Grab Mull with both hands!

A barn owl, hunting.
A barn owl, hunting.

Although by the time that you read this I will be back in Aberdeenshire, I am writing this from the Isle of Mull, glorious wildlife wonderland and one of my favourite places.

When I am here, my senses are inundated; sounds, smells, sights are all fantastic and this trip I have managed to realise one of my life’s ambitions.

I was on a boat heading out to the Treshnish Isles when I spotted some dolphins streaking the surface about halfway between us and the shore. I alerted the skipper and soon we were all watching them. Then, an astonishing thing happened, the dolphins suddenly changed direction and came powering through the water, heading straight towards the boat, slicing through the water, their fins cutting it smoothly and sharply. As they sped towards us, it was one of the most intense, thrilling and exhilarating of feelings I have ever experienced. They came up behind the boat and were soon riding the bow wave, surfacing at speed and then flashing along just under the surface of the water, turning on their sides to look directly at us. Their excitement and enjoyment was as evident as ours. They stayed with us for about ten minutes before peeling off and swimming away. All my life I have wanted to be on a boat when this has happened and it far exceeded my expectations - what a start to the trip!

The island of Lunga, as ever, was a delight, not least of all because of the puffins, as I love watching them go about their day-to-day business. Showers of dirt comically spraying out of a burrow made me take a closer look at one doing some home improvements, but all I could see was a dumpy little tail and a couple of bright orange feet throwing out the soil. Some were collecting nesting material and a few got a bit over ambitious, much to my amusement. I watched one tussle with a tuft of dried grass; it dug in its feet and pulled with all of its might but it could not get the dried grass to budge, although it tried from every angle. After a time it gave up and picked up some smaller more manageable strands, but it returned to the large tuft determined not to be beaten. At last the grass gave way and the poor puffin landed with a rather undignified bump on its tail.

Some pairs were much further ahead with their breeding and were coming flying in with beakfuls of shiny, silver sand eels.

Every so often a huge black backed gull would glide past the top of the cliff about five feet above the puffin burrows. This created panic among the puffins and they all immediately took to the air, dropping off the cliff and down into the relative safety of the water, only returning when the gull had gone again.

I have been rising at four and five in the morning to go off and watch a female otter and her two well-grown cubs. It is a delight to watch them and at that time of the morning I have the whole shore to myself. The cubs are starting to become a bit independent, but on one occasion the female caught a very large crab and swam to the shoreline with it, to tackle eating it. The cub left (one was off on its own for a while) was momentarily distracted and when it surfaced its mum had disappeared. The youngster panicked and started a high-pitched whistling peep. The female totally ignored this call from its offspring. The little one became increasingly agitated and I got a bit worried as it drifted further and further away. Eventually, the female finished her crab and swam out to meet the cub - it stayed very close to mum for quite a while afterwards.

This year, there are a lot of short-eared owls on the island and I have had such pleasure watching them. Their flight is so beautiful, almost moth-like and the bird seems to float along, but is very acrobatic, executing sudden turns to drop down on prey in the grass. As it flies towards me, I am given the benefit of its dark Dusty Springfield surround to the yellow eyes. I was watching one hunting over an open area and getting munched by the midges when suddenly the rain started to come down and both the owl and myself took shelter - rain stopped play!

A very common bird found along the shores of Mull is the common sandpiper, a pretty, delicate little wader, and walks along the coast are always accompanied by their piping calls. I had been watching one pair of birds with a couple of newly-hatched chicks, beautiful creatures peppered above and white below with a black stripe through their eyes and down the centre of their back.

The chicks trotted about the rocks, fluff on stilts, with ridiculously large feet. They had no tails but comically had already mastered the tail bob of the adult bird. A passing dog caused the adults to alarm call and the chicks immediately reacted, one cramming itself into a deep crack in a rock and the other hiding under a large boulder. They remained totally motionless until the adults called the all clear again.

The flora of Mull is tremendous too and the more you get down and look the more you find. A bonus of looking so carefully is that you find all sorts of other things too, like the damsel and dragonflies I discovered while looking closely at some small white flowers in a boggy area.

A final walk along the shore in the late evening gave me a brief glimpse of a barn owl, gently coming along the side of some low shrubs, before drifting effortlessly over them to disappear from view. What a time I am having. If you have never been to the Isle of Mull and get an opportunity to do so, then grab it with both hands - you will love it!