The Farne Islands are a group of islands off the north-east coast of Northumberland. There are between 15 and 20 islands depending on the state of the tide. They are divided into two groups, the Inner Group and the Outer Group. The main islands in the Inner Group are Inner Farne, Knoxes Reef and the East and West Wideopens. The main islands in the Outer Group are Staple Island the Brownsman, North and South Wamses, Big Harcar and the Longstone,the two groups are separated by Staple Sound.
The birds, the animals, the landscapes along with the local food and drink keep drawing me back to this amazing island more and more each year. It has a magical feel and presence to it, a place I could gladly just sit and watch the world pass me by with no time limit.
I’ve just returned from a wonderful week with clients on my twice yearly photo tour called “Magic of Mull“. The Isle of Mull lies on the west coast of Scotland and has a breathtaking coastline of 300 miles. The climate is a mixture of rain and sunshine and from the moment you step onto this beautiful island the wildlife is everywhere and the scenery is stunning. Our base for our 6 day adventure was the picturesque village of Tobermory, made famous by the children’s BBC programme Balormory, with its brightly painted buildings. Our hotel is overlooking the harbour of Tobermory and facing out to Calve Island and the sound of Mull.
Mull’s climate is extremely unpredictable and at any time of year you should be prepared for a wide range of conditions. The weather during our time on the island was good and kind to use. There were days that were overcast where we had rain but on the whole the weather was good. After meeting everyone at the port of Oban, we took a short ferry ride over to Mull and then went on to our hotel that we were staying at for the week. We had coffee overlooking the harbour and headed straight out for the day.
The pattern of events for each day were consistant, ensuring that clients get the best out of their time on Mull. An Early start to get into place at one of the Otter sites to hopefully catch them as they wake and start to fish, then head back to the hotel for our breakfast at around 8am and then collect our packed lunches and head out for the day.
The wildlife on Mull is generally accessible with the few exceptions of specialized birds along with the rare and legally protected birds. These are not to be disturbed or approached as they are very senstive to disturbance, like the White-tailed Eagle below, which are doing really well on Mull, and so is the Golden Eagle.
When I have worked alone on Mull in the past I have stayed in one place for some time, getting a feel of the place, getting connected as I call it. But while leading a tour here for clients you have to juggle the need to see the wildlife along with the time constraints, as a lot of the wildlife can be viewed only a short distance from the roads, which for me is ok but the way in which I work is working the land so to speak and this is something I was very keen to show the group.
As a group we covered both methods of approach during our stay, where everyone enjoyed the fieldcraft tips and advice. I also demonstrated how rewarding it can be on many levels when you blend into the environment, leaving the safety of the car and try to become part of the subjects world, thinking about wind direction and movement, in readiness to take the shot if the opportunity came.
During our time on Mull I had organised two great trips on consecutive days, one was three hours watching White Tailed Sea Eagles on one of the Lochs, and the other was a full days trip to the Treshnish Isles. Due to the White tailed Eagle being so protected and looked after, close up views of these birds is almost impossible so this tip offers that chance.
Today Mull is still one of the best places in the UK to see these amazing birds of prey. After centuries of persecution these birds were wiped out, it was shot, poisoned and its eggs were taken. Rewards were offered of eight pence for anyone killing a bird and twenty shillings for destroying a nest. By 1800, Scotland had become the sea eagles only safe refuge, but even here people were turning against them. Shooting estates wanted all birds of prey destroyed and the Victorian egg collectors wanted their eggs as trophies. Labelled as domestic livestock killers, and killing many game birds, these birds were not tolerated the same as they were centuries before and so bounties began and the slow demise of this bird began at the hands of ill-informed people.
The last breeding pair of White tailed eagles in the UK was recorded on the island of Skye in 1916, and sadly the last reported lone female disappeared from her nest on Shetland in 1918 rendering the bird extinct in the UK, a truly shocking and disgusting story to even write let alone believe we did this to this bird and even today the same is happening to many birds of prey with people having the same attitude.
So after an absence of almost 70 years conservationists were finally given the go-ahead to reintroduce these amazing birds. A total of 82 birds were imported under special licence from nests in Norway. The first wil -bred chick since the extinction was hatched on Mull in 1985 and so the birth of Eagle watch in its early stages was born. One of the many people behind the eagle’s comeback is the RSPB’s David Sexton. His tireless efforts and work started back in those early days is everywhere to see when you are on Mull. I often bump into him on my many trips to Mull each year and last week was no exception. A nice man and for me has brought this bird to many people’s attention which is brilliant.
Along with the Golden Eagle its one of my favourite birds of prey and every time I see this bird my heart beats faster. The boat trip I organise for my clients on their photo tour gives them the best and safest close up view of this amazing bird, by mimicking a fishing trawler towing a small boat it sails into one pair’s territory and gulls follow us. A fish is placed out for the eagle and the engine is killed as we wait in perfect silence for the world’s fourth biggest eagle to show. Without warning this massive bird approaches the boat, circles overhead then dives for the fish, then flies back to the nest all in the matter of minutes.
The bird now has the best protection available in law. This trip lets people see these birds in the safest way possible, while maintaining complete respect for the bird. Martin the skipper of Mull Charters gives a good introduction at the beginning of the trip and explains all of the do’s and don’ts. It’s amazing to see these birds so close and every client loves it as much. I would highly recommend the trip and you will be completely blown away by the bird’s size, power and grace.
