Mullman – 21.4.22

A raptor tussock on Mull.

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Mull has become something of a Mecca for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers.

Otters and eagles are the two main attractions that draw thousands of visitors to the island every year.

I first got into birdwatching when I was very small and my grandparents used to take me out to local nature reserves to sit in a hide and see what treasures we could spot. I inherited their enthusiasm and passion for birds and all things wild.

I spent nearly every spare hour as a kid, watching otters around my home on Mull, recording their movements, dive times, prey items, behaviour, tracks, lie ups and holts.
Folk really wanting to see otters in the early 80s before any wildlife tours had started on Mull, used to occasionally get sent in my direction, and I would take them for a walk to meet my mustelid friends.

I used to live in such remote parts of Mull as a teenager, with no friends within easy reach, so the otters were indeed my friends, and I spent countless hours in their presence. As anyone who has done the same with any species will know, a special bond is created and a deep understanding of a species is gained when so much time is spent studying them.

Otters are particularly easy to fall in love with. They have been voted the most popular animal in the UK many times. I am a complete otterholic, never tiring of watching them and always learning more.

Like most members of the mustelid family, they are very playful. I once watched a couple of young cubs in Loch Scridain playing chase, and hide and seek around a boulder. The seaweed hanging from that boulder created a curtain and the adorable cubs were hiding behind it, and leaping out on each other as they ran round and round this large rock trying to catch one another.

Otters mark their territory by sprainting in the same places, letting other otters know they are in the area or have passed by that way, or warning others to keep out. These latrines become glaringly obvious, as the otter poo fertilises the ground and makes the grass grow more lush green. You can see these bright green patches all around Mull’s coastline, often beside fresh water pools, river entrances or prominent spots such as headlands just off the shore where the otters wash their coats before retiring from a days fishing in their holt or lie up for a well needed snooze. These latrines often build up over time, hundreds of years in some cases I believe, creating mounds that they like to spraint on top of, making their sign post grow higher and higher. I have seen these tussocks approx half a meter in height.

Eagles and other raptors do the same. They are not marking their territory though, they are simply using the tops of hills to sit on as the best possible vantage points to scan around for prey. These raptor tussocks also form over many hundreds of years in places where there are no trees to perch in.

The eagles, buzzards, kestrel and crows, for example, all use these vantage points, with their poo and pellets also fertislising the ground. Over time the mound grows higher, becoming a better and better perch.

These mounds can be seen like nipples on the tops of many hills on Mull, often with a bird perched on top, searching the vicinity for its next meal. If you go and have a look at one, you will usually find some bird poo and or some pellets coughed up by the birds using it.

Ants often make these tussocks their homes, adding to the creation of the mound and presumably being fed by prey remains etc at the same time. There is much scope for more research involving these tussocks.

Enjoy Mull and the rest of Argyll and its incredible wildlife, and please take care not to disturb the wildlife you are viewing.