Nature Adventure Days

As lockdown started to ease, the ranger service teamed up with Camas Outdoor Centre, Bendoran Water Activities Club, Headland Explorations and South West Mull and Iona Development’s new community garden to provide 3 weeks of outdoor activities for the second half of the school summer holidays.  As all the usual summer island events were cancelled, we wanted to provide some fun primarily for local families who might not manage a break away this year after being cooped up homeschooling for weeks

Despite limited places available due to rules about the number of households able to meet together, we soon had happy kayakers in Camas bay and rock climbers tackling routes at Knockvologan and Camas Quarry.

Volunteer Abbie Cato helped plan and run some nature events for younger children.  We went to Fionnphort beach and found lots of interesting rockpool creatures including shore crabs, blennies, two types of anemones and bright orange breadcrumb sponge:

Then played some games about food chains (who eats who in the rockpool), limpets (did you know they move around underwater eating algae, then as the tide goes out they go back to their ‘home scar’ where their shell grows to match the rock exactly and stop them drying out), dolphin echolocation (we’ve all noticed more marine mammals around during lockdown, with reduced boat traffic), and seabird migration – designing obstacle courses around which we had to throw stones representing birds on their journey.

The following week we had a real-life mystery quest at Camas – to figure out why there was an abandoned oystercatcher nest on the beach.  We discussed how rangers might find out – looking for tracks and signs, watching from a hide, using trail cameras etc.  Participants had great fun with magnifying glasses looking for wildlife clues down the track, such as footprints in the mud.  We had a shortlist of 3 predators – mink, otter and raven and learned about where each of them lived, and practised moving like our chosen creature.  Each child then had a pizza box with a lump of clay to make into a pizza and a list of toppings (the diet of their chosen animal) they had to collect things to represent these eg. crab shell, rabbit skull, grass seed to represent grain, make seaweed into a picture of a spider etc.) which we took up to Camas’ outdoor pizza oven and pretended to cook.  Next we built a wildlife viewing hide in the woods from branches – and managed to stay still for 5 minutes while a few small birds came past.  The group decided that the raven was the likely culprit and were rewarded with the sight and sound of one flying past overhead.

We also held an activity day at our emerging community garden in the grounds of the Ross of Mull Historical Centre, looing at invertebrates found in the stream and on bushes and trees.  After hunting for them, drawing them and making cardboard models, it was time to help with garden clearance and we had a go at sawing rhododendron branches and trimming willow twigs.  Everything will be reused for garden structures or wildife habitat piles.

After weeks of back-garden citizen science earlier this summer, I’ve also been having my own nature adventure days on several recent trips to Burg, checking on our species-rich grassland, clearing bracken and monitoring some rare species including the slender scotch burnet moth and the tiny Iceland purslane plant.  Huge thanks to all the volunteers for their help!   Had some lovely sightings of golden eagles and peregrines around the cliffs while there.  Also on a pre-season trip to Staffa our boat was surrounded in all directions by dozens of common dolphins leaping into the air!

It’s great to be out and about again isn’t it?  Whether local resident or visitor we can all play our part in leaving no trace, take your rubbish home or hold onto it until you find a bin.  Please don’t throw it out of your car window.  We picked up 30 bags of roadside rubbish during lockdown and sadly it’s starting to reappear on the verges 😦

Thanks for reading and please make sure to take care of our environment on your travels.   Emily

Photos by Philip Yielder, Peter Upton, Abbie Cato and Emily Wilkins

 

Spring walk around Tiroran Forest nature trail

Join me on a little walk around the nature trail set up by Bunessan Primary School’s Class 1 last autumn, to look at the changes now it’s spring.

Can you spot the differences between November and May in the photos below?

 

The fungi we found have all disappeared or dried up, but instead there’s lots of spring flowers.  Can you spot primrose with yellow pimpernel, violet, dandelion, tormentil, bluebell, wood anemone and willow?  Click on the pictures to zoom in.

