Hitting the Road for a Wildlife Tour of Mull

by Keith Savage · 6 comments

A Wet Day on Mull Searching for Wildlife

The Isle of Mull is ruled by its wildlife. Red deer, white-tailed sea eagles, golden eagles, Atlantic gray seals, otter, and a panoply of nesting, migrating, and just plain blown-off-course birds make their home on Mull and draw visitors from all over the United Kingdom and the world. The chance to see some of these animals in the wild largely drew me to Mull, and, though it’s depressing to think we’ve denuded so much of the world’s land of its wildlife, I knew a wildlife tour around Mull would be a much happier experience than visiting the local zoo.

There are several wildlife tour operators on Mull each with their own routes and specific focus. Neil at Holiday Mull & Iona helped me choose and book a tour on Discover Mull that takes in Mull’s northern peninsula, which is known for seal and otter spottings on the west coast and a fairly high frequency of eagle and deer sightings as well. The presence of wildlife is a sign of good, healthy land, and it always resonates with me, makes me feel closer to a place. Good weather clearly contributes to these tours, and, though the weather had been iffy at best, I was hoping for a clear day out.

It rained. A lot. Constantly, incessantly, and unceasingly. That almost conveys how much it rained.

Scotland is a wet place to begin with and Mull is the wettest island in Scotland by average yearly rainfall. I won’t belabor how sodden my clothes became or how my hands and feet felt like bloodless frozen clubs at the ends of my limbs – I thawed and dried out later – suffice to say the weather was not cooperative. Luckily, it didn’t matter (other than the fact that I didn’t get any pictures). Pam and Arthur, the couple running Discover Mull, didn’t have any problem spotting Mull’s wild treasures through the downpour.

A trip with Discover Mull starts early and lasts most of the day. I drove through Dervaig and out into the countryside to find Pam and Arthur’s home-based headquarters, though others on the trip were picked up in Tobermory. The eight of us piled into the massive Ford Tourneo van and within minutes we were on the road craning out necks and listening to Pam and Arthur discuss Mull’s geology, flora, and fauna.

We struck west toward Calgary Bay where many varieties of birds can be found as they migrate to their winter homes. I’m not much of a birder myself, but being around companions of such avian zeal I found myself interested in the species weathering the winds on the beach. Arthur was particularly excited as he spotted a rare pectoral sandpiper.

Continuing south on the B8073 around some precipitous rocky cliffs, we made our way to Lagganulva stopping frequently along the way. Shortly after pausing at a waterfall engorged by all the recent rain, we spotted a troupe of red deer ascending the upper reaches of a nearby hillside. I locked in the deer in my binoculars and was surprised to see how large and stocky they appeared, more like elk than the whitetails we have around Wisconsin.

The next great sighting came as a woman in the back of the van pointed out an otter running along the beach. Arthur veered to the side of the road and slammed the van into park. We all jumped out and watched as a large black otter ambulated in its characteristic loping gait toward the water. We backtracked north in the van, mirroring his path along the coast. Eventually he crawled out of the sea on to some rocks where he happily chomped on some hapless sea creature.

Under the cover of the van’s large back door, Pam broke out containers of tea sandwiches and homemade soup. We ate Pam’s delicious handiwork and warmed ourselves with coffee while we watched the otter through the wind and rain. I should point out here that a large part of what made this tour great was the chemistry between Pam and Arthur and their warm, welcoming demeanor. They didn’t bat an eye at the weather and made it clear that spotting wildlife is a game of chance. They didn’t guarantee anything and treated each sighting as a wondrous occasion even though they must see many of these animals almost daily.

The drive back toward Dervaig included spotting Atlantic gray seals lounging on tiny islands off the coast and more than a couple golden eagles and white-tailed sea eagles wheeling beneath the clouds. The white-tailed sea eagles are massive birds of prey with wingspans that can best eight feet (more on these guys in a future post). All told, we spotted some 45 different species of animals on the wildlife tour, which is incredible considering the weather conditions.

Our tour ended in late afternoon with a return to Pam and Arthur’s abode for tea and home-baked goods. The ten of us chatted, recapped our sightings, and, most importantly, warmed up. You might think that driving around Mull and looking for wildlife is something anyone can do, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but I’m betting the success rate would be a lot lower without Pam and Arthur’s sharp eyes and knowledge of wildlife stomping grounds. I loved seeing the deer, otter, eagles, and seals. If you’re a bird lover, this is a trip you cannot afford to miss.

Disclosure: Discover Mull provided me with a complimentary wildlife tour around northern Mull. Special thanks to Neil of Holiday Mull & Iona for setting up the trip. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.

Travel ScotlandNo Gravatar January 3, 2012 at 3:28 PM

Mull is a very beautiful island, and indeed with some great wildlife surprises. I was there with a tour group a couple of years ago when a huge White Tailed Sea Eagle was hovering above the road in front of us, before soaring back up to the wild cliffs ahead. I realy love the single-track road from Pennyghael to Salen by Loch na Keal; it feels almost prehistoric – you half expect to see a Pterodactyl swoop down from out of the mountain mist.

If you combine a visit to Mull with a trip over to Iona and to Staffa, it makes for a magical couple of days.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 4, 2012 at 8:42 AM

Funny that you mention the “prehistoric” feeling there – I noticed a similar thing when I drove to the Iona ferry from Tobermory via Loch na Keal to Pennyghael and on through the Ross of Mull. It was a low sky kind of day and that section of road is the only indicator that man has been through those parts. Time travel.

KenNo Gravatar January 3, 2012 at 6:39 AM

Sounds like a great tour made even better by friendly, expert guides. Seeing wildlife does somehow give you hope that it isn’t too late for our planet.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 3, 2012 at 8:05 AM

Arthur was really funny and seemed to draw energy from the bad weather. It’s clear they love what they do, and that makes all the difference.

wandering educatorsNo Gravatar January 3, 2012 at 5:44 AM

i’d LOVE to do this – well, maybe not the being so cold and wet part, but that’s part and parcel.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 3, 2012 at 8:00 AM

It was well worth the cold and rain. Easy recommendation for anyone going to Mull.

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