There was an unfamiliar stillness in the air as I opened the curtains on Friday morning to see what the day had in store for us. To my relief the wind had finally dropped and what little was left seemed to have veered to the south resulting in much warmer conditions. After a quick breakfast in the company of our bickering Yellowhammers and Chaffinches we headed south along Loch Tuath to Ulva Ferry, where we made a brief detour to pick up the first of several Mull geocaches. The view was absolutely stunning as we looked back the way we’d come.
We were very pleased to spot our first Lapwing of the trip flying across some nearby grassland after a fruitless few days looking for one, a situation that’s hopefully down to the time of year and bad luck rather than any reflection on the state of their current population. On a similar note we didn’t see a single Dunnock anywhere on the island. Where have they all gone? Moving on we drove along Loch na Keal (unfortunately no sign of the White Tailed Sea Eagles that are nesting there) to arrive at our walk destination for the day, Loch Ba. Tucked away on the Ben More estate and hidden from passing vehicles by forestry it turned out to be an absolute gem. We’d only gone a few hundred meters when the distinctive calls of a Tree Pipit caught my attention, quickly followed by the bird itself displaying from atop a tall pine tree. Tree Pipit is a new Mull species for us and indeed one for which our complete UK sightings can be counted on one hand. Down at the waters edge three Common Sandpipers were engaged in a battle royale for territory which included some brilliant behaviour. The two birds going head to head would each raise one wing vertically upwards and then face off until the weaker one either backed down or was chased away. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite get it on camera but I did capture the victor eyeing me up for possibly the same treatment.
On the water itself things were disappointingly quiet with just a single Goodsander keeping us company along with a couple of Mallards and family. I had hoped for a grebe or two, several of which were annoyingly seen a couple of days either side of our visit. Not to worry though as we did have other great sightings including a Golden Eagle high overhead, a singing male Siskin and remarkably another Willow Warbler that let me get close enough to photograph it. If they’re not careful this could become a habit.
All of the wildlife in the world though could only serve as minor details against the grandeur that was the landscape. After almost six years of visiting Mull it is perhaps surprising that I had yet to walk amongst the more mountainous terrain that typifies the southern half of the island, but then again perhaps not given the quality that can be found in the small area around our house. As we moved further into the valley the land rose steadily higher on either side of us until at the head of Loch Ba we were confronted with the double caldera of a long extinct volcano. Beneath these sits a single isolated dwelling that is accessed by what I think is the best bridge I have ever seen. For some reason I just loved its construction and setting. What follows is just a selection of the magnificent vistas we were treated to.
A few more Lapwings greeted us at the loch head, most of which were probably breeding birds if their ‘nintendoing’ calls were anything to go on. (Nintendoing is our word to describe Lapwing vocalisations that sound remarkably like an old 8 bit Game Boy). A couple of Curlew, several Skylark and hundreds of Meadow Pipits also fed amongst the lush grassland.
The rest of the day was spent hunting geocaches including one tricky item in Tobermory that had us scratching our heads for a good while. If you saw a couple of people walking around the car park in circles then that was probably us. Back at the house we relaxed for a few hours before heading up the hill behind to watch the sun set. Due to a slight mistake with my iPhone app (it thought we were in Norfolk for some reason) we were way too early and in the end didn’t stay for the actual event as it was absolutely freezing on top. The climb was still worthwhile though as we got to hear a couple of the Short Eared Owls calling, closely followed by the sight of a Golden Eagle high above Treshnish. For the next five minutes it soared over the same area before finally turning with the wind and disappearing at great speed. I managed to get a few distant photos but they wont be winning any awards.
Even though we missed the actual sunset we had great views looking back towards Ben More and the area where we had spent much of the day. This is probably my favourite view on the island and perfectly captures the essence of Mull.
Upon returning to the house we were almost immediately joined by the Short Eared Owl again, but this time it was hunting right next to the sun porch itself. The views were the best we’d had so far, but even better was yet to come.