Trip report: Mull, Scotland

19th-26th September 2009

We spent a week on Mull, based in the south-east which gives the best access to all parts of the island. The weather was almost entirely overcast, with rain on all days and westerly winds. The island is best explored by car, as there are relatively few good paths or trails in many parts.

Red deer – several times on the Auchnacraig estate west of Loch Don, and a great view of a stag on a clifftop way above our heads at the Gribin cliffs.  They’re fairly common all over Mull.

Fallow deer – along the road to Loch Buie and also in the woods of the Ben More estate; Loch Buie is apparently a good spot for them.

Stoat – crossing the Craignure-Tobermory road in daylight.

Harbour seals – offshore along the east coast near Salen, and in the cove at Grasspoint.

Grey seals – a large colony including new pups on the Treshnish Isles; the Turus Mara boat from Ulva Ferry allows you ashore and within a few metres of the seals.  This boat trip (which also takes in Staffa) is recommended as it has a decent chance of spotting cetaceans too.  However, the sea was rather wild on the day we went and it was also out of seasons for most of them.

European rabbit – plentiful.

Eurasian Otter – we had twelve sightings in total, of seven different animals.  Grasspoint was a good location as there is a very reliable otter fishing around that point; we saw him two days out of five.  As a general tip: if a group of seabirds take off suddenly, it’s worth scanning the rocks where they were perched as it may be an otter.  Our most successful location for sighting otters was Loch Spelve, where the road runs very close to the lochside for much of its length.  Drive slowly, with the passenger as spotter – kerb crawling for otters!  The most likely spot will be the otter fishing a few yards off-shore, as on the shore they are almost indistinguishable from rocks.  Otters seem undisturbed by moving vehicles, so if you spot one you need to roll on and pull over a little further on, then come back carefully on foot.  The other sightings were at the top of Loch Beg, off the north coast of Ulva, and on the north coast of Loch na Keal.  It would be wrong to generalise that otters are only seen on a falling tide.  From people we talked to and our own inferences, coastal otters are most likely to be resting in a holt at high tide, coming out to begin hunting at some point on the falling tide and potentially remaining active until the next high tide.

Birds – it’s worth making a mention of the wonderful raptors we saw on Mull.  White-tailed sea eagles, golden eagles, hen harriers, buzzards, peregrine falcons and a barn owl – pretty good when we were mainly looking for otters!

And on a final note: when I arrived back at work, I discovered that in my absence the office (in Hemel Hempstead) was suffering an infestation of Edible dormice (Glis glis)!  There is apparently a stable feral population in a small area north of London, though I had no idea they would willing come into human habitat and forage on desks.  I saw the footprints, but no-one has seen the animals.

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