Trip report - west Scotland: Islay and Mull

09th November 2017
Dates: 2nd to 8th November 2017

Destination: West Scotland: Islay and Mull



Purpose of trip:

The purpose of my trip was to visit 2 of the most wildlife rich islands in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland, namely Islay and Mull.

I previously visited Islay in November 2007 and November 2008, the latter combined with a visit to Mull. A return visit to Islay, in particular to see the huge flocks of wintering Barnacle Geese, was long overdue.

I have visited Mull many times before and this was my second visit in 2017 following my first in June 2017.

Primary target areas:

The primary target areas for wildlife watching and/or landscape photography were:

Islay: Loch Gruinart RSPB reserve, Loch Indaal, The Oa RSPB reserve plus a number of other sites as described in the Islay Natural History Trust website.

Mull: Loch na Keal, Loch Scridain, Glen More, Grasspoint, Loch Don plus a number of other sites as described on the Scottish Ornithologists' Club website.

Mainland Argyll coast: Knapdale and north to Oban

Getting there and getting around:

I travelled up to Glasgow by Virgin trains on 2nd November 2017, departing London Euston at 11:30 and arriving at 15:59. I returned to London Kings Cross on 8th November 2017, departing Glasgow Central at 14:40 and arriving at 19:09. Taking advantage of yet another Virgin Trains “sale”, I obtained an advance first class return ticket for £74 which included a single seat and lots more space than second class plus free wi-fi, free meals and free coffee/tea, soft drinks, beer and wine .... excellent!

In Glasgow, I hired a car from late afternoon on 2nd November 2017 to late afternoon on 8th November 2017 from Hertz in central Glasgow for £88.58, reduced by Quidco cashback to £82.38.

I travelled to Islay on 3rd November 2017 by the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry service from Kennacraig to Port Ellen, departing at 07:00 and arriving at 09:10. I returned on 4th November 2017 by the same service, departing at 09:45 and arriving at 11:55. The return fare for car and passenger was £78.

I travelled to Mull on 6th November 2017 by the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry service from Oban to Craignure, departing at 06:45 and arriving at 07:30. I returned on 8th November 2017 by the same service, departing at 09:00 and arriving at 09:45. The return fare for car and passenger was £32.90.



During my trip, I had overnight stays at the following:

2nd November 2017: Travelodge Dumbarton just north of Glasgow. I regularly book Travelodges throughout the UK and usually they provide a very satisfactory overnight stay and very good value for money (if booked well in advance). However, on this occasion, noise within the Travelodge continued until at least 1 a.m. which was not conducive to a good night’s sleep before a 4 a.m. departure and a 2 hour drive to catch the Islay ferry! On my return home, I submitted a complaint to Travelodge and credit to them they provided an e-voucher equivalent to my £33 booking without any question.

I had my evening meal at the immediately adjacent Masala Twist restaurant, an exceptionally good Indian restaurant.

3rd and 4th November 2017: Loch Gruinart House. This wonderful old and characterful house is situated in the north of Islay, at the head of Loch Gruinart and within the boundaries of the Loch Gruinart RSPB reserve …. where else can you watch large flocks of wintering Barnacle Geese at breakfast time? I was provided with a warm and comfortable room with 2 single beds and a toilet and shower room just along the corridor. A large guest lounge with a TV was also available. My 2 nights including breakfast cost me just £50 after a reduction for my RSPB membership. Loch Gruinart House proved to be an ideal location for the Loch Gruinart RSPB reserve and for travelling further around Islay. Many thanks Jack and Finn the Labrador for your welcome and hospitality! Loch Gruinart House is highly recommended and will definitely be my first choice for accommodation when I next visit Islay.

I had my evening meals at the Bridgend Hotel in Bridgend and the SeaSalt Bistro in Port Ellen (the sister restaurant Yan’s Kitchen in Port Charlotte was unfortunately closed for the winter). I enjoyed both restaurants and they are recommended accordingly.



