Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Cornflakes to Corncrakes?

Atmospheric Mull

The three RSPB birders, Ron Alan and myself have just returned from a four day birding trip to the Island of Mull. We drove up first thing at 4am on Sunday morning and encountered torrential rain for the best part of our journey. Things didn't look good for us at this point of our journey.

After catching the ferry from Oban, we arrived on a misty Mull around 14:00hrs, dropped off our gear at the hotel and went for a drive around the middle part of the island in the rain (we must have been keen, mad or both ?)

Even though the wind and the rain were still evident, the scenery and terrain was stunning especially with the `spate` waterfalls cascading off the top of the mountains were a sight to be seen especially for migrating fish.
Mull waterfall

It stopped raining around 18:00hrs as the weather front blew over and we were lucky to see three Short eared owls hunting and were perched on fence posts and on the ground on the high moor.
Short eared owl

Unfortunately i hadn't bothered to take my main camera and lens with me, due to all the heavy rain and didn't envisage seeing anything what with the poor conditions ... so!, how wrong can one be while out birding ?

Sea otter
We also saw a Sea Otter eating a crab on a small outcrop of rock in the sea but the light was still bad as it was overcast and misty and my photo's didn't turn out too good.

On the Monday and after a good nights sleep, we woke up early and had a full Scottish breakfast (would be rude not to) which was a toss up between getting out early to see the Corncrakes or enjoying our full Scottish breakfast (including Black Puddings ... even the white bits were black) In the end they both had priority.

The weather had brightened up by then, but it was still very windy and we decided to drive over to the other side of the Island and catch the ferry to Iona, to try and get a glimpse of the elusive Corncrakes. Up until a few decades or so ago they nearly went extinct due to the farming practices of that time. Since then the farmers have been educated by the RSPB and now cut their fields after the chicks had fledged.

The ferry crossing was a bit rough but us old sea dogs were use to that .. and when on the Island we only had to walk twenty yards past the village to where the birds were last seen by our previous years RSPB group. Because this year we were there three weeks earlier, the grass hadn't grown and was too short in that particular field for the birds to hide in.
Saying that, we did see one scampering away along the track from us, then disappeared into some Iris plants in a ditch ....
We then made out way towards the old Abbey where all the Scottish kings are buried and heard a familiar sound of "One flew over the cuckoo's nest" in the distance  ... we eventually located our first Cuckoo of the year. Always a nice sound to hear which announces the official beginning of Spring.
As we walked back towards the village, we got chatting to a few birders, who had actually seen the Corncrakes and had taken a photograph of them with their mobile phone. They very kindly gave us the exact location, which was a small patch of grass behind the Spar shop in the village. 
crex crex
So we immediately headed off in that direction and as we got neared we could hear the distinctive sound of the birds calling. In fact they were a bit too close for my lens, as i struggled to get them into the frame. I expected that they'd be a lot further away than they were, so hadn't bothered to take a smaller lens with me.

We had a very good view, as they were very vocal in calling a prospective mate. It just sounded like someone running their fingernail over the ends of the teeth of a comb in front of a loud speaker.

After about and hour or so on the island, we then caught the ferry back to the mainland and braved the rough seas again. 
Then off around the Island looking for more birds .... the roads were mainly one track with periodic passing places, which during the height of summer must be horrendous what with all the tour buses and visitors cars etc on the island and not to mention the midges and Black fly who tend to prefer human blood for their sustenance.
One of the residents - highland cow

On the Tuesday, the heavy rain and mist rolled in again, swamping the green and rocky landscapes of the Island
We called into the Hotel California ... errrm! "The Eagles" watch in the forestry area but due to the heavy mist we had to abandon that, as we couldn't see across the valley to where the nest was . So returned in the afternoon when the weather had blown over.
eagles soar

We saw the male White tailed and Golden hotels ... errrm! Eagles soaring high in the sky with the female white tailed Eagle on the nest with two young. They could just be made out using a scope but the eerie was well over a quarter of a mile away and with the occasional shower and misty conditions, made it difficult to see them.
Sightings list

On the Wednesday we had (fortunately) pre booked a boat tour from Ulva (for £35 each, which was well worth it), to see the White tailed Sea Eagles close up while being throw a fish by boat's skipper. We arrived at the harbour for 10am and the boat took us out into the bay near to the cliffs where the eagles recognise the feeding boat by sight and by name and eagerly flew in for their breakfast and no Black Puddings for them either.


The Skipper was restricted to how may fish he could feed to the Eagles. As if too many they will become lazy and rely too much on free hand-outs .. or perhaps that should be fish-outs in this case ??
I was fortunate enough to get some nice close up shots of the Eagles swooping down and snatching the supplied fish off the surface of the water. The light wasn't perfect and i had to tweak my photo's a bit to enhance the birds. They are magnificent and powerful birds to see close up ... and a must in everyone's lifetime.

Cheeky Rob
Thursday morning came and i was in the hotel foyer all packed up waiting to go when i was surprised by a cheeky Robin (to which they are) that fluttered in through the hotel's open doors and scampered around the floor, searching amongst the dining tables for any left over Black Pudding crumbs, which was a pleasure to see.
We caught the ferry back to Oban and after a long tiring drive, arrived home around 18:00hrs.

So all in all and despite the bad weather we all got a few firsts in the birds and it turned out to be a great holiday, although sadly we didn't see any Wales as that was too far away without having to go to Specsavers.  ;-)
Saying that, the boat Skipper informed us that Basking sharks had been seen in March this year. Which is very early for them, as the seas hadn't really warmed up enough to support the plumes of plankton for the feeding sharks .. or had they. ?


P.S. What was noticeable was the lack of variety of small birds and wading birds on and around the Island ... perhaps a little early in the month ?

Neil ............ 

1 comment:

laura bimson said...

Great pics of the eagles, seriously jealous of that close encounter.
Glad you got to see the corncrakes and otter, we spent hrs searching for them last year!