Here’s the big one, the event we had been anticipating and planning for the entire year, a tour of the Isle of Mull. This island, situated just off the western coast of Scotland, is a popular tourist attraction due to its astounding natural beauty and it is also a wildlife hotspot with a collection of species that is largely unmatched anywhere in the world.
Tuesday 6th June:
We met outside of the Brackenhurst library at 6am ahead of a 9-hour drive from Southwell to Oban, many of us took this opportunity to catch-up on sleep as we had to be up early. For me at least this journey seemed to fly by, perhaps because of the excellent banter on the minibus and we also stopped a few times for food which certainly broke up the monotony of the drive.
Once we had passed through Glasgow the scenery was truly stunning and for some of us this was our first impression of how beautiful Scotland really is. Here we saw the first of our highlight species’ – Red-breasted Merganser, which in the UK is only found on Scottish lochs during the breeding season – and Eider, a diving duck which is found mostly around the coast.
We arrived in Oban with over an hour to spare before we had to board the ferry, this gave us time to get fish & chips and to explore a little. While walking along the seaside we came across another target species – the Black Guillemot, which proved to be very approachable but not completely tame.
The ferry ride across to Mull was a bittersweet experience (at least for people who left their coats at home…) as the wind was very intense at times but in return we got some great views of Gannets fishing as well as Manx Shearwater, Shag, and Puffin. Upon landing in Craignure our first stop was a nearby sea eagle nesting site but as the weather conditions were poor at this time they did not appear, so we checked into our bunkhouse and turned in for the night.
Wednesday 7th June:
Some of us decided to get up at 4:30am for a walk along the Craignure seaside and we were awarded for the early rise with some amazing views of the morning sun against the mountains and the sea. We then returned to the bunkhouse to have breakfast and prepare for the island tour of Mull.
Our first port of call was to return to the sea eagle nest site that we visited the previous evening in another attempt to spot one, and we did. The White-tailed Eagle is the largest raptor (bird of prey) that can be found in the British Isles, hence the nickname ‘flying barn door’ which comes from the wings being both extremely long (wingspan = 2.4m) and extremely broad.
After this we hit the road with an eventual destination of Calgary Bay, a picturesque white beach with a brilliantly cold sea to swim in. Over the next couple of hours, we stopped a few times along the road just to take in the breath-taking scenery if nothing else, we saw a number of new species here such as: Short-eared Owl, Whinchat, Buzzard, Cuckoo, Curlew, Oystercatcher and Redshank. However, we hit a small problem along the way as one of the roads along our route was closed, this meant that we had to drive all the way back to Craignure and find a new route to Calgary Bay; on the upside though we had our first sighting of a Hen Harrier due to the road being closed, every cloud eh.
Our luck became even better along the new route as before long a large raptor was spotted from the minibus, we stopped to take a look… At first glance, it appeared to be a Buzzard being mobbed by Jackdaws as this is a familiar sight back home, but before long we realised it was a Golden Eagle! And the following birds were in fact Ravens, which gave us a sense of scale so we got a good impression of the sheer size of the eagle. While most of us were gazing in wonder at the eagle another squabble in the sky was spotted, a Hen Harrier mobbing a Buzzard! Golden eagle, Hen Harrier, Buzzard, and Ravens in the sky together… Epic.
We arrived at Calgary Bay at around 2pm, most of us changed into swimwear and headed for the beach straight away for a swim, but some of us were more reluctant… Especially after being told the water in the bay was glacial melt-water! On the water, there was a family of Eiders and it was super cool to swim with them (cool being the key word there). The weather was perfect for a good hour and with everyone chilling out on the beach you would have thought we were in Barbados or something!
By about 4pm the sun went in so we hit the road again and headed towards Tobermory, a town famous for being the set of some children’s programme apparently. At one point along the road we came across a White-tailed Eagle nest where the chicks were being ringed and the parent birds were circling above it calling to each other, which is something that really gives you the chills and here I think all of us truly fell in love with the eagles.
The road to Tobermory had one more gift for us, as we passed by the very last loch along the way there were a family of birds on the water which turned out to be Red-throated Divers. A lot of us had this species in mind before the trip but at this point we had pretty much accepted that it wasn’t going to happen, just goes to show that nothing is impossible in birding and that’s why we love it.
Upon arriving in Tobermory we checked into the place where we were staying the night and then we split up to explore the town. Some of us went for fish and chips, some on a mini-pub crawl and some of us went for a walk in search of Dippers or a lighthouse, there was no luck with either of those but it was fun regardless.
Thursday 8th June:
The ferry back to the mainland left Craignure at 11am which unfortunately meant that we did not have much time left to explore the island. We left Tobermory at 8am and drove directly to Craignure which meant that when we got there we had over an hour of time to play with, so we headed back along the road from the previous morning to have one last look at the moorland. There were a few more Short-eared Owls spotted here and a White-tailed Eagle with a wing tag was sat on the ground next to a small loch, plus a few of us saw another Hen Harrier in the distance. A nice way to say good-bye to Mull, for now at least.
The ferry ride back to Oban was much less breezy than before and we saw a nice collection of species including: Arctic Tern, Black Guillemot, Guillemot, Eider, Shag, Gannet, and also a pod of Harbour Porpoise.
All in all this was a very successful trip from a birding point of view especially considering we had to cover the whole island within a day, plus the time spent at Calgary Bay and Tobermory was great fun! It was the perfect way to end an awesome year with ConSoc.