Mull is a magical, raw, unplanned and thought provoking place where you can see and view beautiful wildlife. Red Deer roam the hills, Eagles soar over the skylines, Seals bask on exposed banks and Otters frequent the many bays and inlets along Mulls coastline. Almost every other telegraph pole there’s a lone Buzzard sitting, acting as a physical welcome to the island. Mull’s magic derives from its special blend of mountain and coastal landscape which forms such a tremendous variety of habitats that offer excellent opportunities for wildlife.
For me the most memorable aspect of being on this beautiful island is viewing the abundance of wildlife against the entrancing background of tranquil loch shores and beautiful woodlands, amongst the architecture of amazing mountains, with the mornings being the best to see this island awaken.
I’ve just returned from a wonderful week with clients on my twice yearly photo tour I call “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. The hotel is overlooking the harbour of Tobermory and facing out to Calve Island and the sound of Mull, which can be seen in the below image, on one of the many sunny days we had there during our stay on 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 and hopefully catch them as they wake and start to fish, head back to the hotel for our breakfast at around 8am,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 that are not to be disturbed or approached as they are very senstive to disturbance.
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 contacted 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 alot 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 this 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, movement, in readiness to take the shot if you come across a chance and other fieldcraft tips and examples I showed and demonstrated. On the first day everyone had seen and captured some lovely images including the very shy male “dog” Otter that would show every so often.
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 the Lochs and the other was a full days trip to the Treshnish Isles, a designated site of special scientific interest.
On the White tailed Eagles trip we sailed into the territory of a pair of these magnificent birds. 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. We had a Gull escort to the site as they dived for bits of bread that the crew threw out for them. There was no noise as the engine was stopped and a lone dead fish was thrown out. The first real sign the Eagle was coming the Gull’s behaviour changed and they disappeared knowing this beautiful, massive bird was coming our way.
The sheer size of these birds becomes apparent when they soar past you, with a ten foot wing span they were truly stunning to see so close. They soared past, then in a flash dived for the fish, the whole thing was over in seconds. The whole group loved the trip and seeing these birds so close was a wonderful experience for them all. The birds are truly wild and this trip has been passed by all the governing bodies that work to protect this bird with their ongoing work.
To see this behaviour without the fish placed out for them could take days of waiting around etc, so deep down for me from a wildlife photographers point of view it was too staged to pass the photographs off as a truly wild moment captured with my time and fieldcraft, but never the less a great way to see these birds and I can highly recommend the trip.
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. Lunga is one of the best places in the UK to see Puffin’s and it is teeming with other birds too like Razorbill’s, Guillemots and Seals.
The name Staffa is thought to come from an old Norse word meaning wooden building staves, which look similar to the islands basalt columns. The name is a reminder of the region’s Viking history. People have marvelled at Staffa’s columns for centuries. As you approach the island from the sea, you can see these columns of rock and the very impressive cave known as Fingla’s Cave.
According to legend, Fingal was a Gaelic giant who fell out with a Ulster giant and in order to fight Fingal, the Ulster giant built a causeway between Ireland and Scotland. When the causeway was destroyed only the two ends remained, one at Staffa and the other at the giants causeway in Antrim. The columns you can see today are the remains of this causeway.
Fingla’s cave named after this giant is the most impressive site on this small island, as you enter the smell if excrement is very strong as nesting birds and bats litter the small ledge and over hangs as you slowly walk in using the path people have used for centuries. 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 mothernature. A great place and one I would recommend a visit to.
One of the best places in the UK to see Puffin’s, and teeming with other birds too, 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 thats 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.
As I was watching these birds and enjoying their interactions with each other this little fellow landed not far from me. I was handholding the 70-200mm lens as he was close, he seemed to enjoy the company before flying off and back out to sea. The noises in the background are the other birds nesting along this cliff, Fulmars and Razorbills.
I wanted to portray the habitat the Puffins were nesting in, at the same time capturing one in flight with a wide angled lens to give you a sense of the world they live in. The images below shows the cliff and this coastal habitat on Lunga.
It is one of the best places in the UK to see Puffins that’s for sure, close up views, Puffins going about their lives all in close proximity of you as long as you stay still and make little or no movement. Two great days and two very good day trips and the rest of the week flew by as we all concentrated on photographing Otters.
Each day we saw the Otters fishing far from shore among the different Lochs on Mull. The shot the group wanted was a close up of this beautiful mammal and towards the end of the week and even on the last day those wishes were granted with a mixture of luck and being in the right place at the right time. We were able to watch the same male Otter that had given us the slip most of the week, catch larger fish and come ashore not to far from where we were lying in wait.
He came ashore slightly higher up the beach at first, dispatching the fish he’d caught quickly then heading back out to sea to fish. We thought that would be it as once Otters have had a good feed they tend to lie up somewhere for a sleep and this was late afternoon. But lady luck came again and he came back to shore with a larger fish. He ate the fish and that was the last we saw of him but a perfect end to a great week, underlining the sentence “you only get out what you put in” and the whole group did very well all week with the early starts and long days.
We were all sad to leave the island on the Friday but everyone had some great memories of this magical island sculpted by nature. A big thank you to all the group for your company during our time on Mull. I hope I helped you all in seeing nature and learning more about her beauty while learning and showing you real and key camera skills that work on the ground.
I will be back on Mull in October during which time the Red Deer rut will be in full flow along with the amazing autumnal colours and snow capped mountains. I have a few places left so to see the trip or book please click here. We stay in the same hotel over looking the bay of Tobermory, I always try to get clients the best place in which to stay as after a long day in the field comfort and good food is key.