Sunday, 28 April 2013

All about the bunsen burner nice little earner...

Don't worry about millions of years of evolution of beautiful wild areas, just destroy it all instead for a quick buck...

Rachel French's excellent first Mull post is now live featuring all her wildlife encounters from the first few weeks of the season. I have put a permanent link to her blog on my side panel list so her traffic is going to be grid locked...flat out. Thats your xmas and birthday present combined Rachel...enjoy.

Brilliant much truth in it, what a shame...

Delayed migrants making an appearance now and my first sighting dates for the following species are Wheatear 5th April - Glengorm, Sand Martin 12th April - Ardmore,  Barn Swallow 19th April - Caliach point, Common Sandpiper 20th April - Loch Frisa,  House Martin 20rd April - Knock, Willow Warbler 20th April - Loch Spelve, Wood Warbler 211h April - Aros Park.

Spent a few evenings focusing on Short-eared Owls with the lads and Rachel. Some moderate views of them with a pair and a single bird. With Loch Na Keal on our back we heard all the gulls lifted and Oyks alarming along with a GN Diver calling and as we looked behind us there was an adult WT Eagle in flight coming our way...amazing action. A Seal popped up in the sea loch and Jesse said it has appeared to sing kissed by a rose. Then later on Dale asked what does a Merlin look like and Jesse replied they have a wand in their hand and a big pointy hat haha. 
We headed west further down the loch as it was approaching dusk and a good time for Otters so we scanned the shoreline and Rachel superbly spotted one in the water being quite secretive as the lads got some footage for their project.

Otter photographed b Guy Broome

A seven hour SLS trip in the middle of the week to Coll and the highlights were Harbour  Porpoise, Manx Shearwater numbers building, two Great Skuas, RT & GN Divers, WT Eagles and a lunchtime landing at the paradise called the Cairns of Coll. Pipits in numbers on migration to the outer isles were seen throughout. 

Andy, Dale and Jesse were supposed to be on board but Dale woke up with over a hundred ticks on his back after laying in bracken on the evening before doing a photography time lapse. They went to Craignure surgery and Dale got them removed as well as getting a medical check.

Salen Bay at night...

Rhubba Nan Gall lighthouse at dusk looking north...

On the Thursday it was the lads last day on the isle after their two week expedition. We went for a pub lunch with Rachel to see them off before they got the ferry back to the mainland. Andrew ordered a pint of Frijj milkshake but they didn't have any so he had to get a beer instead. I got some sort of burger and for the price of the meal I was a bit disappointed in the portion size as I got about 10 chips. Dale did a great job with the sauces using red, brown and white to give the meal some good camouflage. I taught the group how to be a successful opportunist in clearing up all the leftover scraps on the plates. 
We said our goodbyes and Andrew was really depressed about leaving the island and I was worried that he would do a Kate Winslet on the ferry and jump off the stern of the boat. 

Grey Male...

The remainder of the week in my free time I concentrated on local Hen Harriers and one pair is ready for nesting and an even closer traditional site there is only a lone grey male holding territory with no sign of a female bird in all my visits.  I am logging every Harrier sighting I see this season on the isle and also recording every observation I encounter. My next post will include more detail on my recent Harrier steak-outs. 

Thanks for looking 8-) 

Monday, 22 April 2013

Do some people just want to watch the world burn?

Article also published on...

Walking on Mull’s moors in early spring was very different to what I am used to in previous years as instead of splashing and squelching my way around the landscapes I was crunching my way through the bone dry, crisp vegetation. There was no sign of the usual dramatic waterfalls powering down around the isle with just a trickle of snow melt coming from the higher ground. The locals told me that ‘there had been no rain in 50 odd days’ and for an area which is used to 280 days of rainfall a year on average, that would be a shock to the system. Even the distillery had to stop making whiskey for a couple of weeks because of the lack of water, major disaster for the natives!

Fire engine on route to blaze...

Living next to Tobermory fire station wouldn’t be the most peaceful affair in the days to follow as a reported fire had triggered in Glen Forsa causing 15-20 officers to rush to the scene a number of times in the three days of the blaze. The ground condition was like tinder and helped by strong winds, the fire had spread to surrounding valleys covering an area of around two miles squared. Breeding waders were reported in numbers retreating to shore levels. Huge credit goes to the fire department along with volunteers who controlled the blaze and stopped potential disaster for Mull’s wild areas.

Goldie in flight...

Around 200 out of control wild fires broke out in Scotland during the easter holidays burning an area of land the size of a hebridean island. Experts say that almost certainly a number of eagle eyries will have failed because of the fires. Vital habitat and food source were also lost for raptor species. After the golden eagles range has been severely reduced in areas of Scotland over the last few decades this was another set back that will further effect the threatened species.