Photo: Barnacle Geese on the Loch Gruinart RSPB reserve with Loch Gruinart House in the trees in the middle background

5th November 2017: Ayres Guest House. This guest house in an old 4 storey building (no lift!) offers clean, comfortable and basic rooms in Oban. The room cost just £24 after the 20% off winter discount. I did not have breakfast at Ayres Guest House given that the ferry to Mull departed at 6:45 a.m.

I had my evening meal at Ee-Usk, an exceptionally good, but perhaps over-priced, fish restaurant on the North Pier of Oban Harbour. It did, however, provide a very good vantage point for the town firework display.

6th and 7th November 2017: Barn Cottage and Stables. I have stayed at several bed and breakfasts and guest houses on Mull over the years and I still do not know why it took so long to find this gem. Barn Cottage and Stables is situated in Gruline just 3 miles from Salen and very close to the eastern end of Loch na Keal. The accommodation is in an ideal central location for travelling around Mull. I was provided with a spotlessly clean twin room with 2 single beds and a private toilet and bath room just along the corridor. A large guest lounge with a TV was also available. My 2 nights including breakfast cost me £70 and the quality of accommodation was by far the best that I have experienced on Mull. Many thanks Sue for your welcome and hospitality and for our chats on all things Mull! …. and to Bonnie the dog for her excitable greeting .... and to Mrs Whittaker the chicken for the breakfast eggs! Barn Cottage and Stables is highly recommended and, as an annual visitor to Mull, Sue can definitely expect future bookings from me.

Unfortunately, the Mediterranea, an Italian restaurant in Salen where I had a meal on my last trip to Mull in June 2017, was closed for the winter and Am Birlinn near Dervaig, which I have still yet to try, was not open on the days that I was visiting Mull on this occasion. Therefore, I had my evening meals at Macgochans, a restaurant and bar in Tobermory, and the Craignure Inn in Craignure. I enjoyed Macgochans but the Craignure Inn was very disappointing compared with my previous visits with the lack of any warm welcome and an extremely long wait for average quality food.

This is a summary of my itinerary and route:

2nd November 2017: Glasgow – Dumbarton

3rd November 2017: Dumbarton – Tarbet – Inverary – Lochgilphead – Kennacraig – Islay ferry (Kennacraig to Port Ellen) – Port Ellen – Ardbeg – Kildalton – Claggain Bay – Kildalton – Ardbeg – Port Ellen –The Oa RSPB reserve – Port Ellen – Loch Indaal (Port Ellen – Bowmore – Bridgend – Bruichladdich) – Loch Gorm – Machir Bay – Saligo – Sanaigmore – Loch Gruinart RSPB reserve – Loch Gruinart House

4th November 2017: Loch Gruinart House – Loch Gruinart RSPB reserve – Ardnave – Killinallan – Loch Indaal (Bridgend – Bowmore) – Bridgend – Bunnahabhain – Bridgend – Port Ellen – Kintra – Port Ellen – Loch Gruinart House

5th November 2017: Loch Gruinart House – Bridgend – Port Ellen – Islay ferry (Port Ellen to Kennacraig) – Kennacraig – West Tarbet – Kilberry – Ormsary – Achahoish – Ardrishaig – Lochgilphead – Cairnbaan – Bellanoch – Tayvallich – Bellanoch – Kilmartin – Kimelford – Kilninver – Oban

6th November 2017: Mull ferry (Oban to Craignure) – Craignure – Salen – Tobermory – Dervaig – Calgary Bay – Loch Tuath – Loch na Keal – Loch Scridain – Loch na Keal – Gruline – Barn Cottage and Stables

7th November 2017: Barn Cottage and Stables – Salen – Craignure – Loch Don – Grasspoint – Glen More – Loch Scridain – Carsaig – Loch Scridain – Loch na Keal – Gruline – Barn Cottage and Stables

8th November 2017: Barn Cottage and Stables – Salen – Craignure – Mull ferry (Craignure to Oban) – Oban – Taynuilt – Lochawe – Inverary – Tarbet - Glasgow

Weather:

My first full day on Islay was very cloudy with periods of light drizzle and a maximum temperature of 10°C. Whilst the wildlife sightings were excellent, the poor light prevented any decent photography opportunities. My second full day was much better for photography with a lot of sunshine interrupted by brief heavy rain and hail showers plus some spectacular rainbows. The maximum temperature was 7°C.



