Monday, May 11, 2009

Mull 2009, Day 2: The Joy of Crex

Thank God, unlike Speyside, there aren't any Capercaille watches and 5am starts on Mull. Eagles aren't early risers either so it was with a clear conscience that it was as late as 9am by the time we left Craignure on Day 2 of our trip. The plan for the day was to tank over to Iona, a small island off the south western tip of Mull, bag ourselves a Corncrake before heading back to tick off both species of eagles. Easy!
When we were within a couple of miles of Fionnphort, the tiny port from where the ferry sails to Iona, we slowed down and opened the windows of the car - partly to try and hear the rasping calls of Corncrakes which are now spreading out from their stronghold on Iona onto Mull itself, and partly to release the fumes created by the excessive 'rasping' made by some of the occupants of the car. At times, our trip resembled the cowboy/baked bean scene from the 'Blazing Saddles' film!

The island of Iona and its famous Abbey

At Fionnphort we had some time to kill before the departure of the next ferry and so we headed off, no more than a kilometre south, for a brief visit to Fidden. Here we found one of our target birds - Twite, along with White Wagtail, plenty of Lapwings and Curlew, some more proper Greylags and a Brown Hare. We should have returned to Fidden after leaving Iona because this is one of the better areas for waders on Mull. Surprisingly, we struggled to find many waders on the rest of the trip.

A short hop on the ferry (£4.20 - no need to book in advance) and we were soon on Iona. We had been reliably informed by Jeff's octoganerian oracle that Corncrakes were already "all over the place" on Iona and that they could be found within a short distance of the harbour. All the same, it took us a frustrating half an hour and a kilometre walk before we heard one. It was distant and only called intermittedly. We soon gave up on it and doubled back to the harbour. On the way we came upon a couple of good candidates for genuine Rock Dove. We tried our best to get excited by them . . . but failed.

Just off shore we enjoyed our first (almost) summer plumaged Great Northern Diver of the trip, as well as some Gannets, Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills. Next a couple of Sandwich Terns flew past, closely followed by some Arctic Terns and, on the road behind us, a nonagenerian cyclist. Being closest in age to the cyclist, we sent Jeff to tap him up for some local knowledge. He told us to try behind the fire station or the Bishop's House. We drew a blank at the fire station (although the sound of a local resident scraping some rubbish outside his house with a spade did fool two members of BiB into thinking there was a Corncrake nearby).

We had more luck at the Bishop's House. We immediately heard the rasping call of a Corncrake, and it appeared to be very near. But, we were being fooled. A local came out of his house to say that the bird was not in the field but over a wall and completely out of view in a hotel garden. "Curse that Corncrake" (we didn't want to swear just in case the bishop was in). We were about to move off when Wayne found the bird walking along the top of the wall!!

"Over here you daft buggers . . . on the wall! "(Photo: Jeff)

Panic ensued but, pulses racing, everybody got 'scope views of the Corncrake. It wasn't the one calling so there must be a pair in the hotel garden. Lifers for 3 of the 4 BiB. We spoke to several birders later on our trip who'd been on Iona for hours and failed to see any Corncrakes - we tried our best not to appear too smug.

Right, job done - shall we visit the famous medieval abbey? Nope. Eagles next.

Relaxing on the quayside on Iona - that's a Corncrake under Kev's coat (Photo: Jeff)

Back on Mull we travelled immediately to Loch Beg (which is basically the eastern end of Loch Scridain). We pulled over behind a Mull Wildlife Tours vehicle. Mick, the tour guide, was very generous in sharing his knowledge about where to find birds on Mull - particularly as we weren't paying customers. Good bloke!

A very distant speck on the horizon was generally thought to be another Golden Eagle. Almost as far away was something that looked like a dirty brown fur coat laid out on a distant little islet. Mick told us it was an Otter. It never moved and, without the aid of the Hubble Telescope, we had to take his word for it. Sadly, despite constant searching, this was to be our only 'view' of an Otter throughout the trip.

Eider at Loch Scridain (Phot: Jeff)

We moved on and, within a couple of miles of the north shore of Loch Scridain (along the B8035), we pulled in at our first White-tailed Eagle (WTE) nest site. And there it was! Piece of cake.

White-tailed Eagle near Loch Scridain (Photo: Jeff)

Having filled our boots on the WTE we drove further north along the B8035. The scenery along this road is absolutely stunning - and it's eagle habitat the whole way. Seeing some birders parked up on the side of the road, we pulled over to see what they were looking at. It was a Golden Eagle nest and within a couple of minutes of our arrival a Goldie flew in, collected some foliage from the mountainside and flew up with it to the nest. Spectacular!

The Golden Eagle nest site was somewhere on this mountain. Loch Na Keal in the foreground.(Photo: Wayne).

A few miles further north east we stopped on the shore of Loch Na Keal at another WTE nest site. It's here that we met our second cagey birder of the trip. "All I can tell you is that the nest is over there somewhere" he said, sweeping his arm in the direction of about 5,000 acres of wooded hillside. Thanks mate. With none up in the air and with no idea precisely where the nest was we dipped on WTE at this site. But we would be back! We sought solace 'scoping the loch shore where we found Greenshank, Redshank, Ringed Plover, a pair of Common Sandpiper (they're everyhwere on Mull) and a couple of Whimbrel.

A quick visit to Grasspoint on our way home, just to confirm that there was bugger all there, rounded off Day 2 of our stay on Mull. With both eagles and Corncrake already on the list, even with two days left, it was very 'much mission accomplished'.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Great trip and great blog Dan and a "lifer" as well.