Sunny highlights

We’re enjoying weeks of almost unbroken warm sunshine here, time to give you a snapshot of what we’re up to in south Mull and Iona…

Thanks very much to the cheery NTS Thistle Camp volunteers, what a good-natured bunch of hard-working folk.  They are seen here checking out the results of all their efforts shifting boulders by giving the new stepping stones the ‘prancing test’!

 

Next a great group of students from George Watsons college in Edinburgh, on Mull for a John Muir Award week, who helped us out with a seaweed survey, Marine Conservation Society litter survey and beach clean up at Carsaig.

 

Iona and Bunessan primary schools teamed up for a visit to Tiroran Community Forest and Mull Eagle Watch, learning about our nesting sea eagles, measuring and identifying trees and minibeasts and having plenty of time to explore.

 

Not to be outdone, afterschool nature clubs at both schools have been collecting wool caught on fences and brambles, which was then washed and mordanted.  They also collected a selection of plants to produce their own dyes, and have carded the dyed wool reading for felting into pictures. Can you guess some of the plants we used from the photos?

 

Plenty of other things happening too – click on the events tab to see what’s next, then come and join us!

Emily

Half way through July…

It is hard to believe that we are already half way through July and still I have not really felt the summer rays of sun

I thought I would give you an update of our geo-caching traveling teddies which I mentioned in last months item.

First let me introduce them, there is Ginger teddy set on his way by Ulva Ferry Primary School,(whom wished to travel Europe) then there is Bob from Salen Primary (whom wished to travel the world)and finally but certainly not least Little Big Foot from Lochdon Primary School.

Here are their mug shots as they were when they left Mull.

little big foot

Little Big Foot from Lochdon

Ginger from Ulva Ferry

Ginger from Ulva Ferry

Bob from Salen

 
And so for an update:

Ginger has travelled 565.6 miles so far first leaving Mull and ending up on the M1 at the Woodall Service Station and from there hoping to get a flight from the Leeds and Bradford Airport, he missed a plane and was picked up by the geocachers ‘Heap Patrol’ and has since be traveling around Yorkshire including going to the Kendal Gold Cup and Kendal Summit.

Ginger travels mid July

Ginger catching the ferry

Ginger stows away on the Isle of Mull ferry.

Ginger makes it to England

Ginger at passport control

Ginger travels mid July
Bob has made it to Mt Hermann in Germany and has traveled 637 miles and was in the care of the ‘Dimo Team’ who have left him there for someone else to pick up.

Bob makes it to Germany

And finally there is Little Big Foot who wishes to travel around Scotland and has made it to Colmonell, Ayrshire thanks to Dimo team as well. He has traveled 106.1 miles

Little Big Foot makes it to Colmonell

On his way he has made lots of bear friends.

Little Big Foots friends

We will keep you posted on their travels, alternatively you can follow them yourself at http://www.geocaching-mull.co.uk/travellers/

Where did April go?

We’ve recovered from the busy Mull Music Festival weekend and now we’re busy again for the bank holiday weekend. There’s plenty for us to be preparing for as we’re nearly into May, a great month to visit the isle and join one of the many events we run and hopefully we’ll have some lovely weather to enjoy too.

Countryside Code

We’d just like to remind everyone about the countryside code, this helps everyone enjoy our wild areas and ensures livestock and wildlife are safe. Please keep all your canine companions under close control. Dogs should be on short leads in areas with sheep during the lambing period. In areas with cattle please use your discretion, but often owners are safer when dogs are off the lead if cattle are looking unhappy. Many of our protected bird species are nesting right now and many of them are ground nesting, including species like lapwing, curlew, redshank, hen harrier and short-eared owl so please be aware of this, your actions could determine the success of a nest. If you have any issues regarding this please contact us on 01680 300640.

Mull Eagle Watch & Fishnish Wildlife Hide

Unfortunately due to tree felling and timber extraction we have had to temporarily close Mull Eagle Watch. Due to disease the Larch trees have to be removed as soon as possible. The forest operations mean we lose access to the hide and our parking area. It would also give us considerable concerns over health and safety and it would deter from our usually peaceful experience. We are hoping to open again by Monday 11th May. We’ll keep you all up to date with progress, along with Iona and Fingal news – we’re expecting our first egg to hatch around the 6th May.