Photo: Sound of Islay and Jura from Bunnahabhain, Islay

My day travelling from Islay back to Kennacraig and then along the Argyll coast north to Oban was very sunny with a maximum temperature of 8°C. The evening was dry with clear skies for the firework display over Oban Harbour.

My first full day on Mull was a complete contrast to the previous day. It started with drizzle which progressed to light rain and then to heavy rain and strong winds by the afternoon. However, I still had some excellent wildlife sightings although my camera did not leave its bag. The maximum temperature was 9°C. The day concluded with my arrival at Barn Cottage and Stables with Sue bravely emerging from her warm and dry home to greet me. Similar to my stay on Islay, my second full day was much better for photography with a lot of sunshine interrupted by brief heavy rain showers plus some spectacular rainbows and an amazing sunset over Loch na Keal at Killiechronan. The maximum temperature was 8°C.



Photo: Loch Scridain, Mull



Photo: Loch na Keal, Mull

My last evening on Mull on 7th November 2017 was apparently a good opportunity to see the Northern Lights according to the alert issued by Aurora Watch UK. However, my drive back from the Craignure Inn to Barn Cottage and Stables was through heavy rain so there was absolutely no chance of seeing any colourful skyscapes!

Highlights:

During my trip, I was able to record 89 bird species and 8 mammal species.

Trip list - west Scotland: Islay and Mull

With regard to birds, I was able to add 5 species to my 2017 list, namely Greenland White-fronted Goose, Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Merlin, Woodcock and, most notably, White-tailed Eagle. I had completely failed to see a single White-tailed Eagle during my day trip to Mull in June 2017 despite extensive searching throughout the island and at specific sites where I had seen them before and therefore I was pleased to see 6 White-tailed Eagles on this trip to Mull.



Photo (taken in poor light and heavy rain): White-tailed Eagle - Killiechronan, Mull

Mammals included Otter (3 on Mull: 2 in Loch na Keal and 1 in Loch Beg) and Harbour Porpoise (2 from the Port Ellen to Kennacraig ferry and 2 from the Craignure to Oban ferry) plus Red Deer, Fallow Deer, Roe Deer, Common Seal, Brown Hare and Rabbit.



Photo: Roe Deer - Loch Gruinart RSPB reserve, Islay

The most notable sightings were as follows.

Islay ferry (Kennacraig to Port Ellen): Kittiwake, Shag, Eider, Slavonian Grebe (possible)

Islay – Port Ellen to Kildalton: Great Northern Diver (1), Red-breasted Merganser, Heron, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk (1), Rock Dove (18), Red Deer (1), Common Seal (8)

Islay – Kildalton and Claggain Bay area: Great Northern Diver (5), Gannet (1), Oystercatcher, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk (2), Hooded Crow, Rock Dove (10), Brambling (1), Red Deer (5)

Islay – The Oa RSPB reserve: Golden Eagle (5), Raven (3), Chough (2), Hooded Crow, Barnacle Goose (c.100), Twite (c.200), Brambling (1), Fieldfare, Redwing

Islay – Loch Indaal: Red-throated Diver (1), Barnacle Goose (very large flocks), Pale-bellied Brent Goose (2), Whooper Swan (12), Scaup (c.60), Eider, Wigeon, Red-breasted Merganser, Shag, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Common Buzzard, Hooded Crow, Stonechat, Redwing

Islay – Loch Gorm area: Whooper Swan (2), Barnacle Goose (large flock), Greenland White-fronted Goose (large flock), Greylag Goose, Tufted Duck, Heron

Islay – Kilchoman and Machir Bay: Chough (c.35), Brown Hare (1)

