Ian say’s: … ‘Pauline has caught up so well with the isles post I may as well let her finish the Mull posting as well! I will be back though with the Pine Marten account from Shieldag!’ in the meantime I will hand over to ‘her indoors’ ….
A day of mixed feelings ... although I was cock-a-hoop at not going home just yet, I always get a bit full up when leaving the dock at Loch Boisedale - I combated it this time by making straight for the cafeteria and not watching the dockside and hills grow smaller and further from my reach ....
After fish and chips in the cafeteria we went on deck as usual. The crossing was grey, calm and warm and although we came into glorious sunshine towards Oban the birds were sparse: a few gannets, cormorant, gulls and a distant tern and puffin or two. Our ferry was 20 mins late for no particular reason and so was the Mull boat? So we didn;t have the rush I was expecting (and I will get earache about that as Ian wanted to drive round to Tesco to fuel up and I refused to leave the dockside and the queue ... so when he finds out the cost of fuel here on Mull there will be more dark mutterings from his direction!). We said goodbye to David and Eddie for the time being as they went off to their digs and we came just round the corner to the campsite at 9pm just in time to begin the bedtime routines: tea and coffee out of the cupboard for morning, porta potti and wee bottle out of its cupboard and left 'guzzunder' the bed, bed to pull out and bed roll to unroll and climb in - hey presto - done! The little biters (the very tiny very painful ones went into overdrive the min the sun set) so we had to shut up shop completely and that made it very warm ... I hate being enclosed – you’d think I had been born in a barn the way I like doors and windows open (but I was actually born in hospital!)
In the night it rained and the skylight went into full leaking mode ... wet bed and feet anyone? So the back end of the camper will have to go up on blocks to help the water run off rather than in ... The day was spent with the fan on trying to dry my side of the bed roll while I worked on pics and wrote accounts and notes and replied to email. Ian kept having a walk out round site – esp round the front bay areas looking for the otter but he had no luck – no otter to be seen?
There was no phone, dongle or internet connection on our pitch (but WiFi was available in reception sat next to their router!) What we did have was a marvellous view as booking early last year assured us of a pitch on the very front row overlooking the bay ... at the times we were not steamed up, wet through or rained on it was glorious!
The idea of finishing up on Mull was primarily to photograph the White-tailed Eagles and see more of the otters! With this in mind we booked on the Mull Charters boat for Mon (Me and David) and Wed (Ian) of the first week and Tues the second week for just us two as David and Eddie were off home the next day. Two years ago Ian and I were first missers and dipped out – the eagle had been seen to bring a rabbit or hare in before the boat was due, he then flew off into the distance! My trip this morning more than made up for the previous dip ... 3 separate Eagles came for fish ... I missed the crucial iconic legs out to grab pose - a mixture of wrong place on the boat, speed of the bird and complete mismanagement by me ... I will do better next time ... Maybe?! I thought I had missed most of the action when I looked on the back of the camera – but then later when I’d calmed down and looked properly I found there were quite a few ‘rescuable’ images. David got some good shots as he got into one of the back corners of the boat. Ian and Eddie were watching the action from the car park - Eddie must have had some mind blowing action looking through the scope! And of course comfortable in the campervan neither of them got wet when the heavens opened on us in the boat on our return! The weather wasn’t so good – grey and then raining as we came back to port so the forecast for mixed squally conditions proved to be right too …
David and Eddie called round to see us before joining the queue for the ferry home. David – bless him - has lent Ian his 400 lens to go on the Mull Charters boat. His big lens would be useless in this situation – the bird comes so close and fast that I doubt anyone could find it or lock onto it with a big lens! Lets see if he can do better than David and I – we’ve both warned him how fast the action is and where to stand for the best! Ian spent the rest of the day ‘practicing’ at nothing in particular with the 400 which of course is tiny and lightweight in comparison to his normal 600! I sat in the front of the camper and flashed the headlights as the ferry pulled away – through binocs we could see David and Eddie waving from the top deck of the boat!! Goodbye, Goodbye - you're leaving us Goodbye!!
We had a ride around Loch Scridain after waving our good friends off and chose to sit in a spot where we have seen otters before but it took 4 hours before an otter appeared. At the the same time one of the tour buses arrived: as usual everyone jumped out with binocs and cameras, pointing and shouting they could see an otter … and the otter decided to keep on going … Without the tour bus it might have begun to fish in this little sheltered spot and even come up the banking if it got a big catch like we’ve watched it do before. But no 4 hours wasted … What is it with these tour guide folk? Have they no regard for other people who are also nature watching? Are the guides so jealous that some of us can watch unhindered and alone without a noisy party? Where is their field craft or at least a little common courtesy for others present before them? Do they not ask their customers to keep quite before opening the doors and letting the unruly hordes out? Are their clientele so stupid and uncaring that they ignore all requests to keep the noise down? I’ve had better behaved school groups – children – so what is it with the adults who go on these buses? Surely they must realise they are scaring off the thing they have paid good money to be shown? I’ve developed a real dislike bordering on hatred for the tour companies - can you tell?