B&W of a Goldie flying low on Mull...

The big question is what triggered the fires in the first place? A number of theories have been mentioned including the legal controlled burning of the landscape which had got out of control and is classed as mismanagement? Were some fires sparked by tourists or holiday makers accidentally during the easter period? Were there tactics involved to disturb eagles during the vital breeding season? Was it political to promote new wind farm sites, and do some people just want to watch the world burn?

Golden Eagle head on!
After hearing about the disaster of burnt out eyries around Scotland I went to check on a local golden eagle site to see if all was well in the early breeding season. A couple of visits confirmed that the pair were not on eggs as both birds were spending long periods away from their territory. They got a chick away last year but it was not to be consecutive years for the eagles. It was a coastal eyrie which is well sheltered from our classic westerly wind cycles but exposed from the constant strong easterlies which we had throughout the early incubation period, which potentially could of had something to do with the failure, the third in four years since I have been on the isle. This further reminds me of just how precious every single eagle is for the future of the species.


Sunday, 21 April 2013

Tobermory Star Trail

A photo compiled of a hundred images to capture the motion of the stars over the town of Tobermory...

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The call of the eagle...

Nothing short of a disgrace, surely some intentional actions, some people just want to watch the world burn...

RPs version...

Follow all the updates from Tristan the Inked Naturalist as he continues his 'Training for Turkey' to help raise money and awareness of the biodiversity disaster in the country

Headed up Ben More at the start of the week with Craig and Ruth as the weather continued in good form so we made the 966m climb. Very dry on foot with a trickle of snow melt coming down the streams. A small number of Skylarks seen and the odd Raven along with a Golden Eagle drifting over the mountainous horizon. At about 2500 ft the snow and ice dominated as we had to tread carefully and pick a precise route to the summit.

Summt of Ben More...

Reaching the top with clear conditions rewarded us with breathtaking eagle-eyed views all around us. A scan for Ptarmigan on the summit was unsuccessful as we made our way back down and had an amazing wildlife experience with out even seeing a species as a Goldie started calling meters from us on the vertical scree that we could not access because of the dangerous icy conditions. A wild Golden Eagle calling paces away up a 3000 ft munro…wow.

GND...This is one for Dave Shack!

The following day I was asked to guide three university of Cumbria students Emily, Emily and Emma around the isle to see and photograph some of the iconic wildlife species. We did a north circuit of the isle and stopped off at a few vantage points on route. Buzzards and a whale skeleton were the first sightings before we did a small walk to Langnamull and got cracking views of GN Divers and a Mountain Hare. Ringed Plover and Rock Pipits by the shore. More than half a dozen sheep forgot to check the tide table as they were stranded on a little skerry for a few hours.

Goldie close up...

Another GND

Ewe didnt check the tide table again!!

We went to Tob for lunch and to look for the local Otter but no sign so we made our way back round to Loch Na Keal for the evening session. We covered the south stretch and got a stunning close golden eagle and 3 Shorties appearing in the golden hour. The girls got some footage of them before we covered the shoreline to look for the illusive Otter. After a cracking sunset we slowly worked our way back scanning the waters edge and on the final few hundred yards of looking we got onto the profile of an Otter feeding on a large rock! A few more cars pulled up to watch it as it continued hunting before taking it back to the shore to eat. I am always amazed at their success rate when they go down to forage, it does not surprise me that they have made such an increase all over the UK…such versatile animals. Great day and a very good species list after 12 hours in the field with the only downside being having to listen to justin beiber in their car!

Last minute Otter!

Emily photographing Otter...

Lismore Lighthouse...

On the Thursday I did some morning moorland watching again to focus on Hen Harriers. Some more good interactions between a pair with sky dancing and copulation witnessed. The more you watch them the more you fall in love with the species and as Don Scott says in his excellent Hen Harrier book, the hairs stand up on the back of your neck with every encounter.

Headed south in the afa to Craignure to meet up with Andy, Dale and Jesse. We headed to Lochdon first of all to see if there was any activity. A cock Stonechat, Mipit numbers building and a few Red Deer grazing so we headed to catch the ferry over to Oban to see if the Sperm whale was still in the area. The largest toothed animal on the planet had been there for five days and appeared to be struggling as every day its chances would decrease. Stunning blue skies with the sound of Mull like a mill pond as we got the CalMac to the mainland.

Lochdon landscape...

Durat Castle...

When we landed we went to the end of the pier and sat and waited for movement. After about 15 minutes the mammal surfaced with its distinct angled blow. About 10 continuous surfaces were taken before diving deep for around 20 minutes. We watched this pattern 4 times and it was mixed feelings seeing the whale potentially suffering as is a lot of nature watching when you see predators killing their prey in brutal ways or you see species struggling to survive in harsh weather conditions or climates, nature is cruel full stop. Since then the whale has made its way out of the bay into deeper waters so fingers crossed it does not get reported in a coastal area again.

