Day 2 of our week on Mull and several interesting wildlife sightings without particularly looking for them. In the course of driving around I keep my eyes open of course, and look at lochs, fields, mountains and the sky as much as I do the road ahead (though I shouldn’t really be admitting this). My wife and I were barely away from our holiday cottage on Benmore Estate, near Gruline when a white-tailed eagle crossed Loch na Keal heading in the direction of a well-observed nest on the north side of the loch. It was within a couple of hundred yards of us and was being tailed by a raven, which looked sparrow-sized in comparison. There must be thousands of visitors to Mull that have similar sightings, and of course there will be at least as many who have the chance of such a sighting but are not paying attention.
Further round Loch na Keal I saw a bird out on the loch that was clearly a diver of some sort. I managed to find a suitable place to stop and got the binoculars on to it. It was a great northern diver, only the second I have seen, with the first being on North Uist when I was fishing there. I was surprised how long it stays underwater when it dives, and had to watch carefully to see where it surfaced. Several times it brought up a beakful of weed, which it then shook and appeared to swallow. It pays to give any bird that is not immediately recognised some further observation as in this case it turned out to be relative rarity.
The following morning I came out of the holiday cottage in time to see a cuckoo pursuing another cuckoo. I watched them till they disappeared and was surprised that there was no sound. I was hoping to hear the cu-coo note, or the bubbling sound that the female makes but they were silent. It must have been a cuckoo day as a third crossed in front of the car on a hill road between Loch na Keal and Dervaig. Also near Dervaig there was a group of five red deer – four hinds and a last year’s calf – grazing quietly between the road and some woodland. These small groups of deer are quite often well away from the open hill they are normally associated with, and this was the second group of the day, with the first comprising around twenty and grazing in a grass field by a lochside.
In late afternoon we had a run round the south side of Loch na Keal and I stopped when I saw a speck high in the sky adjacent to Ben More. At that height it could only be a golden eagle, which I confirmed when I jumped out of the car with the binoculars. I watched it circling for about ten minutes and was amazed at how little energy it expended; just an occasional flap of it wings. A second eagle came in to view from between a gap in the hills and glided to my right, eventually coming down to almost ground level. It glided along the ground, again with little more than an occasional flap, and I was hoping it would find some prey so that I could witness a chase or even a capture. Unfortunately there was no prey of interest and it landed on a rock.
So if this is what can be seen without really trying, imagine what must be seen on some of the guided tours by people who know exactly where – and importantly, when – to look. I can’t say that is my cup of tea as I prefer to find my own wildlife, but for visitors who come from areas where they have little chance of seeing some of our rarer or more interesting wildlife I’m sure the tours offer great value.