Thursday, 30 April 2009

Scottish Malts Reliability Trial

Nothing startling in my birding world over the last couple of days except hearing a Sedge Warbler. Not earth shattering news but it was a first for the year.
Just to break things up a bit the great event of the Scottish Malts Reliability Trial was due to arrive today and it's raining! All those cars that should have the tops down obviously had the soft tops on which was a shame. Here is a selection from the 47 cars that came through.

Alvis '31
Alvis '31

Talbot '34

Bentley '35

Jaguar '54

MG '56

Maserati '57
Triumph '63
Austin Healey '64

Ford Shelby '65

Mustang '67

Porsche jam

Aston Martin '70

E Type Jag '72

Normal service will be resumed shortly..............................

Monday, 27 April 2009

Little Treasures

Saturday was another stunning day for the wildlife and also for the people watching of course. The previous day's glut of waders at Fidden were probably still around but the Golden Plover flock was fragmented, the Dunlin were just doing laps and I couldn't find the Blackwits. Skylarks were just begging to be looked at - flying by at eye level, running around your feet etc. The Lapwing is still sitting on three eggs but I'm thinking they won't hatch after all the rain - the nest must be cold and damp by now.
We picked up our first Otter of the day in a sheltered bay but it was a bit distant but we were anticipating better views later in the day. It's always nice to get a view of one though. Lunchtime was rapidly approaching but with what you would consider perfect conditions for raptors flying they were surprisingly thin on the ground. A Raven alarm calling gave us a bit of hope but we couldn't see the Raven or anything that would upset it. A short drive later and there was a Golden Eagle being pursued by an angry sounding Raven - result! It was over the ridge before any photos could be taken but we were heading in the right direction. We managed to find another Golden Eagle quite high up before the original bird came back into view. It was a bit distant for the camera but gave stunning views through the scope and a reasonable photograph.
We got a cracking view of a male Hen Harrier while we were demolishing the lunch and my first view of a Dipper this year. One of last years young Adders was sunning itself on the path but I'd left the camera in the motor - fool that I am! Another Otter was picked up in Loch Beg but it managed to give us the slip so we moved on to the WT Eagle. There were 2 WT Eagle in flight with a Golden Eagle in close company with them. We attempted to get closer but it wasn't to be. As we headed back we picked up an Otter settling down to sleep on the shore so we watched for a while. Just as were getting ready to move on the female Otter with 2 cubs hauled out right next to the dog!! That held us for another 20 minutes while we watched the four beasts alternately fishing and wandering along the shore - absolutely stunning!
On Sunday we'd opted for a day out so we could go to Staffa to have a look at the Puffins. A nice boat ride out on a packed boat didn't produce very much at all but it's the Island itself that produces the goods.
A single Black Guillemot flying off as we approached Staffa was nice to see and the nesting Fulmars are a welcome sight. You could see the Puffins on the sea as the boat approached the landing stage. We landed on the Island and headed straight for the Puffin colony after recovering for 5 minutes from the run up the steps! We were jollied along the way by the numerous Twite and Meadow Pipits and had cracking views of 2 Ravens enjoying the breeze along the cliffs. We settled down at the Puffins burrows to await their arrival so I tested the camera out on the Fulmars in flight. Not an easy job by any means but I'll get into the settings of the camera at some point which might help!
The Puffins were edging ever closer to us and starting to fly around from their watery starting point. A Great Skua gave a brief fly over view but didn't deter the birds from coming to the burrows. After about 15 minutes of waiting we had our first Puffin at our feet - stunning. Most people had headed for Fingal's Cave and the rest of the folk had walked further on so we had these birds to ourselves. The camera was kept very busy and I could post a dozen or so shots but one will do the trick.
We did have 2 birds appear from a burrow that had been busy refurbishing - muddy bills and dirty chests made a change from the pristine birds. All too soon it was time to leave but I'll be back out there again later in the year when they have young to feed.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Dry day, wet day

