Isle of Mull Bird Race
It was a real winter's day for our Bird Race!
Our second full day on Mull and a race was on! The annual Mull Bird Race was taking place and we were keen to compete. With Andy and Diana’s knowledge of the island and our love of bird races we were looking forward to a fun day.
The Mull Bird Race is a very civilised affair starting at 9.30am so we had time for a good breakfast to fuel the inner birder. As we ate, a Sparrowhawk twice whizzed through the garden and we thought we would have missed a chance to add this bird of prey to our day list.
As 9.30am approached we were ready and waiting to get our list underway. The garden gave us a great start with lots of birds coming to the well-stocked feeders. Great, Blue and Coal Tits were all on the list as a gang of Siskins flew in. Suddenly a flash of blue-grey and a male Sparrowhawk attacked the feeders, a great addition to the list.
A short drive took us to Lochdon and the mudflats here added Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal and a Greenshank wading through a channel. Two enormous White-tailed Eagles rose into the air above a wooded ridge, wow! A disturbance in the water drew our attention, an otter was fishing in the river below us, such a wonderful animal.
White-tailed Eagles and Ravens overhead
Up in the hills we stopped where we had watched Golden Eagles the previous day. It was bitterly cold up here as Ravens “cronked” around us. Then three huge birds came in to view over a snowy ridge, eagles! These birds came straight towards us: all three were White-tailed Eagles, amazing! Five White-tails seen in less than an hour!
What a setting for a bird race, stunning!
Dropping down to a sea loch we were soon watching a lovely drake Goosander and an immature Golden Eagle soared over the ridge on the opposite side of the loch. Then a large dog otter popped up in a seaweed-covered pool and really showed off. Just minutes later we were watching our third otter of the day! Maybe we should have done an otter race not a bird race! This animal was walking along the loch shore in full view, what an incredible place Mull is.
Moving along the coast Andy and Diana showed us one of the White-tailed Eagle nest sites, the massive nest clearly visible from the road side. We can’t wait to return in June when the nest will be in use. We will have amazing views of the nesting birds through our Leica scopes from the car!
Scanning for more birds to add to the growing list
At the same spot we added a Grey Wagtail, our only wagtail of the day, weird how so many “common” birds are missing here in the winter when so many “rare” birds are easy to see!
An area of mussel farming in the next loch held more birds for us, Great Northern Divers seemed to be everywhere we looked! We have never seen so many in such a short time, and many of these huge divers were close inshore allowing amazing views. Carefully checking the divers produced a Black-throated Diver feeding amongst the buoys over the mussel farm; it was great to compare the two species.
Black-throated Diver was a great addition to the list
We stopped for picnic lunch overlooking another sea loch with stunning mountain views, snow clad peaks rising from the still waters of the loch. Lots more Great Northern Divers here, two Black Guillemots moulting into breeding plumage, Razorbills and a surprise Kittiwake were feeding in the sound. As we tucked into our lunch a Red-throated Diver was picked out and quickly followed by two more. A grass area behind the beach gave us Fieldfare and Redwing, very welcome passerine additions to our list.
Lunch over we moved along the sea loch and soon found two more otters! Stopping to watch these, we noticed a Slavonian Grebe fishing just offshore and further scanning revealed four of these lovely small grebes offshore.
Where the Dippers should have been
We stopped to check a fast-flowing stream for Dipper but he wasn’t at home, but as we looked up and down the stream we saw two Golden Eagles right over head! These magnificent raptors gave us a stunning display, sorry Mr Dipper we forgot all about you!
The nearby fish farm held lots of gulls but sadly no white winged ones amongst them, plenty of wildfowl though, as superb drake Goldeneye were displaying in the bay along with lots of Teal.
Time to check another stream for Dipper but again we drew a blank, though we met two birdwatchers who had seen them earlier! Time was now slipping away fast as the 3.30pm finish approached. We headed for the Argyll House café where the finish line, and cakes, lay! Just as Andy was parking the car we spotted a Greenfinch in a garden, a new bird! This last-minute bird gave us a total of 59 species, but what had all the other teams seen?
Inside it was lovely and warm, and an even warmer welcomecame from Ian and Elaine, and we soon spotted some delicious-looking homemade cakes!
Yummy lemon drizzle cake, the food of champions?
Hot drinks were issued all round as the café filled up with bird race teams all talking at once, swapping stories of birds seen and birds missed.
Scores are carefully checked and re-checked
Andy called the room to order and went through the list to produce a combined list of over 70 species from all the teams, but which team had seen the most? A tense few moments as each team announced their scores, 56, 57, anymore over that? Silence. Fifty-nine was a winning score!
Wild Cottage and The Biggest Twitch team - winners!
A close up of that coveted trophy!
The Oystercatcher Trophy was awarded to the Wild Cottage/Biggest Twitch team! But of course it was the taking part that was important not the winning! It had been such a great day of quality birds and otters. The way all the teams met up at the end of the day was great fun and again we very impressed with the hospitality of the people of Mull. We can’t wait to return.
Our journey home was wintery too! Thanks to the snow plough and gritter crews!
We are back on the Isle of Mull in June this year leading a guided wildlife watching holiday, come and join us!
for details of this and all our tours, we would love to share great birds and wildlife with you.