 

There’s lots of fresh green leaves as well…beech and larch trees, spruce tree buds opening, ferns, young hazel tree, birch tree, rowan tree seedling, bilberry.  Again, click on the pictures to zoom in.

 

It’s been a really dry spring.  The burn beside the path has completely dried up.

 

The sphagnum moss which was so colourful in the autumn has dried out and turned pale, and all the water in the little pond below the fallen tree roots has gone, can you see the pondweed leaves sticking to the mud?

 

The puddles along the track where we saw lots of creatures have dried up, just last year’s cones now lying on the ground.

 

Some things have stayed the same though: our markers with painted numbers, the little bridge and evidence of deer!

Volunteer Assistant Ranger opportunity

We are looking for a volunteer assistant ranger for 3 months full time beginning early June. This is a great opportunity to develop skills and experience in nature conservation and rangering. The role involves assisting with varied tasks over a number of island sites, including delivery of education projects and public events programme, providing information to visitors, wildlife survey work, practical maintenance tasks. Accommodation and some travel costs will be covered.

You must show enthusiasm for wildlife and the great outdoors. Some knowledge/experience in the relevant field would be useful but more important is flexibility, good communication skills, an ability to work under your own initiative, and a desire to learn. You will need to be willing and able to work outside or inside in all weathers, including some lone working in rugged coastal terrain. Some weekend/evening hours will be required.

Any questions please contact:

Emily Wilkins ewilkins@nts.org.uk   01681 700659   07717581405

A full job description is available below.

Click here for job description

Click here for application form.

 CLOSING DATE

Closing date: 9am on Monday 13th April.  Please return completed application form to: ewilkins@nts.org.uk

Interview date: Thursday 30th April

Emilie BrignallDaniel at pigeon cave

 

You can also scroll back through the blog to read about the experiences of previous summer volunteers, Emilie in 2019, Georgia in 2018, Kate in 2017 and Daniel in 2016, for example:

https://mullionarangerservice.com/2016/06/20/a-busy-week/

https://mullionarangerservice.com/2016/07/15/past-the-tipping-point/

https://mullionarangerservice.com/2016/08/16/all-good-things-must-come-to-an-end/

https://mullionarangerservice.com/2017/06/18/fun-filled-fortnight/

https://mullionarangerservice.com/2017/07/17/moths-flowers-and-walks/

https://mullionarangerservice.com/2017/08/08/summer-holiday-fun/

https://mullionarangerservice.com/2018/06/07/breaching-basking-sharks-and-bombing-bonxies/

https://mullionarangerservice.com/2018/08/23/what-a-summer/

https://mullionarangerservice.com/2019/06/20/start-of-the-summer-season/

https://mullionarangerservice.com/2019/08/16/a-summer-on-mull/

 

Work with us in 2020

We’re excited to tell you about 4 job vacancies related to our ranger service, the first 3 based here on the islands.

First up, there’s still time to get your application in for one of 2 seasonal ranger posts with our award-winning white-tailed sea eagle viewing project, Mull Eagle Watch:

Next, the National Trust for Scotland has an opportunity for a Visitor Services Assistant on the island of Staffa:

Also with the National Trust for Scotland, but based in Inverness, is the new post of Northwest Highlands Operations Manager, overseeing a range of beautiful places across the west coast and islands including some of the work of our ranger service here (on Iona and Burg), details of this should be on the NTS Vacancies page by the end of the week.

Autumnal adventures

Working with our local primary schools has been a real highlight for the ranger service this autumn.  Click here to see Ulva primary’s report of their Woodland Workshop with Jan.

Down on the Ross Emily has been helping Class 1 at Bunessan primary with their topic about designing a nature trail.

First some research on habitats and the wildlife living there:

Followed by a couple of visits to Tiroran Community Forest to test out the route of our new trail with help from Community Forester Philip Yielder who marked the route with posts.

The new trail begins by following the river upstream.

The class produced their own maps, poetry and drawings which went into a leaflet and a beautiful wall display.

Finally it was opening day – the children gave a speech and guided their guests around.  Well done everyone!

Soon you’ll be able to pick up a leaflet from the bridge next time you visit the forest and try the route for yourself – wellies recommended!

Also in the forest, the main Woollen Woods display has been taken down, but a few creatures made of natural wool have been moved to the Giant Heads area, see if you can spot them!

Meanwhile Bunessan’s afterschool nature club have been exploring colour and pattern in nature, playing some eco board games and learning about the night sky.

How many star constellations can you recognise?

We seem to have escaped most of the floods and experienced a lot of dry sunny weather this autumn as these photos from Burg last week demonstrate:

 

Autumn in the air

Bright rowan berries, bracken changing colour…although mixed with a lovely splash of purple from scabious, knapweed and heather flowers, it definitely feels like autumn is approaching, especially with the wild weather we’ve been experiencing lately.  Our recent guided walk to Shiaba discovered the burn (usually easily fordable) to be a raging torrent so we had to be content with viewing most of the buildings in the distance!  Luckily as we stopped for lunch the clouds started to clear allowing views of Carsaig Arches and Colonsay too.

Here on Iona and Staffa we’ve just hosted the National Trust for Scotland’s footpath repair team, and also a hardy group of Thistle Camp workparty volunteers, who’ve been out in all weathers making improvements to our well-used paths.  With tens of thousands of visitors a year our footpaths need constant maintenance to counteract the impact of all those feet.  So enjoy our new stepping stones and a slightly less muddy experience next time you are walking to Columba’s Bay, the Hermit’s Cell or Staffa’s puffin colony!  Thistle Campers also worked on repairs to drystone walls and collected rubbish from a number of Iona’s beaches.  The footpath team will be back next spring when they will also be carrying out repair work to the landslide-affected path at Burg.

In my last blog post I told you about our first Nature Adventure Day along with Headland Explorations, well the programme continued with a group exploring St Martin’s Caves on Iona, foraging for seaweed and cooking it on a beach fire lit using flint and steel and natural tinder (dried bog cotton and grasses).  We had seaweed soup, seaweed-flavoured popcorn, fried seaweed and a carragheen pudding!  Thanks to Miek Zwamborn for sharing her expertise.

The last day involved an adventurous sail on Mark Jardine’s B.Marie, high winds causing us to abandon our original plans to travel around the south coast of the Ross of Mull for climbing and beach cleaning, in favour of heading around the north of Iona to sheltered Port Ban.  Everyone enjoyed having a go at climbing and investigating the plant life of the bay with a game of wildflower name pictionary.  Many thanks to the Dutch family from Erraid who kindly used their own boats to collect the beach rubbish from Traigh Gheal a few days later.

Other successful summer days included Woodland Tribe at Tiroran Community Forest where children and young people got to create their own adventure playground which should last up to 5 years.  Feel free to use it next time you’re there, and if you haven’t already seen the Woollen Woods, most of it is still in place too.  I’m now busy helping Bunessan Class 1 with their nature trail topic, along with Philip Yielder (Community Forester at Tiroran) so look out for a new trail to follow in the forest this autumn!

I also really enjoyed the opening celebrations for the Loch Pottie path, standing in the rain 10 minutes before the agreed time I was wondering whether anyone would turn up, but a last-minute rush saw over 100 people led by the pipe band and children on bikes all walking the path together to declare it open.  It’s since been great to see it well-used and appreciated by everyone from visitors on an evening stroll, to locals walking their dogs and children cycling to the shop.  Look out for new interpretation signage in due course.

The last of our wildlife surveys for the year saw me joined by some volunteers with a head for heights as we checked up on the spread of bracken at Burg and counted our population of the rare Iceland Purslane plant.  Work also continues on the bothy renovations at Burg, and on the Fingal’s Cave walkway on Staffa which is nearing completion.

As some of you will be aware through our displays at the agricultural shows we were covering endangered species, one of which may well be YOUR ranger service. The Ranger Service is a partnership made of National Trust for Scotland (NTS), Forest and Land Scotland (FLS)and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and we are managed by Mull and Iona Community Trust. Unfortunately, FLS cease to fund us totally at the beginning of April next year and SNH have cut their support by 50% so our ranger team may well be under threat unless we find alternative funding. If you have time to drop us a supportive email (to mfinch@mict.co.uk) about an event you have enjoyed, what your children thought about one of the school trips we have organised, the benefits of volunteering or the difference made by our co-ordination of community access projects, beach cleans or any other aspect of our work we’d be glad to hear from you as we can use any positive comments as evidence for potential funders! We will keep you up to date as things develop but any support for our service would be much appreciated.

thanks for reading,

Emily

 

How time (and Eagles) fly!

Well almost. We are half way through the season here at Mull Eagle Watch. Our chick is now 10 weeks old, which means in two very short weeks it will be starting to spread its wings and taking to the sky. Its magnificent 8 foot wind span will be a sight to see, after watching the nest so closely since the beginning of April. It hasn’t all been plain sailing (Or Soaring), with a persistent juvenile causing worry. However Scalla, our male rose to the occasion and saw off the youngster, with some very impressive ariel displays.

Mark Morris

Back in the nest Anna patiently brooded the tiny egg for 37 days, and then A Chick! One fluffy head, the most amazing sight we could wish for. We tagged the chick when it was five weeks old. Two ringers under SNH Licence came to Craignure Golf Club, they climbed the tree with the nest in it, and put three little rings around its fully-grown feet. These rings allow us to track this chick when it leaves the nest and heads off on its adventures.  They were in and out of the nest in around 40 minutes, and gave us these pictures of our chick. Both Scalla and Anna, stayed in the area while the ringers were in the nest, giving us incredible views of them both soaring in the sky together. Not something we have seen as one parent is usually with or near the chick. An amazing experience I felt so privileged to witness (I was rather excited! ).  Then 10 weeks after hatching here we are, a fully grown White Tailed Sea Eagle chick, starting to stretch its wings getting ready to leave the comfort of its home for the last few months and start to discover new pastures!

Ringers Pic of our Chick

(A picture of our chick when it was being fitted with its rings, it is now twice this size!)

The other amazing wildlife here at Craignure has also kept us busy! I was lucky enough to spot a pair of Garganey. The second ever time they have been recorded on Mull!

garganey-.jpg

 

The Arctic (and Common) terns are also keeping us well entertained, with their swooping swallow like flight and their absolutely adorable young. It is amazing to think they have the longest migration of any bird in the world! The elusive Otter occasionally graces us with its presence, I am afraid I am yet to spot one here at the gold club, I have got very good at spotting seaweed lumps that look like Otters though.

My other ranger duties are also going well, The World Otter Day event was well attended by everyone but the Otter! The nature walk at Loch Torr, held Buzzards, a distance glimpse of a White Tailed Eagle and lots of LBJ’s. Garden Warblers, White Throats, Sand Martins and Reed Warblers amongst others.

