Monday, 19 March 2012

Back on Eagle Island & Aurora success!!

I headed north on Thursday the 8th for the season on Mull. A good journey up with a single Red Kite north of Sterling and a WT Eagle on the Lochaline ferry across to Mull. I am staying in the very photogenic Tobermory again where our trips are based at the harbour. The island is quiet in March with the lack of tourist activity but with easter coming early this year at the start of April it will soon be picking up. After speaking to a few of the locals (Mullochs) it has been a very wet, savage winter spell so I am sure everyone is looking forward to the summer season.

Click on photos for large scale...

Tobermory at Dusk

GN Diver, Loch Buie

Durat Castle with Cal Mac ferry heading to Craignure, photo by R Molloy!
To kick of the season the Sea Life Surveys crew would have a pre season weekend get together staying at a cottage on Glengorm estate. It was great to see everyone again and had a good few days doing different activities. Had a couple of small walks around the estate getting large herds of Red Deer, Ravens, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Buzzards. A night time woodland walk produced male and female Tawny Owls calling.
Lydia wearing all my cloths, with Ruth present

2nd winter Iceland Gull, Loch Na keal
Tuesday 13th and a trip out around the island with Ruth M to cover a few sites to see what we could find. Nice conditions with a light breeze and sunny spells breaking through the white cloud. The first port of call was Tobermory harbour to check for white winged gulls. Two Iceland Gulls showing well on a retreating tide. we headed south down the Loch na Keal area and after deciding to breifly head towards Killiechronan we got the pair of WT Eagles overhead straight away. 2 GN Divers on the sea loch. We headed to Loch Ba next for a little walk through the valley. A Slavonian Grebe in post breeding moult on the loch was the only thing of interest. Golden eagles were displaying above the mountainous skyline and after watching them for a few minutes copulation took place in the view of the scope, amazing. 6 Fallow Deer showing well at Knock with one beautiful very dark thorn. 

Iceland Gull, Tobermory harbour
Golden Eagle in among the heather on Ben More mountain range

What a bird! Raven gronking roadside on the Tob - Salen stretch

Beautiful up close, their range of calls is facinating

Fallow Deer at Knock

A young dark thorn...
We walked along the head of Loch na Keal on low tide and got another couple of Iceland Gulls feeding on Razor Clams. A few Rock Pipits on the shoreline as we stopped for lunch. We moved onto another site just west of Knock to check for eagles and after a short wait a Goldie appeared from around the corner of the hillside and landed in the heather right next to a sheep and it suddenly brought back a massive flashback of my biggest wildlife highlight of watching an Eagle Owl on Geltsdale 2010 roosting with a sheep grazing right next to it giving you a size comparison, brought it all back.
We headed back upto Tobermory and on the way we got amazing views of a roadside Raven, the best I have seen yet, love those birds! I got a text on the way back reporting of a Glaucous Gull in Tob Harbour so we called in again to have a look. I set my scope up by the bench and just got the bird before I accidently disturbed it and it flew out towards Calf island with a Couple of Iceland and a few Herring Gulls. As I scanned out towards Calf to find the bird again I picked up a Porpoise in the scope and also an adult Gannet. Great day!

Post moult Slavonian Grebe, Loch Ba

Golden Eagle, Ardmore
On Friday 16th I decided to cover my new local patch of Ardmore. With in the first two hours of walking north towards the shoreline I had got 6 species of raptor with the first been a Pair of Harriers over my head after two minutes out of the car. A single GN Diver in Ardmore Bay and a couple of Harbour Seals. GS Woodpeckers drumming constantly in a Larch woodland.
After checking the forecast for the next few days the weekend is supposed to be full clear skies and night which is a mouth watering prospect as there is Aurora solar winds striking the earth this week. Ardmore and Glengorm to the north of the island provide perfect vantage points and fingers crossed the forecast stays accurate.

Tobermory harbour at night...

Half way up the 966m climb of Ben More, amazing views...