Islay – Kilchoman to Saligo: Barnacle Goose (small flock), Greenland White-fronted Goose (small flock), Merlin (1), Stonechat, Redwing, Roe Deer (1)

Islay – Saligo to Sanaigmore: Barnacle Goose (very large flock), Hen Harrier (1), Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk (2), Fieldfare, Redwing

Islay – Loch Gruinart RSPB reserve: Barnacle Goose (very large flocks), Greenland White-fronted Goose (small flocks), Whooper Swan (10), Mute Swan, Wigeon, Pintail, Shoveler, Teal, Mallard, Golden Plover (c.200), Lapwing, Curlew, Woodcock (1), Barn Owl (1 near Loch Gruinart House), Common Buzzard, Hooded Crow, Roe Deer (3)

Islay – Ardnave area: Goldeneye (2), Raven (1), Common Buzzard, Stonechat, Reed Bunting, Redwing (c.200)

Islay – road to Killlinallan (east side of Loch Gruinart): Barnacle Goose (very large flock), Goldeneye (1), Red-breasted Merganser, Wigeon, Mallard, Heron, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Redshank, Turnstone, Common Buzzard, Stonechat

Islay – Bunnahabhain area: Heron, Shag, Mute Swan, Wigeon, Common Buzzard, Hooded Crow, Red-legged Partridge

Islay – Port Ellen to Bridgend: Barn Owl (2)

Islay – Port Ellen: Shag, Ringed Plover, Mute Swan, Common Seal (10)

Islay ferry (Port Ellen to Kennacraig): Gannet (1), Common Guillemot (16), Black Guillemot (3), Great Northern Diver (4), Red-throated Diver (3), Shag, Kittiwake, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Harbour Porpoise (2), Common Seal (c.25)

Argyll coast – Loch Caolisport: Great Northern Diver (5), Black-throated Diver (2), Razorbill (1), Shag, Red-breasted Merganser, Greylag Goose (c.70), Heron, Common Seal (6)

Argyll – Oban: Rock Pipit

Mull – Salen area: Wigeon, Common Buzzard, Redwing

Mull – Tobermory area: Raven (1)

Mull – Mishnish Lochs: Whooper Swan (2)

Mull – Dervaig area; Common Buzzard

Mull – Loch Tuath (Laggan Bay): Red-breasted Merganser, Heron, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Lapwing, Hooded Crow, Stonechat, Rock Pipit

Mull – Loch na Keal: White-tailed Eagle (3 at Killiechronan and 2 at Scarisdale Rocks), Golden Eagle (2 at Killiechronan), Great Northern Diver (1), Slavonian Grebe (2), Black Guillemot (1), Shag, Goosander (3), Red-breasted Merganser, Mallard, Heron, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Rock Dove (c.35), Raven (2), Hooded Crow, Fieldfare, Stonechat, Otter (2)

Mull – Loch Beg: Little Grebe (2), Heron, Merlin (1), Redwing, Otter (1)

Mull – Loch Scridain: White-tailed Eagle (1), Great Northern Diver (8), Shag, Heron, Red-breasted Merganser, Oystercatcher, Hooded Crow

Mull – Gruline: Greylag Goose (very large flock), Fallow Deer (14), Red Deer (1)

Mull – Loch Don: Wigeon, Teal, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Buzzard, Common Seal (1)

Mull – Grasspoint: Heron, Shag, Oystercatcher, Common Buzzard, Redwing, Red Deer (2)

Mull – Glen More: Common Buzzard, Raven (3), Red Deer (18)

Mull – Pennyghael – Heron, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Common Buzzard

Mull – Carsaig – Common Seal (c.50)

Mull – Glen Seilisdeir: Golden Eagle (2), Common Buzzard, Kestrel (1), Red Deer (3)

Mull ferry (Craignure to Oban): Great Northern Diver (1), Common Guillemot (1), Kittiwake, Shag, Eider, Harbour Porpoise (2)



Photo: Glen More, Mull

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