Updated: Nov 3, 2020
THE ISLE OF MULL WILDLIFE EXPEDITION WITH IOLO WILLIAMS 17TH TO 21ST OCTOBER 2020 – A PERSONAL VIEW
DAY 1 – SATURDAY, 17TH OCTOBER 2020 Ewan and Iolo welcomed six nature lovers outside the Western Isles Hotel in Tobermory at 2pm. We split up into two groups to satisfy covid-19 restrictions with our hosts as designated drivers. The six were, in no particular order, Fiona, Janet, Catherine, Denis, Sally and Andy. We quickly picked up a party of five Goosanders at the Mishnish Lochs. A brief stop looking over a distant Loch Frisa revealed no raptors – only “kronking” Ravens.
Progressing to Loch Cuin in Dervaig, we spent a pleasant thirty minutes or so looking for different species. Birds seen here included: Little Grebe, Teal, Snipe and Greenshank. It was proving to be a bright, sunny afternoon as Calgary Bay became the hot drink and cake stop. A distant Golden Eagle was the highlight here. On to Ensay next for more Golden Eagles and Red Deer. A male was still calling although the rut was coming to an end. At Kellan, in fading light, we found the local White-tailed Eagle pair and two ravens. Three Grey Wagtails flew over as the drivers suggested taking the Glen road back to Dervaig – the target birds were owls. None were seen, however a Mountain Hare crossed the road, picked up in the headlights, before our return to Tobermory at 6.30pm. All in all, it was an excellent start to our Nature Scotland expedition in outstanding weather.
DAY 2 – SUNDAY, 18TH OCTOBER 2020 Our trip aboard the Sea Life Surveys vessel has been brought forward a day due to tomorrow’s forecasted deluge. We boarded at 9.30 am in overcast conditions as we set out for Coll and Ardnamurchan. We saw a White-tailed Eagle, on territory, at Bloody Bay before venturing out of the Sound into open water. It was a still calm morning. Bird sightings included: Gannet, Kittiwake, Guillemot and Razorbill. Ewan picked up a Storm Petrel but most failed to get on the bird unfortunately. Cetaceans seen were Harbour Porpoise, Common Dolphin (all round the boat) and Minke Whale (including one very close view). This was the first Minke seen for a fortnight. We returned to Tobermory at 2pm for a three-course picnic lunch! Ewan and Iolo then drove us up to the Glengorm. Here we saw a splendid male Hen Harrier and heard a flock of Crossbills passing over.
After a brief but ultimately fruitless (bird-wise) walk at Ardmore, the increasingly persistent rain forced us back to the minibuses for a hot drink and a return to the Western Isles Hotel. It is always good to get out on the water and in excellent viewing conditions we all had a great trip.
DAY 3 – MONDAY, 19TH OCTOBER 2020 Rain was forecast for the whole day. We managed a twenty minute stop overlooking Aros Castle in the dry. Birds seen were Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Gull, Kestrel, Redshank, Curlew and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. Whimbrel and Redwing were heard but not seen. It started raining again so we continued past Craignure for our first coffee stop complete with “Rocky Road” cake. The rain was getting heavier now and the Glen More road, driving through waterfall strewn mountain sides, was spectacular.
Our drive took us on the scenic route back to Salen, via the Glen Seilisdeir road. Lunch was taken in the minibuses (soup, quiche and salad followed by chocolate bar) overlooking Eorsa. An Otter was found feeding just offshore by Scarisdale Point. A final stop by Gruline (for more tea/coffee and chocolate caramel slices (this trip is proving to be “Death by delicious cake”) was highlighted with a number of Slavonian Grebes. It was now quite gloomy, and with no sign of the rain abating, the decision was taken to return to the hotel. We made the best of a day that was severely hampered by the incessant rain. Thanks to Ewan and Iolo for driving in difficult conditions. Tonight we will all help Denis celebrate his birthday before dinner and hope that the weather gods will smile on us for the last two days.
DAY 4 – TUESDAY, 20TH OCTOBER 2020 Leaving the Western Isles Hotel at 9am our first stop was the Craignure pull in. The first birds seen were a male and a juvenile Hen Harrier over the course. The male then proceeded to fly over the Sound of Mull towards Morvern. A juvenile White-tailed Eagle then gave a magnificent fly past putting up all and sundry in their avian panic. There were a lot of thrushes moving around here – could they have come in overnight.
Next, we drove to Lochdon seeing a very close Redwing en route to Gorten where we went for a walk. Two further female/juvenile Hen Harriers gave relatively close views. There was a couple of Greenshank on the loch side and a group of Fieldfare flew over. After coffee we drove over to Loch Spelve. A very close male Sparrowhawk was seen well before reaching our destination. An initial search for otter, at this popular spot, drew a blank. However, we saw another pair of Hen Harriers and five Buzzards over the hills. We tucked into our lunch – cheese, ham or egg baguettes followed by coffee cake. A short walk was called for to work off the calories. After twenty minutes Iolo was looking for otter spraints. A small amount was found which gave off a faint fishy smell. It now started raining - an hour earlier than forecast. A Golden Eagle flew over the loch and directly over us as we started our walk back. On returning to the minibuses there was an otter rolling around on the exposed seaweed giving excellent views. We watched this mutelid, in and out of the water, for the next twenty minutes. It was now raining heavily and we returned to the hotel. An excellent day with some great sightings in wonderful scenery. Tomorrow is our last day.
DAY 5 – WEDNESDAY, 21ST OCTOBER 2020 The first stop this morning was Loch Frisa in search of Crossbills (Andy’s bogey bird!) which proved ultimately disappointing. The cone crop looks small this year which will affect seeing these finches. We did however see a roving tit flock comprising of Blue and Long-tailed Tits together with a number of Goldcrests. Ewan also spotted a party of twenty migrating Whooper Swans. The rain started falling again so we made our way back to the mini buses. After a toilet break at Craignure, we moved on to Grasspoint. We saw three fine young Red Deer stags before parking up for tea/coffee and cake. At the shore we had fine views of a White-tailed Eagle pair and a juvenile. A couple of Twite flew over and some migrating Greylag Geese were seen in the distance. We said goodbye to Iolo, Denis and Catherine who were catching lunch time ferries. After lunch (baguettes and more cake!) we left Grasspoint but not before spotting a field full of Redwings. Our next stop was Garmony where the remaining four guests (Fiona, Janet, Sally and Andy) plus Ewan braved the rain seeing Wigeon, Turnstone, Golden Plover (Ewan only) and a few gull species.
At Pennygown, we picked up Great Northern Divers and Red-breasted Mergansers. A stop overlooking Salen Bay rewarded us with Harbour Seals and a big dog Otter. Before returning to the Western Isles Hotel, we dropped into the viewpoint overlooking the Aros Waterfall by the road. The power and volume of water was very impressive and the colours of the autumn leaves amazing.
So that is it – the Nature Scotland Expedition has concluded. The weather has not been kind to us with rain on most of the three final days. That hasn’t stopped us having a great time, seeing some fantastic mammals and birds, and outstanding scenery in great company. Our guides, Ewan and Iolo, were completely selfless – driving everywhere, making teas and coffees, sharing their expert knowledge freely. We had a lot of laughs too.
I would heartily recommend this trip to anyone looking to experience the nature of Mull.
Written by Andy Beevers