Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall?
One of the most interesting things about nature is that each season brings its delights and here in the Hebridean Islands this might mean watching seals sunbathing off one of our wonderful white sand beaches on the southern tip of Mull in Spring or watching sea eagles talon grappling against some snow capped peak in Winter.
So why come in Winter?
Winter brings breathtaking sunsets and sunrise's and a sense of solitude that the visitor can almost touch. Otters are having their young at this time of year to coincide with the warmer waters that the Gulf Stream brings. There are wintering ducks on sea lochs and estuaries and great northern divers in abundance, here to escape the colder weather in Iceland. golden eagles and sea eagles are territorial all year round and because of the Islands peacefulness there are close encounters to be had with both species. Red deer are very easy to see and in the mountains ptarmigan and mountain hares are in their winter coats. Barnacle geese and greenland white fronted geese have returned from their arctic breeding grounds and though we do not often see snow in the Hebrides, our highest mountain Ben More usually has snow on it from October to May and this can make for a fantastic backdrop on a sunny and windless day in winter as it rises majestically from the sea. Maybe the best reason to choose the winter is because sighting's can be unexpected and unique and wildlife is often where it should not be!!
Spring is the time for all of nature to come to life. All three members of the diver family can be seen and probably in summer plumage!! Both species of eagle are displaying over their territories and there can be lots of interaction with other birds who are defending and establishing territories. The first wheatears, whinchats, willow warblers and redstarts are arriving to breed and spend the summer here. In fact Mull is now becoming alive with birdsong and displaying raptors and thousands of waders and smaller birds. Otters are out and about with their young and adders are sunbathing in the Spring sun. All of our summer breeding birds have arrived from Africa and merlins, peregrines and hen harriers are on eggs or feeding small young by now. In fact spring has one of natures top wildlife sights and that is the food pass between the male and female hen harrier. The male is the bird that you see in flight at this time of year as the bigger female is on eggs or tending very small young. As he slowly quarters the ground looking for prey he suddenly dives into the grassland and from then on he is in a hurry to take prey to the female. As he approaches the nest area perhaps after a mile of flying she rises to meet him, turns over in the air and he releases his prey in mid air and the food pass is made. The pair often then circle around for a moment and then off he goes to get more!! As members of our group get sight of this wondrous meeting of the small pale grey male and the much bigger and browner female almost everyone in the group exclaims, wow!!!
Spring is undoubtedly a great time of year here because of the sheer variety of natural wonders that are going on but it is also the best time of year here for the weather which is often settled warm and sunny. There are of course masses of wild flowers beginning to show and Mull is a delight to behold for any botanist.
Summer is the peak for wildlife activity in the Hebridean Islands as adult birds have young by now that are leading them and themselves astray at this time!! Corncrake, snipe and redshank are at last easier to see as they sit on high points to follow the antics of their exuberant youngsters. Eagles have very advanced and demanding young in their nests as do all of our owls, ravens and nesting seabirds. All of our smaller birds and their young are ready for their migration to Africa and offshore the sea is getting richer and there are possibilities of seeing basking sharks, whales and dolphins. In fact bottlenose dolphins are regularly seen around the coast of Mull and because they have no fixed territory it is always a thrill for everyone if we get a chance encounter. Summer is also the height of all things botanical here and the Island is ablaze with colour. However mid summer is also a little up and down as far as the weather is concerned and one day might be hot, sunny and almost tropical in its feel, whilst the next could bring driving wind and rain. So be patient and give yourself a long enough stay in the Hebrides to give you that most perfect of days.
Mull is quietening down by now and the more dedicated nature watcher is moving in!!! Most of our smaller birds are already on their way south and the sight of a migrating whimbrel or godwit is pretty well guaranteed in the south of the Island. Corncrakes are away by now but goodness knows how these chunky little rail like birds get to fly to Africa!! Young white tailed sea eagles and golden eagles are now on the wing with mum and dad and there can be very close encounters with the young of both species as they get chased off the various occupied eagle territories around the Island. Icelandic merlins are migrating through the Hebrides as they follow their prey south. Rarities can be spotted at this time of year as they stray of course during their migration to warmer regions but great northern divers are arriving to winter here as are slavonian grebes and thousands of sea ducks, geese and waders. Most of our wild flowers are past their best by now but the autumn colours are something magical here as is the light and the low morning sun. Sunsets are truly magical and the onlooker can enjoy the sunset of a lifetime in these magical and some say mystical isles at this time of year. Do not forget that Mull is also surrounded by literally dozens and dozens of other islands and islets and in the so called off season the intrepid visitor can have an island to themselves at this wonderfully quiet time of year.