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Sunday, 29 May 2011

Magnificent Mull - Part 1.

In mid-May, my wife and I had a holiday on Mull. We've been there a few times before (always at this time of year) and were really looking forward to our return, even though my wife was still stricken with the virus that hit her seven weeks previously.

Thursday 12th May

After an earlyish start we headed off on the 400-and-odd mile drive to Oban. A quick stop at Gretna Green services for a KFC lunch resulted in some photos of the Rooks that were scavenging in the car park.

Rook - Gretna Green Services
 Another stop at Doune for a cup of tea and cake cost us a lot of time when we got side-tracked by the antiques centre there! As we approached Oban the weather deteriorated, and we arrived in the late afternoon.

Having checked in at the excellent Invarasdale B&B, we set off for one of our favourite restaurants - the Waterfront in Oban - where we had a superb seafood dinner. As it was chucking it down with rain as we left, we headed back to the B&B for an early night.

Friday 13th May

After a good breakfast at the B&B we headed back into Oban. I spent some time looking for birds whilst my wife explored the shops. My main objective was the Black Guillemots that can usually be found around the harbour. At first I could only find a few gulls, and my concentration was taken from birds by the French boat 'Thalassa' which was manoeuvring in the harbour.

Herring Gull - Oban Harbour

Lesser Black-backed Gull - Oban Harbour

Thalassa - Oban Harbour
I couldn't find the Guillemots in the harbour area, although there was a pair a long way away in the Sound of Kerrera, so walked round to the promenade along the edge of the bay. Here I found a pair of Black Guillemots a little closer to the shore - although too far away for decent images. However, I do like the light on the water!

Black Guillemot - Oban Bay

Whilst I was taking the above images, an Oystercatcher was standing patiently at the end of a slipway. It seemed to be totally unfazed by my presence. By its pinkish legs, I think it was a youngster.

Oystercatcher - Oban Bay
After a cup of coffee and a cake it was time to take the car round to the boarding lane and await the ferry. The ferry that runs between Oban and Craignure on Mull - the 'Isle of Mull' - is possibly one of the largest in the CalMac fleet. It is quite a handsome ship, and quite well appointed.

'Isle of Mull'

Once settled on board we headed up to the observation decks. My wife found a sheltered spot out of the wind and rain whilst I decided to brave the elements. There was little reward for my efforts! As we left the harbour we passed by a Black Guillemot.

Black Guillemot - Sound of Kerrera
During the sailing, which only lasts about 50 minutes, quite a few birds were seen distantly but only a Lesser Black-backed Gull came close enough for meaningful photography.

Lesser Black-backed Gull - Firth of Lorne
Just before arriving at Craignure, we passed the iconic Duart Castle on Mull.

Duart Castle
Once landed we headed directly to the Craignure Inn for a good pub lunch. Technically we were not due to access our accommodation at Grasspoint until after 4 p.m. Our home for the week was to be a tiny crofters cottage on what virtually amounted to a rock surrounded by sea on three sides! To reach this we had to travel down a single track dead-end road with passing places. We have stayed here before (a couple of years ago), but the road was now in such poor condition that it was little more than a track in places and we grounded several times on our way to the cottage. We arrived at about 3 p.m. to find we had immediate access and, after unpacking, had a look around our surroundings. Little was seen at this time, although there were plenty of treats in store for us later in our stay. Around the cottage were Meadow Pipits (first two images taken through the window), and just off the point a Cormorant was fishing.

Meadow Pipit - Grasspoint

Cormorant - Grasspoint
We decided on an early dinner and set off for the Craignure Inn again. As we left the cottage, a Buzzard (known locally as a 'tourist eagle'!) was overhead.

Common Buzzard - Grasspoint
We took a long while to return the three miles down our single track road as half-way down we came across a herd of Highland Cattle being driven ahead of us down the road. We later found a post-card with Highland Cattle and the caption "road-block"!

