Friday, May 22, 2009

Mull 2009, Days 3 & 4: Owling in an 'Owling Wind

Day 3 started with a visit to Loch Frisa, home to a pair of White-tailed-Telly Star-Eagles - the ornithological equivalent of 'Richard & Judy'. OK, it's not the coolest place to go and see WTEs but, after last year's eagle dipathon in Speyside/Gruinard Bay, we weren't taking any chances and had already booked our visit to the loch where WTEs are guaranteed. (01680 300640 - Adults £4, children (16 and under) £2, family (2 adults and 2 children) £10).

As the Forestry Commission Ranger was regaling all the visitors (at length) about the history of these two birds, the only people actually looking out of the hide were the 4 of us and so we were the first to see a WTE flying in to the (hidden) nest. Within a couple of minutes it, or its partner, perched up on top of a tree where it remained for about 20 minutes. Yes, the hide was nice and warm, but the large glass window prevented you from focussing properly on the bird. (Ring any bells?). So out we piled into the freezing cold wind to view it properly while dozens of Sand Martins and Siskins flew overhead.

We were the first to move off - our next destination was a return visit to Loch na Keal. There was no sign of the 'Cagey Birder No 2' but within 10 minutes we'd found the WTE nest - in a tree about a mile away on the hillside. To be honest, it was so far away, the views were crap, but a moment or two later a large shadow fell over us. Looking skywards Wayne was the first to call "Eagle!" It flew over us heading towards the nest, banking a few hundred metres away from it to get a better landing angle - it was like watching a Boeing 747 turning in to land at Rhoose Airport!

Over the next few hours we re-traced the Day 2 route, only in reverse. We saw another couple of Golden Eagles as we travelled south on the B8035. A summer plumaged Great Northern Diver was at the western end of Loch Na Keal. We stopped again north of Loch Scridain where we had the best views of the trip of a WTE soaring above our head (see Jeff's photos/video clips below).

With the afternoon wearing on we had only one target remaining for the trip - Short-eared Owls. On the basis of information gleaned from Mick from 'Mull Wildlife Tours' we stopped off at Glen More and lazily scanned the area around the 'Three Lochs' from the comfort of the car (it was flippin' windy and very cold).

The Three Lochs (Glen More): Loch Airde Glais, Loch Sguabain and Lochs an Eilein. (Photo: Wayne).

By the time we'd left the Glen we'd seen 5 Short-eared Owls and another on our journey back to Craignure.

Short-eared Owl at Glen More (Phot: Jeff).

In order to make sure that we didn't become too cocky about our success we called in at Grasspoint again on our way home to score another 'Big O' at this site.

The evening was spent being entertained by a superb band 'Vortex' at the Craignure Inn. Their set included everything from Lionel Richie (Jeff's favourite) to Snow Patrol. Highly recommended if you're looking for some wedding night entertainment and you can afford their air-fare from Scotland. The evening was topped off nicely by the attention of a pair of amorous Australians (female) and Jeff's minor altercation with one of the local lads. (You can take the man out of Maesteg . . . . etc). It was lucky that this youngster's girlfriend was there to drag him away or it we could have had another Ricky Hatton/Manny Pacquiao missmatch on our hands.

Despite the late night/beer consumed we were up early on Day 4. We needen't have bothered - it was blowing a gale and pouring with rain. Despite a trip to Tobermory (where we dipped on Iceland Gull and the Les Routiers fish & chip van was closed) and a dash to Dervaig for waders (there were none) the only two additions to our trip list were 2 Sedge Warblers and a Reed Bunting. But, on the the ferry to Oban, as we began our journey home, we did add Manx Shearwater and some Black Guillemots. 8 hours later we touched down at Bristol Airport with a bag each of Duty Free perfume and/or chocolate "so that we can go next time again!".

Our trip list total was only 80. If you want to do Scotland and have more variety of birds I would suggest a trip to Speyside, but you'll be struggling there to have such fantastic views of both species of Eagle as we had on Mull - and you can forget about Corncrake. Our list on Mull would have been much higher if we'd made the effort to search the high moors and pools for Red Grouse and Red-throated Diver, the tops for Ptarmigan and the woods for the woodland birds - but to be honest we didn't make that effort. We went to Mull for Eagles and Corncrake, Harriers and Owls, magificent scenery and some good craic - and we had 'em all!

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