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MAGICAL MULL -
Sunday 25th May - Sunday 1st June 2014

Sunday 25th May
We left Essex bright and early and made good progress as we headed northwards. Around the Peterborough area we had good views of up to four RED KITES as they drifted close to the A1. COMMON BUZZARDS were numerous over woodland and both SPARROWHAWK and KESTREL were noted.

Getting to the Durham area around lunchtime, we drove to an area of moorland close by and immediately found a flock of 10 male BLACK GROUSE gathered in a field. Through the scope they gave good views and most appeared to be immature males with varying amounts of brown plumage.

Delighted by this we drove a short distance to a parking area where we tucked into a well deserved lunch. Around a small stream were COMMON SANDPIPER, OYSTERCATCHER and good numbers of MEADOW PIPITS. Further up the road, small numbers of RED GROUSE could be seen close by, keeping a careful eye out for predators. We took a stroll along a track to a quarry which produced a fine male MERLIN that flew over a nearby ridge.

It was then back into the local village where by now rain was falling lightly. Despite this we found a female LESSER REDPOLL feeding close by, whilst both WILLOW WARBLER and BLACKCAPS sung from trees adjacent to the river.

With rain falling quite steady, we checked out the river and found a family party of DIPPER plus two SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS around some disused farm buildings. SAND and HOUSE MARTINS hawked over the river with good numbers of SWALLOW.

Another DIPPER was found further away and we had good views of several COMMON SNIPE perched on fence posts close to the road. CURLEW, REDSHANK and LAPWING were numerous and next to the road we had stunning views of an adult GOLDEN PLOVER with a chick that was around 10 days old. With rain once again falling heavily we retraced our steps and came across another flock of BLACK GROUSE numbering around 8 birds and these gave much closer views as they flew down towards us which was fantastic!

It was then time to leave the area and head to our hotel close to Carlisle for the night. After checking in, we met in the bar for a drink before our evening meal.

Monday 26th May
After an early breakfast, we were soon on the road and heading northwards into Scotland. During our journey we drove through several heavy belts of rain which made visibility very poor at times. After a coffee stop and a chance to stretch our legs we carried on around Glasgow and skirted the shores of Loch Lomond.

With lunchtime approaching we stopped off for a lunchbreak where we found an OSPREY drifting over before heading off over a nearby hill and also seen were GREY HERONS and a brief CUCKOO.

It was then onwards to Oban and after a stop to get fuel we arrived at the ferry terminal in good time. Whilst in the queue, a few BLACK GUILLEMOT were noted just offshore. The rain once again started and carried on for quite a while whilst we were waiting to leave.

Eventually the ferry arrived and we set of later than scheduled across to the Isle of Mull. Rain followed us as we motored across the Sound of Mull and the only birds of note were seen as we neared Mull. A HARBOUR PORPOISE was seen breaching and close to Craignure were a winter plumaged GREAT NORTHERN DIVER plus a few BLACK GUILLEMOT.

Once on the island we drove south-westwards and a short while later spotted a circling raptor above a small pine plantation which turned out to be a superb male HEN HARRIER! A RAVEN was seen close by and further along the road, we stopped at an area where eagles are regularly seen but a SHORT-EARED OWL flying over fields was some compensation.

With time getting on, we drove onwards spotting a CUCKOO close to the road before arriving at our hotel. Just as we pulled into the car park, a summer plumaged GREAT NORTHERN DIVER was seen close inshore and on the bird feeders were male SISKINS plus GREENFINCH and CHAFFINCHES.

Dinner was fantastic with plenty of local produce being used and we certainly didn't go hungry. From the dining room we found three summer plumage GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS plus a few COMMON TERN out on the loch, whilst male BULLFINCH was seen in the car park.

The day ended with an OTTER swimming past which was a delight to see and a great start to our time on Mull.

Tuesday 27th May
We met at 7.30am for a walk along the road to get some exercise before breakfast. Out on the loch we came across a small flock of COMMON SCOTER and a winter plumaged GREAT NORTHERN DIVER. RINGED PLOVER, COMMON SANDPIPER and OYSTERCATCHERS were numerous as we strolled along the road.

As we were about to return, we spotted two 2nd year WHITE-TAILED EAGLES circling the mouth of the loch and although distant, we had reasonable scope views. It was then back for a hearty breakfast which would keep us going for a while!

We drove round the loch but didn't get far as we found a pair of stunning WHINCHAT by the road. SKYLARKS sang and MEADOW PIPITS seemed to be on every bush and rock as we skirted the loch.

Parking up, we scanned the area and found a pair of RED-BREASTED MERGANSER and eventually a cracking adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE flew over the ridge, circled and then glided off.