In the meantime I’ll be running drop in ranger sessions at the Fishnish Community Wildlife Hide. I’ll be there every morning from Monday 4th May – Friday 8th May between 10am and 1pm. If you were disappointed to miss out on Mull Eagle Watch come along. We’ll look for a variety of wildlife including a nearby pair of white-tailed eagles, otters, seabirds and marine mammals like harbour porpoise and seals. I can help you spot wildlife, answer questions you may have and point you in a good direction for other sights! This is free but we’d appreciate donations to the Mull and Iona Ranger Service.

Oystercatcher - lots of seabirds to see from the Fishnish Wildlife Hide

Oystercatcher – lots of seabirds to see from the Fishnish Wildlife Hide

Bioblitz Detectives – Nature Club Numero 2

We’re nearly ready for the second nature club of the season! Last time we enjoyed an hour learning all about bats. This time we’ll be up close and personal with some small mammals like voles and mice. We don’t notice them often but they’re found in big numbers anywhere with grass and they’re so important for lots of other wildlife. We’ll check out harmless mammal traps to see if we caught any critters, play some games and look for mammal signs.

Come along to Aros Park, we start at 5pm (please be early) and finish at 6pm. Meet me in the main car park.

Children aged 5-12 are welcome (£3 per child) and parents are encouraged to stay for free, especially with the wee ones.

Call me on 07540792650 for more information, but booking isn’t necessary.

Mammal Bio Blitz - Nature Detectives

Mammal Bio Blitz – Nature Detectives

Ulva – Guided Walk

Join the ranger service on Wednesday 6th May for a guided walk on the Isle of Ulva. Enjoy a tranquil wander around part of the island, giving you a taste for future visits. We’ll learn about the island’s history and look at island life now whilst looking out for wildlife too. Please wear sturdy footwear and weather appropriate clothing. Bring binoculars if you have them. We’ll stop for lunch at the Boathouse.

Meet at Ulva Ferry for 10am. Ferry fare and lunch per menu are required plus £5 per head to the Mull and Iona Ranger Service. Booking is essential (20 places), call 01680 300640 or 07765898600.

Staffa Stuff – Puffins

If you’d like to be slightly more adventurous and head out to sea, why not take a trip to Staffa to meet our Ranger out there, also on Wednesday 6th May. Make you own way to Staffa via one of the boat operators (boat trip fare required) and meet the ranger who will be on hand to answer your questions and guide you to the best place to see puffins up close.

Puffin - head out to Staffa or Lunga to see these comical birds

Puffin – head out to Staffa or Lunga to see these comical birds

Bio blitzing & Beach cleaning

Easter has sped on by and the island enjoyed a rush of visitors for the break. The weather played ball on Easter Sunday and Monday thankfully although the beginning of the weekend was a little doubtful! The last few days have given us all a taster of summer and we’d love it to hang around. Wildlife has been booming. Basking sharks arrived and were seen in nearby Hebridean waters over the weekend; often they aren’t around till July in any numbers! Hopefully this is an indication of a great year for our wildlife. My family spent the weekend here too and we had a great few moments along the shores of Loch na Keal with lovely views of a golden eagle above the skyline. This was followed by an otter fishing nearby, despite my water loving dog splashing around!

Nature Detectives

Aros Park played host to our first Nature Detectives club in the evening yesterday. This is aimed at children aged 5-12 and will give them a fun and hands on way to love nature. So many children these days have a real disconnection to the outdoors and nature, often thanks to TV, computers, smart phones and tablet devices. Alongside the technology we’ve developed a fear of natural play thanks to health and safety and worry of stranger danger. As a child I was extremely lucky and on weekends rampaged about getting muddy, climbing trees and catching frogs. I have no doubt that my childhood created my love of nature and shaped who I am now.

I’ll be running five more Nature Detective clubs for children over the season. Last night we focused on bats and learnt all about them, how to listen in on their world of echolocation and what we can do to help them out. Over the next five sessions we’ll meet some small mammals face to face, dip into the crazy world of pond life, the night time life of moths and the creepy crawly creatures in the undergrowth. This fun and active approach will be great for the kids and maybe spark a lifetime love and respect to our natural world. The next club is Tuesday 5th May; this one is all about mammals. We’ll start at 5pm for one hour, so please be prompt!

