Home on Mull

Posted on - In Wild with Pants
After years of camping and holiday cottaging we finally moved to Isle of Mull and it is wonderful.
Just spent a busy and fairly short week moving in and making it homely but needn't have worried about being too busy for going out to see wildlife as the wildlife is all around
Daily views of hen harrier from living room window! We were treated to cuckoos calling every day from 4.00am til at least 10.30pm and had great views of them - including a regular three cuckoos who seemed to be constantly chasing each other around.

When we reluctantly returned to work we were delighted to find that the regular pair of kestrels have 4 chicks doing very well.

Home again very soon for the long long summer. Can't wait,

Short-eared owls and Adder

Posted on - In Wild with Pants
Great to see shorties on Uist and on Mull!
Also this year on a regular walk from Fidden Farm near Fionnphort on Mull - the dog was merrily bouncing in a ditch at the side of the road when we heard a plopping sound and Simon noticed an adder drop into the water seeking the dumb, oblivious dog.  We managed to get dog our of the water and grab a few shots of a beautiful adder.

Summer migration 2016: Cornwall to Outer Hebrides

Posted on - In Wild with Pants
We have just returned to reality and the promise of a long long academic term ahead after our annual summer migration.  This year saw us spending three weeks down in Cornwall via Exmoor each way and then north to Outer Hebrides - Berneray, Uists via Kielder Forest, Cairngorms, Applecross and Skye and then back via Raasay and Arisaig before a final lovely week on Mull.

We have had all kinds of weather including dreadful rain and storms with gusting winds of up to 60 mph.

Mainly what stands out for us this summer is the many wonderful people we have met along the way.  Most notably the craic at the Bernaray Hostel (as usual!)  This time we were joined by Davey and his young son Stevie from Dunfermline, a reet pair of characters! Also Becky and Brett a couple of young pals from Oxfordshire with a great sense of humour, Welsh sisters from Carnarvon who were inspirational -cycling all through outer Hebrides and keen kayakers and mountaineers as well.  A lovely chap who was making his 3rd attempt to get to St Kilda (We so hope he made it this time)  Also a fab Dutch couple who shared our love of cheese, wine and wildlife.

Also down at Kilbride Campsite on South Uist so many stalwarts who all helped each other and us through the storm of the summer.

Finally, on Mull, the awesome Fidden Farm Friends: Caroline, Jill, Davina and Michael who were so open and quick to invite us for drinks and shared stories of wildlife encounters and travels.-  We really enjoyed meeting you all- so funny and easy-going- we hope you chaps enjoyed the remainder of the summer.

Secondly the wildlife was fairly awesome in terms of the range of species we were privileged to see.  

A basic list would include: otters, white tailed eagles, golden eagles, slow worms, a fox, mountain hares, short eared owls, bats, adder, red deer, roe deer, bottlenose dolphins, porpoise, seals, sail by the winds, peregrines.  Pretty awesome!

To start the photo roll call some starlings for sister, Dr Jess Walkup -Base Leader at Halley Research Station, Antarctica - who did her doctorate research on these chatty bright little birds and may be missing them now she has been in the frozen south so long.

Pine Marten mania in Applecross

Posted on - In Wild with Pants
Well mania for us because we are so happy to see them though I guess, not so much for the crofters trying to keep their ducks, chickens safe from these cute looking yet wily predators.
The new camera trap came into its own, capturing pine martens all through the night and one morning (having joked about wanting to get two on film........mating!) Lo and behold a saucy pair playfully chasing each other and leaping on one another.  So cool - though I doubt mating for real at this time of year?  Need to check a bit about them but from what I've read they appear to breed at the same time of year and the male doesn't stay around.  Also the young don't seem to stay with mother as long as the otter young do.  Not really sure why these particularly two were together- they came along around 4ish each morning.  We also watched a single marten at about 10 pm one evening and then a second came out but they were really cautious of each other - one hiding and then the other eating and being spooked and hiding and the other coming back. Their behaviour was so different to the 4 am-ers that they must have been different individuals. (based completely on what we thought we could observe and nothing at all scientific)

Stonyhurst Kestrels

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So we are nearing the end of another long year and a large number are fledging.... that is a large number of children leaving for university and life beyond this fine old place.   An annual event that's happened for 100s of years. Another wonderful annual event that has also been going on for centuries is the fledging of all those little creatures which live amongst the towers, gargoyles, grounds here.