Delighted by this we retraced our steps, stopping in a suitable spot from where we watched a male HEN HARRIER quartering an area of conifers. With perseverance, it wasn't long before our target, a GOLDEN EAGLE drifted into view. This adult bird was pretty tatty as it drifted over the nearby ridge before disappearing.

Moving onwards, an impromptu stop was made as several raptors were circling a small ravine nearby. On getting out of the van, we had stunning views of up to three GOLDEN EAGLES as they flew around us and over our heads. Two of them landed on a cliff before taking off and once again flying over our heads. Whilst watching these, a WHITE-TAILED EAGLE flew along the ridge.

We then drove off through the valley for a toilet and drink/ice cream break. Another male HEN HARRIER was seen in the same location as the previous day and was no doubt part of a breeding pair.

After a break, we drove down through Rhododendron covered hillsides to a beach where we tucked into lunch. Out in the bay were a pair of summer-plumaged RED-THROATED DIVERS and a lone GREAT NORTHERN DIVER along with three male EIDER and a few BLACK GUILLEMOT.

It was wonderful in the hot sunshine as we basked on the rocks and afterwards we walked along the track to the next bay. A SPOTTED FLYCATCHER was seen briefly along with some pale looking REDPOLLS that may well have been MEALY REDPOLLS.

In the bay we found a small group of non-breeding COMMON GULL and a WHIMBREL that gave good views on the mud. Back at the car park there were some birders who were watching a couple more GOLDEN EAGLES but these were incredibly distant.

Our last stop of the day held a pair of SPOTTED FLYCATCHER and the open water produced a couple of summer plumage SHAG.

We then returned to base where we had some time for a well-deserved shower before yet again another cracking meal.

Wednesday 28th May
It was straight for breakfast which once again was very good and very filling. We were then soon on our way towards Fionnphort and our rendezvous for the boat trip to Staffa and the Treshnish Isles.

The sea was like a millpond as we set sail, noting KITTIWAKES plus a few ARCTIC TERNS mixed in with larger numbers of COMMON TERN.

We made the 50 minute journey to the island of Lunga and birds seen during our journey included good numbers of PUFFIN, RAZORBILL, GUILLEMOT, BLACK GUILLEMOT and a couple of MANX SHEARWATER.

Once at Lunga, we climbed over the boulder field and made our way up onto the island where we were greeted by the most incredible views of PUFFIN ever. During the next couple of hours the PUFFINS kept us entertained with plenty of other species including GREAT SKUA, HEBRIDEAN WREN, WHEATEAR, RAVEN, RED-THROATED and GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS, FULMAR, ROCK PIPIT and SHAG as well as the more common auks.

After lunch we joined the boat once again for our visit to the famous island of Staffa, home to Fingal's Cave. Offshore we noted EIDER, BLACK GUILLEMOT, GREAT SKUA and a few more MANX SHEARWATER, whilst the group spent some time visiting the cave.

It was then back to Fionnphort where our boat trip concluded. By now, rain had started to fall so we headed back to base earlier than planned. Two of the group then visited a plantation close to the hotel where they saw SPOTTED FLYCATCHER and around 50 COMMON CROSSBILL which rounded the day off nicely.

Thursday 29th May
A quick visit was made before breakfast to the forest behind the hotel where a few COMMON CROSSBILL were still present, although we didn't hang around as the midges were particularly bad!

After breakfast we drove northward and made several brief stops, the first to see a cracking GREAT NORTHERN DIVER close inshore and the second to watch an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE perched in a pine.

Reaching a magnificent loch, a drive was taken along the shoreline which produced good numbers of WHEATEAR and up to nine GREAT NORTHERN DIVERS.

We stopped in various places along the coast and eventually found our target, a female OTTER on some islands offshore which gave good but distant scope views as it clambered over the seaweed covered rocks.

Moving along the road, we pulled into a parking area and a careful check of the shoreline provided us with really good views of a massive dog OTTER that spent around 45 minutes constantly feeding on crabs and fish. From our viewpoint we could also see two adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLES on the opposite side of the shore.

As usual on Mull, we hadn't got very far along the road when we had to stop again, this time for an adult GOLDEN EAGLE perched up on a cliff face giving really good scope views as it surveyed the area from its lofty perch.

It was then a walk along a track which produced another GOLDEN EAGLE and three COMMON BUZZARD circling the hillside. GOLDCREST, WILLOW WARBLER and COAL TIT were seen in the larches and a little further on we stumbled across a SPOTTED FLYCATCHER and a pair of nesting COMMON REDSTART.

The loch itself was pretty quiet with only a pair of RED-BREASTED MERGANSER of note, so we went back to the vehicle and headed for a spot of lunch. With the public toilets closed, we had to visit the nearby coffee shop and make use of their facilities and this made us have a cuppa with some of us indulging in pre-lunch cake!

