What a summer!

Another update from us here on the Ross, but also a fond farewell from me as my time on the island volunteering with the Ranger Service draws to a close – what a summer it’s been! Some fantastic wildlife encounters and successful events along with unbelievable weather for the first few weeks of my stay have definitely made this a summer to remember.

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Iona sunsets are just something else…

It’s been great to experience such a wide range of wildlife survey techniques in some amazing locations – from monitoring Storm Petrel chicks on Staffa to surveying plants under the dramatic cliffs of Burg, it’s sometimes easy to forget that this is an actual day job! A couple of times this summer Emily and I have been helping Lynne Farrell, the county recorder for the Botanical Society of the British Isles, update her plant records – most recently on Burg coinciding with our own plant survey, and earlier in the season we were lucky enough to go out to Little Colonsay on Mark Jardine’s boat. Here we saw (and learnt) loads of interesting wildflower species, including the vibrant Bloody Cranesbill.

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B. Marie moored at Little Colonsay

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Bloody Cranesbill

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Beneath the cliffs of Burg

We’ve also had a couple of successful events recently – Abbie, who was doing summer work experience with us, held a survival skills event at Tiroran forest which included building a rather impressive den and then foraging for plants to make tea out of at the end. A great day had by all, even if the fire took a few valiant attempts to get going! The next week I was back at Tiroran leading an Eagle Hide walk, where we had nice views of a white-tailed eagle soaring over the treetops in the distance. I also organised and lead my own event recently – a drizzly yet interesting morning on Uisken beach exploring the rockpools and the beach, finding lots of cool species including breadcrumb sponge and by-the-wind sailors.

 

In mid-July I went to work with the NTS ranger team at Ben Lawers NNR for a couple of weeks, a very different landscape to what I’m used to on Mull. Here I got to experience some of the more land management perspectives of rangering including bracken bashing, tree planting with an NTS Trailblazer camp and path maintenance. The weekend that I arrived coincided with the launch of Chris Packham’s Bioblitz campaign – the team at Ben Lawers took on the challenge of 24 hours of biological recording, and we were the first site for Chris Packham and his team to visit, resulting in a very long but enjoyable day out recording on the hill. Being at Ben Lawers was great to experience working in a team of rangers, and my thanks go out to team for making me feel so welcome there.

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Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers behind

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Looking down the glen

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Chris Packham chatting to dragonfly expert Ruary Mackenzie

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The truck on it’s holidays

And finally, how can I not talk about some wildlife encounters whilst I’ve been here on Mull? You will have read my previous blog post about the evening trip to Staffa and the multitude of basking sharks, which still is a massive highlight for me, but it’s been a great few months overall for wildlife. Recently Emily and I were out on top of the cliffs at Burg, just walking to our National Plant Monitoring Scheme plots, when a family of golden eagles casually cruised by at eye-level. What a treat! By far the best Goldie sightings I’ve ever had. Along with that, I just can’t tire of seeing white-tailed eagles – looking up to the sky and seeing this unmistakeable ‘flying barn door’ is such a fantastic privilege.

Somehow, I managed to go the whole of June and July without seeing an otter, on the coastline that is supposedly so famous for otters, and I was starting to wonder what all the fuss was about. However, when my boyfriend and parents were over visiting a couple of weeks ago, an otter conveniently showed it’s face and allowed us to watch roll about preening in the seaweed. And typically, I continued to see another 2 otters in that same week!

Along with the west-coast signature eagles and otters, this summer has been great for hen harrier sightings and lots of interesting moths and butterflies. I’ve also learnt loads of wildflowers – Emily has put up with my consistent pointing and saying “ooh what’s that?” for the last few months, so for that I’m very grateful for her patience!

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Making friends on Staffa

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View from the back of Fingal’s Cave during site tour with repair contractor – cave access is still out of bounds but walkway repairs are well underway!

Overall, volunteering with the ranger service has been such a valuable experience, and I’m so thankful for being given this opportunity. I’ve learned a countless number of new skills, met some great people and seen some fantastic wildlife.

I’m going to miss this place far too much, so I’m sure Mull will see me again soon!

Cheers

Georgia

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We’re still here!