Highland Cattle - Grasspoint Road
Near the inland end of Grasspoint road is an old, and picturesque, stone bridge. From here we spotted a distant male Goosander. I took a record shot (see below), but later in our stay I was to get some better images.

Goosander (male) - from Grasspoint Road Bridge
The light was fading by the time that we left the pub. As we reached the bridge I noticed that the sawbills there were a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, with the Goosander nowhere to be seen. We were to see far fewer Mergansers this holiday, than on previous visits to Mull.

Red-breasted Merganser - from Grasspoint Road Bridge
When we were not far short of the cottage we found Red Deer beside the road.

Red Deer - Grasspoint
Thus ended a relatively pleasant day even though nothing terribly exciting had been seen and it had been cold and windy with a fair bit of rain. Little did we know that this was going to be one of the better days weather-wise!

Saturday 14th May

We woke up to find the cottage surrounded by Highland Cattle. I took a few photos through the cottage windows. The cottage consists of a living room (in the true sense - sleeping, sitting, dining, all in one room) with an entrance lobby, plus kitchen and bathroom off the living room. The bathroom has clear glass and the second image was taken through the bathroom window!

Highland Cattle - Grasspoint
Before heading out, I also took the following image of a Meadow Pipit through the bathroom window!

Meadow Pipit - Grasspoint
I'm not very good at Pipits. I think, on this holiday, all the pipits I saw were Meadow Pipits. If, however, you know otherwise, please let me know.

After breakfast we set out for the north-west of the island. Our main objective being Calgary beach - one of my wife's favourite places on the island. As we left the cottage, a Pied Wagtail was sitting obligingly on a post beside the road. 

Pied Wagtail - Grasspoint
Our run to Calgary, via Dervaig, did not give any photographic opportunities of wildlife, although a few scenic shots were taken. By the time that we arrived, the weather pattern had set in for the day - 20 minutes sunshine, 20 minutes heavy rain, 20 minutes sunshine, 20 minutes..... At Calgary beach the meadow contained several Wheatear, a few Herring Gulls, and a couple of Hooded Crows were working the car park, looking very wet and bedraggled - don't they look sinister when they close their eyelids! 
Wheatear (male) - Calgary Beach

Wheatear (female) - Calgary Beach
Herring Gull - Calgary Beach
Hooded Crow - Calgary Beach
 I also spent some time observing the Sand Martins here, but the weather got the better of us (with my camera getting a couple of good soakings) so we moved on.

Near Kilninian, on the north shore of Loch Tuath, we stopped to look at the Highland Cattle in the Thrift on the shore. I don't remember seeing Highland Cattle on Mull before this holiday, but they seem to be in many places now.

Highland Cattle - near Kilninian
At Loch Na Keal - at a place where we saw Otter two years ago - the Otter was again visible in the water. We stayed to watch it for a long time and came to understand that this was a creature of habit. It seemed that its preference was for large crabs, which it appeared to find with ease. Having caught its crab it would bring it onto a rock  just 'off-shore' from where we were hidden, and eat it. It would then enter the water again, briefly (for a wash?), before returning to the shore for a preening session. It would then go out and catch another crab. We watched this process three times! I'm sure that it was aware of our presence as, by the time we left, a small crowd of people had gathered to watch.

Otter - Loch Na Keal
It seems that it was just before this session that my camera started playing up (possibly as a result of its previous soakings) by refusing to focus sharply (particularly in sunshine!) - this continued to be a problem throughout the holiday - again possibly due to the frequent soakings that the camera got!

We returned to Grasspoint for the evening, and the weather was so foul (very wet, extremely windy, and poor visibility) that we did not venture out much. I did, however, pop out briefly to take a record shot of the Great Northern Divers that were a long way off shore - the only time that we saw more than one at any one time.

Great Northern Divers - Grasspoint
This ends the first part of my account of our holiday on Mull. The rest will follow in a day or two. In spite of the atrocious weather, and camera problems, the best was yet to come, with better bird sightings, closer encounters with Otters, and more besides!

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