Birding Mull

Being back on the Isle of Mull was not just about going whale watching, although given even half a chance I would have spent my whole time out on the water! But there were times believe or not during my two seasons working there where I was not out on the boats; likewise on my return this summer. So I did what I would usually do back then, head off in the car and search for the other amazing wildlife Mull has to offer, from otters to eagles.

The stunning scenery of Mull

With a warm sun blazing in blue skies that stretched over the hills, mountains and lochs, we headed out along the single track roads, winding our way around the island. From the black rock, strewn with a patchwork of yellow and white lichen, and deep browns of seaweed along the shorelines of the lochs to the green glens between mountains we scanned shoreline, hillside and the skies for all manner of wildlife. Picking a spot alongside the rippling dark waters of a loch we would sit and watch. All around us came the song of tree pipit, willow warbler, skylark and swallow. Wheatears bombed from rock to rock, a flash of white against the greenish yellow grass and dark rock, before perching upright, its striking dark mask against steel blue feathers. On the shore, pairs of oystercatchers called to each other, then would head off pursuing a gull that ventured too close, giving it hell before settling back on the rock. Amongst patches of bright green grass, dotted with sea pink, that stood out in contrast to the black rock, came the call of common sandpiper. They seemed to be everywhere!

Common sandpiper

Out on the waters of the lochs red breasted merganser would sit bobbing the tiny waves.

High above the dark greens and browns of the hillsides, from behind a ridge of dark rock mingled among the grass and heather, something large soared into the blue sky. Wings outstretched, ‘fingers’ splayed, wide and square like a barn door floating, there was no doubt what this bird is; a white-tailed eagle. The largest bird of prey in the UK, once extinct and now bouncing back thanks to conservation efforts and a reintroduction programme that started not far from Mull on the Isle of Rum. For an age we would sit and watch as it soared higher and higher becoming a mere speck in the endless blue.

But it was not the only bird we see patrolling the thermals,  golden eagles too would appear from nowhere to soar across our vista.

This time though it is different bird watching on Mull. I am different. I have more years of birding behind me, and I have developed skills in bird ringing and nest finding. More so we find ourselves watching an individual bird, or pair more intently than before; watching for those clues that ultimately give away the location of a nest.

Amongst the black rocks, with their coating of white and yellow lichen, and the bright green grass with tufts of sea pink, we find oystercatcher, common sandpiper and common gull nests. We watch a wheatear head into a hole in the bank, knowing in its dark cool depths lies either a clutch of neat eggs or a bunch of hungry mouths.

An oystercatcher nest nestled along the shoreline of Mull

Once again it was fabulous to be back amongst the wildlife and wild landscape of one of my favourite places on Earth. The Isle of Mull.


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