Thursday had been forecast to be very wet but when the day dawned it was nothing like it - sunny with a bit of a breeze. The guests hadn't even arrived and I had WT Eagle sitting on a ridge and a Golden Eagle soaring over another ridge - hurry up people! The guests arrived and managed to catch up with the distant birds. It was certainly a day for raptors with 3 WT Eagle, at least 6 Golden Eagle, 6 Hen Harrier and the usual supporting cast of Buzzard and Kestrel. This cracking Yellowhammer was posing in the sun. It's not a rare bird here but they can be difficult to track down.
Thursday evening saw us heading for Tobermory to visit friends, have a meal etc but a good chance of Short-eared Owl on the way kept the pace steady. We weren't disappointed as we crested a rise the unmistakable shape of an Owl was sitting on a post.......not a bad effort!
Friday was an absolute stinker weatherwise - overcast and raining all day. Not the best conditions for photos but always exciting for birds at this time of year. The guests were enthusiastic despite the weather and we went for damage limitation making the best of a bad one - boy, were we surprised! 64 species seen on the day with some nice surprises along the way. We got Otter and WT Eagle early in the day with good views of a few GN Diver. The loch was reasonably calm so it wasn't too long before we had Black-throated Diver on the list too. Black Guillemot was a requested bird for the day and we managed to find one bird amongst the Razorbill and Guillemot - they can stay down for quite a while so it was a patience game with that! Best sighting of the day had to go to the Cuckoo that was being mobbed by a Stonechat. The Cuckoo had the regulation large caterpillar hanging from it's beak and the Stonechat spent a lot of time trying to sit on the Cuckoos head - superb. Poor light and distant for the camera was never going to produce anything good but here is an action shot anyway....
We saw 3 summer plumage Red-throated Diver, 3 flyby Dunlin and a male Hen Harrier on our travels but the best was still to come at Fidden. A great selection of birds and an Island tick for me. We picked up a Mountain Hare in a field and we'd noted the flock of birds present too. The Scope was set up to look at the Hare and scan through the 300 Golden Plover. Amongst these stunning birds were a few Dunlin so we set about trying to get a guesstimate when all of a sudden they were off - there must have been about 50 Dunlin there. We drove on and located a flock of Curlew type birds in the distance - careful approach revealed it was 15 Whimbrel. They were obliging so I nabbed a shot.
We decided to take a tea break to see what else was around. The Plovers and Dunlin were doing regular flying displays and a couple of Mountain Hare were encouraging the cameras to come out. A shout went up for Black-tailed Godwit flying above the Golden Plover. Sure enough there were six birds.......nope there is another flock approaching...they headed in our direction giving a superb flyby before settling in a field. They seemed to increase every time we looked so 28 was the final number of these birds. A couple of the birds were colour ringed but I could only get the rings on one bird. It's been submitted so I'll post the response when I get it. A Purple Sandpiper was picked up minding it's own business on a distant rock but this was my 'Mull tick' for the day - tremendous. We stalked the Mountain Hare to get some shots for the 'big camera' guys - got them down to 5 yards so another result. A fantastic day all round, I'm sure you'll agree.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

New camera, old news

Tuesday the weather finally broke so the morning was a bit of a wash out. The prospect of a few birds dropping in was quite high and we weren't disappointed. Uisken provided the first migrants of the day with 50 Pale-bellied Brent Goose on the beach along with a single Black-tailed Godwit. The photo is of 2 Brents from another occasion at Uisken.

I took delivery of a new camera in the afternoon but I had to wait for the battery to charge up before I could use it. We had decent views of Hen Harrier, heard a Cuckoo and a Whimbrel that we couldn't locate.

