Hello! Thought it was time for an update of news from my patch over the last couple of months.
Our summer events programme finished earlier than usual as I was off to Edinburgh to begin a part-time postgraduate course in Outdoor Environmental and Sustainability Education. I enjoyed the company of some great people from all over the world, and perhaps I’ll share some of my learning with you as the course progresses over the next few years, as we are very much encouraged to reflect on our own practice. Of course it was also good to come home to one of my favourite Mull views!
Anyway, before I went there was plenty of time to fit in some great outdoor days with both visitors and locals, including another lovely walk to the tidal island of Erraid, always a popular event in our guided walks programme. It was hard to drag everyone away from the beautiful beach at Balfour’s Bay!
Kate and I led another successful visit to Tiroran Community Forest with Bunessan Primary class 1, learning all about our sea eagles with Meryl at the hide, and finding out about dinosaurs and fossils. We made plaster casts of footprints, played games about camouflage and designed dinosaurs which might survive in a forest habitat, out of natural materials.
Our final NTS Thistle Camp of the year worked hard to improve access around Iona and Staffa with lots of very muddy pathwork including building stone steps, repairing stiles and bridges, and replacing a section of boardwalk. They also cleared a huge bramble patch from an area behind Iona school, and had a go at scything. This year the week included 2 days on Mull where the group helped Highland Renewal replace a bridge at Tireragan nature reserve and teamed up with local volunteers on a large-scale beachclean. Great effort everyone!
While the Thistle Camp were working on Staffa we had the expert help of Nan Morris from our path repair team, and we also had a visit from the structural engineer. This is required to help us monitor and plan for future repair or replacement work of all of our built infrastructure that helps people access the island, for example the pier, ladders and handrails.
The following week I headed over to Mar Lodge estate in Aberdeenshire for some valuable catch-up time with colleagues and to see how various land management projects there are progressing. Woodland restoration is coming on very well. On the way I dropped off Kate for a couple of days experience of working in mountain habitats at NTS Ben Lawers where she was well looked after by the team there. A long way to travel but our early start was rewarded with a spectacular sunrise.
Kate’s last day was spent finishing off a plant survey on the Ross, along with local volunteer Peter Upton. Wishing Kate all the best as she moves onto pastures new.
Our final survey of the season involved walking the coast of the Ardmeanach peninsula on our annual goat count which helps us work out grazing levels. 100 goats were happily spread around the beach boulders sunbathing! What a hard life!
Last week I escorted a few cruise ship passengers around the coastal path at Burg on a perfectly clear sunny day and we spotted some pure white harebells.
Bunessan afterschool nature club has now restarted – our first event this autumn was a local walk finding plants which had animals in their names – how many can you think of?
Enjoy your autumn!
As I sit here in the office trying to draw inspiration for a blog, the rain is pouring down the window and the wind whistling through the trees. Have we somehow missed autumn? And then I think back to some of the better days of the last month.
We had the Salen show and although the sun only gave a brief glimpse at least it was not raining and we caught up with lots of familiar faces and made some new friends through-out the day.
Then there was Tobermory Lifeboat and a commendable £5000 made through-out the day, Lucky winner of the logs donated by Forestry Commission Scotland was Anne Flavell, she will be cosy this winter.
So what else?
Rachel French our seasonal ranger at Mull Eagle Watch left us slightly early to embark upon her next career, going off to do a primary teacher training post graduate course in Oban. We wish her all the best in this next step.
Work continues along the Lighthouse Path, but that has not been without its challenges as the rain and movement of machinery along the path made for a bit of a muddy job, but Kangley Construction under Gerry and Glengorm Gardens Landscaping under Andrew have worked hard. I would estimate we are now about 2/3 there, and will hopefully be finished by the end of September.
We also had good news that we had been offered funding from ‘Path for all’ to buy some tools and install some steps on the way up Jacob’s ladder so watch out for work parties as we will need all the help we can get !!!!
The flowers on Calgary have been given the chance to bloom and hopefully seed and come September the sheep will be back in to help graze it. Hopefully there will be plenty of tasty nibbles for them
As usual the month of July flew by in a blur and we’re well into August already.
Isle of Ulva
Right back at the beginning of July I enjoyed leading another Guided Walk on the Isle of Ulva with a lovely group of guests. We had some sunshine this time and had great views of Buzzards in flight, followed by spotting a female Hen Harrier gaining height right above us. A satellite tagged Hen Harrier called Wendy spent her whole winter on the Isle of Ulva before heading back toward her home ground in Southern Argyll and Bute. Thanks to the planting of trees and grazing management on the island, the rough cover including good quality heather provides perfect ground nesting sites for this raptor.
