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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Scotland 3: The Wildlife of Mull. 10.05.23

Updated: May 22, 2023

I got to Tobermory from Oban by public transport. I took the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Oban to Craignure, from where I got a West Coast Motors bus from Craignure to Tobermory. I went to Tobermory because I had booked a Nature Scotland wildlife tour of Mull for 10.05.23; I had planned just to be in Tobermory just for 10.05.23 for the tour, however, Caledonian MacBrayne cancelled the early ferry to Craignure. Thus I had to travel to Mull on the 09.05.23 and book an hotel in Tobermory for the night.

I travelled Mull with Nature Scotland in a 9 seat people carrier, with some 'stop-start' walks. The target species include White-tailed Eagle, Golden Eagle, Otter, Hen Harrier, Red Deer, Seals; I saw all but one of these!

There was little wildlife to see in this day due to the poor whether and chance, and what we saw was far away, so there are not many good photos in this post! But is still a record of a day I enjoyed. If you want to skip this post and see much better photos of West Coast Scottish birds, jump to: Scotland 4: Puffins, Razorbills, Eider, Shags & Fulmars. Staffa & the Treshnish Isles, 11.05.23

Gannet, Morus bassanus, flying alongside the Ferry from Mull to Craignure (09.05.23)

Leaving Oban

Tobermory, Mull, from where the tour started.

Map of Mull

The forest north of Loch Na Kiel, wets of Kellan

White-Tailed Eagle, Haliaeetus albicilla, in its nest.

The white-tailed eagle is the largest UK bird of prey. It has brown body plumage with a conspicuously pale head and neck which can be almost white in older birds, and the tail feathers of adults are white. In flight it has massive long, broad wings with 'fingered' ends. Its head protrudes and it has a short, wedge-shaped tail.

This Schedule 1 species went extinct in the UK during the early 20th century, due to illegal killing, and the present population is descended from reintroduced birds.

White-tailed eagles are versatile and opportunistic hunters and carrion feeders, sometimes pirating food from other birds and even otters. They eat largely fish, but also take various birds, rabbits and hares.

Some pairs kill many fulmars, which are thought to be the source of DDT and PCBs (chemicals) recorded in eagle eggs. Carrion is an important part of their diet, especially during the winter months. Most lambs are taken as carrion. When fishing, they fly low over water, stop to hover for a moment and drop to snatch fish from the surface.

During the breeding season while they are rearing young, they require 500-600g of food per day. This drops to 200-300g per day during the winter months when the birds are less active. White-Tailed Eagle Facts | Haliaeetus Albicilla - The RSPB

Terrible photo of a White-Tailed Eagle


Oystercatchers, Haematopus ostralegus, on the shores of Loch Na Keal

White-Tailed Eagle in flight.

Mull is home to 22 pairs of eagles, and in 2019 29 percent of tourists cited them as an important factor for their visit to the island, up from 23 percent in the 2010 study. Tourism spend inspired by these eagles has also increased since 2010 when it accounted for between £3 million and £5 million annually, which supported between 64 and 108 full time jobs, and between £1.4 million and £2.4 million of local income each year.

The importance of nature in driving Mull tourism was also highlighted with scenery and landscape, peace and tranquillity, and birds and wildlife also being given as some of the main reasons for visits in 2019.

White-tailed eagles used to be widespread across Scotland, but human persecution led to their extinction in 1918. A reintroduction programme began on the Isle of Rum in 1975 and in 1985 the first wild chick from the reintroduced population hatched on Mull.

Anne McCall, Director, RSPB Scotland said: “Mull once again holds an important breeding population of white-tailed eagles, which are an incredible tourism draw for the island. White-tailed eagles bring tourism boost to Mull (

Black-Throated Diver, Gavia arctica, in Loch Na Keal

Knock, Loch na Keal

Looking at a Great Eagle's nest - no Eagles to see today! We saw one Golden Eagle a bit further down the coast - very high up - but I was not able to photo it.

Grey Heron

The granite shores of Loch Na Kael offered some interesting lichens, whist we were waiting to see a Golden Eagle (which we didn't here)

Rhizocarpon, probably R. geographicum

Xanthoparmelia conspersa, common in the North and West; but rare in the South-East; so new to me from Sussex. What whopper apothecia!

Probably Xanthoria calciola

A mosaic of lichens

Possibly Porpidia crustulata. The thallus can be orange when wet, as well as grey; but a little strange to be in two states on the same boulder next to each other!

Near Clachandhu, on the west Atlantic coast of Mull

Overlooking Staffa

Looking toward the Treshnish Islands: Bac Mòr aka The Dutchman's Cap

Waterfall, near Balmeanach, below MacKinnon's Cave

A Petligera sp., probably Petligera canina on a felled Sitka spruce stump. The area cleared of spruces is to be allowed to regenerate as a native broad-leafed woodland

Cladonia sp., possibly C. grayii

Sphagnum sp., possibly Sphagnum fimbriatum, Fringed Peat Moss

Possibly Rhytidiadelphus triquestrus

Male Hen Harrier, Circus cyaneus near Craig

Safer in Scotland than England: .In 2017, there were just three successful hen harrier nests in the whole of England, occupying less than 1% of the potential suitable habitat. A recent report identified that habitat, prey abundance and persecution and were of key importance affecting distribution, abundance and productivity of hen harriers. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), it is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take wild birds, including hen harriers. Nevertheless hen harriers are still shot, trapped and poisoned, particularly in areas where the land is managed for driven grouse shooting. Wild Birds and the Law | Hen Harrier Protection - The RSPB

Trichophorum cespitosum, Deergrass.

Possibly Hoary Fringe Moss, Racomitrium canescens, but unlikely as this is a very rare species

Lousewort, Pedicularis sylvatica.

Common Butterwort, Pinguicula vulgaris; insectivorous when flowering

Grey Seals, Halichoerus grypus, on Loch Spelve

Green-veiled White Butterfly, Pieris napi.

Barn Swallows, Hirundo rustica near Ardachoil Farm, Loch Spelve

Red Deer, Cervus elaphus

More Grey seals, on the Sound of Mull



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