A pleasant looking aussie girl came over to comute as she seen us all with our camera gear. Andrews first comments were “shes a belter” in his strong Geordie twang as he was supping on his fudge brownie frijj milkshake. We helped show her the whale and told her all about Mull and what we had seen that week. Her boyfriend came over and Andrew said “look at the state of him”.

Sperm whale in Oban

surfacing close to Yacht

We ate a portion of average fish and chips before getting the next ferry back to Mull away from the easter hustle and bustle of Oban. GN Divers and Black Guillimots from the ferry on the return leg as we went to meet Rachel French who was on the isle for the season working for Mull Charters. We went birding around Loch Na Keal on the eve and the highlight was when scoping a Golden Eagle hunkered down on eggs a Grey Male Harrier flew right past the nest in the view of the scope…insane. Skylarks and Meadow Pipits doing their song flight was other records.

LNK Sunset...

And again...

Thanks for looking :)

Monday, 15 April 2013

The White Hawk

Same article published here ...

Another nice morning spent on Mull’s moors as the high pressure continued for the rest of the week. A pair of Hen Harriers were quartering the rough grass tracking each others every move like they were attached with a piece of string. Both birds broke out into their high pitched squeaky display call and the female got in position on a tightly grazed patch of grass with the male joining her as copulation took place. After mating, the male bird circled and lifted higher and higher drifting over my head as its pale grey plumage blended in with the skies giving me the views of a vole!

A White Hawk on Mull...

The following morning I was itching for more action so hunkered down on the moors and staked it out for a spell. Two Harriers appeared and presumably it was the same pair that I had watched the day previous. The female did a short display flight but nowhere near as impressive as the males sky dancing the week before. A similar pattern unfolded with display calling followed by copulation and the male bird lifting high in the sky out of view. I scoped another male bird on a distant moor as their stunning pale plumage is the most standout thing on this bland environment. It kept dropping down into patches of heather but not in a hunting mode striking for prey. Other species catching my eye on the moor were the pale rumps of red deer in large number.  

I headed out to a different uplands site on the third morning and I drew a blank in terms of Harrier sightings. Even with healthy numbers of Harriers on Mull, I think there is still room for more pairs, but available prey would dictate that. Every failed attempt to see Harriers on Mull brings back memories of my Geltsdale days when sometimes I feel like I am chasing rainbows up on the moors wondering why there is no Harriers here with perfect habitat and plenty of food. The obvious and simple reason is illegal persecution by countryside criminals. 

I bumped into a retired resident estate farmer on the fells and he was very friendly and as always I am keen to get other peoples views on certain topics regarding the conflict with British predators to try and learn from it. After speaking to a number of the long term residents on the isle over the years it seems that their opinions are very similar regarding birds of prey and in particular the White-tailed Eagle. He referred to them as ‘introduced vermin’ and said his family comes from a generation of gamekeepers and the reintroduction of the White-tailed Eagle to Scotland was an insult to their hard work in removing them all. 

He admired the elegance and beauty of the Golden Eagle just as other locals have said the same after insulting the Sea Eagles. He quoted that he feels fortunate to have been on Mull during the ‘glory days’ when there was no WT Eagles and the large increase of people that come with them. He also mentioned in frustration the number of grazing geese and rabbits on the isle, part of an eagles diet. He confessed that he just didn’t like WT Eagles and I confessed to him that I was an eagle fanatic. 

This mentality towards birds of prey is similar in a minority of people all over Great Britain but the difference is here that the birds are shielded and protected by the large number of tourists coming to enjoy the raptors and the large value attached to them with cash registers singing to the tune of 5-6 million a year to the economy because of resident eagles. 

The main talking point on the isle this week is regarding the 30 foot Sperm whale which seems to be struggling in the shallow waters of Oban harbour. It has been there for over 7 days as its chances of survival decrease all the time. It reminds me of the chances of breeding Harriers, Peregrines and Eagles on the mainland on and around Grouse moors, very slim, with that little bit of hope to keep us all going.   


Monday, 8 April 2013

The Sky Dancers

Here is the same article published on Raptor Politics...

It was Easter weekend, an early start after a great night watching the Northern Lights. I was driving through the magnificent Glen More in the south east of Mull, the sun was beaming down and as it reached mid morning the temperatures started to pick up. An immature Golden Eagle appeared above the mountainous skyline in classic fashion. A couple of Ravens joined from a distance with their constant gronking echoing through the glen. The persistent corvids seemed to send the young eagle further down the valley and shortly after another three distant Golden Eagles appeared above the horizon lifting higher and higher.

