A winter wildlife wonderland
With Dave Sexton RSPB Mull Officer
There can’t be many places on the planet where it can be better to visit to view wildlife in the depths of winter than it is in high summer but Mull might just be one of them. Don’t get me wrong. Summer, spring and autumn are all lovely and all have their appeal and the wildlife is here throughout the year but a winter’s day on Mull can be magical.
With shorter days, the island’s wildlife has to pack a lot in and the longer evenings mean more time for you to pull the chair up closer to the fire in your Isle of Mull Cottage, pour yourself a dram of Tobermory malt and open a good book to plan your next day.
Winter is so good because all the young eagles which fledged last autumn are now confident on the wing and will be joining up with other young eagles. White-tailed eagle immatures and sub-adult in particular are very sociable and will often cruise around together in small, loose groups. It’s not unusual to see 4 or 5 young sea eagles out on an off-shore skerry at this time of year but bigger gatherings of 10 or more have been reported. Young golden eagles will often join these youngsters, especially at roost time. Meanwhile the adult eagles will be busy visiting old eyries preparing for next spring and re-establishing their territorial boundaries through dramatic displays and calling.
Otters seem easier to see in the winter months. With fewer cars and people about they appear more ‘relaxed’ and Mull’s big sea lochs of Loch Scridain and Loch na Keal are prime hunting grounds. As ever, keep your distance; just sit, hidden, somewhere downwind and wait patiently along a lonely stretch of coast and sooner or later, an otter will appear. You can watch us getting a great otter sighting on a winters day in our seasonal review:
The red deer are now long past the rut and have settled into their winter routine. They’re often down off the hills, lower in the glens and easier to find. Stags will have forgotten the testosterone charged battles of the autumn and ‘buddy up’ with each other in small herds. The hinds and this year’s calves will do the same. It’s a harsh existence for them but the most difficult testing time of late winter is yet to come. Meanwhile the island’s fallow deer herds at Loch Buie and Gruline are also often glimpsed from the roadside or as they skip across the road in front of you. Deer are often near the roads at night especially so beware.
Offshore, harbour and grey seals are all around Mull’s 300 mile of coastline. Pupping for the greys on the Treshnish Isles is over now so they can pop up anywhere but Salen Bay for the harbour seals is still your best bet.
Winter thrushes have largely moved through stripping our berries as they go but many remain; the winter geese are here: rare Greenland white-fronted geese on the Ross of Mull and barnacle geese on Inch Kenneth. It’s always worth a scan of the native, resident greylag geese flocks in case a rare vagrant has joined them.
So whatever the weather this winter, Mull has it all. Spectacular wildlife and scenery and wonderful places to stay cosy and warm on the days which look less inviting to venture out. My advice? Go out anyway. The weather will change and the wildlife is all there, just waiting to be discovered. Enjoy!
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