Wednesday was a better day weatherwise and I was armed with the Panasonic FZ28 hoping for some close encounters. Fidden was the starting point for the day and it didn't disappoint. 100 Golden Plover, a few Wheatear, cracking views of Meadow Pipit and Skylark, 3 Whimbrel flying by with a Curlew in tow. We moved on to Uisken where a Raven calling in alarm resulted in seeing a White-tailed Eagle flying over. No sign of the Geese or the Godwit so the camera remained unused. Stunning views of a male Hen Harrier at lunchtime but too distant for a snap and still no Adders - they'll be back. The first attempt with the camera came not too long after lunch with a cracking Great Northern Diver just offshore - result. I couldn't have done this with the digiscoping kit.Otters were next on the hitlist and it didn't take too long. As I was searching the far shore the shout went up for 2 Otters on the near shore. Out with the camera again and it didn't disappoint. This photo has caused a bit of hilarity as it looks like a cross between a bear and a beaver! It wasn't a bad effort for the first attempt but there will be better to come I'm sure. We managed to find another 2 Otters but they were distant, another WT Eagle got on the list and right at the death we bagged 2 Golden Eagle.
I did try to photograph the first WT Eagle but when I switched the camera on all I could see was a photo of Sunny, our cat, and in a panic I couldn't figure out how to get the thing into shooting mode - it won't happen again!

Monday, 20 April 2009


A pleasant day out with guests yesterday left me wondering where a few things were. The Mountain Hares that have showed so well recently have disappeared off the face of the Earth. I know you can't see things every time but it's always a puzzle when they go into hiding. It's not just the Hares though because the Rabbits have gone too - now I've wondered about it I'll probably see heaps tomorrow!
We started the day in style with a Golden Eagle flying low over the ridge and also perched on the hillside. A stroll along the beach gave excellent views of Ringed Plover, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Sand Martin and an elusive Willow Warbler in the scrub. You always see Great Black-backed Gulls on the beach too and on returning to the motor I was asked about the difference between GBB and Lesser Black-backed Gull. Smaller, gentler looking bird with a grey, rather than black, back and yellow legs is the easy way to go but the best way is to find one at the same time - we got a stunning view of one while I was explaining things and another one to photograph in Bunessan.Just before lunch we had stunning views of a dog Otter on the shore munching on a fish. We were looking down on this beast so when he went off fishing again you could follow him in the clear water - stunning........but it made me hungry watching him eat. Lunchtime was the usual 'keep your eyes open' affair. A look round for Adders produced nothing so I guess they are off hunting Hares;-) The birds of prey all want to be the star of the show at the same time so after eating lunch in peace it all happened in a flash.....a distant Golden Eagle, a male Hen Harrier, 2 female Hen Harrier, Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Raven then four Hen Harrier and a Buzzard all together and then they were gone again - bizarre!
The afternoon was a leisurely affair but just as exciting with four more Otters seen, a mother with 2 cubs and the dog, stunning views of GN Divers with some in summer plumage and an adult White-tailed Eagle flying through a glen. I managed to see a Cuckoo that we could all hear calling but it was a distant speck - they will be a good feature through the coming weeks as they perform very well up here.
My local Barn Swallows have eventually made it back and it's a real treat to hear the male chittering and buzzing from the wire outside. The song is not unlike the transfer of data you get when you ring a fax machine - I wonder if he's sending messages long distance! Welcome home.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Last supper

I took this first photograph on Thursday just after lunch. It's a marvellous shot of the tadpoles revenge. When the taddies hatch out the newts emerge to feed on them and this newt has popped it's clogs so the taddies get a nice meal! The only problem is that the wee pool they are in will dry out soon so that'll be the end of the taddies too - it's a cruel world.

On a lighter note I found my first migrant Common Sandpiper on Thursday having previously seen them in Devon in January. White Wagtail were out in force too with at least 6 down at Fidden - very smart looking birds they are so the camera will have to come out at some point.

I had a quick look round Loch Beg this morning to see what changes there are. The Redshank have reduced in numbers with only 6 found but Greenshank are up to 4, the 2 Shelduck are still putting in appearances, the Ringed Plover are difficult to find but still present and the Ring-billed Gull is still here. The Eider numbers are creeping up with at least 10 today and very photogenic. Plenty of aggravation going on with the females seeming to instigate most of it. As you can see this Eider has found a jet ski to impress the ladies........
After all the pushing and shoving they get tired and haul out in a huff - it doesn't look like anyone is speaking in this shot!
Just around the corner from the Eiders I stumbled upon a pair of Grey Wagtail that were collecting nesting material. It was all a bit gruesome to watch as they wandered in amongst the bones of a dead sheep pulling out bits of wool. Much better to see the pose on top of a rock!
I had 2 GN Divers nicely lined up for photos and got distracted by a Willow Warbler for a couple of minutes - no sign of any Divers when I looked back! You can't have a trip around the loch without looking for Otters and it wasn't too long before I had one hauled out on the rocks with a fish. A cracking view through the scope but the heat haze coming off the grass in front put paid to any ideas of photos.

Thursday, 16 April 2009


Another superb day yesterday with the sun cracking the tiles. We had a great start with some visible migration of 80 Brent Geese heading North, Gannets and Razorbill in the Sound of Iona, and a singing Chiffchaff in Fionnphort. Chiffchaff is a rare sight on the Ross of Mull so a real bonus bird that one!
The next stop we had produced a nice surprise too - 3 Golden Eagle and 2 WT Eagle all flying around together! A great sighting for us but not so good for the farmer whose lambs were in the field below.
I'd decided, a couple of days ago, to get some photographs of the flowers that are now appearing so here are the shots...

Lesser Celandine

Dog Violet


Wood Anemone

It was worth the wait to get the light for those photographs but we managed to get another Golden Eagle and a male Hen Harrier while I was busy!

We had a fairly impressive list for the day already and the Otters were the only thing we hadn't seen. A supposedly quick stop at the shop turned into a long stop when I picked up this Ring-billed Gull. As you can see it was a battle with the light to get a decent photo but this shot shows the bird quite well. Possibly a first for Mull as, I think, the last record got thrown out.

We finished the day in style when I spotted a furry bundle on the seaweed covered rock. It was a fair distance away so we moved to a closer position but we couldn't see anything until a head popped up as if to say 'Are you looking for me?' - stunner! We bided our time and eventually it appeared in the water just below us closely followed by a cub! We sat quietly watching, no one else around, the Curlews, Redshank and Oystercatchers calling all around made for a magical experience. We crept away a good while later to leave them in peace.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Easter treats

Easter Monday turned out to be the day of arrivals and good sightings. The day started for me with getting stuck in an Otter jam - the little blighter decided the middle of the road was the way to travel so I had to just trail along behind him till he dropped into a stream!
Tremendous views of Mountain Hares chasing around the fields was a good start for the guests and great views of the Golden Plover on the ground and flying. When we arrived at Uisken there was a burst of activity with a Hen Harrier putting in an appearance then a Peregrine flyby. While I was talking about the lack of finches (Linnet & Twite in particular) this spring and wondering where they were two Linnets flew by. We got them perched on the fence line and, unbelievably, when they flew off they were replaced by 4 Twite - magic or what?!
There were good numbers of Swallows and Sand Martins through the day and the Lesser Black-backed Gulls had arrived too. A Golden Eagle graced us with it's presence at lunchtime but the Adders were hiding away despite the warm conditions. Best moment of the day was having the scopes trained on a White-tailed Eagle and everyone deciding that the farmer tending his sheep was a better subject - go figure!
Today the weather turned back to cool and overcast. I started the day in style with a cracking female Merlin that posed briefly on a fencepost. Next on the list was Golden Eagle that showed reasonably well. The Great Northern Divers showed well today and they are starting to look quite smart now so we saw at least 6 that looked like the photo below while looking for Otters. We picked up a female Hen Harrier that rapidly moved off but the male bird performed superbly for a good while before drifting away. We had 2 adult Golden Eagle in the air which, although a good sighting, doesn't bode well for this pair. They failed at the egg stage last year and it looks like the same thing this year. A trio of Otters cheered things up again with the Eider ducks providing a supporting show. We finished the day with the White-tailed Eagles and no farmer this time. One of the birds was perched up and eventually flew off giving a great display.

