Mull: Black Guillemots, Seabirds (Puffins finally!) and White-Tailed Eagles

After my all too brief visit to East Lothian I had one night at home before heading up the A82 to Oban for my ferry to Mull.  Although very slow going I made it in time to spend half an hour with the black guillemots at Oban Harbour in drizzly weather.  I’ve tried to locate and photograph them before without too much success but at this time of year they are nesting in the walls – poke your head over the promenade railings and you see their heads popping out!

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They were also bobbing about in the water

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and sitting on the seaweed.

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Beautiful birds with distinctive red feet, and I was delighted to finally see them properly.  I even managed one in flight, although truth be told it was a bit of a lucky shot!

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The rain became heavier (after a long dry spell) as I boarded the ferry to Mull.  It was my second trip here this year, having been over for a week in early May (it rained a lot then too).  On that occasion my attempts to get over to Lunga to spend time with the puffins failed miserably, not once, not twice but three times due to inclement weather so the primary reason for this visit was to spend a day with my favourite little birds courtesy of Andy Howard and Pete Walkden who invited me along for the extended Lunga trip they include as part of their Mull photography workshop week.

On that first rainy afternoon however I drove round to one of the locations I knew an otter could be found.  After sitting for quite some time I spotted her and tracked her along the coastline for a while.  When I first met this otter back in November (with Andy and Pete) she had two young cubs, in May just one

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The two cubs in November
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Mum and the remaining cub in May

…and now she was on her own.  Sadly she was obviously heading home and didn’t stop off on land so I never managed any photographs but always lovely to watch an otter, so I wasn’t too disappointed.

Driving back round to my Air bnb near Ulva I stopped off in a carpark on the shore of Loch na Keal.  I’ve seen otters here, but none that day although there were two white-tailed sea eagles perched in the trees (as there often is), herons fishing, and a curlew working its way around the shore.  This is one of my favourite places to stop and chill as it always provides good wildlife sightings. Again, I didn’t try and take any photographs, content just to soak in the sights and sounds of Mull.  I chatted to a lovely couple from Yorkshire (who I met again on the Mull Charters boat trip on Tuesday) for a bit then continued on to my accommodation.

The following day was my Lunga trip.  The rain cleared and it turned in to a beautiful morning, not too hot but calm.  Lunga is my absolute favourite location (of those I’ve visited) to see the puffins.  Gorgeous island, no restrictions on where you can go and birds all along the cliffs. Plus there aren’t the huge numbers of people that you find on the Farne Islands.  Great to catch up with Andy and Pete and to meet their workshop clients, none of whom seemed to mind that I’d gatecrashed their day.  After the obligatory stop off on Staffa (I really wish there was a Lunga only option) we finally reached Lunga in the early afternoon and clambered over the boulder beach.  I headed part way up the island and scrambled down to a foliage covered area where there were puffins and razorbills.

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This is the first puffin I photographed – it was very close! Notice how its coloured beak is beginning to disintegrate (puffins only have these beaks for breeding)

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A puffin landed close to me with a mouthful of sand eels, oddly it didn’t go down into a burrow so I took some photographs then moved off the rock I was standing on – at this point it immediately flew over and disappeared under the rock, so obviously, although I was being super careful to avoid the burrows, this puffin had set up home under the boulder!  I could then hear all kinds of noises coming from within the burrow.

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Suddenly I was approached by a trio of razorbills, so close my camera had trouble trying to focus.  So I moved on again to another rock (where, again, I was joined by a couple of razorbills – never knew them to be so friendly).

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I loved watching the razorbills.  I tend to come to Lunga in late April/early May when the seabirds have just arrived back on the island.  At this time the puffins are re-establishing relationships and territories so you see a lot of billing (bumping beaks together) and fighting. On this mid-July visit I witnessed none of this from the puffins which was a little disappointing. However, the razorbills almost made up for it.  You often see them cuddled up to their partner and there’s a lot of interaction.  Great to observe.

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I wonder what these ones are talking about!

Also – see here how they can turn their heads almost upside down! I love those bright yellow mouths too.

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This was also a good spot for flying puffins.

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Noticing some thistles I decided to try something a bit different.  Not everyone likes these, but I do!

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Eventually I moved on conscious of the fact that although I had 7 hours or thereabouts on the island, it was passing remarkably quickly.  At this point I rejoined the rest of the group and headed up to the cliff face populated primarily by guillemots.  En route we passed a few nesting shags.  Their young were quite advanced by this point – look how big this ones feet are!

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There were also 3 in a crevice in the rocks, (although only 2 are visible in this picture).

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Still plenty of guillemots on the rocks!

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I used my fisheye lens for this one.

There were puffins here too, but I spent some time concentrating on the other birds.

Kittiwakes

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Shags (I love the guillemot head popping up at the bottom left of this image like a periscope & the line of guillemots in the background (and the bridled guillemot eye below the shag)!

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(yet more) Razorbills

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and of course the guillemots, including a few bridled birds (not a sub-species just a dimorphism).

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I took a few more flying bird photographs here too, of which these are my favourites.

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Finally I headed back down the island to a spot where there are a lot of puffins with burrows on grassland at the top of the cliff.  Here I was delighted to spot a puffling, but only briefly and there was no time for photographs.  But still… a puffling!!!

I did photograph a few puffins in, or near their burrows…

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…grooming…

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…snoozing…

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…yawning…

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…interacting…

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…working…

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…and just hanging out

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Fab day and here’s hoping I can repeat the experience next year too!

The following day I was back on a boat, this time the Mull Charters white-tailed sea eagle trip.  Initially we had lovely blue skies, but the clouds soon appeared and it became overcast.  We had quite a few birds visiting the boat though and it’s always brilliant to watch these magnificent birds up close and personal.  When you see them in the trees (white-tails don’t do a whole lot, and spend much of their time just sitting about), you have no idea how big and powerful they are.

I decided to use my Nikon D500 with the nikkor 300mm F4 – my favourite combination. In the past I’ve chosen the Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 which is easier for tracking, but given that I’ve done this trip quite a few times, I figured I could try something different.

I came away a little disappointed, not with the action, which was great, but with the light. On my last trip with Martin it had been too sunny and this time there wasn’t enough light so the underside of the birds was dark.  However, using a combination of adobe lightroom and the (original) Nik Efex plug ins (color efex pro4) I have managed to save many of the images and I actually came away with a lot that I like.  Mostly flying shots as I struggled a little bit to keep track of the bird with the prime lens as it dived.

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…so that was it!  A lot to pack into 3 nights, but it was great!  Next stop Aviemore and the ospreys.

4 thoughts on “Mull: Black Guillemots, Seabirds (Puffins finally!) and White-Tailed Eagles

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