Lochdon May 2013


Friday 17th

All packed up and off for our trip to Mull at 7 o’clock to Leighton Moss which has become our half way stop to Mull! Decided my 500mm lens was getting heavy to walk around with so took my new 400mm F5.6 lens for a walk around. However when we got Lower Hide and saw a pair of Marsh Harriers passing food I wished I had taken the 500mm! Still it was lovely to see. As time was pressing on we decided to travel the rest of our journey to our overnight stop in Glasgow. We do this so that on Saturday we just have the nice drive to Oban (from Braehead which is north of the city and along the shores of Loch Lomond)

Saturday 18th

Great excitement as always – up early for breakfast and off to Oban. For the first time in our trips to Mull (this is our third) the sun shone and the temperature gradually climbed to 14° C – a good omen we thought for our 2 weeks on Mull! Loch Lomond looked beautiful in the sunshine and we always enjoy this part of the trip anyway as it feels like we are actually on holiday now. Shopping in Tesco, Oban and fill up with fuel (you don’t want to buy fuel on Mull!) then to the ferry. Sunshine and warmth – off the ferry 15 minutes and we arrived at our destination – Fingal Cottage in Lochdonhead. Nice and early so we had time to unpack and walk to the bridge where the otter is usually seen.

Sunday 19th

Cloudy, dull and cold so we decided to walk to Grasspoint – not along the 3 mile road though (would have been too easy!) but along the loch side. What we didn’t realise was that it was much further that way – lovely to walk along the shore but there were many inlets and promontories so it wasn’t straight forward! However plenty of birdlife - the highlight of which was a Short Eared Owl unfortunately we could not get a good enough photo. Actually no photo at all! Found some early purple orchids at the edge of woodland (I should have taken my macro lens but had the SX50 as it was light enough to walk all day with). We cut back across to the road at this point as we realised it would take all day on the shore – a herd of red deer were running around giving us good views of them. As we walked down the road we spotted our first White Tailed Eagles (we ended the holiday having seen at least one eagle every day!). At Grasspoint (which is the closest part of Mull to the mainland) there was a seal (just one) but not much else so we wandered back to the cottage.

Monday 20th

This was the day of our trip with Mull Charters on the Lady Jayne to see White Tailed Eagles at close quarters. Now what lens to take? I decided to take the 400mm and also the 70-200 so I was covered whatever happened. This is an amazing trip – I would heartily recommend this to anyone interested in birds or photography. We had no idea how good it really would be – the skipper Martin Keivers cares passionately about these eagles and we were treated to a very informative commentary about them. He threw bread to attract the gulls and when the eagles saw the commotion they came to investigate – this is when the fish was thrown onto the loch and the eagle grabbed it. The pressure was on to get a great shot! Realising the 400mm would be too long I switched to the 70-200 – then as the eagle came down for the first catch I caught sight of Tam out of the corner of my eye – and panicked!! She had my camera with 400mm lens firing at the bird – having got caught up in the excitement. So I had to try and ignore that and try to get some shots. Looking back it would have been nice to just watch the action – from the bird in the sky to flying off with the fish was literally two seconds! Thanks to my lens I got some shots which I was very pleased with but if you ever go on this trip be warned – it is all over very quickly. What a trip though!!

Tuesday 21st

Weather seemed to be improving – warmer again today. This was Iona day. Set off for the hour drive – however the sat nav hadn’t learned yet about Mull roads! So when we arrived at the last minute (90 minutes later actually) for the ferry it was a mad panic to catch it. Fortunately all the passengers seemed to be late and we made it ok. It is only a ten minute crossing and once we arrived and walked away from the main centre it was so very peaceful. We decided to walk to St Columba’s Bay – beautiful scenery and loads of wildlife. A picnic on the beach here was lovely. On arrival back near the Abbey we heard the unmistakeable sound of the Corncrake and we were fortunate enough to see one – not a very good picture but it was such a privilege to see one.

One of the things I personally love about Mull and Iona is the lack of lots of people – in our very overcrowded land it is rare to find peace and quiet. No crowds, no queues, no litter, no chewing gum on the pavements (actually no pavements!) – maybe it is because we are with like-minded people but it is very nice and I wish sometimes that it was the same everywhere! Also the people live in harmony with the natural world (pretty much how it must have been at one time on the mainland).

After arriving back at Fingal Cottage I sat at the loch side – two cuckoos (yes two!) flew over the loch. Actually there were cuckoos all over Mull – we do not get them back home these days but everywhere we went there was the sound of cuckoos calling. Also Osprey fishing over the loch.

Wednesday 22nd

Today is our trip to the Treshnish Isles (specifically Lunga) to see the sea bird colonies with Turus Mara. Also included is a visit to Staffa (Mendelssohn and his Hebridean Overture etc.) and Fingal’s cave. So lenses cleaned, batteries charged and memory cards cleared we set off for the drive to Ulva Ferry to board the boat for the trip. Weather was a bit iffy and it was very windy but the boat was fine until it cleared the shelter of the headland! Then it was like being the proverbial cork being tossed all over the place!! However the hour journey was over at last (only one person sea sick and it wasn’t any of us!!) and it was time to disembark and venture over the slippery rocks to Lunga. Just as we remembered it several years before the puffins were waiting for us (they actually really were as when humans arrive on the island the larger birds which bully them disappear and so it is safe for the puffins to come to land). This is also a fantastic trip – if you are a photographer then you are presented with some wonderful photo opportunities and if you just want to see the birds then you will be in bird heaven! Needless to say hundreds of images were taken (still sorting through them now!!)

The journey back from Lunga to Staffa was even rougher! Enough said. Staffa is a lovely little island and there were also puffins here. We took the opportunity to walk to the cave and see the basalt columns disappear under the sea (they appear again at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland) then boarded the boat for the (even rougher!) journey back to Ulva. What a fantastic day.

As it was fairly late when we arrived back we treated ourselves to tea at the Craignure Hotel which was really, really nice. We would recommend this hotel very much as well as the Bellhaven Best!!

Thursday 23rd

Poor weather forecast for today – it really was but not as bad as we thought. Managed to do a few walks around locally between showers – even found an antler from quite a large stag. Later I experimented with the Lee Big Stopper – had bought it a couple of months ago and never really had the chance to try it out. I have to say it must take a lot of use to be proficient with it!!

Friday 23th

A better forecast today and so it turned out. We had decided to venture to Lochbuie anyway whatever the weather. A great choice as it turned out – the weather was fantastic and we were treated with some amazing skies. The sky was a lovely shade of blue with spectacular cloud formations. The drive was very good also along the side of Loch Spelve with great views of Golden Eagle. Lots of wheatears, rock pipits and pied wagtails around and in the 17 degree temperature I obtained my customary red forehead!!

We walked along the shore to the beautiful Laggan Sands, past a lovely little church - shame the castle was covered in scaffolding but you can’t have everything. Also visited the stone circle with more views of golden eagle. It was even warm enough to see some heat haze and have some ice cream from the small unattended shop in Lochbuie!

Then drove back for high tide and our nightly otter hunt – still no luck.

Saturday 24th

Ulva Ferry today - we had remembered what a wonderful peaceful place it was. Sadly when we arrived it was closed!! We weren’t expecting that so had to revert to plan B (well we made one up as didn’t have an alternative plan!). We went to Loch Na Keale to look for otters – still no luck. Decided then to get our weekly shopping and go back to base for a trip to Grasspoint. We were surprised to find a thriving colony of green hairstreaks in the sunshine. Plenty of stonechats around but no seals off Grasspoint.

Sunday 25th

Ulva Ferry again! We had actually checked that it would be open today and as the weather was amazingly still lovely we ended up doing a lovely walk around the Farm Circuit and the Shore and Woodland walk. It was warm and sunny (unusual for us on Mull!) and plenty of butterflies around. When it is sunny like this Mull really is the best place in the world to be.

Monday 26th

It had to end soon!! Weather bad for the morning so we watched and enjoyed Les Miserables and had some lunch in the cottage. Weather started to improve then so decided to find an otter somewhere and off we went to Loch Scridain (probably the most reliable place on Mull to see one). Driving up and down was hopeless so we decided to walk. Parked the car at one end of the loch and started walking up and down. No luck but then……… what was that shape near the shore? Yes we had found our own otter – a big dog otter which may have been the same one from a couple of years ago. We tracked it along the loch for a total of about 3 miles remembering to be still and out of sight when he was on the surface and move quickly to be ahead of him when underwater. We usually had around 30 seconds when he was under and eventually managed to get ahead and near the water behind some rocks and waited. Wow – he came out of the water quite close and proceeded to sit and dry himself for what seemed to be ages. What a privilege to be able to see this magnificent animal (who was seemingly unaware of us). Best moment of the holiday so far I think!

Tuesday 27th

The day dawned warm and sunny – amazing weather on this holiday and we felt lucky to be treated to so much sunshine. Forget the long trousers, coats, thermals etc. this was shorts and tee shirts. Off to Fidden to look for hares – quite a long drive to Fionnphort to park and then find out where to go. Ended up driving to a camp site and parking nearby. It was on this drive that we commented on the standard of driving and courtesy of other motorists – this had changed since our previous visit and it seemed that less drivers were willing to wait and there were certainly more cars parked in passing places!! Anyway Fidden was beautiful and we counted 32 hares in total. The best tactic was to sit and wait – before long one would come along and be startled – it would stop (just enough time to take a shot) and then run off fast in the direction it had come from! They didn’t seem to be bothered about the cliffs either as we saw several running up almost vertical cliffs. Lots of birds also – oystercatchers, wheatears, lapwings plovers and herons. There were some fantastic views to Iona across the small stretch of water which separates it from Mull.

On the way back we stopped at the old bridge near Pennyghael but the light was starting to go so ended up driving back for tea.

Wednesday 29th

Visited Garmony and Fishnish today. Quite a pleasant walk along near the shore but not as close as we would have liked. More green hairstreaks along with orange tip, green veined white and peacock. Grasspoint in the afternoon and found the green hairstreaks again (just along the road to Grasspoint from the parking place). 21 degrees today – lovely views of sea eagles again.

Thursday 30th

Something new for us today – we went to the Ardmeanach peninsula – the long walk to see the fossil tree would be too far so we decided to park at the NT car park at Burg and just walk along the track. A beautiful day again and warm and sunny. Butterflies all over again – green hairstreak, pearl bordered fritillary, speckled wood, green veined white, peacock and orange tip mainly. Heard cuckoos again – it seemed that wherever we went on Mull there were cuckoos. This is a walk which is a must to anyone visiting Mull – no need to do the whole 10 miles and back to the fossilised tree as the walk we did was fantastic – ruined settlements, superb views, butterflies and other insects as well as a great variety of flowers.

Back to base via the Three Lochs but light wasn’t right so we had a quick look and decided to return the following day.

Friday 31st

Last day – what a shame! However we have had the most wonderful two weeks in great weather and on a great island. Every day there had been something to see at the cottage – sea eagles, all manner of water birds and butterflies and lots of spring flowers. Cuckoos abound on the island and most days we saw golden eagle – in addition we also saw short eared owl, tawny owl, buzzards and hen harrier.

We all decided that Lochbuie was a special place and so returned there – we did attempt to drive to Croggan but this is a place best walked to not driven!! So we spent the whole day walking from Lochbuie the opposite direction to our first visit. Seals, great views and just a lovely walk.

There was a stop to take in the Three Lochs and as the light was brilliant managed to take some reasonable images (well we had to as it is probably the most photographed scene on Mull)!

That’s it then – all done and packed for home.

But it wasn’t quite the end.

At around nine thirty we ventured out to the bridge for the last time to see if we could see the elusive otter. We met a family from Manchester who originated from Nottingham (small world etc.!) and then at about 9:40 we saw…. an otter. Sadly not any good photos as it was too dark (although we did see a hedgehog) but to see the otter we had tried to see for two weeks was a great way to end the trip!

Bring on the next trip to Mull (or is it Skye next……)