Especially our favourite, the kestrel..   Gerald Manley Hopkins was here as a teacher for a time and wrote a magical poem called "Windhover" about a kestrel.  Perhaps the ancestors of our inspired him. 

We are delighted that for past 5 years (to our knowledge- but probably for as long as the building has been here) a pair have nested behind one of four griffins,  each holding a shield and each above a letter A. M. D. G. - Ad maiorem Dei gloriam - For the greater glory of God!   If you happened to be educated in a Jesuit School anywhere in the world you would know this and probably wrote AMDG at the head of every piece of work you did.   Anyway this year's pair of falcons decided D was the main event (and who can argue that?- well- Christopher Hitchens perhaps and  of course Richard Dawkins but he is a real bore -so whatever...)

For past couple of months we have been thrilled by the shrieks of our amorous pair as the male has been bringing female titbits of the small mammal variety.  Then she was clearly set up on the eggs, safe in alcove behind D.  This is right outside the window of my office - unfortunately too high up to peer out (but that makes the site even more suitable and private and safe)

Yesterday I heard the distinctive sound of young nestrels!  (new word!)  When out with kids later heading to a BBQ I looked up and was delighted to see not one but two fluffy falconettes peering down at the goings on.

We also have jackdaws, magpies, starlings, house martins, swallows, blue tits all nesting in cracks, crannies and shelves on the building.   So living in a second floor apartment we get allsorts at our window feeder and on stone mantle outside window.  This year we've had chaffs, great and blue tits and pied wags using the feeder as well as many crows, jack doors, starling etc using mantle.

Anyway-  a few snaps of Kes Chicks (Nestrels  xx)


Applecross at Easter (again!)

Posted on - In Wild with Pants
Just back from our annual Easter pilgrimage to Applecross and up't'north generally.   This year we again met with adverse weather conditions which screwed our plans.   Arrived at Fionnphort on Mull in horrendous gale force winds and deciding to NOT chance the bigger tent (designed as our base camp for up to two weeks before tripping up to Applecross) we began to pitch smaller two man.  Immediately, the wind caught it and a pole snapped.  Undaunted, as we've been here before and learned the lesson,  we fetched spare poles and gingerly made another attempt.   It was only by parking Berlingo immediately infront of tent that we were able to provide the slightest reprieve from the major gusts and by guzzling some pretty hefty G&Ts that we were able to provide the greatest nonchalance about the major gusts of wind!!
A good walk along coast next day, in strong winds with intermittent gale force and hail stones- we watched mountain hares for a while, including one which swam through the shallows!  We then stumbled upon an ancient ottery homestead with piles of lovely spraint everywhere... we quickly withdrew from the area to a safe distance to prevent disturbing anyone who may be home napping.   Simon was of course disappointed not to find the remains of the feral goat whose recently dead behorned head he'd coveted last year.  Needless to say, I was faintly relieved as the van was already stacked high.
The wind and hail unrelenting, the tent nearly flattened when we returned from the walk, it was with sadness and reluctance that we decided to (mountain) haretail it north to the less exposed campsite at Applecross- once again forced to cut our stay at the magical Fidden Farm for the third time owing to weather. 
The day became even more dramatic when at the final furlong we were turned back at the last minute half way over the Bealach Na Ba by a local with rear wheel drive and snow tires who'd been unable to get through the hair pins on Loch Carron side and advised us to turn too before getting into such a treacherous mess in the over loaded Berlingo.  We were very grateful indeed as spending the ensuing stormy night up there would not have been very desirable to say the least. 
So three long days of travel and we were ensconsed in Applecross for a planned 2.5 weeks of fun.
Mainly the time was spent enjoying the usual walks and haunts and catching up with people at the Inn.  We were disappointed not to have seen an otter on Applecross this time- fortunately we saw one fishing at Lochaline ferry port whilst waiting to travel over to Fishnish and another at Craignure which we watched from warmth and shelter of Island Castaways charity shop (the weather was vile, not tha otter minded)
The wildlife was actually pretty unexpected this time, with lots of firsts for us at Applecross, including a slow worm, an orgy of mating toads in a rock pool and a very exciting encounter with a solitary snow bunting- which we managed to photograph and so observe that it was riniged.  Saw a golden eagle at Sand and White tail flying high near the bay- but not the wonderful close encounters of the previous years sadly.
Hope you enjoy photographs: