Wildlife watching on Mull

At the end of June/start of July we had a week on Mull and our main focus for the week was wildlife watching as most our holidays are these days. This post shares three great locations where we explored the wildlife of Mull.

Grass Point

We had a couple of hours after getting off the ferry and before getting access to our cottage so we drove down the road to Grass Point (just south of Loch Don). This is a great habitat for Hen Harrier and Short Eared Owl. Sure enough within 30 minutes of leaving the boat we saw a Ringtail. This is the name used for female-type Hen Harrier based on the white band on the tail. I say female type rather than just female as the immature males look similar too.

Hen Harrier

We carried on down to the view point at Grass Point itself and walked to the top of the cliffs to view the sea. We saw several grey seals in the sea along with a distant view of an otter hunting, it eventually came to the shore and disappeared up a river bank.

We also saw several Rock Doves on the cliffs. These are genuine wild birds on Mull rather than the common feral pigeons found nearly everywhere on the mainland.

As we walked back to the car we heard and saw Whinchat, Chaffinch and Stonechat. A confiding male Stonechat perched on a foxglove which bent over under its weight.

Male Stonechat on Foxglove

We walked along the road to the end and had a look around the small bay. A Lesser Redpoll landed on the roof of a nearby house, it flew before I could catch a photo but nice to see the red forehead.

A Willow Warbler sang from the nearby scrub. I find Willow Warbler impossible to tell from Chiffchaff by sight but the song is very different, sounding a bit like a Chaffinch without the flourish at the end.

Willow Warbler song
Willow Warbler

Loch Scridain

The next day we headed over Glen More, a lovely road, to Loch Scridain. Descending from the highpoint we saw a couple of cars parked with tripods with scopes out looking at the cliffs above. A brief chat later and we had our own scope on a couple of resting Golden Eagles. After about 20 minutes one took off disturbed by a Kestrel and gave a brief view. As the photo below shows, an Eagle has much longer wings and primary feathers than a Buzzard, oh and a Golden Eagle hardly ever flaps it wings by comparison to a Buzzard. You can tell this is a Goldie (not White-Tail) from the smaller head and narrower wings compared to the White-Tail’s thicker barn door profile.

Golden Eagle

Carrying on down the B8035 turnoff north of the loch we soon found ourselves in excellent meadow habitat so we stopped and scanned for birds. We very quickly saw a quartering Short-Eared Owl followed by two Hen Harriers which was excellent. It must be a good vole year. A Skylark popped up near the car allowing close views.

Skylark

We also saw a Whinchat resting on a distant fence.

Whinchat

We continued to drive along the coast scanning for Otters and were soon rewarded by a mother and two cubs. These are wonderful animals and always a special encounter. They have great smell but less good eyesight so staying down wind we watched them for 10-15 minutes from the road side.

Returning to the main road (A849) to Pennyghael we scanned the marshy area again for Short-Eared Owls or Harriers. None this time but a few Redshank, Curlew and Lapwings put in a show. Driving along with the windows open (always drive with the windows open if you can!) we heard a Buzzard calling from a stand of trees. Investigation soon revealed a nest which was actually visible from the road itself although you would probably miss it driving.

Buzzard on nest (taken from road)

Further down the road we looked out to a small island with some Common Seals hauled out. Taking time to watch we noticed that one was actually in the process of giving birth. We watched for about 20 minutes but after this, the mother to be went into the water (opting for a water birth perhaps).

Common Seal in labour

Lochbuie

Another great day out we headed down to Lochbuie. Just after leaving the A849 at Strathcoil we saw a few impressive Red Deer Stags.

Red Deer Stag

A relaxed drive along Loch Spelve revealed close up views of a few birds we had been seeing all week. Most of Mull’s coast seems to have a resident Grey Heron and it is fun to watch these birds feed and nice to practice photographing them in flight, because they are so huge they are an easy target to practice on.

The main geese on the Island are Greylags and we frequently saw families together. Geese with young will avoid Otters who will occasionally take a gosling so having them close to the shore is a clear indication not to bother looking for Otters (and the reverse is true, if you see them heading away form the shore and you are not the cause might be worth a quick scan).

Whilst here we also glimpsed some Canada Geese which were much less common on Mull than the Greylags.

Canada geese

Along with Oystercatchers the other birds we found at almost every stretch of coast were the noisy Common Sandpipers. These migrants from Africa breed on our coasts and rivers in the summer. They are vocal birds when alarmed, vocal birds when taking off, the pair near our cottage were vocal birds whenever I was trying to sleep.

Common Sandpiper

We drove out the far side of Loch Spelve and were a bit surprised to see a Peacock in the middle of the road near the end. It acted as if it owned the road, calling loudly whilst displaying its magnificent tail feathers.

Getting back to wildlife, we continued down to Lochbuie stopping for some lunch. We had a lovely walk along the coast to the beautiful beach beyond Moy Castle.

Social distancing in action on Mull

Nearby rocky crags had lovely wildflowers growing out of the cracks. Not my specialty but I think this is English Stonecrop.

English Stonecrop

Another distinctive flower of Mull was the Iris meadows found around most river mouths. Corncrake are occasionally heard from this habitat but not by us this week.

Iris

Goldfinch and Lesser Redpolls flew around the nearby field and briefly landed on the nearby fence.

On our return to the main road after leaving the shored of Loch Spelve the road rises to a small pass. It was early afternoon now and the sun was beating down hard and the thermals were getting established. Whilst driving we saw a brief raptor pass behind some trees. We pulled over and before long were watching a Golden Eagle along with 9 Buzzards soaring in the thermals. The Golden Eagle was having a hard time being mobbed and had actually lost one of its tail feathers.

Golden Eagle with missing tail feather

Whilst on Mull we also enjoyed a fantastic boat trip whale watching from Tobermory and also a day photographing Golden Eagles and other birds of prey.

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