On Mon I was in the wrong place on the boat with folks heads in the way when the bird got down to water level; the focusing didn't keep up with the stoop of the bird - its faster than you think for such a large bird! Today was Ian’s turn Ian on the boat and (for once!)he did even worse than I had! Though to be fair he was using a lens he was not accustomed to! Thank goodness were going again together on the same boat on Tues when the weather is supposed to have improved??? Hopefully it will be third time lucky for one or both of us? But while Ian was struggling in the boat I actually got some half decent shots of the eagle from the road. I’d driven up and down the side of Loch na Keal a few times so I had an idea where the pull in places where. I went pretty far west and waited for the boat to chug round the corner – I then kept pace with it! When he stopped and chucked the bait out I knew they could see an eagle that I couldn’t – but I could hear what I thought was a young WT eagle begging out of sight on the hillside above me … Sure enough an adult appeared overhead and went down for the catch and low and behold it came back the same route and straight round the campervan and then along the hillside beside me … I didn’t miss the little tinker this time!
Sat 3rd Aug
We'd been on Mull for a week by this stage and not much to show for it ... the weather was not playing ball - the forecast of sunshine and showers with decent windy conditions is certainly true of the last 48 hours - today being wind, rain and sun - a few seconds of each in fast rotation! Really frustrating.
We haven;t seen as much of the various otters this time either ... perhaps the island is just too busy at this time of year and they keep more to the hours of darkness? Certainly folk have reported seeing them on the little beach right in front of our pitch but a week had passed albeit with two days spent on eagles but Ian had put some serious time in along the frontage on the non-eagle days! Then suddenly his luck changed when the local otter appeared just off the rocks below our pitch. Talk about panic - I;ve never seen a man move so fast as he shouted 'You don;t mind if I go do you?' I found myself saying 'No you go' to an empty space ... he'd already gone! Another sharp eyed chappie with a camera had spotted it too and soon so had others ... Ian and the other chap disappeared round the headland as the otter began moving away round the corner and got some shots before too many folk got over the slippery sharp rocks. It caught a big crab and came up to eat .... it tried settling down for a nap after but there were too many folks about and it went back into the water and just disappeared ...
My word they breed big horseflies out here! Just check out the pic below - it has nothing to show size unfortunately but I estimate 25-30mm or if you like the size of my thumb or bigger much bigger than a Hornet! You should have seen us both jump and move when two of these - both females - in other words blood suckers of any warm mammal - kept trying to come into the camper with us! When it finally flew off with the loudest buzzing noise I;ve ever heard we both shrieked like a pair of giggly girls!
Having had some luck finally Ian was like a cat on a hot tin roof to get some more otter action! And he did - around the corner from the site yet again he caught up with a different otter to yesterday - today's didn't have a damaged nose! I'm surprised Ian could manage to photograph its antics as, after feeding and rolling around in the seaweed and trying to take a nap, it decided half seriously to stalk the gulls, who had been annoying it while it was eating its catch: the gulls were intent on snatching dropped bits and risking a shaking to death I reckon - I wonder if he'd caught one would he have eaten it or just flung it around as in 'Let that be a lesson to you'?!
Yesterday turned out warm an sunny after t heavy rain overnight an first thing. This morning was rather nice too (except for the midges ...) the ferry had just arrived bringing a fresh cargo of folks: at peak sailings you can estimate 5 or 600 people are arriving, most get into coaches and just disappear! Certainly yesterday afternoon around Loch Spelvie we saw few folk and there were heaps of time 40 mins or more when no one came by ... very nice ... unlike Loch Scridain where there are cars and tour buses trolling up and down all the time - its like Deansgate on a ‘blue-cross’ sale day!
Watching the bay out front has been interesting - its boiling literally with small fish we can't make our minds up whether they are being chased by larger fish or merely 'topping' to grab insects and midges (if it's the latter they need to try harder they're not getting enough of the little blighters! )
Well were in the 'dying' days of this Scotland Grand Tour ... 3 days to go ... Today has been beautiful - sunny all day and very warm and as usual I chose to be wrong footed and catch up with editing of photos .... typical. But with my usual pig-headedness once decided on a course of action I continue so photo editing it was despite the suitability of the day to take more photos if we could find something willing to be photographed. And thats a different story .... We did learn though that otters can and did fish continuously for TWO hours out in the bay at Craignure today ... thats a lot of fish every couple of mins it surfaced eating - that otter must have a stomach the size of a wheelie bin! Because it was so busy with folk, boats, fishermen etc the otter never came to land to eat - choosing instead to eat everything out on the water. Ian waited and waited and waited behind his camera the whole two hours and more but came back to the camper unrewarded...
