Monday, 31 March 2014

Isle of Mull - Day Three: Sunshine, Sand and an Eagle

Monday, 3rd March

A lovely morning, with the sun appearing at last, interspersed with heavy showers.

Cliffs in the morning sunshine, Loch na Keal
First stop of the day, Tobermory.  The town looked stunning in the morning light, casting colourful reflections onto the water.

Panorama of Tobermory - click to enlarge
Our first walk of the day was to Crater Loch nestled in 'S Airde Beinn.
Mishnish Lochs

The Mishnish Lochs viewed from the road at the start of the walk
Crater Loch

View to Tobermory, with Ardnamurchan and Morven areas visible on the mainland

A pair of Ravens near the summit
The views were good, although there was a bit too much cloud about to be able to see Rum or Skye clearly.

It was a very boggy walk - Squelch Factor 10!
After removing saturated hiking boots and wringing out socks, we headed to our next destination: Calgary Bay.  What a beautiful spot, white sand, with patches of black showing through.  The water turned turquoise when the sun was shining.   The tide was on its way out and the shoreline was covered with seaweed.  It was also time for Corbie Labrador to have some fun!

Corbie enjoys the beach 
Calgary Bay

There were Oystercatchers and various gull species on the shoreline.  I also spotted a couple of Rock Pipits.

A hail shower started just as we got back to the car. I was drying off a certain Labrador and had to try and get him to get into the car as quickly as possible, while I got ice blasted by the wind and hail combination!

Our next walk was a short one at Glen Aros forest.  Again, we got caught in a hail shower whilst trying to decypher headstones in the old burial ground of Cill an Alein. 

Glen Aros forest walk
Lunch stop was at Kiliechronan, and I hoped I might finally see a White-tailed Eagle.  I did! You can read a better description of that on my other post here.

White-tailed Eagle high above Loch na Keal
After lunch, and the excitement of a White-tailed Eagle, we had a short walk up to the fish farm along Loch Ba.  I saw a possible Golden Eagle soaring in the far distance above a peak, but too far to really say for sure.  It had turned into a lovely afternoon, so made the most of the sunshine.  After Loch Ba, we wandered down to the shore of Loch na Keal.  There were Shelduck, Mallards and various Gulls on a rocky island.

Loch Ba
Bird life, Loch na Keal
When we returned to the cottage I spent some time in the garden enjoying the view. It was lovely in the sunshine and warm out of the wind. I spotted a few Red Deer stags grazing at the top of the cliffs.  I also saw a Peregrin Falcon fly past.

Red Deer 
Red Deer
Uh oh, the Labrador's found the bread I put out for the birds (to go with
their porridge oats)!  Spotted a Chaffinch and Goldfinch there in the morning
I did my usual scanning with the binoculars and got lucky with a White-tailed Eagle sighted flying over Inch Kenneth.  Not a bad day!

You can read my other Mull Diary Blogs here:
© Karen Hartnell - all images and text may not be reproduced in any way. 

Friday, 28 March 2014

Isle of Mull - Day Two: Time to Explore

Sunday, 2nd March

Day Two started dry, with rain forecast for later in the day.  Great view from the house across to Staffa, Treshnish Isles and Iona.  A friendly Robin was waiting by the front door and I felt guilty as I didn't have any bird food - I later improvised with some porridge oats!

First stop of the day, Loch Scridain, with potential for White-tailed Eagles (namely, Fingal and Iona). The eagles never showed themselves, but I had good sightings of Buzzards, Grey Herons and Oystercatchers.  There was also a flock of sheep who thought I must've been there to feed them, running across the field from all directions towards me as I started to walk along the road and then following me alongside the fence!

