I arrived back from Scotland last night, absolutely shattered from the long drive back, consequently it is only now (after a good nights sleep) that I can sit down and review my images and start to reflect on a very hectic few days.
For the trip I was in the good company of my "birding & owling" mate Adey Rowley, neither of us had been to Scotland before so it was to be a new experience we'd share together. We set off on our 430 mile journey on Monday evening and drove through the night heading for Oban on the west coast. We were due to catch the 7.30am ferry over to the isle of Mull, it was a good trip without any issues or problems and arrived in Oban in good time (around 3.30am). The plan then was to park up near the ferry terminal and get some much needed sleep for a few hours, it didn't happen!! I am not sure if it was the excitement, being over tiered or the fact that we kept waking each other up with our snoring?? We were both resigned that no sleep was going to be had so we killed a couple of hours exploring the general area. In no time at all it was getting light and we found ourselves in the queue for the ferry.
In no time at all everyone was on the ferry and we set sail for the 45 minute sail over to Mull. We'd got our priorities right as we were soon at the front of the queue for breakfast! By the time we were just finishing off our full fry up and a cup of tea we got our first sighting of the Isle of Mull through the windows, there was only one place to be now and that was up on deck. As we made our way up through the ship we walked past a couple of gaming machines, I was compelled to have a quick go and two minutes later I was fifty quid to the better..........yessssss!!
As we approached the isle I was in awe of the beauty and "power" of the scenery.
|The Isle of Mull - A view from the sea.|
We disembarked at Craignure, even though we couldn't book into our B&B until 4.00pm we thought it prudent to find where it was located and then start the day from there. The address was punched into the sat-nav and to our surprise the journey from port to accommodation was going to take zero minutes........we had already arrived?? I knew it was going to be close but not that close, there on the other side of the road was "Linnhe View" our abode for the next three nights.
I suggested to Adey that he should go and knock on the door and let Mary (the proprietor) of the B&B know we had arrived and that we will be back to book in later. He'd been gone around 5 minutes and on his return he was looking rather sheepish? Apparently he knocked on the open door and there was no answer, so he took it upon himself to walk in to see if Mary could be located. At this point she emerged from the kitchen area unaware that he was there! Now Adey is 17 stone, bald and unshaven, I suppose he can appear to some to be quite an intimidating guy?
|My mate Adey, its no wonder Mary was scared? A big teddy bear really!|
Mary didn't know who he was and before he had chance to introduce himself she started screaming at him to get out of her house! Understandingly she was shocked by this scruffy strange man! Adey eventually managed to explain who he was and things we sorted out although things were still a bit frosty. She made it quite clear that we were not able to book in until after 4.00pm and that breakfast was served at 8:30am sharp!
Whilst I was waiting for Adey I took the opportunity to get a feel for where we were, I was a little surprised just how tiny this "town" was, it compromised of a main street with ferry terminal, a Spar mini-supermarket, an information centre, a coffee shop and most importantly a pub!
|Craignure main street|
Oh I almost forgot to mention that there was also a petrol station on the high street in Craignure, no Costa Coffee or ATM machine here!
|Petrol Station - Craignure|
So once we had familiarised ourselves with the surrounding area and the available amenities of our home for the next few days we decided to head off to explore. Our main target species for this mini break was the Short Eared Owl. All my prior research suggested the best location to see them was either side of the A849 east of Loch Beg, so that is where we headed for. It wasn't long before we realised that locating them wasn't going to be quite as easy as first thought, there was around 10 miles of suitable habitat either side of the road. Along the route there were literally hundreds of old posts and rocks that looked suitable for an owl to be perched upon. We spent the next 6 or 7 hours "cruising" up and down the target area. We occasionally ventured off exploring down other likely looking roads and tracks, in all that time no owls were seen!! I did however get a "lifer" in the form of a Hooded Crow. This bird was spotted perched up on an old stone wall at the side of the road, it took a while to work near enough for an image without spooking it, but it played its part!
During our exploration on the first day we saw dozens of roadside Wheatear, Winchats and Stonechats, no decent images were captured because of the distance they tended to keep. I am sure if we had invested more time we would have captured some nice images of them but we weren't here for them, we wanted owls! In our pursuit for the owls we notched up 40 different species of bird, apart from all the expected "common" ones we also saw a couple of Redstarts and a single Curlew Sandpiper. We stayed out until nearly dark driving back and forth along what we had called "owl avenue" but for all the extensive searching we drew a blank!
