Wednesday 9 September 2009

where the wild things are. Or aren't

Our landlady had booked a wildlife tour for us. So the next morning Tricia and I are standing in the village car park, the rendezvous for our day out, shielding ourselves from a sudden, savage, but thankfully fleeting downpour, when a minibus skids to a halt and out comes our guide. But that's not a local accent! No, it certainly isn't; our guide is Brian - from Newcastle, our home town. Geordies, like Australians, get everywhere. He and his partner Joy came to Mull several years ago, and now run the Pennyghael Village Stores. Brian gets the arduous task of going birdwatching every day while Joy minds the shop. He's cracked the work-life balance thing, I'd say.

We are issued with binoculars, and asked what we'd like to see today. No promises are given that we will see anything at all. I say "Big birds! Eagles!" and Tricia says "A stag!" and off we go.
Within 5 minutes, we all tumble out of the van, and watch a white-tailed eagle soaring above the hills. Just a speck in the sky, it eventually settles on a rock, Brian gets out the telescope, we ooh and aah like the excitable novices we are, and a photograph of this handsome bird is taken by placing my camera up against the eyepiece of the telescope. Fuzzy but strangely satisfying.

Later on, I mention that I should like a photograph of a Highland cow. Yes, I'm a nostalgic twit from a city, and Highland cows remind me of those tooth-rotting bars of toffee we bought in childhood for twopence.

These cows aren't necessarily rare and thrilling creatures to discover en route, but still pretty impressive. They amble near to us, chewing noisily, but seem happier to have their large rear ends photographed than their large amiable faces.

There are buzzards everywhere, often on telegraph poles, as here. Sometimes they watch us as we gaze upwards. They look unmoved.

Hairy caterpillars cross our path.
There's not much traffic to worry about here, but still, I do, and am relieved when this one makes it safely across the narrow road.

I don't take many pictures; this is a day to be experienced, taken into the mind and heart, rather than captured in amateur snaps. For a long time, we watch an otter - how surprisingly big otters are! like a medium dog - diving, fishing, head and forepaws emerging to eat its catch, but not venturing onto the rocks as we hope. But with binoculars, we are close enough to see its stiff bristling whiskers as it chews its fish.

We fail to see adders. Tricia is relieved; living in Australia, snakes and spiders are not her favourite creatures. There are two large mountain hares that take me forever to spot on the rocks; they have haughty, disapproving
expressions; Lady Bracknell sucking a lemon.

We see deer, and eventually, again on a high crag, stags against the skyline, and use the telescope once more to capture a fuzzy image. Tricia would have loved a closer encounter, but these happen only in winter when the deer are fed by humans - our hosts at the guest house undertake this task, and have wonderful close-up photographs of stags in the wintry mist, taken from a few feet away.
This will have to do.

We have a delightful day, learning, exclaiming, marvelling, and developing our skills in focusing binoculars and quickly locating what invariably starts out as a speck visible only to Brian. We see golden eagles, and learn to distinguish their wing shape from that of the white-tailed eagles. There are a great number of other, smaller birds, whose names now escape me, although we keep a list. We gaze and absorb; lists don't matter.

Tricia manages to get in and out of the van many times, nimbly and without complaining about pain and the heavy sliding door; as ever, she is stoical about her arthritis, her two hip and one shoulder replacements. We have a sandwich lunch standing outside the van; we ask patient Brian a million questions. We drive up and down the winding roads, stunning and varied views on all sides. It is such a treat to be driven around by someone else!

Despite the continual challenge of managing cameras, specs, binoculars and occasionally our naked eyes, we manage rather well. Tricia swears that she is going to get herself binoculars when she returns to bird- and wildlife-rich Australia; I consider borrowing the ones that the Lovely Son was so underwhelmed to receive last Christmas. I could watch Millie's reconnoitring of other people's back yards.

We see the weather coming and going.

Lucky for us that we have a van to shelter inside for a few minutes.

And then all is calm.

Eventually it's time for us to hand back the binoculars, and go home. What a brilliant, fascinating, informative day out for two 60-year-old city-dwellers!


judy in ky said...

That cow is just like my cat. Every time I point the camera at her, she turns her back on me.

Pam said...

I've so enjoyed your little holiday. I must go back to Mull some day. I love islands and we have so many of them in Scotland. I would so hate to live far away from the sea.

Eagerly awaiting kitten pictures!

rogern said...

What a fantastic day. the stag photo viewed full size is lovely.

colour palette like Harris Tweed.

Linda said...

What a wonderful trip. I'm quite jealous.
I especially love the last photo.

Anonymous said...

Life is so rich eh? The minds eye image of the otter and the final photo are my favs from this lovely post.

Thursday said...

A lovely, lovely, day, beautifully conveyed.

Lesley said...

I want to go now!! You really captured the day and I'm glad you took some snaps, especially the alst one, just to add to the flavour. Lovely stuff.

Lesley x

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