Pair of Buzzards
No, sheep, I'm not here to feed you!
Shower passing along Loch Scridain 
Loch Sridain
Grey Heron
Hoodie having a preen
Next stop was a walk to MacKinnon's Cave.  Timed perfectly with the receding tide, we started our walk near Balmeanach Farm along the well-signposted track, which grew ever muddier until I almost lost a boot. After attempting to lightly hop from one tuft of grass to another to avoid the thick mud churned up by countless cattle hooves, we finally made it onto more solid ground and down to the shore.  I spotted a pair of Buzzards who took off from the rocks and soared above for a while.
View to Inch Kenneth and Ulva beyond 
Gribun cliffs, with the cottage in view to the right
Rocky shoreline
View along the cliffs
Grey Heron
Unfortunately, we never made it to the cave. The boulders increased in size along the shore and our walking book mentioning a faint path on the grass above that we couldn't see, so we decided to cut our losses and head back. Images of a Labrador, or even worse myself, wedged between two boulders sprang to mind if we had continued!  So, with a weather front fast approaching, we retreated back to the car. I spotted a flock of Redwings near the farm.
One Labrador, thankfully, not wedged between boulders!
Next we drove round to the head of Loch na Keal. The local White-tailed Eagles were not around, but lovely views of Great Northern Divers in their winter plumage swimming close to the shore. I spotted three.

Great Northern Diver
The rest of the day was spent indoors, watching the passing showers creating colourful rainbows.

Rainbow over Loch na Keal
You can read my other Mull Diary Blogs here:

© Karen Hartnell - all images and text may not be reproduced in any way. 

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Isle of Mull - Day One: The Journey

Saturday, 1st March

Day One, and I began my journey to the Isle of Mull, a place I had be longing to spend more time after an overnight camping visit in June 2012. I was really looking forward to having a week on the island to explore and watch the wildlife.

After a good drive from home on quiet roads, we caught the Oban ferry to Craignure, all on time and not very busy.  It was also my Labrador's first 'big boat' experience and he was a star, enjoying the attention he was getting from people as they walked past - although he didn't like the steep stairs very much that led from the car deck (and neither did I when he spotted a dog in front of him...)!

Our ferry awaits
Corbie, the one time he wasn't rolling on the floor or getting a fuss made of him!
Bye, bye mainland
I ventured out onto the deck and did some scanning with the binoculars to see if anything was about, getting more excited as Mull drew closer.

Passing Duart Castle on Mull

Unfortunately the weather was a bit dreich, and it started to rain as we neared port. This turned into a torrential downpour as we negotiated the narrow roads along Loch na Keal to arrive at our holiday destination. Beforehand, I had spotted a Red Deer Stag near the road as we drove through Knock.

While my other half got drenched unloading the car, I tried to restrain the patio doors from flying back to the mainland on the increasingly strong wind. Being frequent visitors to the Isle of Skye, we were used to such forces of nature on our holidays!

We had safely arrived, that was the main thing, so to let the holiday commence!

You can read my other Mull Diary Blogs here:
© Karen Hartnell - all images and text may not be reproduced in any way. 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Eagle Watching on Mull

This year I have a big birthday coming up (it's surprising how many times you can turn '21') and I wanted to do something to celebrate - a three-months-early birthday treat to the Isle of Mull, aka 'Eagle Island', where I hoped to see a White-tailed Eagle or two.

We had a calm crossing on the Isle of Mull CalMac ferry, during which time I went on deck with the binoculars in the hope of seeing a White-tailed Eagle. My Labrador thoroughly enjoyed his first trip on the big boat: rolling about the floor to everyone's amusement and eyeing up a plate of chips that a couple across from us were eating, and not forgetting the play bark at a dog sat opposite us, which sent everyone flying out of their seats ... thankfully we soon docked in Craignure!

Approaching 'Eagle Island'
It was a driech start to the holiday, and I didn't hold out much hope of seeing any eagles upon my arrival.  My first sighting finally came a couple of days later, on a much brighter day.

We parked up at Killiechronan campsite for lunch, in the hope of seeing White-tailed Eagle locals Yellow Black Spot (YBS) or her mate.  There was no sign of either of them until we had almost finished eating. I had a quick look through my binoculars as I shoved the last bit of my home-made flapjack into my mouth.  Then I saw it. Soaring up from the loch. White-tailed Eagle no.1! I watched as it soared ever higher, until it was just a tiny dot in the sky and I lost it from view. I couldn't tell you if it was YBS or her mate, but a joy to see nonetheless.

A mere dot of a White-tailed Eagle high in the sky
A bigger zoom (and a bit of photo cropping) and you
can clearly see the flying barn door!
Later that afternoon, back at the house, I was admiring the view and spotted a dark shape flying across the sky in the distance - it couldn't be? I grabbed the binoculars. It was!  White-tailed Eagle no.2.  Several minutes later I saw another going back in the opposite direction, so I'm guessing it was the same bird returning to where it came from.