Mammal Bio Blitz - Nature Detectives

Mammal Bio Blitz – Nature Detectives

Beach clean

Looking for something to do this Sunday afternoon? Head to Calgary beach to lend a hand in tiding it up! Help get this busy beach ready for the summer, as well as beach clean the paintbrushes will be out for tables and we’ll generally spruce the place up. Litter in our oceans is an ever growing issue unfortunately, with plastic waste being top of the list. Plastic does not degrade, ever. It ends up as tiny little micro beads or nurdles, which looks exactly like plankton or fish eggs – food for many animals which then works its way up the food chain. So all that plastic we use once and throw away ends up in the ocean and will remain there forever. Unless it washes up on our shores, we can then collect it up, but even then it’s likely that once again it’ll end up in our waters. If you can, every time you head outdoors please bring a few pieces of litter home with you, even if it isn’t yours! We can all help a little. It doesn’t cost anything, it takes very little time and it’ll make you feel good! Here is a brutal photograph just to demonstrate the issue; it isn’t nice to look at but a great way to make us wake up on plastic.

Albatross deaths due to plastic waste

Albatross deaths due to plastic waste

The Calgary Beach clean and work party is on Sunday 12th April, 2-4pm. It’s a free event but donations to the ranger service are appreciated as is any home baking for tea and coffee afterwards.

Calgary Beach

Calgary Beach

Mull Eagle Watch

Don’t forget you can now book your trips to Mull Eagle Watch. We are open from next Monday, 13th April and will be running two trips per day. Please call 01680 812556 for more information or to book in. You can also head over to the Mull Eagle Watch blog page to catch up.

 

Thanks for reading, Rachel 🙂

Bugs, birds, & red nose day

Geo-caching

On Tuesday last week I went down to the Forestry Commission Scotland walk at Scallastle (just outside of Craignure) to check the footpath and signs and to place two new geocaches. I’d never been to this site before and the walk was lovely. Despite being quite steep and rough in places its well worth it for fantastic views over the Sound of Mull. The surrounding mountains are stunning too and this is a good place to see golden eagles. The woodland is mixed, with a lot of native species including birch and hazel, I caught sight of long-tailed tits working among the huge variety of lichens. I laid out two new geocaches along the trail, this is an ever growing interest and hobby around the world and a great way to encourage people to walk outdoors. Scallastle is also home to a fairly new addition to Mull, the pine marten. This carnivorous mammal is a controversial species on the island, but is hopefully here to stay and will add to our wonderful wildlife. I managed to find some pine marten poo (scat) on the trail – they often leave signs in obvious places.

Pine marten scat found in Scallastle woodland

Pine marten scat found in Scallastle woodland

Mountain Wildlife

On Wednesday last week I got to meet some of Bunessan Primary School, I didn’t manage to visit them last season unfortunately. I joined Emily, our ranger for the Ross of Mull, Burg, Iona and Staffa to run a session on our mountains. We thought about how we can prepare ourselves for a mountain hike, and what to pack in our rucksack. We learnt that this can make all the difference when things like weather, accidents and midges can cause dangerous problems. This led us onto the adaptations wildlife needs to survive and why each animal or plant lives in a particular zone on the mountain.

This is where the eagles came in; both our golden eagle and white-tailed eagle have some fascinating adaptations which could mean the difference between life and death in the harsh Scottish mountains. The kids enjoyed seeing our stuffed golden eagle up close to look at the talons, feathered legs, powerful beak and large eyes. We then focused on how all the mountain wildlife links together and what would happen if one animal or plant were to disappear. Overall we had a great day!

Bug hotel renovations & brand new bird box builds…

I also visited Lochdon Primary who are working hard to develop their very own conservation area. We wanted to create some bird boxes to encourage garden birds like blue tits, great tits, robins and pied wagtails to set up home. We all got stuck in with the hammers and built four bird boxes, two with open fronts and two with smaller holes. These will be installed outside and help increase the wildlife onsite.
We also got our hands muddy outside despite the weather. We started some renovation work on their bug hotel, which was looking a bit forlorn and unloved. Old pallets are great for bug homes, so we added a few extra pallets to the pile. We then found lots of materials to fill in all the gaps, creating homes for bees, beetles, slugs, woodlice, spiders and more. A great way to collect up unwanted garden items lying around too, if you don’t want it, the bugs will! The children will keep adding to bug hotel and I’m sure they’ll investigate the insects living there when the weather improves.

