Visiting the Isle of Mull is a pure adventure and it is a must visit place for any wildlife lover.
There is nothing better than an evening outing around the loch when the roads are quiet, there are less people buzzing around and you can just enjoy the tranquillity that is the lapping of the waves on the shore of the loch, or the gentle breeze bringing with it the smell of seaweed. Conveniently the tide was right for otter spotting on my first evening, so we set off around the loch, scanning for movement among the seaweed or further out in the water, although the rippling on the water’s surface increased the challenge. Otter spotting is definitely a pastime that requires patience and luck. They could be behind any number of rocks, impossible to see as you pass by. Then suddenly movement at the water’s edge was spotted, the head of a large otter momentarily visible, before it dived, its large tail waving goodbye. Quietly sneaking along the edge of the loch, in this case it was rather like a cliff as the loch was a long way down, I positioned myself behind some bracken and waited. Then sure enough there he was again, before disappearing from view. That was it, adrenaline pumping, first otter, utter elation and the desire to find more.
Heading back along the loch I was looking over the moorland to my left for any sign of birds of prey, turning to my right I gasped in excitement – a male hen harrier flying past me, its blacked tipped wings so clearly visible against its beautiful grey plumage. It flew away from where I was before flying abruptly to the floor in front of a parked car – can you imagine if you had been sitting in that car! I was to get several sightings over the next few days of the beautiful male harrier, one day flying along the road before engaging in a tussle with a buzzard – witnessing a bird of prey wrestling match, even though it only lasted a few seconds, is heart stopping stuff.
Continuing on around the loch there were pools of intertwining seaweed and rock, and another otter swam enthusiastically up and down looking for food, continually munching before disappearing. The first evening jaunt was a complete success, I was more than delighted at our encounters, that was until I turned to my left to see two short-eared owls, one turning its head and looking straight at me, its yellow eyes sending shivers of delight down my spine. Sightings of these glorious birds continued over the next few days, but none were as thrilling as this.
Further otter spotting also proved a success. Watching from a fair distance away, on what I like to call the top of the cliff, I had got to know where there was a sort of spit which protruded out into the loch, which was formed of seaweed at low tide, and the otter seemed to like this area. One time the delightful otter pulled itself onto the seaweed and began to groom. Watching through the scope you could see the water lining the otter’s coat and its pink mouth as it yawned.
When the tide had changed and spotting conditions were better during the day, we saw a huge male dog otter swimming along the loch, before vanishing behind some rocks. Knowing that the seaweed spit was nearby, and that he was headed in that direction, I moved along and hoped for his arrival. Sure enough his head poked up among the seaweed, before he clambered onto shore and made quick movement along the slippery substrate. It was the greatest privilege to watch him for a few seconds on land, before the mass of his dark body soon slipped back into the water.
Despite being completely spoilt and feeling overwhelmingly lucky with the otter sightings I had had, the best was yet to come. On the other side of the loch I kept passing a quintessential otter location, with seaweed and clear water, it looked just perfect for otters, so I would always check it for sightings but no luck yet. Then one day I was at this spot, the rain was falling hard, it was grey and dark, but there in the loch I saw the head of an otter appear in the distance, then another and another, three otters! Watching them they swam to behind a mound of seaweed in the distance, their tails appearing occasionally but otherwise tantalisingly close but not visible, unlike the rain which was falling heavier now. Then two appeared on top of the mound, playing with one another tumbling around, my heart in my mouth I wanted to jump up and down but maintained control. They then disappeared back behind the seaweed mound. The otters were just out of view for some time, I occasionally saw a flick of the tail or back to indicate their presence. Standing in the rain I waited, waterproofs have never been more necessary, then all of a sudden I was looking across to where they had been and they appeared right by me swimming past, the heads of four otters now appeared like seals out at sea. One ran along the seaweed, somewhat bounding as it went, before sliding into the water. I somehow managed to snap a quick shot, in-between catching my breath, of the moment the otter had its head and paws on the seaweed and its legs and tail in the air. There is nothing more rewarding than waiting patiently and having the wildlife come to you. Soon they disappeared but what a wonderful moment, such a privilege watching these beautiful creatures. In the meantime however the midges had managed to find us waiting by the shore and had formed a cloud around our heads, taking shelter from the rain in my hood – I have to say I didn’t really appreciate the company. I waited some time more but the otters didn’t return.
The next few days I was continually in search of the otter family, just hoping to get another tantalising glimpse of these glorious creatures who had filled my heart with joy. Sure enough, when I had in fact set out to search for golden eagles, as it wasn’t the best tide for otter spotting, I saw a movement in the loch and there they were, three otters, although I did not see a fourth. They were fishing among an area with seals, every time diving down before appearing with a morsel of food, munching in utter delight, as we watched on in glee.
Birds of Prey
Buzzards are commonly seen around Mull, and you can get some incredible views, and although many people would sigh in disappointment as they are not an eagle, they are glorious to watch. Upon one of my evening jaunts I heard alarm calls, and saw a buzzard on the ground, appearing to be looking around for prey, the intelligence and focus in its eyes coming through. In the air however distinguishing the buzzard is done by size, with a wingspan of around 110-130cm (RSPB), they are substantially smaller than the eagles. In flight their wings appear broad and round in shape.
White-tailed eagles are of course the largest eagle on Mull and are a truly incredible sight. As they glide across the sky, they can be spotted even when soaring at such great heights, as they create a dark, broad shape in the sky. They have a wingspan of around 190-240cm (RSPB). In flight their wings appear broader than that of a golden eagle, their long fingers, and white tail are also good distinguishing factors.
Golden eagle sightings were abundant on my trip to Mull this year, often seeing them soaring very high in the sky, they appeared as a black dot against the blue, or more often grey, sky. Their wings are narrower, with a wingspan of around 190-225cm (RSPB), and their tail longer and straighter than that of the white-tailed eagles.
One late afternoon I was waiting by a good eagle watching spot hoping for the golden eagles to appear. The weather was grey, and the dark clouds drifted over the moor to where we were standing, I didn’t think it would be long until the rain fell. Sure enough it soon appeared and fell heavily. I started to walk back to the car, fingers almost on the door handle, then I looked up and saw the glorious dark figures of two golden eagles in the sky. One soon started to descend from the grey sky onto the darkness of the cliff face, before landing. Unbelievable, I had one in my binoculars and then the other joined. They were two tiny black dots in the binoculars, and with the rain creating a grey haze, it was difficult to keep an eye on them. Lowering my binoculars with anxiety, not wanting to lose their position and be unable to find them again, I double checked that I knew where they were, then retreated into the car to wait out the angry rain storm. Eventually the rain did stop, although the misty haze continued and it didn’t seem to deter the midges, but we managed to get the eagles in the scope. Watching them, you could make out the power the animal has just by looking at the bulk of their wings and their magnificent beak. I managed to get a fuzzy picture with a phone attachment for the scope, and even a video, having zoomed in a lot. Even though they are not the best pictures, every time I look at them I remember this great moment and what amazing wildlife there is in Scotland and across the UK.
As well as the otters and eagles there are a whole host of beautiful birds, insects and flowers to discover on Mull, and days spent on this island are packed with fabulous encounters, amazing memories and several thousand midges!
Below are a few photos from a previous trip.