Sunday, 18 September 2016

Mull, Late Summer Break

It hardly felt like I'd left Mull when I drove off of the ferry and turned right to head towards Salen and on to Loch Na Keal. The trip in July for the inaugural Photo Tour on the island had been a roaring success both in terms of capturing images of the wildlife promised on the itinery and also for everyone who had gone along, who we had become firm friends with.

This fortnight was mostly going to be a break though, and having been on Mull so recently, I already had a very good idea of where the wildlife would be. That said, at the usual layby for watching the white-tailed eagles on Loch Na Keal, there were none in the trees. One was however, across the water being divebombed by a black-backed gull, as it fed on something washed up on the shore.

Further along the road, I caught sight of something of a disturbance in the calm surface of the water, parked up and realised quickly that there was an otter fishing there. Within moments I had donned my camo jacket, attached the monopod to my camera and was hot-footing it across the uneven ground to where I'd seen it surface. With a more careful approach closer to the otter, both for the sake of spooking it and for me not slipping over on the seaweed, I was soon as close as I thought I needed to be, and as well hidden as possible amongst the rocks. Silent Mode activated on the camera, and it was time to wait.

The otter was in front of me, mooching around in a pool of seaweed, almost cut off from the main creek. Every so often it would surface, and look around. The pool must have been shallow, as I could see the otter lifting the weed as it searched the area for food, until it burst up pretty close. I took a couple of shots, and in the calm conditions, it was clear the sound of the camera had carried, when the otter froze and looked in my direction.

I froze too, and after a few seconds, the otter seemed to relax and continued looking for its dinner.

Eventually it climbed out of the water and I could see that it had quite some bulk to its back; pregnant, I assumed.

The otter then spent quite some time rolling around in the seaweed on some rocks, drying her fur and grooming. With her busy with such activity I was able to take more images, before I decided to leave her be, and quietly creep away again. She was still snoozing on the rock when I arrived back at the car.

Heading south again, we didn't see anything much worth stopping for, apart from our neighbour for the fortnight, a friend from Birmingham who had been tempted to see what Mull had to offer after seeing my images all the time in the local country pub!

The evening seemed to be drawing to a close when a gap between the cloud and the horizon let the sunlight flood through, and we all emerged from the cottages and hotel to watch the sunset.

My friend Reg, walks his dog very early each morning at home, so it was no surprise to me to find I wasn't first out of the cottage car park on the first morning. After waving at him as I drove around to the marshes, I clocked something out of place on the top of a hillside, and soon realised it was a white-tailed eagle. I waited for the sun to reach it, but really it was a bit too high up for anything worthwhile.

Autumn was already starting to show with the hawthorn trees laden with berries, gratefully received by the local hooded crows.

Calm conditions again meant it was easy to spot otters fishing, and I found another along the road, fishing just off shore. Once again, I scuttled out, and followed it along the lochside. When I realised it had finished fishing, and was heading ashore, I managed to get ahead of it, and tucked myself into some rocks, near where I thought the otter would come out, and head into a holt. All seemed to be going well when it scrambled out of the water, just out of sight for a shot, along the beach area. Then it headed back in again, and vanished from sight. Was it going past me? Damn, I thought. Then I heard a crunching sound from next to me.

Bearing in mind my lens has a minimum focusing distance of about 5 metres, it wasn't much help when I found myself staring at a similarly surprised otter, only about 4 feet from me, in the rocks I had chose to hide in! There was a moment of both of us looking at each other in bewilderment, before the otter turned tail and shot off back into the water! If only I'd been wearing some sort of head-cam.

After collecting Dad from the digs, we continued on a tour around the area, and I soon spotted another otter, dragging something large ashore to feed upon. By now the sun was strong and I noticed that there was quite some shimmer between me and the otter. Annoying, as it seemed to be eating a huge lobster!

I crept as close as I dared, but being in an exposed spot meant I soon attracted a crowd, and the sound of car stereos and doors slamming, soon disturbed the otter, which vanished out into the seaweed-covered water. I've lost count of the number of otters I have seen spooked by people who don't realise they need to be quiet in such situations, and attempt to be discreet when viewing. But such is life, and the otter had eaten most of the lobster before it decided to leave.

The first full day ended with me watching distant hen harriers hunting over the marshes. I truly believe I am cursed when it comes to getting something really good of these birds, and this was proved during the week when Reg, out walking his dog, managed to get some full-frame images of a ringtail. I spent hours in the same area later that week and failed to see anything.

The Monday was slightly unusual for me, in that one of the clients from the July tour was also on the island, and had asked if I minded guiding her for a half day. I didn't, but it meant a very early start to reach her digs on the other side of Mull. I really should have stopped along the way, as the sight, and colours of the sunrise over the Sound Of Mull and later over the entrance to Loch Na Keal was jaw-droppingly beautiful. What a place.

After enjoying a great trip out with Martin on the eagle trip, my client was keen to see some otters, and hopefully add to her image collection from the July tour. It didn't take long to spot one, but it was fishing way off shore, and I couldn't see an easy way to get close, without being too exposed.

I chose to head to another spot where I had seen some the day before. As we drove closer, it was clear that another photographer was already working that patch, so I parked up some distance away, and we carefully approached the area, where we had both seen an otter fishing. I don't like treading on other photographer's toes, so to speak, so I suggested we watch from a sensible distance and see what happened. The otter headed ashore near where the other guy was hiding, I had to admit I felt envious.

But we chose to be patient, and it soon became clear that perhaps the envy was based on the wrong assumption that he'd got a great view. Maybe he had initially, but suddenly we saw the otter scampering over the rocks towards us, whilst looking over its shoulder, back at something. The photographer had perhaps lost sight of the otter, and had climbed up for a better view. We both grabbed a couple of shots of the otter before it dived back into the water.

I guessed that it would head towards where we'd parked, so we made our way along the shore, found a good viewing spot that provided some good cover, and waited.

Result, the otter came out of the water right next to us. I took a couple of shots, but I was acutely aware of the sound of my camera, even on Silent Mode, and made sure I paused if the otter looked at where we were hiding. My client's 7D Mark2 was on Silent Mode too, but that actually is silent, so she happily snapped away.

Back out into the water, and fishing for a while longer, we followed it further along the shore, where it again came out, this time to groom and dry off. It was far enough away not to be concerned about the sound of the cameras too.

The half-day had to be ended (probably well over the half-day in terms of time) as my client needed to get to the ferry to leave. Another successful guiding session on Mull, and long may it continue.

Back to my holiday for the remainder of the trip and a trip out to Croggan yielded some good views of a pair of golden eagles, and a family of spotted flycatchers near one of the cottages.

No otters again on that loch - I think Andy cursed it when he said it had provided him with a 100% success rate for seeing them, and we have not seen one there since!

As is usual for Mull, buzzards seem to be everywhere, and while some might choose to ignore them, I love to take advantage of the chances for images of them, especially on natural perches. There's even a very pale individual that has been around for some years now, that posed one morning for me. Gorgeous.

Our first trip out with Martin on Mull Charters came mid-week, and I had my doubts about the forecast. Reg also came along, though he admitted he didn't really have sea-legs. Needn't have worried for the start of the sailing, as it was reasonably calm, and we had a white-tailed eagle come over almost as soon as we'd left the new jetty.

Unfortunately the "take" was facing away from us, and as the trip progressed, the weather deteriorated, ending with most of us crammed in the cabin to shelter from the driving rain. Reg amused us, as he repeatedly banged his head on the door frame when turning to talk to us. I don't think he was quite as amused as I was though.

The following day brought another otter sighting, and I managed to get a few more shots. Plus we encountered a most obliging buzzard, perched on the top of a roadsign. Even when we drove up to it, it remained perched. I reversed back, and took some shots, only seeing the bird spooked when another driver came towards us, and pushed the bird off to another post.

Having spent many an hour touring around the far side of the loch each morning, and even over to the next one, I was amused to spot a pair of otters almost within walking distance of the cottage. They had climbed out on to some rocks and were so absorbed with whatever one was eating, they didn't notice me approaching from the road. Tucking myself into a cleft in the rocky shore, I ensured I was in a position close enough, but not too close to risk missing shots of the pair if they moved apart slightly.

It was great to watch the pair finding plenty to eat in the loch, and then feeding on the catches on the rocks. One even started to explore the area which brought it much closer to me.

The day ended sharing a meal and a few drinks in Reg and Yvonne's cottage, though it was interrupted when the ever-changing light on Mull coaxed us outside for a few shots of the unusual sunset.

The following morning was dead calm, and while we both drove around the marshes and on to the loch, I caught sight of a young common seal lying just out of the water. Unfortunately, as Reg parked up behind, the seal slid back into the water. Watching from our cars, we saw it soon clamber back out, and we spent the next hour or so photographing it, as it dried out on some rocks.

Initially it was a touch too far really, but the calm weather meant the loch was like a mirror.

Then, while we watched from the cover amongst the bracken and heather on the shore, the seal relocated back to the same closer rock once more, and we were able to get some lovely images.

I moved around quietly to ensure the water, and hence reflections were dark, which made for a good contrast with the seal, which was gradually becoming paler as it dried off.

The day ended with me receiving some broken voicemail messages from Reg. He'd found a young hedgehog wandering around in the road, and had taken it back to the cottage nearby, to relocate it somewhere safer. I'd missed this, and also when he offered it a plate of dog food, which it apparently scoffed down! Putting out a second plate, on a track beside the car park, he'd hoped it might have found its way off away from the road.

I was initially gutted, especially when I got back to find Dad had photographed it, and didn't know where it had gone. I've not had the chance to photograph a hedgehog since I bought my DSLR gear back in 2006! I used to have some visit my garden but they, like so many others, have vanished.

Thankfully, I spotted Reg whilst driving out again, and he explained where to look and sure enough, there was the 'hog, pottering along a nearby track.

Amusingly, after hoping it would vanish into the woodland nearby, it chose to climb back into the garden, and we watched it scuttle about the lawn, searching around the plant pots for more to eat. How it could be hungry after two plates of dog food is anyone's guess.

It eventually skulked off into some bushes, and we hoped it would be ok. It was rather small, and I worried about it being large enough at this time of year. But I wasn't sure if there were any facilities on Mull for looking after hedgehogs, so it would have to rely on nature looking after it.

A thoroughly miserable day followed, with pouring rain. I still forced myself out and was initially rewarded with a fine double rainbow over the marshes.

And then on the way back, I spotted the pair of otters again, and grabbed some shots as they ran over the rocks together.

When the rain finally eased, Dad and I parked up where the otters had been, hoping for a view. Whilst waiting, I was aware of several ravens calling, and my Spider-Sense tingled. Sure enough, I was right to be alert, as Fingal, the local white-tailed eagle soared into view, just skimming the tree tops behind us.

I thought that it was about time we had some memorable encounters with one of the eagles, as we had on so many previous trips, but that didn't happen until the following morning. Across the loch, I noticed something sat on the rocks some distance away, and both Reg and I parked up to look. A white-tailed eagle.

Just then, another flew overhead, and perched in a tree across a field from where we'd parked. Reg went for a closer look, whilst I watched on. It soon took off, circled over us and headed towards where we had seen the other. Reg went one way, I chose to go look for the original one on the rocks, and as I did, I heard a horrible cry from a grey heron. Like the sound they make when fighting... or being killed by an eagle, in this case.

I can't be absolutely sure as the kill was made out of sight, but soon the two eagles had become four, and after abandoning my idea of approaching the one on the rocks, Reg joined me on the headland, where we watched the four flying overhead.

Two of them, sub-adults from what we could tell, were unhappy with one another and briefly fought in the skies, before circling, chasing each other, right over our heads.

It was fantastic to see, and way too close at times to keep both in the shot.

The adults from the nearby nest had also come down for a feed, and we saw both leaving the area shortly after.

By the time I'd returned back to the cottage to collect Dad, the skies had cleared and it was a glorious day. We both thought it warranted a drive south, to look across at Iona. That stretch of water is so beautiful, especially on a day like we saw it.

Time was flying by and our second trip on the Lady Jayne had arrived. Again it was overcast, but dry at least, and the light wasn't at all bad. And we were treated to a number of takes from the eagles, at two of the nest sites Martin and Alex sail out to.

As in the summer, the preferred combo of Canon 1DX and my old original 100-400mm zoom lens worked perfectly, tracking the eagles as they circled, descended and grabbed the fish.

And the drive home was productive when we encountered another otter.

Yet another miserable wet day followed, with gusty winds and monsoon-like rain. I just sat in the car and watched the wildlife close to the cottage, including grey and pied wagtails, and a small band on dunlins and ringed plover feeding from the shore.

And so arrived the last day. After seeing the local otters on my drive back to the cottage, I collected Dad and we returned to watch. I didn't hold much hope of getting any shots given the number of observers at the site, all of which were standing on the road or just off it, in plain sight of everything, including the otters. Needless to say, the otters kept away, and when a boat moored up right beside them, dropping out some lobster pots, the otters vanished completely, along with the crowds.

I drove down the road, and waited, and, after making sure everyone had gone, we returned, and waited some more. It was a good move, as one of the otters had obviously been hiding amongst the rocks, and once the audience and boat had left, it came back out to fish, and by then, I was kneeling close to the water's edge, in a swamp... so glamorous!

But worth it, when the otter climbed out to clean and groom, only a few yards from me.

Back into the water soon after, and then it seemed to head back up a small stream. I lost sight of it, and was about to return to the car when I saw it in the water near me still. Time to freeze, and move once it had dived again. It caught quite a large crab and needed to be ashore to handle it. Thankfully I was just able to get to a spot to photograph it from, but I was also aware that two people who had left before, were now back, and as before, were standing like beacons on the edge of the road.

The otter could plainly see them, and left some of the crab lunch to head back to the water again.

The beacons then left once more and after a while, the otter approached the edge of the loch, climbing out with yet another crab to eat. I relocated, and while not as close, still enjoyed the sight and sound of the otter crunching through the catch.

A pair of hooded crows pestered the otter, and even stole some of the food. This pushed the otter back into the shallows, and for a moment I thought I was going to get a second close encounter of the otter kind. But the traffic on the nearby road kept the otter at bay, and I could see it watching from beneath the cover of the seaweed.

The break was pretty much over. Two weeks spent on this gem of an island, and we would be getting a ferry mid-morning for the drive south. Reg and Yvonne had left at the crack of dawn, as they'd booked the first ferry, but I just had enough time for one last drive around the loch. Was so worth it, with a pair of golden eagles attracting my attention first...

Followed by yet another otter encounter shortly afterwards. To be crouched watching the otter fishing in a calm loch, in sunny, mild weather was heavenly, and I felt sick to have to drag myself away to drive home. Even the pouring rain that had arrived as we waited in the queue for the ferry didn't wash away the feeling.

I am considering returning maybe in November, if I can get any interest from clients wanting guiding for otters. Hope so, as I am already missing the isle. Please email me if you're interested...

Monday, 18 July 2016

Mull Photo Tour

I have to admit, as the ferry door lowered and Craignure came into view through my car's windscreen, I didn't have the usual feeling of elation to be arriving on Mull. Of course, I was happy, but I also felt slightly apprehensive, as this time the trip to this wildlife-filled island would be for the benefit of four paying clients, who had booked on the first fully-catered wildlife photography tour I had organised with my friend, and fellow professional nature photographer, Andy Howard.

Andy was already on the island, as he had some one-to-one sessions booked with another client, so I had a couple of days to help locate wildlife based on my knowledge of the best spots around Mull. I tend to visit Mull late Summer, as I have a passion for birds of prey, and by that time in the year the young have fledged, and hence there are more around. But the same knowledge soon helped me spot some of the species we wanted to show the clients, and I was pleased to see a ringtail hen harrier at one such location.

The males remained as difficult to photo as usual for me, though I did watch one bringing food back to some recently fledged youngsters in one of the glens, on a rather soggy morning. The prey seemed to be a mixture of perhaps pipits and the occasional vole.

Heading to one of several known good otter sites yielded a great view of one, as it marked its territory on the rocks.

And later that day, whilst the pair of us scoffed ice-creams, I clocked a short-eared owl in my rear-view mirror when it flew past the back of my car! It seemed to be annoying the local common gulls, and perched up near the shore to wait for a chance of perhaps raiding a nest...

Andy and I spent every hour possible before the first of the clients arrived, searching for wildlife, and it paid off when we found another otter during a downpour. With little breeze, we had to be extra careful with being quiet and still, but even limiting our shots taken and using silent modes on the cameras, the otter seemed to be aware of us being there.

The large self-catering farmhouse we had booked was available from mid-afternoon on the Saturday, and it was a pleasant thought to have a roof over our heads after camping for the first few nights. That said, we were both taken aback at how gorgeous the accommodation was, and how spacious - perfect for our clients' stay. With Andy's wife Lyndsey kindly meeting up with us that day to prep the food for the week, and our first client Ruth due to arrive, it was a case of us rapidly getting the house ready and ourselves organised.

Ruth, a professional musician, arrived shortly after, and I didn't need much persuasion to take her over to the location we'd seen the short-eared owl, while the food was being prepared. Having never seen one before, she was asking about their appearance in flight, and pointing to a "gull" at the time when I looked and realised she was looking at the owl as it quartered the meadow nearby!

The main arrival day was Sunday, and everyone seemed to turn up at the same time. The other clients were Fary (retired neuro-surgeon), John (retired joiner and mountain rescue team member) and Mark (IT Engineer). After a round of introductions over drinks and snacks, we zipped out to see what we might find on the first afternoon and evening of the tour. While the otters failed to show this time, we did get to see a female hen harrier rob a short-eared owl of its dinner, dropping the vole in the process, before swooping down to complete the mugging.

The tour would start the following morning, with a trip to Staffa and Lunga via Turus Mara's boat trip, and we were all pretty excited about it. The weather however prevented us from visiting Staffa, meaning we would have longer on Lunga, which was actually good news for us as photographers. One can never have too long with puffins!

Finding a spot away from the crowds (the majority of folks leave after a couple of hours, leaving the island to the photography groups who have paid more to stay longer), we dumped our bags and Andy suggested several types of images to go for, as well as offering advice on how to track puffins as they fly back to the cliffs. It clearly worked as the clients we soon nailing cracking images of the seabirds, whilst occasionally popping back to the bags to nibble on the picnic we'd brought with us. It's a long day so refreshments were most welcome.

While we generally stayed around the main puffin colony, there were lots of other birds around to photo, including razorbills, fulmars, guillemots, shags and great skuas.

The "bonxies" obviously terrified the smaller seabirds, and they caused panicked waves of them to flee the cliffs each time they approached. That said, despite their presence, and the gulls, ravens and peregrine falcons watching from above, the puffins generally seemed to be having an easier life than their friends down at Skomer and on the Farnes, where they're chased down by gulls on approach.

The return sailing was calmer and allowed for a rooftop view, which yielded a brief sighting of a basking shark, followed by several moments watching a pair of white-tailed eagles, plus a distant golden eagle. Not a bad start to the tour!

The benefit of having two guides on this tour meant we could have a one-to-two ratio, and as I'd brought some comms along, we could also ensure each vehicle was kept informed of anything spotted by the other one. The second day was spent looking for otters, and after dipping at one site, we managed to encounter four individuals shortly after. And while they were rarely all together in frame, we did get some good views of a pair mooching around on the rocks.

The comms then came into their own again when Andy's group had gone on ahead, and we spotted yet another pair of otters along the coast. A mother and cub, and as I was in contact with Andy, he was able to double back quickly to join us. With favourable conditions to approach, we were soon in position nearby, though not too close, to observe and capture the behaviour.

From our position, we watched as they groomed and rolled in the seaweed, with the mother occasionally going off to fish for her cub. He seemed to be enjoying life, and play fighting with her when she returned.