The wildflowers and native woodland on the island were a treat as usual, and we spotted Golden-ringed dragonflies making the most of the sunshine. On arriving back toward The Boathouse for a lovely lunch we also got views of a White-tailed eagle.
It’ll be interesting to follow the future of the Isle of Ulva, as the North West Mull Community Woodland are currently working a Right to Buy bid and feasibility study to take over the island and develop the community options there.
Glengorm History and Wildlife Walk
On another sunny Wednesday, the Ranger Service teamed up with the Glengorm Wildlife Project and Ranger Kerry to provide a wildlife walk incorporating local history and wildlife. We learnt about the castle (and even got a sneak peek inside), the standing stones and then Dun Ara. We watched out for wildlife and spotted species like Song Thrush, Wheatear, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Hooded Crow, plus plenty of seabird species including Gannets and Manx Shearwater. The wildflowers were also great, with Ladies Bedstraw, Harebells and Selfheal looking lovely.
After the national Hen Harrier Day events on Saturday 5th August, we ran a Skydancer Spotting event to enjoy the raptors here on Mull and to chat about the problems they face elsewhere in the UK. Hen Harrier have declined by about 27% recently in Scotland, whilst in England this year only 3 pairs have attempted to breed thanks to illegal raptor persecution. So it’s a privilege to have good breeding numbers on Mull and Ulva and to see them often. North Loch Frisa is often a good location to spot harriers in the summer time and this year has been no exception.
We weren’t long into the event when we’d already spotted Buzzard and Sparrowhawk. Soon one of the guests spotted a beautiful silver male Hen Harrier flying low over the rough ground and we got great views. We also added Golden Eagle, White-tailed eagle and Raven to the list for the walk. Wildflowers included Harebell, Rosebay Willowherb, Grass of Parnassus and more, as well as the plentiful crop of raspberries.
We finished the walk off by checking some nearby corrugated sheeting for reptiles and amphibians. We were rewarded with a Common Toad and a Slow-worm. We also spotted plenty of butterflies, including Scotch Argus and Dark-green fritillary.
I’m now heading off from this position to embark on a Primary Teaching Course nearby in Oban – it’ll be a steep learning curve but I’m very much looking forward to it. I’m sure I’ll be back to enjoy some Ranger Service events in the future and hopefully be around on the island to get children into the outdoors as much as possible. Thanks to everyone for reading the blogs or supporting our Facebook page and of course for turning up to our events!
Rachel : )
Last month I spent a day with Meryl at the Tiroran forest eagle hide. With the remaining chick on the nest, all age groups got a good view of it through the telescope as it was stretching its wings and moving around the nest. There was lots of great information told by Meryl to keep everyone entertained and learning new things about White tailed eagles. Thanks for letting me help for the day again Meryl.
As part of the Ross of Mull Historical Centre’s project to survey old townships, I went along to help with the walk over survey at Ardchiavaig with Argyll Archaeology. The day involved walking over a mapped area of the township identifying the buildings and wall structures and measuring each one to start getting an overall view of the site. On the day we were also joined by Alasdair Satchel who is a local documentary maker who was making a short documentary about the project and doing film making and editing with young people throughout the week. BBC Alba also came out on site to get some footage for a news segment on An Là.
We took a group of young people who were over on Mull as part of The Stevenson Way, to Shiaba for a walk to look at the local nature. We firstly had a look at the Mariota Stone at Kilvickeon Church then the group navigated their way to Shiaba township. On the way, we saw the sheep fank, sundew plants in the bog and my first golden eagle on Mull just above our heads.
This year’s Practical plants day was a bit windy and wet but we managed to compress it all into the hall and everything ran smoothly. It was a fun filled day of a variety of plant based workshops such as wool dyeing and herbal remedies, talks and locally sourced/cooked food was on the menu for lunch. We also had our children’s table with activities such as seed bombs, insect homes, paper making and rainsticks. In the afternoon I got the chance to do the cooking workshop where we made dandelion shortbread, elderflower marshmallows and egg muffins with different herbs. Thank you to everyone who made the day such a success.
Uisken games started off a bit cool and cloudy but as the day went on the clouds cleared and everyone had fun. There was stalls of burgers, RNLI, first responders and ourselves with scavenger hunt and badge making. The games for all ages got underway and there was the raft race at the end.