Today we both went back out with Mull Charters and Rachael and Martin did their utmost to entice the eagles and without too much enticing the male came for a look and was rewarded with his mackerel! This time I managed to be on the railings of the boat and keep track of the bird for most of his descent yet I still lost focus at the critical claws out pick up the fish stage ... well anyway I have more white tailed eagle shots than I had a month ago (which was exactly none at that stage!) Having done the feeding they then took us around the outer edge of the loch where we dropped on a fishing otter - which came out of the water like a rocket, showing a very clean pair of heels up the banking and into a large hole (holt?) in the rocks taking his fish with him as my blurred image on the back of the camera shows - just about!
On this particular boat trip I was intrigued by a photographer dressed in camo (like me!) with a pro camera and big lens (like me!) I heard Martin call him Chas and immediately thought he might be Chas Moonie who I 'know' from websites and the internet! So I went across and asked and sure enough it was him! When the boat docked the three of us went back to the campervan for a brew and a chat! Chas is a lovely guy and he let us into a couple of wildlife watching/photography opportunities - one of which was the cottage at Shieldag which has pine marten (and a badger!) at the back door. Those pine marten pics we now have are all down to his info so I say a big thank you Chas!
We met another couple Mark and Hazel from Nottingham - Mark was in camo and had a big camera and lens so it didn't take long to get chatting! They were a lovely couple deeply into wildlife watching and photography. Jim Almond another fellow photographer spotted us and came across to introduce his daughter who was desperate to see otters! There was another chappie too in a white campervan who was doing things very similarly to us - his name escapes me for the minute - Roger possibly? Thats one of the great things about the internet - you speak to folk via websites and email and then finally bump into them for real outside - and it can be anywhere in the country when someone says 'Arn't you .... ?!' Or you see someone with the gear and know they are as intent as you and just get chatting and exchanging cards and websites!
I won't be sorry to leave Mull for a variety of reasons - the midges are probably the one main thing that I cannot cope with ... nothing seems to stop the little blighters - you can drown yourself in 'skin so soft' or 'deet' or bog myrtle or all three and still they will bite through it - it must poison them - and if not them it must be poisoning me - but they continue to bite especially round your eyes and inside you eye rims and in your hair and any other bare part you can't put repellent on and that then makes me want to rip my face off the irritation is so severe - so no I won;t be sorry to go home in that respect! Another reason would be we misjudged and mistimed the hatching and fledging of the raptors expecting the bigger birds to still be in the nest when we arrived but in actual fact we're two or three weeks too late and the young are out of the nests and scattered around the hillsides which makes judging where the parents will fly to and from almost impossible ... must try harder and think better in advance next time! Still with the bits we had already booked there was no room for leeway or moving this trip forward in time so it was a case of miss it again for the umpteenth time and moan that I still hadn't been back up the west coast - or get on and go for it - so we have and I'm not sorry to have the experience under my belt at last ... the first time was 1976 so its been a long time in the wings waiting to be repeated!
And so a second lovely day out of the fortnight went into a long and lovely evening with a fabulous sunset deepening outside ... time to go and make up the bed again, remember to get the porta potti out and the coffee and sugar for morning, fill the kettle ready, put the phone on charge and set the clock .... and so to bed! Our last evening and funnily enough I was now ready to go home: the longest I’ve been away in the past was 28 days out in the Western Isles many years ago and that was a mixed bag for weather – some of it extremely cold for June esp when we were on Barra ‘wild camping’ with no site or electric hook up and no heat – that was extremely unpleasant ….
The drive home seemed easy – it suddenly felt not that far – Oban to South Lakes - in comparison with the rest of the tour! The caravan – a small tourer – was suddenly palatial – you can walk up and down for 10 paces – after the ‘turning space’ only in the camper, which becomes one step in any direction once the bed is pulled out! The house – with stairs – was huge and neither of us could remember where we keep stuff for the first 24 hours! As soon as I was back I wanted to do it all over again through Sept and Oct but what we actually ended up doing was something quite different – his nibs will reveal all for that posting!
I smiled when I read Ian’s summing up in his diary: I’ll let him have the last word - he say’s
‘Highlights – Handa; New flowers; Divers; Sea eagles and all but one of the camping sites very good.
Low Points – CLEGS & MIDGES (in capitals!) Weather; Timing misjudged – rators fledged; Numbers of people’ …