John commented to me that he was surprised at how excited I was whilst watching the action, quipping that perhaps it was the first time I'd seen otters. Both Andy and I tried to express that the encounter was quite simply one of the best we'd both ever enjoyed, so the excitement was hard to contain, and it was pretty clear from everyone's broad grins, the feeling throughout the group was mutual.

Amusingly, we were supposed to be visiting Iona that day, but the six otters delayed us by several hours, and we only managed to spend a short amount of time on the island. Andy splashed out on ice-creams for all, and we then set off in search of corncrakes. While we heard several, the vegetation seemed to be just that bit too tall to see any, and with time against us, we took one of the last ferries off of the island back to Mull for the drive back home.

Of course the drive back was made more enjoyable with sightings of a short-eared owl, followed by some very accommodating barn swallows resting on a barbed wire fence beside the road.

Midweek already, and with a dire forecast for Friday, we rearranged our private session with Mull Charters to be on this evening instead, meaning we would have a practice session with the public trip in the morning, ready for the main event later.

It was good to see Martin and Alex again, and we had great views of otters as we sailed out of the harbour area. Moments later, we were watching a majestic white-tailed eagle approach, and with advice on tracking the bird, and on recommended settings, some of our group managed to get some superb images right from the off. Having witnessed the event, we reviewed the images taken and addressed any concerns raised, and what we said obviously worked, as everyone soon achieved what they hoped for on the next dive.

For me personally, it felt strange to be standing back from the action, ensuring our group had the best possible view of the eagles, at the expense of my own. It's not like I don't have many images of these awesome birds though, and just watching them swoop down was a treat. I hoped that the private charter later, with fewer people on board would allow me to grab some more shots later as well.

I did take some images though, when the eagles were flying overhead, as they started to dive, and a few as they flew away, so it wasn't as though I was completely detached from the action.

We were lucky with the weather too, after a couple of sharp showers moved away, the skies generally cleared which helped everyone with maintaining the best exposures for the shots.

The second trip soon came around, and we boarded the Lady Jayne once more. By now the sky was completely blue, and when Martin moored the boat in a calm bay, with the eagles soaring overhead, it was pretty heavenly. The pair soon returned to the cliffs, and after our drinks, we sailed out to choppier waters, where one of those magical moments that happen so often on Mull, surfaced to breathe... a pod of bottlenose dolphins.

Even though there were only six of us on board, I still found myself standing back to allow everyone else to get the best views of the dolphins as they swam alongside the boat, and breached from the water all around. Some of the images taken by the group were simply sensational, and I think we all almost forgot we were supposed to be watching for the eagles!

That soon changed when the action recommenced, and we had some terrific views of the eagles coming down for the fish.

With the smaller group, I was also able to photograph the action all the way through the dives, and added a few more images to my library of these incredible birds.

The day ended with another otter sighting, and Andy bagged one of the most gorgeous sunset / silhouette otter images I've seen - benefits of having a 100-400mm lens attached to his camera instead of the big prime I had on mine. The sunset itself was worth staying for, and so ended yet another wonderful day on Mull, with yet another very late dinner, as had become the norm for this trip!

The lovely weather continued the next day, but as I have so often experienced in previous trips, good weather doesn't always mean great days of wildlife. In fact, the wildlife often seems to go into hiding on such days, for me anyway. Mull isn't just about the wildlife though, and wide-angle lenses replaced telephoto ones, for imagery of the glorious views to be had.

Taking a different route around the island allowed us to visit a site of a golden eagle nest, and using just his ears (closing his eyes) Andy worked out where the nest was, and where the eaglet was hence calling from. The parents passed over a couple of times, before we decided to leave. Halfway down the road, we spotted a large raptor low down, parked rapidly and jumped out to get some shots. Unfortunately for Ruth, Andy had been using her Canon 7D Mk2 with its cropped sensor for a bit of extra reach to view the eaglet moments earlier, and had left the shutter on a timer release, so when she tried for the shot, nothing happened. Well, apart from some unrepeatable language! For what it was worth though, the eagle was against the sun, so it'd have been difficult to gain anything decent from the image.