Could be what our wildlife is thinking after a very mixed-up season.  Late spring, hot dry weather with the occasional sudden stormy wet day to contend with and now autumn colour seems to be creeping in early.  The Ross of Mull rangers are still here too – not much news from us lately I know, so let’s catch up!

In early June we had a group of enthusiastic volunteers on a working holiday, the National Trust for Scotland’s Thistle Camp scheme, visiting Burg.  A great chance for us to get all sorts of maintenance tasks tackled with many willing pairs of hands.  We had scheduled the camp earlier than usual hoping to survey our rare Slender Scotch Burnet Moths and much to our relief, numbers were the highest for several years.  These small but beautiful insects are only on the wing for a few weeks each June and it seems they have shifted their flight period to earlier in the year.  Most of the feral goats however were nowhere to be seen on our walk around the Ardmeanach peninsula, perhaps they had travelled elsewhere in search of water during this unusual dry spell?  However it wasn’t a wasted day as we were able to make good use of the walk by splitting into groups and one group set up some new plots for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme which will now be checked twice each summer.  The Thistle Campers also tackled repointing work on Burg’s bothy which is undergoing restoration, cleared out ditches and pulled bracken to improve moth habitat and reduce damage to our archaeology.  Many thanks everyone!

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Slender Scotch Burnet Moth

The same week Georgia and I led a walk to the fascinating St Martin’s caves on Iona.  A great place to visit as it’s quite hidden away and only accessible at high tide.  Sadly the rain poured down but the few hardy souls who joined us had an interesting time learning about crofting, geology and seaweed!

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St Martin’s Caves

Georgia has been working on a productivity survey of one of Iona’s shag colonies.  Unforatunately a day of heavy rain amongst weeks of sunshine caught them off guard and lots of nests have been washed away.  Shags do stagger their breeding times so we’ll keep an eye on things to see whether they can rebuild and lay more eggs or whether they’ll give up and wait until next year.

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Shags nesting at Pigeon’s Cave.  Photo credit Alan Foulkes.

In late June we had another lovely walk along the coast at Carsaig, plenty to see including ringed plover chicks like little balls of fluff on stilts running amongst the rocks, and interesting fossils on the beach at low tide.  It was almost too hot though so some of the group enjoyed going behind a waterfall into the coolness of the cave beyond.

It’s been great having local girl Abbie Cato on work experience with us during the summer holidays.  Living at Knockvologan she was the ideal person to help us out with her knowledge of Erraid on a guided walk around the tidal island.  She’s also lent a hand with several other events including our stand at Bunessan Show and our summer nature club on Iona, for which we had 18 children busy with a treasure hunt learning about what nature does for us, and an afternoon of art and games on the beach thinking about what we can do for nature.  Both Georgia and Abbie are working on their John Muir Awards and have contributed an article to Young Scot’s My Story 365 as part of the Year of Young People.

Photo credits: Tim Sparks

With the warm weather it’s been a good year for butterfly sightings – some of our highlights have been a rare Marsh Fritillary in the office garden, the lovely Scotch Argus and the Grayling with its camouflage pattern on the underside of the wings – and we have been promoting the Big Butterfly Count at our events including our stand at Uisken Games where we were kept busy with sea creature facepainting and making seed bombs and badges.

Our Biodiversity Day in the garden at the Ross of Mull Historical Centre turned up some great moths from our (harmless) trap set overnight, including the stunning Garden Tiger and the less common Old Lady, last recorded on Mull back in 2009!

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Gold spot moth

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Cockscomb Prominent moth

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Old Lady moth

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Moth trap in action

Add to the mix helping out with a Keats-themed historical walk at Derrynaculen…

Photo credits: Abbie Cato

…looking at history in the landscape around Iona with a lovely American family, plant surveys at Burg, more bird surveys and visiting archaeologists on Staffa (where repair work has commenced on the cave walkway) and leading eagle walks at Tiroran forest and it’s been a very full and interesting summer so far.

Until next time…

Emily

It’s show time……

Another month goes by and it is my turn to write the Ranger Blog, not quite sure where the time goes but it is certainly disappearing fast.

We have been very lucky with the weather this summer so far, and according to the weather forecasters, with global warming we should expect more of these hots summers, sadly it also goes with wet winters.

 

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Ben More in the sun from Ulva

So what has been going on?