Dancing columns of aurora borealis

Later on a flash of grey caught my eye and it was a male Hen Harrier in flight working the rough grass. Suddenly something spectacular happened that I have heard so much about but never seen. The bird broke out into a sensational sky dancing display peaking and troughing at intense speeds for over a minute. The female ringtail appeared in flight and the birds paired up and headed off over a young conifer plantation. They truly earn their name as “the Sky Dancer”, beautiful, what a privilege. After seeing the dancing lights of the aurora borealis hours earlier it would be some dance off between the two natural spectacles!

Female Hen Harrier

The Isle of Mull has around 45 breeding females and the main factor for this healthy population is that there is no land managed for Red Grouse. This upland game bird is naturally scarce on the isle as western Scotland has a wetter climate and ground condition which doesn’t promote as much heather, a Red Grouse’s food source. This still doesn’t guarantee the safety of the Harriers as birds can travel long distances outside of the breeding season potentially hundreds of miles from the refuge of Mull’s moors to other areas around the UK, some of the most heavily persecuted regions in Europe.

I will monitor the Hen Harriers on Mull as the season unfolds and will also be hoping that there is some success with the birds on my north English moors. Mentioning the northern lights again and that is one natural phenomenon that no one can ever take away from you…but magnificent sky dancing Hen Harriers need our help.


Saturday, 6 April 2013

Back on Mull, Comet PanSTARRS and Aurora Borealis

I am back on the isle of Mull for my fourth season working with Sea Life Surveys working as a guide on boat excursions focusing on marine life. Enthusing people about wildlife is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I Want to improve on my guiding skills, knowledge on marine life and also boat/crew experience.

My targets for this season include doing more of my own inland guiding/photography trips which I have done on a couple of occasions already this season. Improving and promoting my photography on the isle and continue writing/blogging and providing updates for Sea Life Surveys,  Raptor Politics and FoW. Also working harder in general and being more committed to wildlife all the time. I am delighted to be coming back to SLS which will continue to stand me in good stead for the future.

I leave my native Cumbria again after a few months wintering down there. I love the regions wild areas and the variety of habitats in close range. And I just love It because it is my home. Would love to be based their at some point in the future as the area and its wildlife are close to my heart.

head of LNK...

Flying Barn doors over LNK!

On arrival to the isle on Thursday I headed straight to my favourite site, Loch Na Keal. I did a count at the head of the loch and had 16 Slav Grebes, 14 GN Diver, 50 plus Goldeneye, 8 Teal, 15 Wigeon and good numbers of Shag as well. Two juv WT Eagles appeared very close right overhead and they might of well just said "welcome back to Mull!"
Went to look for the illusive Comet PanSTARRS on the night and got great views in the scope and also a nice photo of it...Went to photograph Rhub Na Gall lighthouse as well and got some nice landscapes with the strong moonlight paining the surrounding area nicely...what a first day!

Rhub na Gall lighthouse at night...

Rhub Na Gall...moonlight painting landscape

The Masts!

Uni of Cumbria students Andy, Dale and Jessie were on the isle for a two week expedition and asked me to guide them round the isle so we headed out covering the southern circuit. 3 Otters together was the first highlight and also a pair of Harriers. More Harriers and Golden eagles going through glen more. The lads were so enthusiastic and keen and seemed to have the Mull bug already! Andrew was having his usual winge about certain things, mainly old people and southerners. We headed up to a view point in the north of the isle as the skies stayed clear and seeing what would unfold for the night. Ruth, Jayne and Andy joined us from the viewpoint as we all enjoyed great views of the comet. A pale band on the horizon was showing and approaching midnight the strength picked up and a sudden two minute burst of dancing columns put us in hysterics! Shooting stars, Jupiter and Saturn added to the entertainment and Dale said it was the best day of his life! :-) 

Lads doing astro-photog

Aurora Borealis...



Guy and Shonna were on the isle for easter weekend so we headed out on the Saturday in continued glorious sunshine. The highlight was defiantly a sky dancing male Harrier in glen more which was one of the greatest things I have ever seen! peaking and troughing at intense speeds!! Golden Eagles and very close red stags were other highlights along with GN Divers. We saw a very pale morph Buzzard in the south of the isle which is known about, which can be confused with rough-legged and I think it could be the same bird Gary and I encountered in 2009 on the isle. Great day with Guy and Shonna. 


Stunning stag...

Buzzard showing well roadside...

Sunday and a four hour trip with SLS and we got Porpoise, Seals and the local Tobermory Otter. Fantastic keen kids on board which is always great to see and that is something else I want to commit more effort to, the important task of enthusing the next generation about the natural world.

Thanks for looking :)