We didn't have to wait long for another view, this time of a different golden eagle, whilst it was being mobbed initially by a pair of buzzards, and later by a raven and hen harrier. The skies had clouded over by now, and only record shots could be taken. Not a bad record, though...

And she soon cheered up when she managed to grab a decent image of a male hen harrier as it hunted over a marsh. Something I was unable to do, as I couldn't get to my camera in time... One day I'll get a shot.

With rain forecast later, on our final full day of the tour, we all decided on an early start, and it paid dividends almost immediately, when we spotted the group of otters once more. With swirling winds, it was tricky to find a suitable spot to watch from, but manage we did, and were delighted to watch a pair of them play fighting on the seaweed, before going out fishing. With the warmer waters at this time of year, the otters generally consume their catch without needing to bring it ashore, but some of the crabs being brought up to the surface were perhaps too tricky to deal with, so they swam back to the rocks to handle them.

While we had decent views, we were really a smidge too far away for anything really good, and when the otter we had been watching went out fishing once more, heading out into the loch, I suggested we catch the others up. But then Ruth spotted one of the other otters much closer, and we all froze to watch. It was coming ashore, and we relocated to another viewpoint and collectively held our breath. It had caught a large crab, and landed it on a small seaweed-covered rock below us. We'd struck gold again!

Despite us being so close, the otter wouldn't have heard our shutters clicking (on silent mode of course) as it crunched through the shell of the crab.

Remarkably, after such amazing views, we moved to another spot on the lochside, and got even closer views of an otter, as it fed on a fish it'd caught. I couldn't fit the whole otter in the frame!

Needless to say, we stayed watching, and when the pair of young otters we had seen earlier came swimming over to the one below us, we wondered what we might see next. Alas a small movement from one of us spooked them, which was hardly surprising how close the otters had come to us, and they backed off slightly. Perhaps, for us at least, this was a good thing, as we were then able to photo the pair with a bit more space in the shot.

More magic as we saw them swimming around, hugging each other. At times with one head stacked on the other. So charming.

When they stopped playing and swam out into the water, we thought it was time to leave them be, and head elsewhere. It was getting busier on the roads, and more folks were slowing to look at what we were watching. It was also starting to rain pretty hard, as forecast. Around the loch, we saw a curlew perched on a rock, so I suggested we try for the slow speed shots to make the rain streak. Wasn't quite enough contrast to get the effect I wanted, but it wasn't bad.

Back to the digs for a well earned cooked breakfast, before we headed north to visit Tobermory for a change. We were going to take a drive around the north west corner of Mull, but ended up looking for more otters elsewhere, but drew a blank.

Saturday morning, and we had to be out of the accommodation by 10am. Andy and I busily tidied up, while our clients packed ready for their travel plans that day. As the house started to empty, as each left, both Andy and I felt a hint of sadness as the week had been such tremendous fun, and the wildlife had been incredible. I can't imagine how we could have had a better group of people as clients really. Everyone got on, shared an obvious passion for wildlife and photography, were more than willing to follow our guidance and definitely had similar senses of humour, all of which made the week fly by.

I had intended to stay for the Saturday in a vain attempt to photograph hen harriers, but the rain forecast for the evening rolled in mid-morning, and by mid-afternoon I was sailing away from Mull, with the long drive home ahead of me.

Andy has run such tours before, so perhaps didn't have the apprehension I had before this one. I didn't know what to expect; would I even enjoy the challenge? Would it be successful? Could I successfully guide and advise others to enjoy and photograph the wildlife I have captured on camera over the years on this wonderful island?

Now I know all of the answers, and am looking forward to running more tours. I loved every minute of it. To see the clients' faces light up when experiencing the action we witnessed, to hear them recount how they felt at seeing the wildlife, and to see the results on the back of their cameras, spoke volumes.

Next July (2017) we will be running two tours, with the same target species and trips booked. If you fancy joining us, please take a look at Andy's website (Click Here), and sign up.