The flowers continue to bloom on the Machair at Calgary and we have a pretty good species list, and the height of the grassland (the sward) is also higher, both a good sign that we are heading in the right direction.

Bird’s foot trefoil,
Biting stonecrop
Black medick
Buttercup
Common centaury
Common knapweed
Common mouse ear
Common ragwort
Common sorrel
Common spotted orchid
Common stalk’s bill
Common valerian
Creeping thistle
Daisy
Eyebright
Fairy flax
Flag iris
Harebell
Hawkbit/cat’s ear
Hedge woundwort
Horseshoe vetch
Kidney vetch
Lady’s bedstraw
Meadow rue (common?)
Meadowsweet
Milkwort
Mossy saxifrage
Mouse-ear hawkweed
Nettle
Oxe-eye daisy
Pyramidal orchid
Red clover
Ribwort plantain
Selfheal
Silverweed
Spear thistle
Thyme
White clover
Yarrow

 

Calgary Flowers

Calgary Flowers by Carolyne Charrington

We have changed our ‘Fun in the sun’ children’s fun mornings to ‘Going Wild’ (as it always rained) and those that attended did just that, with a selection of bug hunts and environmental games and activities. It was great to have such an enthusiastic bunch and the sun did shine this year.

We held our annual fishing competition up on Loch Frisa, and Connor won the special junior cup again this year presented in honour of his Great Grandpa, Lachie McDowall. He seems hard competition to beat but Struan and Theresa gave him a run for his money. Jim MacFadden won the senior prize.DSCN2252Although off duty I had a lovely afternoon at the Uisken Games yesterday catching up with lots of acquantainces that I had not seen for a while and managing a toss of the haggis as part of the beach games. Great fun was had by all.

 

The Iona Ferry

We are preparing for the Salen and Bunessan show and hope to attract lots to our stand to try out our educational and fun activities.

By Jan Dunlop.

 

Scorcher at Scallastle!

So if you hadn’t noticed, it has been boiling hot on Mull…

*wipes sweat from forehead*

… and our events have been hotting up too!

Our event this week ‘Hike up Scallastle’ was tough and the scorching sun didn’t make it any easier. We had a small group of four, starting in the car park we checked our water supplies and insect repellent (boy was it needed!) then set off up the gravel track.

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As we made our way up the track there were dozens of cinnibar moth catterpillars munching their way through the ragwort. Our first species of the day and an interesting one at that.
We continued be drawn in by the caterpillar covered ragworts until our attention was caught be a real island star, a MALE HEN HARRIER!

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We watched the harrier dancing above trees until it was out of sight. What a captivating first 10 minutes we’d had.
As we proceeded on I was talking (or maybe boasting…) about a garden tiger moth caterpillar I had found at Tiroran forest and then as if by magic Nick found a dead one right on the track!

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Seeing as so far any animal we had talked about had appeared in some shape or form I tried my luck with giraffe and mammoth, but unfortunately neither beast made an appearance. As the biting insects homed in on us we quickened the pace and had almost got to the bridge but something caught my eye… CARNIVOROUS PLANTS!

There were both round-leaved sundew and butterwort on the moist boggish ground by the bridge. Some of them even had unlucky midges caught in their traps.  As we started the steep part of the walk, sundews filled the side of the track much to the amazement of Nancy who walks at Scallastle regularly but had never noticed them before. As we got closer to the next bridge I noticed what I thought was a fritillary flying just ahead. So I marched forward to get a closer look and sure thing it was a small pearl-bordered fritillary! We then found a couple more floating above the water and even managed to get the scope on them for a closer look.

I then went to look for some smooth newts I had seen up there a week ago but the pool they were in had dried up. Nothing left but a toadlet hiding in the flakey mud. The final incline was ahead of us and it was a real scramble, but the bench at the top plus our packed lunches were calling. With the sun still beating down on us, the rest at the top was needed.

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While we tucked into our lunches, or an apple in my case, there was a tree pipit perched and calling right in front of us. Suddenly it flew off and we could hear a couple more pipits calling too, although this call was slightly higher and more frequent. SPARROWHAWK! A male and it flew right past us and perched on a tree towards the ridge. I quickly positioned the scope but sods law just as it was in the frame it flew off. As we rested and scanned the mountains a grey wagtail flew over calling in its usual manner. We were almost ready to start heading back down to the carpark when Nancy spotted a bird near the summit. I got the scope on it and it was another island star, a GOLDEN EAGLE!

