Back to our usual beautiful evening sky yesterday from a two day trip to Perth on the other side of the country, attending the Wild Scotland AGM. Frankly I was not impressed with the AGM nor Conference. The AGM was far too short and did not encourage questions and debate, the lunch was good but the Conference content was all too predictable. Am I the only one with some vision and ideas around here !! Here in The Highlands and Islands we have the product that the entire world is hungry for but our leaders have absolutely no idea how to protect it and promote it. The one highlight of the conference was the presentation from Jim Mayhew of the Scottish Campaign for National Parks, whom I had encouraged to be there. He highlighted that the SNP in their manifesto had given a comittment that much needed National Parks would be delivered and they have of course shelved that ! They can’t be trusted wtih the countries most valuable asset, which is not oil but our amazing natural wonders. It’s all about ‘caring’ again of course and most of my species just don’t. Or they would be banging on the door of government as I do, insisting they keep their promises.
We have been having extremely calm weather here and on Saturdays trip the whole environmental show was as good as it gets, with a relatively empty island, big sightings and every sort of scene and vista that Mother Nature could produce to try and steal the show.. Within 10 minutes we had a male otter trying to look like a wavelet on such a flat sea. Coming across the loch and putting hundreds of birds up came the two sea eagles at Killiechronan to land a few trees apart. It was a great scene all round. On the other side of the loch we found a golden eagle sitting on the skyline looking as if he had been watching too. Five minutes along the lochside and we saw an adult and young sea eagle sitting out on Scarisdale rocks and then we saw another adult coming with legs out to knock the youngster off its rock, which then flew up the coast to land and be pestered by gulls. We then found 3 otters on the same islet with the two sea eagles !! Ten minutes up the coast and mum and two more otter cubs peaking over a rock at us, and cute !! The two golden eagles on Gribbun were swooping around and diving down to clutch nest material and take it back to a new nest. Red deer stags and females today, sparrowhawk, buzzards kestrel, lots of great northern divers, slavonian grebes, snipe and a number of woodcocks and scenery to die for. Yesterday evening coming back from our otter group meeting I saw lots of mountain hares on the campsite grassland at Killiechronan. The Hebridean Islands are as good as it gets at this time of yea, if you get the weather and always ‘romantic’ of course but you have to be romantic by nature to appreciate that.
A few days ago we had some pretty wild weather but the following day it was off to Oban and a lovely sunny day for the sail and shopping for Christmas presents. Today was pretty fantastic with ‘serene’ not really enough of a word to illustrate Mull today. We had all the doors onto the decking wide open and it was like Spring. I was out with the hose, cleaning all the salt off the windows and woodwork blown up from the sea by the previous wild weather. It does help. The sea was the thing today because everywhere was as flat as it can be. I am hearing increasing stories of Pine Martens on Mull by the way and if any of our regular guests get a sighting whilst staying on the Island please do let me know. I worry greatly for what you might call top predators and virtually all of the stuff I hear about them is grossly exagerated and often not true. We humans have never really changed in this regard and have too big an opinion of ourselves..
Well I had to put pen to paper this morning because the scene from the house is just wonderful. Mainly because there is no wind at all and if it’s not windy here its always perfection !! Out through our big sliding doors onto the decking everything has a light covering of snow with blazing sun shining down on it. Looking to the sea and Iona the golden landscape of Autumn rolls out peacfully from here sprinkled with very white looking sheep, seemingly wandering toward the sea to get a better view of Mother Natures spectacle. Looking left and squinting in the sun at Benmore, it strangely has very little snow on it but a wisp of white cloud rolling around its peak. I hate the way these sorts of moments put pressure on me to get drawing again as an artist and former graphic designer, because I have far too much to do these days to get back to my art again. But where are all these other artists in the UK? Forget St Ives I say, because its all been very done. Get ‘WILD’ and come to the Hebrides !! Personally I just need a school of dolphins to come leaping into view and its boots on and then off to sit on the cliffs and watch them on such a beautiful day..
We are just back from another jaunt to see Lucy and the grandchildren in Glasgow. As Lucy does not have the space for all of us, we usually spend a night at a hotel and we think the Premier Inn at Cambuslang is perfect just by the M74 if you are looking to break your journey coming from the South to Mull and the Highlands. They also have an excellent value restaurant adjoining. Lots of fun to be had again on the trip with gokarting for Sonny and crazy golf with Charlie and Rufus, who at almost 3 years has his own strange rules of engagement, which involves stealing other peoples golf balls !! On stopovers coming from the South of England I would definitely recommend the Holiday Inn at Scotch Corner. It might be the best in the country for style, rooms and food and is the perfect place to break a journey to Scotland. Another strategic stopover is the Premier Inn at Dumbarton which is about 15 minutes from Loch Lomond and then onward to The Highlands and Islands. It was wild as hell going through Glencoe and back but fine in between and a really lovely day today here
It might be a bit strong to say that Mull is feeling a little wintry now and it might be that I have got very use to such good weather here this year. However there are now sheeting rain showers and hail but it could be worse alright and though I don’t have any trips for a while we don’t need to go far to find interesting things to see, and out of the conservatory windows yesterday two adult golden eagles were swirling around very low down with buzzards, ravens and crows and they were close. As was the male hen harrier as we got up this morning and he danced past the bedroom window between our water tank and the house and then flew around below the house for a short time. On the way to post some mail and get provisions in Salen I was on the alert for the otters around Killiechronan area and there one was preening and rolling around on top of a big boulder, clearly enjoying the off season peace and quiet that pervades here now with snow dappled peaks as the background.