The next day, as well as being World Rangers Day it was also our ‘Survivor Camp’ event at Tiroran Forest for 9-15 year olds. With my forest school experience, I felt very at home and the afternoon was enjoyed by all. The three hours went by so fast and all the young survivors got a chance at making their own den structures, tracking for animal prints and making a cast of the ones they found as well as collecting and filtering water to use for hot chocolate. They all managed to make their own bows and arrows for target practice, light their own fires in the Kelly kettles with flint and steel and enjoyed an energetic game being hunters! The day went so well even getting a 10/10 review from one of the participants who would like to book onto next year’s event!
Last Wednesday was the biodiversity drop-in at the historical centre. We set up a moth trap the night before and by the morning there was loads of moths hiding inside. I didn’t think we could get so much and it took us 2-3 hours to look at them all, identify, show the visitors and release them. I had never heard of so many kinds of moths including the Clouded Border, Garden Tiger, Burnished Brass and Smokey Wainscot. The visitors also went out to explore our wildflower meadow with Sue to see the different species that are growing.
On Thursday Emily, myself and three more volunteers walked up Burg to find and survey Iceland purslane and hairy stonecrop. It involved choosing squares in a set area of the gravel terrace habitat and counting how many purslane, stonecrop flowers and rosettes we found. The cloud came over but cleared in time for lunch where we had a fantastic view of the Ross.
The end of Gala fortnight was marked with the Bunessan show. Although a bit showery, it was a great day with lots of visitors. Rachel joined us at our stall where she explored the effects of rubbish on the environment and alternatives we can all use. We also had badge making, a quiz and pipe cleaner insects on offer for the children which were all popular.
Yesterday we ran our Love Our Planet event over on Iona for 6-10 year olds. It was a lovely day where we explored the effects of climate change on our planet and what we can do to help. We looked at the clouds, explored greenhouse gases, pretended to be puffins and corncrakes on migration as well as looked for pollinators and made seed bombs to take home. We also wrote on a shell a pledge that we could do at home to help protect our planet.
Since we changed the title of our annual summer event, ‘Fun in the Sun’ to ‘Go Wild’ the weather had greatly improved and this year we were spoiled with wall to wall sunshine, I think probably ‘Fun in the sun’ was a jinx on the weather. We held one session in Aros Park and another at Calgary Art in Nature, unfortunately I forgot to take my camera to Aros Park but here are some images from Calgary. What a lovely group they were.
Making wildlife homes
Earlier on in the week we had been at Calgary monitoring the flowers on the machair. Though the machair has only been enclosed for nearly two months the flowers found growing are quite amazing. The sheep will be back in in September sometime and will happily munch the grass all winter until May time next year. We would like to thank all those that supported our fundraising bid and also the graziers William and Anne MacPhail and Ian Thompson, fencer for making this all possible.
Calgary Machair (Thank you Carolyne Charrington for the view of the bay shot)
We had a very successful and constructive work party at Calgary on Sunday, with a new gate installed, thistles on the machair chopped and bagged, the campsite edges strimmed and nettles and thistles also removed and the boulders at the entrance paint white so that they are more obvious. This was followed by very yummy home baking and a much deserved cup of tea.
The work party (Thank you Andy Mortley for photos)
On Saturday last we held our annual fishing competition at Loch Frisa. The worthy winner was Conner, aged 5, Jane & John McDowall’s grandson and Jenny and Ged’s son. He fished all day from 10 till 3pm, only letting up for a bacon butty, caught the most fish including about 100 minnows and caught the largest fish. He was presented with a cup given to the Ranger Service by Angus Robertson (Snr) which was originally a Loch Frisa cup back in the 90’s. It was presented to Connor in remembrance of his great grandfather Lachie McDowall who helped out many a youngster at our annual fishing competition over many a year. It seems just right that his great grandson should win it. Lachie will have been looking down proudly.
Connor , Aged 5.
MICT have a grant to repair and reinstate the footpath from Tobermory to Rubha nan Gall Lighthouse. I had a site visit to the path the other day to see how Contractors Gerry Kangley and Andrew Padley were getting on. Although the road closure signs erected by the council in 2014 were largely ignored, the current works mean the path really is CLOSED and will be until the works are completed!
I was very impressed with their progress and the quality of the job so far.
An alternative route to the lighthouse is available via Tobermory Golf Course and information on this route and overall progress of the work is available on the Tobermory Lighthouse Path Facebook Page.