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We watched the eagle soaring around for a few minutes before it flew out of sight, this felt a natural time for us to descend back to the carpark.
We had almost made it back to the carpark when we found this…

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A Dark giant horsefly, they are almost 3cm long and can give one heck of a bite. Hence why I crushed it with my heal… sorry if that offends you.

Before I sign off here I just want to thank Nancy, Yvonne, Jenny and Nick for making the walk a real pleasure!

Cian

…and the sun shone down

Here up the north end of Mull we have been making the most of this fine weather.

The Lighthouse path, Tobermory is just about completed with the last of the steps signs and benches going in. All the feedback from visitors and locals has been so appreciate it makes all the marching along in 6 inches of mud this time last year seem so far away.

DSCN2231Calgary Bay and the machair are also looking good, Last year we had a donation page which allowed us to fence of the machair and thus regulate the grazing of the sheep in partnership with the grazier. Last year there were many more flowers but this year for the first time we have seen the reintroduction of orchids. Species seen so far this year are bird’s foot trefoil, buttercup, daisy, oxe-eye daisy, white and red clover, milkwort, lady’s bedstraw, thyme, stonecrop, hawkweed, yarrow and Northern Marsh Orchid. It is planned to do another transect survey in July to see what we have compared to when we did it this time last year. We had a beach clean and catch up a couple of weeks ago and it was lovely to see a mix of locals and visitors all helping to tidy up the beach and pull thistles – a rather prickly job left to those with heavy duty gloves.

I had a lovely morning in Aros Park with Tobermory P1 and 2. We did lots of environmental based running around games and then built a hedgehog home. The morning was finished off with a sausage sizzle and tent building on the lawn.

On the 20th of June we had a lovely guided walk around Ardmore and again the weather was kind to us. The flowers along the path edges were beautiful but all wildlife was lying low except the peacock caterpillars.

We have been so lucky with the weather so far this year so let’s hope it continues for a bit yet

Jan

Breaching Basking Sharks and Bombing Bonxies

This week it’s my turn for a blog post, a new member of the team – I’m Georgia, the volunteer summer assistant ranger. My first couple of weeks in the position have been full of exciting things, complemented by this continuous amazing weather (something I’ve not been used to on previous trips to Mull I must admit).

Views from the ferry

On my first day we had a charcoal making event up at Neil’s place in North Bunessan forest. We built a bonfire over the charcoal oven, and whilst that was burning we had a go at constructing a prototype reciprocating (self-supporting) roof for Neil’s roundhouse that he is working on. A very chilled out, enjoyable day with frequent stops for tea and cake of course – I’ve been told on a couple of occasions that Mull is ‘cake island’, which I’m beginning to believe and am more than okay with!

Neil enjoyed making me stand on things for a ‘captivating photo’

At the bonfire

Last Thursday was World Otter Day up at Bunessan Primary, so we spent the afternoon up there helping with various activities – I was on face-painting, and by the end of the day we were surrounded by lots of little otters running around! After school nature club came afterwards, this week with the theme being midges, so we went for a walk and found lots of bogmyrtle and insectivorous plants such as butterwort and sundew, followed by a fun quiz full of weird and wonderful midge facts.

world otter day

On Monday, Emily and I went over to Iona to do a shag colony survey and then a midnight corncrake survey, where we were very kindly given dinner and a place to stay by staff at the Abbey. Iona is such a lovely wee island, it was great to see in the sunshine and all the wildlife that came with it – countless meadow pipts and skylarks noisily parachuting all over the moors, stylish wheatears doing their best poses perched on fence posts, my first red admiral butterfly of the year and then of course hearing that unmistakeable rasping of corncrakes at dusk. What a place!

Sunset over Iona

Natural things that all have the same describing word in common

The end result!

This week we had a school trip with Class 2 (P5 to 7) to Tiroran forest, based on the lovely ‘Lost Words’ book by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris, so the focus was all about using describing words when considering nature and the kids got to make a book each from the activities set out for them. These included using a stone to rub various plants onto paper for their cover pages, along with finding different things on the forest floor to draw and describe. After lunch we assembled the books and visited the eagle hide, managing to catch a glimpse of the chick. The kids also had a lot of fun keeping an eye out for letters formed in natural objects, taking photos of each one to compile together to make the alphabet. A successful and fun day had by all, despite the midges determined to stop us!