We visited the small islands of Staffa and Lunga the next day. Staffa is a beautiful, uninhabited island which is home to hundreds of seabirds and set within waters teeming with marine life. The island is best known for its magnificent columns of rock. The best place to see this is in Fingal’s Cave. The shapes in the rocks formed by the sea over time are amazing, they look like they have been made by an experienced stone mason rather than the force of mother nature.
Fingla’s cave is very impressive, as you enter the smell of excrement is very strong as nesting birds and bats litter the small ledges and over hangs as you slowly walk in using the path people have used for centuries, a truly amazing place to visit.
One of the best places in the UK to see Puffin’s, Razorbill’s, Guillemots and Seals is Lunga the second small island we visited that day. It was a small journey to this stunning little island that’s home to my favourite seabird the charismatic Puffin. We spent over two hours on this lovely little island and from the moment you scale the landing steps and head up onto the flat top of the island the Puffins are not far from you.
Their calls can be heard first before they show themselves from the burrows and vegetation hiding them away from view. We all got into place, settled and let the birds relax and over time if you sit still and don’t make too many movements the Puffins accept your presence and go about their lives around you which is wonderful to witness and watch.
Puffins are going about their lives all in close proximity of you as long as you stay still and make little or no movement, capturing those moments with your camera. Puffins are beautiful birds to watch and spend time with. Two great days and two excellent day trips. The rest of the week flew by as we all concentrated on finding the elusive Otters, that had been giving us the slip most of the week.
Along with the White-tailed Eagle, Mull is famous for another amazing bird and another favourite bird of prey of mine the Golden Eagle. These birds are often seen soaring alone in their mountain habitat and aren’t as easy to see as the White-tailed Eagles. We all saw this amazing bird soaring effortlessly then disappearing as quick as they had turned up. I captured one adult bird with the image below flying over its territory among the moody looking clouds which added the ideal backdrop to this stunning bird of prey.
As each day passed by we saw Otters as we drove, hearing the plops and slaps that they make. I showed everyone what to look for to identify Otter activity, fresh poo, mussels shells and fish bones all real clues to the presence of Otters. The more moisture and bounce to the poo lets you know just how old they are, giving you a real time idea of how long they were in that area and how old the poo is.
On the last day we were all in place and I saw a female Otter hunting in the tidal currents, I signaled one member of the group as soon as I saw this, also telling my client to let the other guys know who were scattered along the coastline. As I made my way over the wet rocks and slipping like a beginner on the TV programme-“Dancing on Ice” she carried on feeding just out of shot. I managed to capture her before she vanished.
Throughout the week the wildlife around the island was amazing and every client got some wonderful images with lots of images of subjects they’d not seen before which was great. We were all sad to leave the island on the Friday but everyone had some great memories of this magical island.
A big thank you to the entire group for your company during our time on Mull, a lot of you were repeat clients so it lovely to see you all again. We had a great laugh and I hope you’ll remember my Puffin impression for the rest of your lives. Its designed to help you in the field and know when they land around you.
Thank you Debbie at the Western isles Hotel, a beautiful hotel overlooking the sound of Mull and Tobermory, the base in which I run my Magic of Mull photo tours each year. Great atmosphere, lovely award winning food and great rooms and service. I hope I helped you all in seeing the amazing wildlife Mull has to offer, and learning more about the island while learning and showing you real and key camera skills and fieldcraft that work on the ground, many thanks and good luck to you all. For more information and next years dates on this amazing photo tour please click here many thanks.
With the on set of winter around the corner and the days getting shorter and colder spare a thought for the animals and birds this time of year as their food become’s less available and some mammals shock up before they go into hibernation.If you have a garden place some bird feeders out,fat balls,peanuts etc and clean drinking water in a shallow bowl, very important in hard weather when other water sources may be frozen.Ensure you are not marking it easier for predators to catch the birds, place them away from fences and dark corners ideal places for ‘next doors’ cat to be lurking and waiting for an easy meal.
Make your garden a paradise for birds/wildlife and you will reap the rewards by being able to watch them all year,plant berry-producing bushes and trees,also plants that enhance insects as they are key foods iteams for tits and sparrows in the spring.Use old fruit from local markets and shops to feed thrushes through the winter,spread the fruit out onto your garden in different sizes to give all the birds the chance before the thrushes monopolise it.
A key thing with feeders is to make sure you clean them out regularly as good hygiene is imperative as Salmonellais widespread in wild birds,and wooden bird tables are difficult to clean and best avoided, also don’t put to much seed/food in them as it can go mouldy increasing the risk of disease,so aim to top up your feeds regularly when they have almost become empty . The RSPB do some brillant feeders with 100% of the profits going to helping birds and wildlife.
Feeding the birds and animals in your garden can be so rewarding and offer you a chance to see these beautiful creatures up close and give you a vision into their world while in the comfort of your own home. So its an important thing to remember that feeding birds/animals in your garden is part of the overall management of your garden and planting trees,plants to provide natural sources of food to sustain the wildlife in your garden all year round is the key, but at this time of year you need to supplement this with more artificial sources ‘Fat Balls,Peanuts,Food Waste,Sunflower Seeds,etc,never put out desiccated coconut as it swells inside the birds.
The birds will get use to you feeding them so please try not to break the circle of feeding as it will be a place wildlife will see as somewhere they can rely on in harsh times. Hopefully you and your family will get some much enjoyment out of watching these birds/animals feeding, seeing the characters of each different bird played out in front of you.
Good luck and if you need any further help and advice on how to feed and what to do please click here ‘RSPB’ and this will help you.Thank you and good luck