It had been a mega long day and no sleep since waking up on Monday morning, 39 hours ago! We were in need of our bed but before that we needed to eat. So on the way back we stopped off at the pub for an evening meal and of course a few pints of the local brew.
On day two we had planned to rise very early and re-visit owl avenue as maybe the owls preferred to hunt at dawn rather than dusk. We had got it all sorted, we'd leave out at at first light, grab some images of the owls and then return back in time for breakfast at 8.30am. I awoke first, it was 8:21am, dam we'd over slept and missed our early opportunity, but more importantly we only got 9 minutes before breakfast was due to be served!! Needless to say we were up, washed and dressed in record time and we were downstairs ready to eat with only 30 seconds to spare. Phew it was a close call but luckily we didn't upset Mary again!
Today we were having a break from looking for the owls for a few hours as we had booked onto an Eagle cruise at 1:00pm. It was with Mull Charters and they make daily visits to two different White Tailed Eagle territories along the coast. This was a species that I'd never seen before and although there are now 14 pairs breeding on the island this was going to be our best bet for a close sighting. Ironically we actually had our first sighting of one of these birds whilst on our way to Ulva to meet the boat. It flew straight at us and over the car before landing in a fir tree half way up the mountain side. It was flipping MASSIVE, with its eight foot wingspan it was without doubt the biggest and most regal bird I have ever seen in my life.
This had only whetted our appetites even further and we couldn't wait to get on board and out there for some hopefully even closer views? We met up at the quayside with 10 others who had booked onto the same trip, one of our fellow shipmates was Rick Thornton. He was a veteran of this particular excursion this being his fourth trip. Rick gave Adey and I a few tips on what to expect when we got into the Eagles territory and it was just as good as he had explained, if not better!
Upon approaching the Eagles territory our fears of a "no show" were dismissed straight away as one of the birds was already out and soaring high above us.
Martin, the skipper of the boat then threw out a free offering of a dead fish into the sea, the Eagle had obviously seen it as it started to spiral downwards towards it.
I did my best to track the bird in flight as it powered its way towards its free offering.
I missed the actual moment it grasped the fish out of the water with its out stretched talon, there was a small mast that got in the way on the rear of the boat, dough!! But I soon locked on to it again as it rose into the air with the fish.
It then powered away and gained height as it headed back to its favoured perch high up on the cliff face.
Another dead fish was thrown into the water but the Eagle wasn't tempted to come down again from its elevated perch.
I am satisfied with the images that I captured but with hindsight I wish I'd have set my camera to centre spot focus with expansion rather than just centre spot focus. Because of the large size of the bird I thought I would be able to focus on the head and track it without problem, but it proved difficult and consequently a lot of the images were out of focus, a lesson learnt for next time!
The rest of the second day was again spent looking for Short Eared Owl, we expanded our search to the rest of the island but again it proved fruitless? We saw plenty of other species including Peregrine Falcon, Hen Harrier and Golden Eagle. Although the Grey Heron is a very common species on the island and we saw dozens of them I have added this image of one of them as I am very pleased with it.
We also saw plenty more Hooded Crows and this image below is of a very confiding individual that posed nicely for me in the sun.
Day three was spent mostly in the northern and western part of the island, we had a very early start which resulted in seeing loads of Red Deer (at least I think that's what it was?) feeding near to the roadside.
There wasn't a breath of wind early on which made for a very "glass like" Loch. So I thought I'd try and experiment with a touch of landscape photography and capture the misty mood.
The rest of the third day passed us by without anything else eventful occurring, we continued to search for owls but seeing more of the island was a pleasant enough distraction. We did see a couple of juvenile Cuckoo's and an Otter that turned out to be an inland Grey Seal!
On our last day we were due to catch the 11:00am ferry back to the Scottish mainland. We took it easy and just chilled out whilst waiting for the ferry.
|Adey chilling out.|
|Yours truly just before we departed.|
All in all we were away for 98 hours, we drove over 1,300 miles and in that time we crammed in as much as possible. Yes it was a disappointment not to see an owl but the islands striking beauty more than made up for it. To be fair I can't things of any descriptive words suitable enough to do it justice, just take it from me that if you decide to visit you won't be disappointed, I will forever remembered my visit.
And finally both Adey and I would like to thank Mary for looking after us very well and providing a very hearty breakfast each morning. If you are thinking of visiting the island please consider Linnhe View as Mary will do a grand job making your visit a memorable one.
Back to my owls soon...............