‘Lost words’

Shark’s fins often tilt because of the size!

Finally, the highlight of my time on Mull so far has to be the evening trip to Staffa, an event run by the ranger service in collaboration with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and the Turus Mara. We set out in the blazing sunshine, eyes peeled and eagerly scanning the water, which was getting calmer and calmer as we got ever closer to Staffa. That was when we heard the shout we’d all been waiting for from Colin, the skipper – BASKING SHARK! Everyone scrambled to get a view as the huge and distinctive dark triangular sail for a dorsal fin cut through the mirror-calm sea. It was honestly exciting beyond belief. From then, the basking sharks just seemed to multiply, cropping up all over the place as they cruised along scooping up microscopic plankton. In the end, Pippa (community engagement manager for the HWDT) reckoned we had seen at least 8 different individuals, as well as several glimpses of porpoises and a Minke whale. Not bad for one boat trip I’d say!

Basking shark dorsal fin

Bonxie

Whilst we were on Staffa myself, Cian and Meryl from Mull Eagle Watch set off to circumnavigate the island, counting nesting Shags and Fulmars on the cliffs. We didn’t have long on the island (as we’d spent too long gawking at basking sharks from the boat, a fair excuse I reckon), so we had to yomp around at quite a pace – however, that didn’t stop the wildlife encounters. As we walked round, we flushed a couple of snipe and came across lots of pipits, various gull and wader species and a pair of beastly Bonxies (great skuas). We must have passed close to their nest site, as they began to circle and swoop low over the ground towards us – time for Cian to get a few pics then get out of there! As we came back to the pier, there were lots of puffins still sat on the water and a few harbour seals chilling on the rocks in the evening sun, with the backdrop of a large tell-tale dorsal fin further out in the water.

Love-struck Skuas on a date

Back on the boat, Colin very kindly did another round-trip of the island so that we could have a count of the nesting survey species from a different angle, then we set off back towards Mull. It was amazing to see the sun setting over Staffa and the Treshinsh Isles, but even more amazing when Pippa shouted ‘BREACH!!’ in time for us to see a basking shark actually breach out of the water! I couldn’t believe it, seeing this massive ancient fish haul itself into the air and land with an enormous splash under the sunset. It was such a rare event to witness, and for that all of the staff and passengers on the trip couldn’t be luckier. Overall, a fantastic evening – I expected it to be good, but not that good!

Staffa in all its glory

This morning we had a lovely walk at Tireregan nature reserve with a group of artists from the UK and Norway. We walked to the old oak tree, pointing out interesting wildlife and plants along the way, and it was nice to hear about similarities and differences between Scottish and Norwegian landscapes. We then walked to get a view of the old village, and on the way back came across lots of golden ringed dragonflies, a cuckoo and a distant male hen harrier.

Artists for the (w)ord project

Anyway, enough from me and apologies for the lengthy blog post, but there has been a lot to write about! I’m looking forward to whatever else the summer brings.

Photo credits to Charley for the charcoal day, Emily for the Tiroran school trip/Tireregan walk and Cian for the shark and skua pics.

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading my ramblings,

Georgia.

Wildlife is full of suprises!

Firstly I would just like to introduce myself as it’s my first ever ranger service blog. I’m Cian the seasonal ranger for this year. Primarily I have been working on the Mull Eagle Watch project, however I have also been running and planning my own events too.
The first solo event I did was actually covering for our friend Kerry over at the Glengorm wildlife project.
This was a guided wildlife walk around the estate for a lovely couple from Australia who were staying in the castle. They had expressed how much they wanted to see an Otter so I  felt obliged to try my best! As many of you will know Otters can be very elusive and difficult to watch even if there are hundreds on Mull so I did feel a bit of pressure. It was a beautiful day so the stroll down to the shore was filled with sunshine and a variety of birds such as meadow pipits, wheatears and skylarks.

 

Once we were down at the coast we scanned the shoreline for wildlife. The couple were new to most of the species here so the shelducks, shags and oystercatchers were all really exciting to see.