Red nose day fun

Finally on Friday last week I ended for the weekend on a great note. Tobermory primary school children (P5/6/7) were doing a sponsored walk along the coastal route to Aros Park so I met them there to run an activity. Thankfully the weather was great, so the kids seemed to have a lovely time. I hid loads of items out in the trees for the children to find in pairs, but the catch was one of them must be blindfolded! This was harder than you’d think, but they did well, I only had to help with the last few. Once we had everything, the kids realised we could make a person. We created a fisherman, complete with his own red nose. I left them to enjoy another game, but managed to leave my sunglasses hidden in a tree, they’re still there someone now.

Thanks for reading! Rachel 🙂

Looking over to Loch Tor under stunning blue skies

Looking over to Loch Tor under stunning blue skies (mobile phone photo)

Rain, rain go away!

I’m waiting with baited breath for my first butterfly or slow-worm of the season, but I think we’ve forgotten what sunshine looks like. Whilst we swim about in mud and rain, with gale force winds, the rest of the country seems to be relishing the coming of spring with red admirals, small tortoiseshells, bees, adders and slow-worms emerging. It feels more like autumn than the start of spring and temperatures are still on the chilly side. The only inkling I’ve enjoyed so far of wildlife waking from winter slumber is in the pond. One evening the sound of mating frogs emanated from the depths and with a brief respite from rain yesterday I went to investigate.

Amphibians

Frog spawn surrounded the pond edge, lying dejectedly on the grassy banks. Frogs in their excitement can go a little overboard but this only means a tasty meal for others like otter and heron. Eyes peered back at me from the water but with any movement they would disappear. On the opposite side of the pond toads were at home, moving around below the surface. Frog and toad spawn differs; toad spawn is less familiar, long thin strings rather than clumps; I couldn’t see any in the pond yet. I did see a newt though! These small newts are really difficult to spot unless they move and spend most of their time looking like vegetation. Palmate newts are the UK’s smallest amphibian. The name comes from the black webbing of the males hind feet in the mating season, making them look like over large palms.

Common Toad

Common Toad

Stargazing – Pennyghael Hall

Come along to enjoy an evening of stargazing with the ranger service at Pennyghael Hall. It’s a great time of year for looking up at the night sky with lots of planets in view. You should be able to see Jupiter and its moons. Venus, the “evening star” will rise just after sunset but disappear at 9.30pm and Mars will be showing too, not from Venus.

Pennyghael Hall; 7-9pm
Cost: £6 adult/£3 child
Learn how to find your way around the night sky with Seamas Westland and Emily Wilkins.
18th, 19th, or 20th March – weather dependent, clearest night will be chosen so please register your interest and we’ll let you know

Call 01681 700659 or 07717581405

PennyghaelWreck Ewan Miles

Pennyghael Wreck – night sky (thanks to Ewan Miles)

Easter Events

Bat Bonanza -Come along to Aros Park for an evening bat walk. Bat detectors on hand so we can ID the species & hear them in action. We’ll have fun facts, activities for children and ending at the old pier for a lovely view of Tobermory.

Wednesday 1st April, Aros Park
6.30pm – 8.30pm
Meeting at FCS notice board in main car park
£5 adults, £3 children
Call 01680 300640 or 0754079265

NEW – Bioblitz Nature Detectives

New Nature Club for 2015 – every four weeks, 6 sessions across the season – Aros Park
Tuesday 7th April – Bioblitz Nature Detectives: Bat Bioblitz
First session of six, open to children aged 5-12
Come along to the first session to Bioblitz Aros Park and the bats that live their!
We’ll have 1 hour to record as many bats and different kinds of bats as possible.
Learn lots of cool facts, hear bats echo location and have a later night than usual!

6.30-7.30pm (please be prompt)
£3 per child (parents encouraged to stay for free, especially with the wee ones)
Aros Park, FCS notice board in main car park
Appropriate footwear and warm clothing. Notebook or camera if you like
01680300640 or 07540792650

Seeing Stars

Wednesday evening this week I ran my final event of the season at Ulva Primary School. We were extremely lucky as it turned out to be a fantastic clear evening with an almost full moon for “Seeing Stars”.

I started off quite early, well before dark to run some activities for the children. We learnt some interesting facts; did you know that one million Earth’s could fit inside the sun because it is that big? Or that Saturn has 62 moons? Then we enjoyed some hot chocolate and played with some clever apps, a great way of getting kids interested in all things wild. You can download things like Sky Walk or Star Walk and Moon Phase for free – these help us to find constellations, planets, individual stars and satellites in the sky.

