top of page

Magical Mull: What to Spot, and Where?

Updated: Jul 2, 2023

Madelaine Stannard gives a guide to the array of wildlife you can spot on Mull, and insight into the most ethical manner in which to observe the island’s natural beauty!

Just some of the stunning scenery on the Isle of Mull, home to a diverse array of wildlife and plants - Madelaine Stannard (@maddie_stannard_wild)

Give yourself five minutes to scroll through your Explore feed, under the hashtag #wildlifephotography, and it won’t be long until you find yourself on a deep dive of the spectacular array, and to put it simply, a magical collection of wildlife on the Isle of Mull, Scotland.


Watch any wildlife documentary on the British Isles, and I’d be surprised if the island wasn’t mentioned. Just off the West coast of Scotland and the second-largest island of the Inner Hebrides, Mull is what can only be described as a refuge. I’ve had the privilege of visiting twice, and always I’ve been left more and more in love with what I think is one of the greatest places on Earth.


Mull has gained a striking reputation amongst wildlife enthusiasts, with it sometimes being described as the “wildlife capital of the UK” - just a singular trip can yield sightings of white-tailed and golden eagles, red deer, otters, hen harriers, common dolphins, minke whales, seals, occasionally killer whales, and so much more.


That is, if you know where to look…


White-Tailed Eagles


After 100 years of extinction, and a successful reintroduction programme (akin to that of the red kites), white-tailed eagles have made their return to the British Isles, with a particularly high density concentrated on the Isle of Mull. These birds thrive on the rugged landscapes that Mull offers, exploiting both its inland lochs and towering cliff faces by the sea.


A sighting of a white-tailed eagle is undeniable, with their impressive wingspan of eight feet! The pale head of these birds, as well as the aptly named tail that is white in colouration, helps you distinguish them from their counterparts, the golden eagles.

White-tailed eagles both on the ground and in flight - Madelaine Stannard (@maddie_stannard_wild)


For your best chances of a white-tailed eagle sighting, here are some hotspots based on personal experience as well as word on the street:


● Driving around the periphery of Loch Na Keal offers you a high chance of spotting a white-tailed eagle, although your luck is improved by parking up the car and settling down to wait. Keep an eye on the cliffs and ridges for that unmistakable wingspan, but also cast your eye out to any exposed rocks within the loch when the tide is low - the eagles are frequently observed resting and feeding here.


Loch Scridain and Loch Beg (the furthest inland point of Loch Scridain) are also key spots for a sighting, and a guided trip with Wild About Mull, an ecotourism company led by Brian Rains gives you a high chance of witnessing these birds. Brian’s knowledge of the island and its wildlife is second to none, and on our tour, we were taken to remote spots where we could view the eagles from a safe and respectable distance.


● Other popular spots include Loch Frisa and Calgary Bay.


Golden Eagles


Although smaller than the white-tailed, golden eagles are equally impressive - where their larger cousins have a pale head, golden eagles are distinctively golden, but just as stunning to observe. You are more likely to see these birds over open moorland and mountain ranges, and their feathered wingtips make them very easily distinguishable from other birds of prey on the island.

Golden Eagles, soaring along the ridges with their impressive wingspan on display - Madelaine Stannard (@maddie_stannard_wild)


● Driving the scenic route to and along the Burg, a rock formation resulting from a large volcanic complex around 50 million years ago, is likely to yield you a sighting of a golden eagle, as long as you keep your eyes trained on the ridges of the hills, where eagles often glide along.


Otters


Everyone’s favourite, the otter. If there’s one thing you should know about spotting otters on Mull, it’s that patience truly is a virtue - it took me two years to have the chance to take shots that I was actually happy with. That’s not to say that otters are hard to come by, considering that Mull is a stronghold for the species and that the rocky shores of lochs, both coastal and inland, are such a traversable and utilisable habitat for these mammals. But it’s worth noting that being in the right location (at the right time!), being in a position for the animal to not take too much notice, and knowing where to look, is more often than not a game of luck, time and effort.


That being said, there are things you can do and places you can spend extra time to maximise your chances - the most important thing to remember however, is that ethics comes first. There are articles written on how to respect the wildlife around you, especially when photographing animals, such as this article on photographing sea otters ethically - but a good principle to consider is that if the otter you are observing changes its behaviour because of you, you are too close.


A series of otters photographed on the island, using different fieldcraft skills (in this case, watching and waiting!) - Madelaine Stannard (@maddie_stannard_wild)


● Once again, I would recommend a guided tour with Wild About Mull, but it is absolutely not essential! Some of my best experiences with otters, the most magical, occurred purely by chance, although using the tips and insight we gained from the tour did point us in the right direction - for example, when walking or driving along the lochs, look for patches of really green grass or a mossy-looking plant on rocks. When otters use rocks to mark their territory by depositing spraint, the vegetation at the site is well-fertilised!


● Also, otters love to make use of freshwater streams or pools that run down from the hills, after they emerge from the saltwater lochs - they do this to remove salt from their fur, much like we rinse off after swimming in a chlorinated pool. Wait a respectful distance from the streams or burns, see who makes use of it over the course of several hours, and you might just be lucky.


● Other locations include Grasspoint, Loch Scridain, and Salen, but anywhere on the island with rocky shores and an incoming tide gives you a decent chance.


Red Deer


The largest of deer species in the UK, and one of the two truly native species, the red deer is one of my favourite mammal species you can spot on the island. With their emblematic red coats and the males’ impressive antlers, the sight of a herd on the hills, or a mother with her calf is one of the most magical things you can witness, in my opinion. Whilst red deer are not only found on the island, on my first trip to Mull, I had already been able to photograph a small herd within twenty minutes of exiting the ferry.


Red deer stags, photographed in some of the most magical moments - Madelaine Stannard (@maddie_stannard_wild)


● Once again, I recommend a guided tour to locate some of the lesser known, more remote spots where the deer frequent. That being said, the general pattern is that they, and the stags in particular, head up into the hills during the summer, only to return to the lower moorlands and even shorelines during the autumn and winter months to breed.


● Keeping an eye on the ridges around the island, but also down by shorelines and in open, grassy fields is always a good idea. The red deer sometimes graze in gardens, and have been lingering at the side of the road, so it’s always a good idea to watch your speed if you’re driving the island.


Common Dolphins


These are probably the most common species you will see if you take a boat trip in the Inner Hebrides during the summer months, although the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust often reports sightings of bottlenose, Risso’s dolphins and Atlantic white-sided dolphins too. But, agile and performative, common dolphins appear in pods so numerous they can be hard to count. On my last trip to the island, we were lucky enough to watch them breach and clear the water in Loch Scridain, all from the comfort of our cottage window.

Common dolphins breaching and surfacing, swimming next to the boat - Madelaine Stannard (@maddie_stannard_wild)


● A boat trip with Sea Life Mull or another registered charter, who will respect marine protection laws and put the animals’ welfare above all is your best chance to spot dolphins and other marine life, including minke whales, seals, seabirds, basking sharks and on occasion, orcas.


In all honesty, this is simply a fraction of the wildlife to be seen on Mull, with so many other charismatic and important species, both ecologically and culturally, to find. If you decide to visit Mull, for the first time or the twentieth, above all, remember to be respectful of the wildlife and their habitats, and make the most of your time in one of Earth’s most incredible havens.


About the Author: Madelaine Stannard is based in Sheffield, studying a Bsc in Zoology with a keen interest in animal behaviour, endangered species recovery and science communication. You can find her on Instagram @maddie_stannard_wild for wildlife photography and sci-comms, or on her website Maddie Stannard Wild.


Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page