 

Now the hunt for an otter really began, I was scanning and searching every area we could see but no luck. As I cast my gaze slightly further out to sea I noticed a large blondey brown lump on a rock… It was a white-tailed sea eagle! As I scrambled to set the scope up for them to have a look it disappeared. I started ferociously scanning to see where it had gone when something else popped up in my binoculars, an otter!
As we watched it swimming around near a small tidal island we realised there were in fact two there. We continued to watch them swimming around and scaring the gulls as they clambered onto the island. They eventually went out of sight after 45 minutes or so. A real success and relief to have found what they really wanted to see. A great day even if I didn’t get a pic of the otters.

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My next event was back up at Glengorm for a very early dawn chorus walk. A couple of early birds ventured up to join me and we definetly caught the metophorical worm. It was a clear and still morning, perfect for tuning in to the songbirds morning choir. On our way to the woods we spotted a group of mountain hare lounging in a field, this was a real treat as I had only ever seen a one or two in my life.

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Once in the woods the birds did not disappoint, blackcaps and chiffchaffs stole the show. We then meandered to the coast to see what we could find lurking in the sea. On the way there was a whitethroat  calling out from the scrub, sounding like a tiny chainsaw. When we got to the shore we were greeted by some sleepy seals just about waking up. We sat and watched them for a while and they slowly got more awake and then inquisitive. They proceeded to get closer to have a look at us.

 

We then left the seals to walk further along the coast, as we did we found a couple of eider ducks to cap off a magical morning.

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A week later we had a meeting at the office. Before the meeting I had my lunch break at Aros bay, I was watching some red-breasted mergansers when a couple of curlew flew in. I don’t see these birds as much as I have done in other areas so it was quite enjoyable. They suddenly started calling and both took off, as did the gulls and other birds that were on the shore. As I looked up I realised why, a white-tailed sea eagle was flying overhead.IMG_0813

Once this had flown out of sight I tucked into my sandwich only to put it down again as all the birds started calling and flying again. I was anticipating another eagle and sure enough there was another big bird in the sky heading towards me. Although this didn’t look like an eagle through my binoculars, it was really white… an OSPREY! What a lunchtime treat!

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Our meeting was about how the Mull Eagle Watch pair of white-tailed eagles clutch had failed due to an intruding eagle. So we thought we would see how the Tiroran pair were getting on. They had more success so we thought that it would be a great idea to do a ranger service event there. So this week I took a group there with some exciting views. The nest was in full view and we even had one of the pair come and perch in a tree even closer to the hide.IMG_2587

Another great wednesday doing my ranger service duties. Stay tuned for the next few events. For those interested I will be running a guided walk at Fishnish on June 6th. I hope to see some of you there and for those who can’t make it i’ll fill you in on my next blog installment.
Keep your eyes in the skies, Cian.

With thanks to our volunteers….

 

As ever the Friends of Calgary Bay have been busy and we have lots of good news stories from over there. Towards the end of March we had a beach clean and work party. Thanks to the regular picking up of rubbish by ‘Friends’ of the bay and dog walkers on a daily basis the amount of litter gather on the day was not as large as it has been in the past. That day we also installed our new donation box craftily created by Matthew Reade and Andrew Mortley and new signage on the gates. The donations have been dropping in nicely which will then free up some funds to do further work in the bay. 

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Beach Clean

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Some of the Friends of Calgary Bay

donation fish

Matthew Reade and Andy Mortley

We have also closed the gates of the machair again and the sheep are now on the outside of the fence. This will allow the flowers of the machair to bloom and seed. Gates will opened again in the autumn to allow the grazing sheep back in.

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New gate signs

I got confirmation the other day that the Council have agreed for the lease of the bay area (minus the loos) to the community through Mull and Iona Community Trust for a period of £25 years. This allows us to move on projects such as an over flow car park. We have also expressed an interest in buying the loos from the Council.

We had a very successful work party with Scottish Rural Colleges Countryside management students who come to volunteer annually. We put them to transplanting some of the marram into the dune slacks to help try and prevent further erosion.

SRUC snad dune reinstatement 2

 

SRUC sand dune reinstatement

SRUC transplanting marram grass

And away from Calgary I had a group from George Watson’s School in Edinburgh helping clear some of the paths to help access to some of the more remote geocaches hidden in Aros Park. This involved the cutting largely of Rhododendron and gorse.

