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A week on the Isle of Mull, 2024

An overnight stay at a mate’s house on the Friday night before setting off bright and early on Saturday morning to catch the Oban ferry to Mull – when I say early, I’m talking about a 4.30am start!

A couple of stops enroute, before calling in to Tesco’s to gather provisions for the week ahead – unfortunately, there hadn’t been much discussion about what was needed, which led to two very confused grown men aimlessly wandering around, struggling to decide what to get.

Twenty minutes later and various items had been purchased but, as the following two days proved, mistakes had been made – due to it being a weekend, and with us focussed on photographing the wildlife, we were a number of items missing and unable to get to the local Spar before it closed. We muddled through somehow, though.

The aim of the week was to track down three particular targets – Otters, Sea Eagles and the male Hen Harrier – in the hope of getting some decent pictures. The two other guys on the trip, Andy and Neil, had been to the island before but this was my first visit.

Both Andy & Neil had managed to get images of the Sea Eagle on their previous visits but weren’t satisfied with them and had ‘unfinished business’ with the eagles. However, neither of them had managed shots of the otters or harrier so were keen to find them – I hadn’t got shots of any of them and had never seen a wild otter or harrier, so I was excited to start looking.

The week required a lot of driving around various locations, with many unfulfilled trips and no sightings. However, we were fortunate enough to very quickly locate the otters and spent at least 4 days in the same spot and had some truly wonderful experiences – personally, one encounter with a single otter will forever live in my memory – I spent 10-15 minutes rooted to the spot (with the adrenaline coursing through me), while the otter hunted through the kelp and caught several crabs, which it proceeded to devour no more than 15 feet from me – all the while, fully aware that I was there and without a care in the world – a magical moment for me and the highlight of my week.

I did feel a little guilty about not being able to alert Andy & Neil but they both said that I did the right thing and they would have done the same – once the otter had moved further along the coast, I was able to tell them and they also managed to get some pics as the otter turned and made it’s way back towards us.

Searching for the Hen Harrier proved very difficult all week – we spotted one in one location but it was too far away to photograph so we returned the following day and, after a lengthy wait, we had a distant fly past (again, too far away to catch anything other than a record shot). Several further visits to the same spot drew a blank and the only other sighting all week was at a different location where it was spotted high in the sky, before soaring away and disappearing.

On our travels around the island, we had several sightings of the Sea Eagles –but were unable to grab any photo’s because they were too distant. Our hopes were pinned on the Sea Eagle trips, run by Mull Charters, and which we had booked two trips – one on the Sunday and one on the Wednesday.

Unfortunately, due to bad weather, the Sunday trip was cancelled and we were left to pray that the weather would be OK for the Wednesday trip. As it turned out, the weather was perfect, with the sea as flat as a millpond.

So, the three of us plus three other photographers were taken out on the boat to the first location where we were able to take some practice shots on the gulls that followed the boat – this allowed us to confirm that we had the cameras set up correctly before the eagles performed for us.

Sadly, the first location drew a blank, with no sign of the eagles flying down, so we set off to a different loch with everything crossed.

As soon as we arrived at the loch, we spotted an eagle sat high up on a rock, and the boat skipper warned us to move to the left of the boat and prepare ourselves, as he was about to toss out the fish for the eagle.

Andy and Neil, having been on one of these trips before, were prepared for what was about to happen but I wasn’t and, disappointingly, didn’t get the shots that I’d hoped for. If I’m honest, I thought that there could have been more of a warning (or explanation) of what was about to happen so that I could have been in the right place.

Probably the most difficult part of the trip was trying to sort out our evening meal – having been out each day for approx. 12 hours, we needed something warm and appetising to walk in to in the evening . . . . I think we managed this once during the whole week! To say our culinary attempts were a disaster is a major understatement – to the point where we were fortunate enough not to come down with food poisoning after one particular meal!

We used the slow cooker that was in the cottage but it proved useless – well, we blamed the cooker because it couldn’t possibly have been our fault! – and the chicken casserole that had been prepared ended up in the bin (we did eat the chicken but weren’t entirely convinced that it was properly cooked – however, we survived).

The following night’s meal of beef stew also ended up in the bin so further provisions were purchased for the next day – however, I refused to eat it – a mix of tinned Haggis with a tin of minced beef and onion was not my idea of fun. The description sounds bad enough but, when I saw it on the plate, the first thought was how close it resembled a cow pat – fortunately, there was one portion of Chilli remaining from a previous night and I had that.

Despite these issues, I had a great time – actually, overcoming these issues simply enhanced what was a brilliant trip – somewhat out of my comfort zone but thoroughly enjoyable. I’ve come away with a lot of decent images and learned a lot about wildlife and how to photograph it from both Andy and Neil – two very experienced photographers who were more than happy to share their knowledge and experience – thank you, guys.

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