The following day I met up with friends (and guardians of Mull's White-tailed Eagles) for some eagle watching. As we drove to our rendezvous point along the shore of Loch na Keal, I wondered if it was a good sign that the only small patch of sunlight around was shining down on the exact spot where I had seen YBS and her mate before?  We parked up and I looked through the binoculars. Sure enough, there was YBS and her Mr sitting in a tree!  I could've watched them all day, but there were other eagles to check in on.

Yellow Black Spot (top) and her mate below her,
a dot of white from his tail is just visible as he had his back to us
At the next location, through the drizzle, we could make out a very large nest in the trees and eventually spotted one of the adult eagles fly out.  It flew above the trees and snapped off a branch whilst airborne and then carried it back to the nest.  This particular eagle was keeping busy, flying to and fro collecting nest material and we wondered where the other half of the pair could be.  Finally, we spotted movement in the trees and they both appeared to be sitting alongside each other, near the nest. All was well.

White-tailed Eagles sitting side by side just above the nest,
roughly centre of the photo (honest!)
Next stop was to try and see if the Mull Eagle Watch pair, Fingal and Iona, were home.  They weren't.  We watched and waited and started to head back up the main road, when I just happened to have one last look back. "There's one coming in now!" as a large dark silhouette flew towards the forest.  We were surprised to see the lack of a white tail as it turned against the dark green of the conifers meaning this wasn't one of the adults, but a juvenile.  It went to land in a tree, but decided against that particular spot at the last minute and flew out of sight.  Parking a bit further on and scanning the location with the binoculars, I managed to spot it again, perched in a tree. It was Fingal and Iona's youngster from last year, Orion, paying his parents a visit. They never did appear!  Although, later that afternoon I returned and did get a brief fly past by one of the adults.

Juvenile White-tailed Eagle.
Orion returns to Glen Seilisdier, but mum and dad are out
I was also treated to another (distant) flypast from the house, making it seven White-tailed Eagles in one day! A big thank you to Debby and Dave, I really enjoyed our 'eagle watch'.

My next sighting was a couple of days later.  I just happened to see a dark 'blob' atop a conifer where lots of Hoodies appeared to be mobbing.  A good sign. My hunch was right, another White-tailed Eagle.  It sat there for a while, enduring the Hoodie barrage, until it had enough and flew to an adjoining group of conifers, perched for a short time before taking flight. Looking back at the photos later that day, I could see that this eagle had white wing tags and identified as female 'White M' born in 2007.

Female White-tailed Eagle, White M hatched in 2007, getting mobbed
by Hoodies.
Video of White M, alternatively you can view it on 

The last day of my week on Mull soon arrived, and a very windy one at that.  I had my final White-tailed Eagle sighting of the week while we were driving.  I had spotted a distant, familiar looking, black blob in the sky, and being in a position where we could safely stop the car, I got out with the binoculars and was rewarded with an adult White-tailed Eagle battling against the strong wind.  It was flying away from us, before turning and heading in my direction.  I made a split second decision to keep watching through the binoculars rather than grabbing the camera and trying to get a photo, as I wouldn't have got such a good view. Watching through the binoculars it looked like it was right in front of me as it came in to land in a group of conifers.   With its huge wingspan outstretched, it dropped the landing gear, looking magnificent as it lurched forward to settle on the wrong side of a tree and out of sight.

Another distant 'blob' of a White-tailed Eagle, before it turned and headed
towards me. I decided to keep looking through the binoculars rather
than missing the action while trying to find it again through the camera lens!
Apologies for the quality of the photos, most were taken some distance away from the birds and it was usually dull, wet or very windy.  The only locations I've mentioned where I saw White-tailed Eagles are the well-known places, such as Glen Seilisdier, current home of Mull Eagle Watch.

I have posted separately my other sightings on Mull, which included: Otters, Golden Eagles and a male Hen Harrier.

I'm hoping I will be able to make it back for a brief visit before the year is out, and see how the eagles are doing. Hopefully they will be successfully raising their new families.

Finally, here is an Eagle Antics cartoon, inspired by the nest builders I watched:

You can read my other Mull Diary Blogs here:

© Karen Hartnell - all images and text may not be reproduced in any way. 
Photos and video copyright Karen Hartnell and Graeme Low.