On Sunday past we had a very successful gathering of interested parties to gather a feel for what the community would like to see the walled garden in Aros Park be put to use as. It was purchased back from the previous owner by the Forestry Commission just over a year ago and the Commission would like very much if the community were to take over looking after it.

Just after the Commission bought it, contractors were brought in to remove a lot of the rhododendron and dangerous trees so it is now much more open and its true extent and opportunities can be appreciated.

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Again up In Tobermory, the newly furbished Lighthouse Path is proving very popular with lots and lots of locals and visitors enjoying this walk. Here too we have a unique donation box created by Andy and Helen Mortley and Tom Reade. Pretty impressive.lighthouse

 

Our events programme is up and running and on Wednesday , with the companionship of Steve Irvine and 14 visitors and  4 dogs,  we have a lovely walk on Ulva, as you can see the weather was glorious and the colours magnificent. As of the 21st June the island will officially belong to the community of North West Mull and & Ulva, so very interesting times ahead.P1020328

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So as you can see not much happens on Mull without the support of our wonderful volunteers whom are full of drive and energy. The ranger service very much appreciated the support we get and is what makes my job special.

Jan Dunlop, Ranger Manager

 

 

 

Spring sunshine and showers

With the busier season well and truly underway it’s time to show you a snapshot of what’s been happening down the Ross and on Iona, Burg and Staffa…

Bunessan afterschool nature club continued their investigation of forests – analysing owl pellets found beneath trees at Achaban House (thanks Matt Oliver!) and finding evidence of all sorts of creatures including mice and voles.  They also made posters to say thank-you to trees for all they provide including habitats, fruit, shade and a place to play!

Also on an educational theme, I was excited to collect a box of the beautiful ‘Lost Words’ books for distribution to Mull, Iona and Tiree schools after Jane Beaton’s crowdfunder campaign raised enough money to provide a copy to every school in Scotland!  I’ve enjoyed giving these out – and if you haven’t received your copy yet it will be on its way soon!  Looking forward to making use of it to counteract the nature words disappearing from children’s dictionaries.  More information here: https://www.johnmuirtrust.org/initiatives/the-lost-words

Image result for lost words

I spent a lovely day in the company of several visiting German ladies, walking near Lochbuie – we were lucky enough to see both a golden eagle and a sea eagle along with a cuckoo flying, but the hoped-for dolphins remained elusive!

I’ve enjoyed hosting my colleague Andrew Warwick for a week of renovations at Burg bothy, it’s looking so much better already so huge thanks to him and the volunteers who helped too!  Also thanks to the Argyll Members’ Group of the National Trust for Scotland whose generous donation paid for materials.  Still quite a bit of work to do before it’s usable again though.

Making the most of some spectacular sunny days amongst the showers, volunteer Terry Ward and I spent a night on Staffa to complete a dawn survey of its black guillemot population the next day…his own account of the trip follows in green text along with some of his great photos!

Emily picked the best two days in April to do the black guillemot survey on Staffa – calm seas and clear blue skies. We set out on the 2pm boat on Friday afternoon from Fionnphort and had an uneventful crossing over the 12km to Staffa.

On arrival we popped quickly down to the entrance to Fingal’s cave to inspect the warning signs which have been installed after some of the footpath was washed away in the winter storms. We established that some adjustments would be necessary and added the job to the ‘to do’ list for our time on the island.

We headed back to the steps and carried our camping gear up to the cliff top. Once I’d got my breath back we headed over and down to Port an Fhasgaidh and dumped the gear at our ‘campsite’ near the rocky beach. There is a small spring here and some almost flat grassy ground for pitching tents, plus a fabulous view of sea cliffs and caves, and birds.

shag

The first job was litter picking – Staffa picks up its fair share of the plastic rubbish that has been in the news so much recently. We swept over the accessible bays in the middle of the island and filled around 8 bin bags. We could have filled dozens more if we could get into the appropriately named Float Cave – but this is accessible only by abseiling, or by boat.

