Scotland – Sept’ 2014

The trip began by heading straight for Mull. The only stop along the way was at Loch Linnhe to see the Black Guillemots. There was little daylight left when we reached Mull, so we headed north towards the hotel, stopping nearby to watch a female Hen Harrier at a place where I’d seen them the previous year.

Hen Harrier

The next day we took a boat out towards Coll. Whilst photographing gannets and terns, I noticed some splashing in the far distance, and immediately let the skipper know that I thought there were dolphins ahead. We sped off in their direction, and it turned out to be a sizable pod of Common Dolphins. They remained far too close for the long lens I was carrying so I leant over the boat and lowered a camera underwater and shot some video instead. Once we reached Coll, there were plenty Common and Grey Seals and much the same cast of birdlife as the previous year, but unlike the previous year, there were no Basking Sharks to be seen. Up until that point, it had been a bad year for Basking Sharks in the Hebrides. Whether they were down too deep, or simply elsewhere altogether I don’t know. More is currently being discovered about their movements thanks to satellite tagging. A White-tailed Eagle flew past during the trip back to Mull.

Hooded Crow

The following day was all about the eagles. Throughout the day I lost count of how many White-tailed Eagle sightings we had, some of them really quite close. A Golden Eagle was also seen, though as is usual for the species, too distant for anything beyond a record shot. We also headed down to Lochbuie, and after popping in to the excellent ‘honesty shop’, where there are no staff and you simply take and pay for what you want, we went looking for Otters. It didn’t take too long to spot one fishing near the shore.

Grey Seal

The next day we headed over to Ardnamurchan, and spent the whole day setting camera traps in the ongoing pursuit of Scottish Wildcat. The first stop was the woods where I’d seen one cross the road a year earlier. Cameras were set from there westwards, over perhaps a 30 mile stretch. Once it was dark, a Pine marten, Hedgehogs, Badger and Red Deer were all seen. The camera traps would stay in position until we left for home.
Lunga was our next destination. The boat took us close to a Grey Seal colony before landing on the rocky shore of Lunga. Lots of Rock Pipits, Hooded Crows, Guillemots, a few Eiders. We were only there for a few hours, then we got back on the boat to head to Staffa. Lots of Lion’s Mane jellyfish to be seen in the sea when we disembarked, and an obligatory walk into Fingal’s Cave.

The next few days were quite relaxed and more of the usual species were seen but nothing out of the ordinary. Some time previous, I’d heard about a heavily hybridised cat that was living under a certain building and went to check if it was still there. It was, and with the aid of a torch, I was able to see it. Its pelage made it very clear that this was more on the domestic end of the scale, and I made arrangements for the cat to be captured, neutered and released. Neutering the feral and hybrid population is the single most effective method in saving the pure Scottish Wildcat.

Scottish Wildcat

We eventually headed back to Mull and the spent the remaining days watching Hen Harriers, eagles, otters, divers, ducks and butterflies.

The journey home was a long one. First we had to get to the ferry port to get to Kilchoan. From there it was a case of collecting all the camera traps that had been placed. I had a laptop with me, and checked the cards as I went. By the time I’d collected all but one, I’d managed to capture Pine marten, Red Deer, Red Squirrel, Wood Mouse, birds… but no cats. The woods where I’d seen a cat a year previously was the last place to check, and it too managed to capture no end of mammals. The final sequence of stills showed some bright eyeshine, and eventually a cat moved in to the frame. After briefly checking out the area in front of the camera trap, it sensed the camera and immediately disappeared. The cat was wearing a radio collar, and I was able to find out more about this individual. After repeated attempts, I was really pleased to have finally got a picture of one, and this helped alleviate the boredom of the monster drive home, which was lengthened significantly by a tragically fatal car crash ahead of us. The total journey took around 20 hours.

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