The lunch stop overlooked the water and here we saw a distant WHIMBREL, whilst a male WOOD WARBLER sang from the oak woods close to the road. We then drove northward where we visited the beautiful town of Tobermory, which everyone spent time exploring with a little extra time for a spot of shopping.

It was then back to the area that we visited during the morning, where a large group of people were present and soon we could see why, as another dog OTTER was seen feeding close inshore. Two adult RED-THROATED DIVER were behind the otter and a SEDGE WARBLER sang from a clump of Yellow Flag Iris.

The real star of the show was an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE which sat on its nest and once we had changed position slightly, we could see two chicks in the nest which was a real treat. With time running way with us we left for the hotel and made a brief stop for a couple of TWITE close to the road.

Arriving back later than planned we still managed time for a shower before meeting for dinner which was up to its usual standards.

Friday 30th May
Several of the group went out before breakfast and managed to connect with the COMMON CROSSBILLS behind the hotel but once breakfast was out of the way we made our way to Fionnphort and took the ferry over to the beautiful island of Iona.

KITTIWAKES, SHAG, GANNET and both COMMON and ARCTIC TERNS frequented the Sound of Iona as we made the short crossing. Once on the island we wandered to an area which had calling Corncrake but unfortunately there was work going on around the field edge so we tried the other side and with plenty of perseverance, had good scope views of two calling males and a female in the meadow.

Overjoyed by our sightings, we went for a celebratory cuppa nearby before wandering up to the north of the island. Our journey took us past a singing SEDGE WARBLER and a female TUFTED DUCK flew past, plus a small flock of ROCK DOVE with good numbers of WHEATEAR on the rocks.

Reaching our destination, a beautiful beach at the north end of the island, we tucked into our packed lunch. Offshore, a small flock of MANX SHEARWATER flew past and in the bay we had good views of GREAT NORTHERN DIVER plus three RED-THROATED DIVERS.

Most of the group then went for a paddle in the Atlantic which looked warmer than it actually was! We then had a gentle amble back down the island, but as always didn't get far as we heard three calling male CORNCRAKE close by. Suddenly, there was a male in full view along the fence-line which showed really well as he uttered his rasping call. Wow!

Eventually he disappeared and as was now customary, we had another cuppa to celebrate before catching the ferry back to the mainland. Our last site of the day was to nearby woodland where the first bird was a COMMON CROSSBILL quickly followed by a singing male TREE PIPIT perched high in a Larch. Several RED DEER were noted including a male in velvet as well as the usual hinds.

It was then back to hotel for a wash and brush up before dinner.

Saturday 31st May
We awoke to the most amazing morning with blue skies, no wind and warm sunshine. After breakfast, we loaded up the van and made our way towards the ferry terminal. With some time spare before our ferry left we had some time for last minute birding.

Unfortunately there was a mist over the sea which prevented us from seawatching, so we focused our attentions inland and from the car park found a pair of WHINCHAT and up to five CUCKOO'S frequented the area.

HEATH SPOTTED and GREATER BUTTERFLY ORCHIDS were seen along the track and a smart GREEN HAIRSTREAK basked in the sunshine. As we walked back, a stunning male HEN HARRIER drifted past and several COMMON BUZZARD soared over the ridges.

We then headed off to the ferry but came to a stop when an adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE flew over the road. Quickly chasing the bird we relocated it as it soared high in the sky alongside the female where the size comparison was obvious. Seeing this pair of magnificent raptors was a fine end to our time on Mull.

There was a thirty minute delay at the terminal so we went for a coffee and eventually were away. The crossing was quiet with GREAT NORTHERN DIVER, BLACK GUILLEMOT and GANNET being the pick of the birds.

Once on the mainland we started our journey south but the journey was strewn by heavy traffic and roadworks which made us arrive in Lancaster much later than planned. We had dinner straight away and got some rest after a long day.

Sunday 1st June
After breakfast we drove the short distance to Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve where we aimed to spend the morning. At the bird feeding area were several NUTHATCH plus the more common species. From the first hide, a female MARSH HARRIER began to devour a BLACK-HEADED GULL chick before taking the remains back to her nest.

Other species seen here included BEARDED TIT, SEDGE WARBLER, POCHARD, GREAT CRESTED GREBE and COMMON BUZZARD. The next few hours were spent exploring the footpaths and hides on the western part of the reserve, where we had exceptional views of both NUTHATCH and MARSH TIT at a small feeding area.

Around 50 BLACK-TAILED GODWIT frequented muddy margins and GADWALL, TEAL and SHOVELER were noted. Around the visitor centre we watched a pair of BULLFINCH plus GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER on the feeders before having an enjoyable lunch in the tea room.

Then it was time to head for home and throughout the journey we saw three RED KITE and SPARROWHAWK which concluded the trip perfectly.

We were very lucky with the weather during the tour which could not have been better, plus the birds were simply amazing and all enjoyed with a great group of people!