Sunday, 12 April 2009


You know the old saying about buses - you wait for ages then three come at once - well it was a bit like that yesterday while out on tour. We got off to a good start watching the White-tailed Eagles doing a changeover on the nest then it all seemed to go pear-shaped. Plenty of activity but not a great diversity so good views of Buzzard flying around, lots of Oystercatchers and Common Gulls but no sign of Redshank, Greenshank or Otters. Cracking views of Meadow Pipits chasing each other around, a single Goldeneye, 2 Eider close in, 5 RB Mergs and then nothing. Just when you start wondering where missing wildlife is it all comes back to life again. An Otter was spotted asleep on a rock with two more in the water not 20 yards away! Naturally we spent a bit of time watching them and eventually had all 3 together on the rocks.
Lunchtime was much the same with a Golden Eagle picked up almost immediately only for it to drop out of sight before anyone else saw it. It made another couple of brief appearances before finally clearing the ridge with another bird in tow. They were always distant but prolonged views meant everyone saw them in the scope. We thought the show was over when they disappeared but how wrong we were. Three Golden Eagles appeared from a closer ridge and proceeded to give excellent views with two youngsters chasing each other about and an adult bird displaying. The youngsters didn't seem to notice the adult bird so a show of force was necessary. The adult bird gained a bit of height and came diving down to the youngsters with talons out. It certainly scared the hell out of the Buzzards as at least 6 of them appeared from the trees trying to get above the warring Eagles! What a sight.
There was no way of topping what we had just witnessed but another Otter was a surprise find and the Mountain Hares showed well. Stunning views of the Lapwings and a couple of Golden Plover kept us going. Best sighting of the day had to go the Skylark that did a slow fly by at head height, singing all the way, then landing right in front of us - stunner.
I finally managed to clap eyes on the Willow Warbler this morning and I thought I'd try for a photograph - fool that I am! I've been after it all day and I've had stunning views but not a single photo was taken. Scanning the ridges in between bouts of trying to snap the Warbler was quite productive with 5 Golden Eagles, 1 male Hen Harrier and an adult White-tailed Eagle straight overhead. So the only photograph I got today is shown below and it's not a Willow Warbler!!

Friday, 10 April 2009

Getting faster!

Wednesday was a bit of a cracker with a poor forecast that didn't materialise - woohoo! It was raining as I left home but the further west I went the clearer it got. A year tick was picked up en route in the shape of two Bullfinches that flew across the road in front of me - excellent. A quick check down Fidden to see what geese were still around was unsurprising as the Barnacle Geese appear to have left and only 8 WF Geese remaining. Stunning views of 2 Mountain Hare were had but too windy for any photos. The Wheatears that have arrived had found places to hide or they have moved on as only 1 bird was located down here. A brief stop in Fionnphort had this Diver close to shore and sent the pulses racing with the white patch visible at the rear end - was it a Black-throated? No such luck. It was a Red-throated Diver fishing in the shallows and I managed to get a few shots but none with it's head out of the water - nearly quick enough!

