Mull – Swallows and the Art of Flying

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For all the spectacular and heady wildlife Mull has to offer, the photographs I’m perhaps most pleased with from my last trip are those of a bird I always enjoy working with, and one that continues to challenge; the swallow.

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It’s more often called the barn swallow today, something I can’t really abide by. It was good enough as simply a swallow for all my early years of birdwatching and also in all the classic texts I enjoy thumbing through. There are many others too that have become European suddenly! I’m sure there’s a sound explanation in a changing map of bird distribution but l’lI stick with the original. Thank goodness bird ID books aren’t alphabetical, although the app I use on my phone is, and often I’m searching for something that has moved into the E’s from its original rightful home! 

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I never tire from watching the swallow hawking low over water, or swooshing, (they do literally swoosh by way of cutting through the air) as they pass so close at times you can hear the wind rushing through tail feathers and sharply angled wings.

It was on one of the roads I love the best; from the shores of Loch na Keal, on the foothills of Ben More, to those of Loch Scridain, that I chanced upon a family of newly fledged swallows on a fence wire. Two young begging to be fed, gapes wide open, as the adults flashed by feeding them whilst on the wing; simply breathtaking. 

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In real time the pass was too quick to understand what was really happening. The camera set to 2000th of a second though showed the ultimate in living in a different sphere of both space and time to the world we inhabit. Gape to gape in unnerving accuracy, pass after pass and once or twice a double give as both young were satiated in one extraordinary fluid movement.

This same ‘slight of hand’ act would be  happening all over the country, but this was on Mull and Mull showcases the extraordinary. It had not been a sea eagle or hen harrier on this morning, they could wait till later. This moment belonged to the humble swallow and the fractions of a second camera technology gives us, and it all happend on the best road in Mull! 

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