By around 9pm adults were welcome to join and we had a great turn out of both locals and visitors to the island. We watched as the moon rose from behind the rugged hills of Mull and it was looking absolutely stunning at 86% full. The telescope provided an amazing detailed view of the moon’s surface, even allowing us to pick out craters.

Stars began to emerge, with the key constellations easy to find – the bright moonlight drowning out some of the less obvious stars. We found some familiar constellations to begin with, like the plough. This well known shape in the sky actually makes up part of Ursa Major, the Large Bear. Above is Ursa Minor, you guessed it, the Small Bear. The end star of the smaller bear is Polaris – the celestial North Pole. Draco the dragon wraps around Small Bear, the head curving around to point toward Vega and Lyra. Others we looked at include Aquila, the eagle, Cygnus the Swan with the Northern Cross showing very well, Hercules and Cassiopeia the vain Queen. Plenty of satellites passed through too, and last night I caught the International Space Station passing overhead! 

As with wildlife and the natural world, space and stars give us an unlimited amount of learning opportunities. With 88 defined constellations plus many of the smaller lines or individual stars we can always find something new. Autumn and winter are the best time to get out there and enjoy our dark skies, something we are lucky to have.

Thankyou so much to Ulva Primary School for allowing us to run Seeing Stars there and for the hot drinks and biscuits!

Girl Guides & Wednesday Event

Last night I went along to the girl guides to run a session on white-tailed eagles and wildlife watching. Hopefully I’ve sparked an interest among some of the girls to work towards a few badges and to develop a new hobby!

We covered the timeline of white-tailed eagles and some of the other species we lost like Beavers and Lynx and talked about the reintroduction of the eagles and the beaver.  Some of them were keen on the idea of a wolf reintroduction too!

Working with the girl guides

Working with the girl guides

We had a look at some online apps you can use now to help with wildlife watching – less boring than the guide books and you have the added benefit of sounds and calls at the touch of a button. These apps are available for everyone on a smartphone or a tablet and most are free. Great to help ID something out in the field. The iRecord butterflies app and mammal tracker apps are really good too, allowing you to submit a sighting record and help out with conservation too.

The girls had a try with a telescope and binoculars, something that could be important if they take the interest further. Binoculars are a wildlife watchers best friend and come in a range of prices and qualities too – my first ever pair were probably not even £10!

Getting our younger generations involved and interested in the natural world is so important and even more apt when we live on a spectacular island like Mull. We’re spoilt with stunning scenery and amazing species.

EVENT! Wednesday 10th September

Seeing Stars
Seeing Stars

Seeing Stars – 7.30pm – 9pm school group                                                                             9pm-10.30pm everyone else!
Meeting at Ulva Ferry School, come along to enjoy a night of stargazing, learning about constellations, aurora alerts and more.
No need to book but call or text me on 07540792650 for more info!

Marine Education Day

Yesterday I attended a Marine Education Day in Craignure for the school children of Mull organised by the GRAB trust.

I focused on showing the link between white-tailed eagles and the marine environment – how on earth does plankton and seaweed have an impact on our apex predator? We played a great habitat web game to show this, demonstrating how everything links together one way or another. We saw how important the marine habitat is for lots of species, not just the obvious ones like dolphins and whales! I then mixed things up a bit by adding in an oil spill or plastic litter – we found how one human action can impact species right up the food chain. If we continue to damage our marine environment we could definitely see problems with our white-tailed eagles.

White-tailed eagle workshop

White-tailed eagle workshop

We also had Q&A time and kids always manage to amaze me with their questions and insight plus we had our lifesize eagle silohette and foot for everyone to enjoy. 

We ran four of these workshops throughout the day for the groups of children, Tobermory, Bunessan, Dervaig and Salen schools were all present and so it was a great way to meet some children I hadn’t managed to see this year – they’re already looking forward to a visit next season.

Life size white-tailed eagle

Life size white-tailed eagle

Also this week I led a guided walk for the Windsurf cruise ship whilst it was anchored in Tobermory. We headed off along the coastal path to Aros Park, enjoying the views of Tobermory bay and the waterfalls. We chatted about the history of Aros Park and then headed off to view the standing stones at Baliscate before heading back down toward the main street. Lovely morning and we were lucky with the weather.

Thanks for reading – Rachel 🙂