MICT acknowledges the support of Scottish Natural Heritage who have provided the grant for the work. The project also benefitted from a donation of around 40T of stone by Glensanda Quarry which was lifted into place by the Northern Lighthouse Board’s helicopter – thank you! We’re also really grateful to the Pier Café, Tobermory, who have donated a bench which will be installed at one of the viewpoints.
The Lighthouse Path, not a lot of room, before and after.
Lots of things happening down the Ross this month, including our children’s events that are part of the Gala fortnight. Teddy Bear’s Picnic for 3-6 year olds at Ardalanish and Survivor Camp at our community forest for 9-15 year olds. To find our more and how to book visit our events page and get in touch, hope to see you soon!
In June we did the annual moth count on Burg which is important in managing their population and monitoring the habitat they depend on. With help from NTS colleagues we counted Transparent, Six Spot and most importantly the rare Slender Scotch Burnet. They only fly in June and require a warm, sunny and calm day to count them flying or sunbathing on the steep slopes. It was a lovely day to walk over this gorgeous landscape and we counted a good number of each species.
We ran a wildflower walk on Iona, looking at the species found there. It was a lovely gentle walk identifying the very varied species of flowers, plants and grasses found in the fields and sides of paths. In total, we counted 86 different species including Crested dog’s tail, Red Bartsia and this stunning Northern Marsh Orchid. Thank you to Peter for helping to identify the more difficult ones and everyone who attended on the day.
We attended Iona Abbey to run a session with their guests where we looked at what makes Iona special and our underlying motivations for environmental care. The guests enjoyed exploring the Abbey’s grounds looking at the different species found under their feet, sticking them to these strips. It was lovely seeing each person’s interpretation and creative colour boards.
Into July, and this week we have had visiting botanists to the area, who have been ticking off islands they hadn’t been to around Mull and the Treshnish islands. On Tuesday, myself and Emily had the pleasure of being able to join them and learn from the experts about the different flowers and plants that we found. A useful days training for both of us. We went out on Mark’s ‘Birthe Marie’ to the island of Inch Kenneth in Loch Na Keal. It is a fascinating island composed of limestone and has a rich variety of wildflowers. It was fascinating for both myself and Emily to see just how many different species grew there and surprised myself of how many plants I have already learnt from my time here on Mull.
We had a stunning day of weather on Wednesday morning for our walk at Carsaig Bay. It was calm, sunny and very warm and enjoyed a 3 hour walk along the coast line. We saw lots of wildlife including a Garden Tiger moth, baby frogs and a White-Tailed Sea Eagle! There was also a chance to cool down behind this amazing waterfall and at low tide we went searching for fossils, finding part of this ammonite.
National Meadow Day
The first day of July saw events around the country in support of our British flower meadows. We’ve lost 97% of our hay meadow habitat across the UK and so National Meadow Day highlights their importance. Meadows are vitally important for many species, including the flowers and grasses, plus those species which rely upon them. So, with the help and enthusiasm of Carolyne and Somerset of Treshnish, a wildlife friendly farm, we hosted a National Meadow Day event on Mull – where we have our own local Coronation Meadow. For the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation, a meadow was created in every county, aiming to halt the rapid decline, and too stimulate a new mood toward protecting our meadows.
On the eve of Meadow Day, we set up three moth traps around the farm, hoping to catch an array of moths to showcase the local biodiversity. Typically, only one of the traps worked throughout the night, but thankfully the few moths we caught were eye-catching and colourful. So, for the first section of the day we crowded into the barn, sheltering from the rain to admire the moths. We also chatted about how to get involved with moth trapping, where to send records and investigated some of the traps available. Three of the stunning moths we enjoyed were the White Ermine, Magpie Moth and a Poplar Hawk Moth.
Following this, we braved the dreich weather and walked together to the Coronation Meadow itself. Even before we arrived we’d spotted countless wildflower species – the track edges teeming with life. We stopped to admire a Greater Butterfly Orchid, a species thought to be pollinated by moths nocturnally. Also along the tracks we recorded Meadowsweet, Heath Bedstraw, Tormentil, Lady’s Bedstraw, Slender St John’s-wort and Selfheal among many others. Upon reaching the meadow itself, the ground underfoot became a luscious carpet of flowers. Yellow Rattle, Red Bartsia, Red Clover and Eyebright were bountiful, the colours rich. Dotted amongst the dominant species, were others including Northern Marsh Orchid, Tufted Vetch and Meadow Vetchling. Along the edges of ditches we also saw Marsh Lousewort and on the meadows edge two rare species were inspected; Wood Bitter Vetch and Moonwort.
