Kicking Our Heels


And with it, our first Highland calves of 2016!

For once, the weather has been kind to our youngsters. Though they are well prepared for the worst sort of Scottish spring, you can’t help but feel that it must be more… enjoyable… to be born on a sunny morning.

All around the castle and associated buildings, Val’s 5,000 daffodils are bobbing their rubbery heads. Though a few were scorched by the inevitable frost, their ranks haven’t been thinned too much. The smell – that light vanilla scent – is all the more pleasing because of the warm air.

The tree sap has also started to rise. Our willows are studded with silvery buds. Colourful bullfinches creep about in the thin branches, nipping the growing shoots off with stubby bills and their quiet, mewing call.

In short, we’re feeling good here on Glengorm; made all the better by news that we have secured a substantial grant to continue protecting our valuable habitats and biodiversity.

As the daffodils spread liquid gold over our lawn, it feels like our hard work from the year before has finally paid off.

Stephanie Cope
Farm Animals (52)

Where the Wild Things Are

Following something of an Indian Autumn, Mull is now back to its default Winter weather setting: horrid.

Torrential rain, cyclonic wind and dour sky aside, I did manage to escape the office for a paltry hour and a half of fresh air.

It’s been a pretty difficult year on the island. As a community, it seems that everyone has been touched by loss and sadness. Sitting cross-legged above a blustery cliff face, my gaze wandered out to sea and I allowed myself time to reflect.

George, who is always annoyed when we sit down during a walk, harrumphed and stomped about in protest. In his opinion walks are strictly for walking.

Across the Sound, the Westward finger of Ardnamurchan was banded in gold. I let my eyes trail over the familiar profile; drinking in the spent bracken, which had now transcended the beauty of its living form.

Movement caught my eye. Raising my binoculars, I found a skein of Whooper swans flying near to where the lighthouse lies. There were fourteen of them.

Whoopers are my joint favourite Big White Bird – the other being the Gannet. I like the strange juxtaposition of these two: one carries summer, the other marks the onset of winter.

The swans travelled further out to sea than I expected. For a few moments, they appeared to skim over the hills of Coll as they made their way south. Their loveliness was like a sip of cool water.

George, finally, was still. I sighed and dropped my binoculars to my chest. Noting his pricked ears and intent expression, I followed his gaze to the shore below. He was watching two otters rolling about in the weed.

I grinned and wondered what he made of them.

Sometimes, being a person is tough. Life simply gets us down. When misfortune strikes, I turn to the wild things for solace.

Watching those birds, at least a few of my cares left upon their downy backs.

A wonderful festive season to you all,

Stephanie Cope

Whooper Swans


Hitting the Bottle

There have been times this summer when, braced against horizontal rain and bellowing into the faces of distressed transatlantic tourists, I have had cause to re-evaluate my career choice. Sometimes being a wildlife guide just isn’t that easy.

Worse still, there are occasions when the wildlife is there with bells on… but your clients, dressed in pristine tennis shoes and casting wistful glances back towards the Castle and its Whisky Library, seem immune to its manifold charms.

It was at the end of just such a session when, deflated and frustrated, I returned alone to the rocks to search for Basking sharks. I only get to see these animals maybe once or twice a year; despite my every attempt to persuade the guests in question that they were well worth taking a closer look at, they had absolutely no desire to detour from our main route to see them.

I continued the walk in a state of puzzlement – evidently, I was expected to produce something even more spectacular.

Two cavorting Otters, a leaping pod of Bottlenose Dolphins and a White-tailed Eagle fly-past all failed to arouse so much as a flicker of interest. I was horrified.

When I arrived at the shore some time later, the sharks had long since disappeared. I hunkered down on a cushion of grass, plunking small shells into the water and brooding darkly on my misfortune.

It seemed unjust that these natural history ingrates had been blessed with a silver platter of island wildlife, when other [far more deserving] guests were delighted by the wooden spoon of foul weather and clouds of bloodsucking midges. Mother Nature can be capricious.

I waited hours. My backside transcended “numb” and reached some higher level of discomfort. The Sound was a shark-free zone.

Reluctantly, I slung my binoculars over my shoulder and turned towards home. I had already moved some distance before I turned to see a bright star flash in the water. Several others winked after it in rapid succession.  A couple of Shags scuttered over the surface, apparently moving out of the way. The dolphins were back.

Galvanised into action, I all but threw myself over the cliff and down onto the salt splashed rocks. My binoculars and camera swung wildly as I lurched from foothold to foothold. Breathless and more than a little sweaty, I watched.

There has been a lot of research into dolphin cognition. And really, I shudder to contemplate what they must have thought – casually swimming past this quiet stretch of the Mull coast, only to discover a crazed human being, literally bouncing with enthusiasm and grinning like an unhinged lottery-winner. No wonder they came so close; it must have been quite a sight. Two dusky silver calves popped up alongside the adults, and for a moment, I thought I might actually explode with happiness.

It’s days like that when I fall in love with this island all over again.

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward

Family Photo: the two adult females and the two calves! 


What Heat Wave?

There are two fundamental forces that govern my working life:  the wildlife and the weather. This year, Mother Nature has quite literally flipped me the bird. Star-Species sightings have never been so good – but the weather has never been so bad.

For our smaller residents, things are looking pretty bleak. I have only seen one Beautiful demoiselle this season; even on sunny days, the display sites that I regularly walk past have been devoid of life.

But, just when I’m scuffing my boots and zipping up my rain jacket, Mull sends a scene to lift even the dampest spirit.

This season, two White-tailed eagles are spending time in the vicinity of our hide. It has provided an opportunity to enjoy some of their more intimate and engaging behaviours.

The birds fly low over our vantage point on a regular basis. Though they previously enjoyed sitting on our small offshore skerries, they have now taken to loitering further up the loch – offering superlative views.

Their interest is largely focussed on the flotillas of young Greylag geese that cruise about the weedy margins with their parents. Following a landing with a Surf ‘n’ Turf group a couple of weeks ago, we witnessed one of the birds making passes at geese less than 20m away from us on shallow water. It seemed completely unperturbed by our presence, having arrived just as we were clambering across the rocks from the boat.

Last Tuesday, I watched the adult male fishing in the loch for only the second time ever. It seems possible that recent rainfall has raised the level of the burn – perhaps attracting a small run of Sea trout up to spawn.

Better still, there have been times when both birds have arrived together. My guests Tony and Barbara were treated to the spectacle of the female bird vocalising; drawing her mate down from the sky and engaging in a noisy but tender greeting display. Sitting together on the opposite shore, they were magnificent. We even witnessed a brief spell of mutual preening.

Otter sightings have been excellent too – very encouraging news after last year’s quiet spell. The resident dog otter has been loafing about at almost every decent tide, and a female with two older cubs is frequently seen working the shoreline.

I might not have had opportunity to wear my shorts yet (!) but there is still plenty to look out for here on Glengorm.

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward

Eagle Eyes: one of our White-Tailed Eagles flies low for a closer look… 

White-Tailed Eagle