For an island roughly 20 x 30 miles in size, Mull boasts an incredible wealth of wildlife. This serene and altogether remarkable setting playing host to some of the most eye-catching and iconic species the British Isles has to offer; both on land, and in the sea. The untamed uplands of Mull harbouring golden eagles, harriers and hulking stags, and the quaint coastline otters, cetaceans and, of course, sea eagles – perhaps the most sought after of regional specialities. This eclectic mix of life – coupled, of course, with superb scenery far removed from anything to be seen elsewhere in the UK – is the reason the UKWS team are so fond of Mull, and the doubtless the reason that this particular tour is one of our most popular.
Our latest excursion to Mull started on a high; day one of our tour, following our arrival on the island, leaving just enough time to track down our first target species: the otter. A family party – a sow and two mature cubs – soon located at one of our reliable sites; the trio lounging on the bladderwrack clad rocks mere meters from where our guests stood wide-eyed and riveted. The animals enjoyed for a good hour in the vibrant evening sun; occasionally departing their chosen rock to frolic in the surf, wholly unphased (or at least disinterested) by our presence on the shore. This was certainly an experience that our guests (and indeed, our guides) will not soon forget. The evening capped off in splendid fashion with up-close views of some truly wonderful seabirds. Among these, six Black Guillemot, a colossal Great Skua and no end of Fulmars sailing low above the surf as the light faded.
Day two continued along a similar, exciting path: a trip into the islands rugged, untamed interior allowing us to quickly catch up with our next target species: Golden Eagle. A pair of the majestic raptors viewed well as they circled high above an escarpment, and an immature bird – told apart by the extensive white patches on its wings – observed hunting. The powerful raptor flying low over the moorland in the hope of flushing an unsuspecting prey item for lunch. Which it did: the eagle’s antics soon revealing the first of many Mountain Hare and Red Grouse noted during the trip. These were, however, only the tip of the iceberg and once the eagle-induced high had subsided, and our inland venture resumed, yet more treasures were unearthed. The highlight of these coming in the form of two separate Hen Harriers – a distant, ghostly male and a much more confiding ringtail – although Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel were not to be scoffed at. Nor were the three separate pairs of Twite seen throughout the morning. The evening of day two found us once again enjoying the company of an otter, this time a male encountered by chance on route back the base. Our time at the site also providing the opportunity for our guests to admire some of the islands wading birds: with Whimbrel, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher and Turnstone observed, among others, as the mustelid foraged amid the wrack.
As mentioned previously, Mull is famed for its White-Tailed Eagles. The enormous yet oddly elegant raptors now, thankfully, abundant in the area following a successful local reintroduction schemes. That said, viewing eagles should never be taken for granted and, despite their size, sea eagles have a habit of making themselves surprisingly scarce when sought after. Thankfully, the local knowledge of our guides meant that come the morning of day three, the entire group was lucky enough to witness the sight of two eagles fishing along a secluded (and rather beautiful) stretch of coastline. The pair looking dapper in the growing sunlight as they stooped repeatedly, talons outstretched, attempting to snatch unlucky fish from the surface of the water. They succeeded; both birds, before long, landing some large and rather impressive fish. Smiles all around and not even 10 o’clock. The rest of the day three was spent in search of other tantalising odds and ends, a definitive highlight coming in the form of an immaculate summer plumage Great Northern Diver just offshore behind the breakers. The sight of this stunning individual soon followed by exquisite views of its smaller, less monochrome cousin – the Red-Throated Diver. Here too, Hooded Crows foraged in abundance, Ravens kronked as they passed overhead and a number of genuine looking Rock Doves – the wild relative of our domestic pigeons – were seen. In addition, of course, to myriad common passerines – Rock Pipit, Stonechat and Grey Wagtail standing out as a few firm favourites.
The first three days of our Mull tour was superb – we could not have wished for better weather, wildlife or company. Luck was certainly on our sides throughout, though as you will see in our next blog, there was much, much more to be seen…