Devil's Bit Scabious, so they are often seen in the same locations. Having said that, the nearest site to home for both the moth and fritillary is around 100 miles from home, so no chance of cycling there!!

For Christmas Matt had got me the superb book 'Much Ado About Mothing' by James Lowen. I was planning on reading bits from the book during the year, but as it was, I enjoyed the book so much that I read it all in a little over a week. Whilst reading the book, I came across the bit where James was looking for the Slender Scotch Burnet moth. A very rare moth, with a subspecies only found on Mull. As Lisa and I were having 2 weeks on Mull, I was determined to hunt the moth out while we were on the Island. We actually searched for it 3 times during our stay, but due to the cold spring the moth was late appearing this year so we missed it. However, James had also hinted that there were Marsh Fritillaries at the same site. However, it was still a surprise when I spotted a Marsh Fritillary almost as soon as we had arrived. This was one of the butterfly species that I thought I wasn't going to see this year, as I normally go to Wiltshire for it, but had decided against going this year due to the long trip to Scotland. It soon became apparent that there were good numbers of the butterfly here.

Male Marsh Fritillary.

We were quietly walking along one of the narrow paths, when we saw two Fritillaries take off. It was obviously a male and female. I watched them briefly, but Lisa had other ideas. She watched where they flew to and headed over to see if they had joined up to mate. Meanwhile I headed away from the area, when I spotted a Narrow-bordered Bee hawk-moth nectaring on the Bird's Foot Trefoil. I looked over to Lisa to beckon her over, but she was waving me to where she was. I realised straight away that she had found the two Marsh Fritillaries. Indeed they had joined up and it was brilliant seeing them mating. Good for Lisa for finding them.

Mating Marsh Fritillaries.

After telling Lisa about the Hawk-moth, we continued searching. There were some nice warblers and pipits about as well as the insects. While Lisa was concentrating on them I continued to search for the Burnet moths, although it was already clear that we were probably too early in the season. I did however, find a nice female Marsh Fritillary. This species lays lots of eggs and the female abdomen is very large to hold the eggs. It is very easy to tell the sexes apart due to this.

Female Marsh Fritillary.

As the afternoon warmth slowly built up the Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moths started to become more evident, and we both enjoyed the challenge of photographing them as they nectared on the wing, on the Bird's Foot Trefoil. At one point, one of the moths actually settled right in front of us and rested on the ground for a couple of minutes. This was a bit easier than photographing them on the wing!!

Resting Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth.

As it was we did both manage a few half decent photos of them nectaring. It really was a fabulous day spent in such a lovely setting of Duart Castle. Even though we didn't see the Burnet moths. We had thought we would only be there a couple of hours, but in the end we were there nearly all day!!

Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth feeding.

As far as the Burnet Moth goes, I will have to try and get to Mull again one day. However, I have just returned from a butterfly tour of the Dolomites, and amazingly I got to see the Slender Scotch Burnet moth there. Okay, not the mega rare subspecies, but it was crazy after all the hunting on Mull to see it, only to find it in Italy!!

Tuesday 2 July 2024

Mull is Otterly Brilliant.

 Last year Lisa had a week on the Isle of Mull with one of her friends, and this year she was really keen for me to join her for a couple of weeks so she could show me why the island is so special to her.

I had never been there before, but knew, of course, that the island was well known for both Otters and Eagles.

Last year Lisa and her friend had 2 days with Brian Boyes, an Otter guide on the island, and once again she was keen to have a couple of days again with Brian showing us where the best spots for the animals are, as well as being able to drop us off when an otter was spotted and the direction of travel were clear. It was then a case of the two of us getting behind a large rock as quickly as possible near the water so we could photograph it when it surfaced. Also, if we were extremely lucky, and the otter caught something large, it could bring the meal ashore near us, to eat it!!

Brian was totally passionate about the animals and he made us aware of how we should be very careful and quiet to get the very best results without disturbing the animals. Something which is very close to my heart. It is always so rewarding getting good photos and knowing the animal wasn't even aware you were there!!

Our first day out with Brian, was to be fair, quite slow. Although we saw quite a few other interesting things, the otters had other ideas. The early morning went to mid morning without any sightings, and to be honest, I was beginning to think we were going to be out of luck. Fortunately, both Lisa and I are aware that wildlife doesn't often do what you want it to do.

However, it was almost lunchtime and then a dog otter was spotted. Suddenly everything changed, as Lisa and I quickly found a large rock to get behind as the otter had dived. We had to move only when the animal was underwater. Each time it surfaced, it seemed to have caught something to eat. However, these smaller morsels could be eaten in the water. A couple of times it caught something bigger and it brought the food ashore. I was really hoping that it would catch something larger when it swam past me, and allow me to get a shot of it reasonably nearby on the shore.

Eventually, it was getting near to where I was, when suddenly it caught a larger fish, a reasonably sized flatfish. The otter then came out of the water and started to come up the beach right to where I was. Well, this was suddenly ridiculous, as I had the 500mm lens on, and the large dog otter was only about 12 feet away!! All I could manage was a shot of the otter's head, feet and the fish. The picture below is exactly how it was, no cropping at all!!

Close-up of the dog Otter!!

I really wished I had taken the other camera down with me, as that one had a zoom lens on it, so I could have zoomed out to get the whole animal in the shot. However, it was a totally incredible moment. The fish took a few minutes to eat, before the otter went back into the water, oblivious of me being just a few feet away from it. Lisa was away to my left, and unfortunately she had a rock between herself and the otter.

For the rest of the day we were both on a high after such a wonderful encounter.