A trip down to Uisken gave up good scenic views rather than good birds although we did have brief views of a distant juv WT Eagle. The stop for lunch was a race against time as there seemed to be showers approaching from the NW. This Adder was still basking in the sunshine as we arrived and if we'd been 10 minutes later, when the first shower arrived, we probably wouldn't have seen it.
Distant views of 2 Hen Harrier, one male, one female, wasn't unexpected but still a treat. A Golden Eagle drifted past low against the hillside. With the sun shining on the bird it was nice to pick up the colour on the bird through the scope before the next shower came charging through. The wind was starting to pick up and the loch was sporting 'white horses' - not a good sign for finding Otters. We tried a few locations with no luck but we still had Loch Beg to do. We were saved the hassle of looking when we spotted a group of people all looking in the same direction on the water and sure enough an Otter was added to the list. As we were watching the antics of the Otter leaping out of the water to bury itself under the waves a couple of gulls started alarm calling in the distance. A quick look upwards and there was a WT Eagle flying over - class! It soon dropped over the ridge but it wasn't gone for long. A Golden Eagle made a brief appearance closely followed by the WT Eagle which flew over the top of us again with another 2 birds of the same species in tow! These birds circled around for ages and gave a fantastic display that just got better and better. They were joined by a fourth bird and eventually 5 WT Eagle all in the same view was just stunning. Lots of interaction between the birds too with the odd Buzzard coming for a look but keeping their distance.
Thursday, in comparison, was an absolute stinker. The cloud base was low and the wind was brisk to say the least. The highlights are different every day and the total species seen differs slightly but you make the best of it. We managed to see a Slow Worm but no Adder, a female Hen Harrier at close quarter cheered up a quiet lunch and the Mountain Hares showed very well despite the conditions. The bird of the day was the male Hen Harrier that allowed us to follow it down the road at no more than 20 yards away - there is always a gem. We'd struggled for Otter through the day too but right at the last we found one asleep on bare rock which is unusual and it was soon awake and showing well. A fitting end to a difficult day.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Too slow!

As you can see from the first photo the weather has been, at best, changeable. The benefit of this low cloud, rainy, sunny stuff is it brings the insect devouring birds down to eye level and you also get rainbows - I missed it. It was a lot brighter as I was waiting for the camera to go through all of the 'health & safety' checks but I took one anyway then destroyed the image with photoshop - marvellous!
I was also too slow for my first Swallow of the year, or rather the camera was, I saw it and the camera didn't. He might be round later on this evening if the conditions are good so I might get another chance. He was keeping loose company with 4 Sand Martins which usually appear out the front.....right now....they just flew past the window.
The Oystercatchers are really going for it now - they never shut up. Worse again if you get a pleasant night with a good moon that's them set for an all nighter!
The flock of Greenshank have increased from 2 to three birds so there is a fair bit of 'argy-bargy' there too. I managed to get a photo of two of them together and the third is just out of shot.
I tried to get a decent shot of the Ringed Plover but they weren't close enough...yet. I had a quick scan of the ridges and picked up a Golden Eagle being harassed by a Raven so that passed a bit of time. The tide normally changes in the wink of an eye but it takes forever when your waiting for it. It got there eventually and all the Ringed Plover flew off.......apart from one. He was a bit huffy at first and wouldn't turn round but a quad bike backfiring had him taking a bit more notice - another underrated bird full of charm and beauty!

Monday, 6 April 2009


The last 3 days have been spent doing non birding things.......mostly! I had another count of the GN Divers on the loch and managed to get 40 which was quite tremendous. That could be the peak number for this year but I'll keep checking.
This Buzzard was perching in a better suited place in a dead tree - better than the telegraph pole scenario anyway. The 2 Sand Martin that I saw the other day are either still around or have been replaced by two fresh ones but still no sign of any Swallows yet!
Yesterday was taken up with a pleasant walk on the beach and a wander up the hill to get some scenic shots. Not a great deal on the beach apart from the Rock Pipits but the local pair of Ravens were there to greet us at the cairn. A Golden Eagle was patrolling the ridges in the distance with at least 4 Buzzards enjoying the day too. We disturbed a Mountain Hare while wandering across the moor which was a lucky sighting as they tend to stay in good cover round here - no surprise with the Goldies not too far away!
The view South from the cairn gives good views of some of the other Islands.....the 4 distant hills are the 'Paps of Jura' with the closer island being Colonsay.
Looking SE from the same place you can see the flatter part of Jura and also Scarba. Between the two islands is where you will find the Corryvreckan whirlpool - stunning views though.
Back down on the beach the rock formations are superb with the Mica Schist glistening in the sun.
The trip back from the beach gave us superb views of a male Hen Harrier hunting beside the road. It's always nice when you don't have to try too hard!