Just as the weather began to clear, we trooped back into the barn to be welcomed by Jeanette, from Ballygown Restaurant. She’d prepared delicious picnic lunches, all in fully compostable trays, alongside compostable cutlery – no plastic waste (my kind of picnic!). Not only did Jeanette provide lunch, we were also treated to homemade desert and Elderflower cordial – yummy!
Safe to say, that despite the ever-unreliable weather we all had a super day at Treshnish and I’m sure we all left with no doubt to the great biodiversity a well-managed flower meadow can support. We’d love to say an enormous thanks to both Carolyne and Somerset Charrington for holding the event and for farming their land so wonderfully. Plus thanks to Meryl, the RSPB Mull Eagle Watch Ranger for joining us, as well as a very scrumptious thanks to Jeanette for her mouth-watering food and consideration to the planet. I’m sure the event will return in future years!
Calaich Point Headland Walk
The Ranger Service teamed up with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust for a Headland Walk on the 28th June. We explored Caliach Point, jutting out on the North West of Mull, giving views out toward Coll and Tiree as well as the Small Isles; Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna.
We unknowingly timed the event perfectly, and had super weather, with flat calm conditions – perfect for spotting marine life. We started off with a Harbour Seal and local breeding Lapwings calling overhead. On route we checked the fertilised mounds along the coast, which are frequented by gulls, corvids, eagles and otters alike so they’re ideal to check for pellets and spraints.
Just as the local pair of Ravens appeared overhead with their fledglings Pippa from HWDT and one the guests spotted a Minke Whale surface close by! We managed to gain a little height on the point and managed to get a few more surfaces even though the animal seemed to be travelling and moving through the area quickly. Other sightings included Fulmar, Gannet, Shag, Great Black-Backed Gull and Black Guillemot.
We had a lovely afternoon in a peaceful part of the island.
Watch out for more of our Ranger Service events which are continuing throughout the summer, along with our Wildlife Hide drop in sessions.
Get in touch to book, or leave us some of your sightings over on our Facebook page.
Thanks for reading,
Rachel (Mull Eagle Watch Ranger)
We headed out to Ardmore Forest, the most northerly tips of Mull, on Wednesday 21st for a guided walk, I was ably assisted by Steve Irvine, our retired wildlife ranger, but it definitely turned out as one of our more electric ones. About half an hour into the walk and having experienced a bit of heavy rain and having had rumbles of thunder in the backgrounds, I asking Steve if he thought we should turn back, and his retort, ‘auch it will be fine’. We were under an arch of coniferous trees when there was an almighty bang straight over our heads and the path was lit up in our shady location. Both dogs on the walk were mighty startled to say the least. We tallied on only to have another bang and flash. I had in my head ‘three strikes and you’re out’ but luckily there were no more and we continued on our walk unharmed. The wildlife did not seem to favour the lightning and thunder unfortunately but there was a lovely show of wild flowers and archaeology. Thankfully neither of these items could run away!!
I received a lovely envelope from Tobermory Primary School filled with Thank you notes. We had just completed a five week session of outdoor learning with them in Aros Park. At school they were reading a book about Percy the Park Keeper by Nick Buttersworth and I was filling in for Percy as he was away on his holidays!!. What a lovely bunch of youngsters.
On Sunday Rachel French and I took a group of visiting Americans on a whistle stop tour of the south end of Ulva. Again such a lovely group of people, who were here on a musical tour, following their passion for Celtic music and staying in the Isle of Mull Hotel. We had a wee sing song in the church at Ulva and the acoustics did the singers proud. Again the flowers and variety of species found on Ulva had them enthralled as did Ulva’s historical past.
And so the summer continues….
My first two weeks have been very full and varied.
Mark very kindly helped us to do a beach clean at Traigh Gheal beach of most of its rubbish on his Birthe Marie boat. It was a lovely day and we cleared a lot. Sorry for the smelly boat Mark!
In partnership with Turus Mara and Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust we ran our first evening trip to Staffa and it didn’t disappoint. White tailed eagle, gannets and guillemots on the way there, very shy puffins, minke whale and porpoises. And finished with a big pod of Bottlenose dolphins bow riding and showing off their acrobatic skills beside the boat and a cracking sunset!
The children at Bunessan nature club have been looking at different insects and the ones that help our composting. They were given the challenge to transform into a bug using their bodies. Pretty good effort I hope you agree?
This week we also welcomed Thistle Camp to Burg. An energetic team who were hard at work filling pot holes along the paths to Burg, bracken clearing and beachcleaning.
I can’t wait for the summer ahead!