A week later we had an even earlier start, so as to get the tide at its best for Otter watching. Lisa and I had now moved to a different cottage on the south of the island. This cottage overlooked a different loch to where we had been last week. As Brian drove very slowly around the loch, the sun was still quite low, and we appeared to be the only people about. We were only a few minutes into the day, when I spotted two Otters not far from us. Once again, Lisa and I quickly got out of the van, quietly closing the doors. We headed to the boulders again, but this time the two Otters stayed out in the water. They were both hunting together, once again, catching small prey nearly every time they dived. Brian had a feeling that they would continue around the bay, so he drove a few hundred metres and dropped us off again, well ahead of the animals. We had to wade across some bits of water to get to a really big boulder we could both hide behind. It was then a case of waiting and hoping that they would continue to come our way. 

Eventually, they did come round the bay to where we were, but what happened next was just incredible, as both animals came ashore on a boulder that was covered with weeds, only around 25 feet away. 

Another Otter Encounter.

Brian had already told us, when I first spotted the Otters, that it was probably a mother and near fully grown cub. Both of us were then treated to some lovely interaction with the animals. A bit of grooming went on, and then, they fell asleep!! Lisa and I just had to hold on, as we couldn't move away as that may have disturbed them. 

After around 45 minutes I mentioned to Lisa that they will have to wake up soon, as the tide is coming in and the island that they are on will soon be covered with water. We also had a problem, as we could also be cut off from the shore in the position we were in. Indeed, as the tide came in the Otters both started to wake up. Even more grooming and play now took place. It was such a delight seeing these beautiful creatures behaving in such a way.

Lots of play and grooming from the Otters.

Looking at the photos in detail later, it became clear that the youngster had unfortunately lost an eye sometime. However, it didn't seem to affect it at all, and we had already seen, it was catching lots of prey as it swam around the bay.

Eventually, the tide covered the island the Otters were on, and they both went back to hunting. We had just had an amazing 2 hours plus of watching these lovely animals. Poor Brian was left sitting in his van, and as he had to park away from us he hadn't seen what was happening.

We thought that was probably the end of our Otter sightings for the trip. However, on our final full day, we drove to the other side of the loch to see if we could find some birds to photograph before the rain started. As we sat on the loch side we noticed quite a few people some distance away, looking through binoculars at something on the side of the loch. We assumed it must be an Otter, so we drove to one of the few car parking spots and walked back to where the people were, to be told that there had been an Otter, but it had just moved away. It was then a case of guessing which way it was going. A couple of times we saw the Otter surface briefly, so we rushed off on foot along the roadside to see if we could get ahead of it. Others were waiting back where it had been, so we were already away from most people. We kept getting further ahead of it and then got down a little on the bank where we would be hidden. Amazingly, once again we chose the right spot as the Otter came ashore to our left, and walked along the bank in front of us.

Otter walking along in front of us.

Someone at this point behind us closed their car door loudly!!

By this time the rain was falling quite heavily, and we were both getting very wet, but was it worth getting wet for!! After the animal had got comfortable amongst the rocks, it fell asleep. We were now realising that Otters seem to sleep an awful lot!! We waited and waited, all the time getting even wetter. Another good 45 minutes later, most of the other Otter watchers that were watching from their cars gave up and left, we were still hiding on the bank. Eventually the Otter started to wake up. We were thinking we may get some more shots if it walks back along in front of us, but no, the Otter went straight back down to the water and started to fish again. It very quickly came back to shore after catching a large crab, but it soon went back to hunting. Despite being very wet, we decided to carry on getting further ahead of it. 2 other people were also still keeping with the Otter. However, we took a bit of a punt on the Otter going further along, and as there was no access to the loch for about 70 metres, we headed there and were once again on our own. After 15 minutes or so, we saw the Otter surface with yet more food. Only a small morsel, so the diving continued. As it came nearer, we thought, could it really happen again. We then saw the Otter swim slightly past us before diving again, so we quickly moved along the beach to get slightly ahead again. Hiding quickly behind a large rock as the Otter surfaced. Then, we saw it had caught another large Crab, and the Otter was once again heading to shore, right where we were again. How could this keep happening. Did we have an Otter magnet or something!!

The next thing was, the Otter had brought the crab ashore, and was now munching away on it. At this time we didn't have a clear view of the Otter, but by very quietly moving just a little, as well as the Otter moving too a little, we started to get a pretty clear view. After finishing the crab, the Otter started to do some grooming, rubbing against the seaweeds and stones. I was wondering if we were going to be stuck there again for a long time if it fell asleep again, but fortunately, after grooming and showing off in front of us for 15 minutes it went back into the water. As we stood up, I looked behind us and was amazed to see 5 other people that had come onto the beach to watch the spectacle, obviously they had seen us on the beach and realised what we were watching.

We were now so wet, and starting to get chilled, so we decided we had had so much luck we should go back to the cottage in the warm!!

One Large Crab attached to an Otter.

Otter being watchful.

This is the life!!

Such a fabulous creature.

With so many photos taken, it was really hard knowing how many and which ones to post. Such memories from our fantastic trip to Mull. Our thanks to Brian for putting us in the right place and helping us get our Otter fix. We were also both pleased to have got the last one without help. This one is apparently a female, called 'Pink Nose', for obvious reason.

And, just when we thought our Otter experiences were over, the following morning, during our final breakfast, I spotted something on the water in the loch, which I suspected was an Otter. Quickly grabbing the binoculars, we enjoyed watching a hunting Otter from the comfort of the cottage. All the time we were packing up the car we enjoyed watching it. So much so, we very nearly missed our ferry back to the mainland!!