Saturday 17th and as today was a fantastic forecast Ruth, Craig Mc and I arranged to tackle Ben More which is the only Munro on Mull and the inner Hebrides. It stands at 966m in the heart of the island and is usually covered in cloud at the summit but todays conditions gave us hope for when we would reach the top. We set off at noon from the South Loch na Keal road. Before we started the climb Craig showed us a small wash pool on the estate that is good for jumping into on a hot summers day so I was keen to give it a trial after our venture up Great Mountain (the Gaelic translation of Ben More). After reaching the half way mark in good progress we stopped to enjoy the views to the north and admired all the unique geology structures on the island. A couple of Golden Eagles showing on the way up and as we arrived at the start of the intense scree climb towards the summit the views turned panoramic and were simply amazing. The creator remains (photo below) further along the mountain range caught my eye in particular. Craig had a good eye for the birds today and spotted a Raven to the north and then the two of them pointed out something even bigger, we were looking down on a close range Golden Eagle like never before with the sun on its back the colouration was stunning. Watching it ride the thermals along with the landscape behind was incredible. Unfortunately I did not have my DSLR camera but the memory of it is the main thing.

As we reached the summit the cloud set in and the view non existent unfortunately but we enjoyed our lunch and rest break and then suddenly...Craig started kicking me in shock pointing...Immature 2nd year Golden Eagle appeared out of the cloud on the summit 15 meters from us!!

We made our way down getting a Male Kestrel and another couple of Eagle encounters before reaching the bottom and our well earned plunge in the pool. It was icy cold compared to mine and Gary's dip in the Gelt a fortnight earlier but very refreshing feeling great afterwards. Great day but it wasnt over yet as perfect star gazing  and astrophotography conditions forecast for tonight, Ruth and I were hoping for a power nap before the big event but instead filled our flasks with strong coffee, here's how we got on...

Me, Ruth and Craig at the summit of Ben More

Craig and me sat on a glacial erratic with impressive creator remains behind us

As the sun dropped and the darkness appeared the mouth watering conditions were confirmed, not a breath of wind, not a cloud in the sky, no moon to produce unwanted light and high solar winds reported giving a chance of Aurora Borealis.
We packed our bags and headed out at 8pm just when Take me Out was starting ( was not making the same mistake again when we missed the meteorite the other week!). We parked up at Ardmore and started heading north through the woodland. Female Long-Eared Owl calling within 5 minutes was a great start. Tawny Owls continued calling throughout the night as we stopped a few times taking woodland / night sky photos. We arrived at the clear felled and young plantation areas where there is a few building remains that I wanted to focus on for astrophotography. I was happy with my results and it was a great team effort as Ruth mastered the technique with the torch evenly lighting up the points of interest in the foreground when taking a long exposure.
As we arrived back at the car I looked around and there was a green band on the horizon to the north! I was in shock and quickly set the camera up and took 3 shots before the battery died (photo at the bottom). Amazing Aurora Borealis!! After checking updates on my phone, Shetland were getting some very good showings. We rushed back to the flat to charge the battery for 20 min and then we headed straight back out up to the Glengorm masts to see if we could add to it.
We arrived high up at the masts and after climbing onto a concrete vantage point to look to the north I seen a glow over Kilchoan and started walking towards it with excitement and stepped straight off the edge of the brickwork and dropped 5 feet straight onto my face...Ouch! I was a bit shuck up and a few bruises and gashes but was grand as out in general and carried on walking up the trig point to view the northern skies. There was no activity for the first hour of viewing so we focused on shooting stars as we got over 10 including one monster. We viewed the planets in the scope and Ruth and I both agreed that Saturn is the most impressive.
The Horizon lit up again at about 2ish this time been more pale but using long exposures on the camera you could capture the Colour very nicely. My battery died again before I could get any more good all round shots so we called it a night with the Aurora still showing. Amazing night that I will never forget, The only thing missing was having Gary here as well but I am sure we will top these encounters in the future no problem!

Ardmore old crofting buildings, Jupitar and Venus shining brightly

Seven sisters above building remains...

Faint Aurora on the horizon to the north over Ardnamurchan

What a corker!! my first Aurora experience in Ardmore woodland, 30 second exposure

Aurora from Glengorm at 2am, 60 second exposure...
A hatrick of Headlines to finish the blog on a nice positive note with RSPB giving there full support to the e-petition to give birds of prey more protection in England, I f you haven't already please please sign it, 100,000 signatures needed by the autumn to make goverment bodies react. If only a 10th of RSPB members sign up then we will have cruised to the target, need to get going.

Also a new report out confirming that raptor numbers poisoned in Scotland down by 50 in 2011. Is this a success or has there just been less discoveries in the offences than normal as the areas effected are vast remote areas where so much can go unnoticed.

 Another headline which is a success story is the breeding Hen harriers on the island of Orkney as there as a confirmed 100 breeding females on the isle in 2011! No persecution and less grazing pressure shows that Harriers can flourish!

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