The Eagle Island tag that we now have is not misplaced at all and though my wildlife trips are ebbing as we enter winter, the eagles ara still delivering and I think Mull would be a great a place to write a book about eagles or paint them, or even write poetry about them, as I often feel like doing. Whilst at my desk today I glanced out toward the sea and I suppose inevitably a young eagle was about 300m away rising and falling, tumbling and diving low to the ground, as buzzards, hooded crows and ravens gave it some trouble. In the end it seemed to be enjoying it all, before sailing off to continue its travels to find a mate before Spring. After doing a little more papework and more staring out at our hypnotic view I could see birds diving at each other on the ground below the house and left toward the headland about 800m out. It turned out to be 3 young sea eagles having a real go at each other. Wherever you are on these romantic Islands and whenever you are tempted to look there can be something big and exciting to see.
Well a Jay might not be such a big sighting on the mainland but here in The Hebrides it’s rare and I had yet another ‘glimpse’ today as one flew over us at Killiechronan and jumped around in the top of a conifer and then off to another conifer across a large field. I was happy ! On todays trip we had lots of sightings and a very beautiful and atmospheric day. We had two separate otters on the flatest seas. One was fishing all the time and the other eventually came ashore to give those cute cuddly images. We found the two Gribbun golden eagles soaring high between Loch na Keal and Loch Scridain, greenshank, redshanks, teal, numerous great northern divers, possible merlin, two separate sparrowhawks, ravens, lots of buzzards, redwings, rockpipits, turnstones, lots of red deer. Finally we had a quick trip to Grasspoint and arrived with a massive, dark and threatening sky, to find the adult sea eagles on top of their favourite islet. Mull was beautifully wild and empty today and its feels very special that way.
Today is quite a serene day with little wind and the usual everchanging light, after yesterdays wildlife trip and violent winds, sleet with little respite from it. However you know my philosophy, in that an optimist creates positive things and pessimists dont. So a good crowd for the trip with two from Perth and another four staying on the Ardnamurchan. Within10 minutes we had one of those exotic sightings of an otter wandering around on a rocky outcrop. Another 10 minutes looking for porpoise and we had a female otter with two cubs, again walking around on a similar outcrop south of Glenforsa. Also a sea eagle sitting on an island in the middle of the Sound of Mull. Onto Loch na Keal for sea eagles and as I pulled onto the small camping ground area with no one about, there was the adult female 50m away standing in shallow water and shingle with crashing waves and gulls getting excited. Off she went tallons dangling to another section of shingle and then eventually out to sea and then swerved right to go toward their favourite trees and shelter. Important now to follow her and sure enough she eventually alighted and joined her mate halfway up a conifer. Across the loch and at least one more otter 100m out on Scarisdale rocks. Around 3 great northern divers today but it never cleared enough to see golden eagles regrettably.
Its been a fullsome two weeks since my last diary posting when there were thousands of redwings, fieldfares, blackbirds and thrushes arriving on Mull. Down in Buckinghamshire and Cambridge visiting our two sons it was positively twee after the wildness of these ilsands, though I have to admit to enjoying all that posh stuff and cuisine and the feeling of rich security that pervades there !! I saw kites, fox and peregrine falcon but it wasnt a wildlife trip at all of course and we both loved the most popular and surely most beautiful cinema in Britian the Rex Cinema in Birkhamsted. We met Sam in London and visited the Natural History Museum and ‘Beyond el Dorado’ which was exotic, plus seeing the ancient Lewis Chessmen [ why arent they in Lewis } and the Cortaulds art collection. With Tim we loved the trip to Windsor Castle and were fascinated by the amount of art that the various Royals have produced over the years. We had a loveley cottage in Cambridgeshire with a tree lined walk to the beckoning door. It was very cute and inkeeping with the quaintness of it all. Then back to Scotland to spend time with Sonny, Charlie and Rufus who as always are rewarding and we all have so much fun. Onward home then to truly epic Glencoe with sheets of sleet and blazing sun as you race through it all, as it is in the Bond film ‘Skyfall’ and on to our two ferrys to Mull and the usual sunny West Coast here. Bottom line for me is that we loved all the trees, the quaintest villages and houses and an overwhelming feeling of soft security and a comfortable and gentle life, save for the diabolical traffic and maniacs on the motorways up and down to there. Back now to a wildlife trip tomorrow and less aggressive drivers !!