Returning to our campsite we set up tents, after some careful searching and testing of potential pitches. Emily has a very practical method of testing a likely spot by lying down on it, to find any hidden bumps and lumps in the grass. The spot I chose ended up being quite near a cliff edge, which I regretted when I woke at 3am and had to leave the tent to heed a call of nature.

Once the tents were up we headed over to the east side of the island for tea. There is an old pink buoy on a fence post which marks the best spot for watching the puffins. Emily broke out her trusted Trangia camping stove and cooked up a wonderful vegetable couscous. I provided wagon-wheels and chocolate raisins. After this we walked the coast up to the north end of the island rehearsing the route for the following morning’s survey.

One of the things I wanted to do on Staffa was search for signs of otters so I was very pleased to find otter spraint mounds around some fresh water pools. On returning to base Emily spotted an otter trail and a series of spraint mounds including one right next to her tent! How did we not see that earlier …? See if you can spot the otter trail and spraint mound in the photo below.

otter tracks

I was glad to get up at 5am to start the survey. Despite being late April it was a cold night and I now realize I need a warmer sleeping bag! We walked the island from south to north, Emily up the west coast and myself up the east. I was a bit nervous (thinking of last year’s feral goat survey at Burg where I counted a grand total of zero) but once I saw a pair of black guillemots very close to shore at the pier I got into the swing of it. All the birds we saw were already on the water – so obviously they had made an even earlier start then we had.

A few things make the survey quite tricky – the birds move so you have to move briskly and take care not to double count, and also some of the birds were 50-100m out to sea so binoculars were needed to distinguish the puffins from the black guillemots. Emily counted more birds than I did – but she reassured me that was what she expected so hopefully I was reasonably accurate for a first timer.

We returned to the campsite, via the source of the campsite spring. We cleared the filter bucket of algae and slime – a lovely job which left us filthy up to the elbows.

After breakfast there was time to watch the black guillemots and shags flying back and forth from the nearby sea cliffs.

black guillemot flying

A couple of quick jobs to finish – reattaching the warning signs at the entrance to Fingal’s Cave and carrying the bags of rubbish back to the pier – then it was back to Fionnphort on the top deck of the Staffa tours boat.

At the start of May I was lucky enough to spend a few days amongst the wide open spaces of Tiree visiting the Tiree Trust and ranger Stephanie Cope who used to be part of our team here on Mull, and also John Bowler and his RSPB colleagues.  A very useful visit to share ideas and have a look at corncrake conservation and habitat management, carparking and signage, restoration of machair erosion, and visit the Treshnish Isles exhibition at Hynish and of course Tilly the community wind turbine!  Many thanks to Steph and John (and to Sarah Slorach for the photos).

After the storms…

Hello from the snow-free Ross of Mull!  While much of the mainland was buried under snow drifts, here we saw hardly a snowflake apart from on the hills, although it was very cold and dry in that harsh east wind.  Spray from Burg’s waterfalls froze solid on the cliffs, and in Bunessan even the beach was frozen at low tide!

We haven’t escaped winter storm damage though.  Unfortunately part of the walkway into Fingal’s Cave on Staffa has been washed away.  Wave erosion formed the island’s famous caves and is an ongoing process, as water pressure acts on the cracks between the basalt columns.  This means that there is currently no access to Fingal’s cave on foot, although it can still be viewed from a boat.  We have a team of specialist engineers working on a solution, and meanwhile the rest of the island including the puffin colony remains accessible.

 

Other winter tasks include regular checks on our visitor counters and infrastructure such as the ladder at Burg.  It means carrying a laptop to some out-of-the-way places, but a good reason for a walk on a bright winter day.  Thanks to Terry Ward for the photos.

Now that birdsong and catkins are giving hints of spring, afterschool nature clubs have restarted.  This term involves activities related to forests, investigating trees and the wildlife that lives amongst them.  Last week we made some woolly flowers for an installation at Tiroran Community Forest later this month.  (It was also World Book Day which explains the costumes and face paint!)  Well done to Monica Haddock for organising this.  If it goes well we may consider a full Woollen Woods experience for gala fortnight, asking folk to make all sorts of woodland plants and creatures for display.  Meanwhile, come along and picnic amongst the woollen meadow on Saturday 24th March!

There’s still time to apply for our summer volunteer assistant ranger position, as the closing date is Wednesday 14th March at 9am.  See previous blog post for details.

Emily