Close up Seal pup

Amongst the more amazing unexpected things I have done since I moved to Mull was to coordinate and rescue a seal pup at Pennygown Campsite. I wasn’t expecting the knock on the door at half ten at night, from my landlord saying there was a pup on the beach, could I put on my uniform and be all official to help reassure people that it would be okay. Unfortunately by the time we got down there, there was people standing right by the side of the poor wee pup taking pictures. Not what the pup needed. We managed to get everyone away from the pup, and left it for the night hoping the mother would come back. Next morning there was no sign of the mother and the pup was very underweight, so I coordinated for the pup to the picked up in Oban by a Inspector of the SSPCA. Now we just had to get it to Oban! Chris, a Marine Mammal Medic and myself then managed to get the pup into a box with a towel over the top and drove it to the ferry terminal, I have never driven to carefully in my life! Then we put the pup in the luggage van on the ferry (Yes, really!) and waved it off. The pup was collected safely and taken to a temporary holding pen and given fluids and triage and is now at the SSPCA’s National Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre at Fishcross. I’m very happy to confirm that so far the pup is doing very well, he was little underweight and dehydrated, but is now much brighter, alert and very noisy! However, it’s important to note that if you see a seal pup alone you must NEVER approach or touch them, mothers will often leave their pups to feed, but will stay within sight and disturbing the pup can cause the mother to abandon it, furthermore there are risks from passing zoonotic diseases or being bitten and infection from the bacteria found in the seals mouths. It is always advised to keep your distance from seals and keep your dogs on a lead if you are concerned about a seal or a pup being on its own the best thing you can do is keep your distance and contact either your local wildlife rescue centre, the RSPCA or SSPCA or BDMLR who have marine mammal medics and volunteers spread across the UK’s coastline.

Seal Pup

Well, that’s it for now. Events coming up include the Wild Flower Walk and Moveable Feast, at Treshnish Cottages and Staffa Sea Watch, both Tomorrow, 17th July, and there is lots more. Keep an eye on the events page for more throughout the season. Keep you eye in the sky for Eagles, especially young in the next few weeks!

Many thanks for reading,

Lizzy 🙂

My favourite time of year

With the long hours of daylight, many sunny days and plenty of wildlife action, May and June have to be my favourite time of year, so lots of highlights to tell you about this time.

Our Woollen Woods launched at the end of May and is still on display so do pop in and visit next time you are passing Tiroran Community Forest: https://www.facebook.com/pg/mullionarangerservice/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1941534295893873

It provided the perfect backdrop for Bunessan nursery’s visit with their topic of Fairytales (particularly the giant mushrooms and the knitted Gruffalo).  The other classes from Bunessan primary also visited the forest that week to help with tree planting, investigate the ruined buildings, think about plans for a visitor centre and learn about the parts of a plant.

forest school trip may 2019

Meanwhile on Iona we enjoyed Outdoor Classroom Day on the beach, and a series of afterschool nature club sessions where the children set us a challenge by choosing the themes they would like to cover – culminating in a finale of studying grasshoppers combined with making a fire for hot chocolate and marshmallows!

Another hardworking Thistle Camp got to grips with some drainage work and beachcleaning, among other tasks, during a hot sunny week on Iona, and were rewarded for their efforts by taking part in several days of kayaking.  Meanwhile Emilie and I completed the 3rd and final midnight corncrake count of the season, witnessing a spectacular red sunset and a lovely display of noctilucent (night-shining) clouds.

We’re all looking forward to adventure playground building with Woodland Tribe on the 7th, 8th and 9th July (no need to book, just turn up at Tiroran Community Forest between 11am and 6pm, or contact pyielder@swmid.co.uk for community transport information) and in advance of that Emilie led a beachcombing session for items to add to the construction.

Now that the school holidays have started, we are running several Nature Adventure Days with our local teenagers, and the first day saw us taking an old path through the Mull hills from Teanga Bridge over to Knock via Loch Ba, stopping to admire views, take hundreds of photos, climb trees and cool our feet in the clear streams.  Next up it’s exploring St Martin’s caves and seaweed cooking on the beaches of Iona!

Today we had our first Magnificent Meadows event, thanks to those who kindly let us visit to admire their beautiful flowery fields, provided refreshments or drove the community bus – a dull day weather wise but thoroughly enjoyable nevertheless!

Lots more exciting events coming up so hope to see you soon!

Emily

Start of the Summer Season

Another Summer, another Volunteer Ranger! I’m Emilie, working down on the Ross of Mull with Emily W until mid-August. I’ve only been here a few weeks but already have plenty to report. 

Bunessan (1) compressed

Bunessan, my home for the next 3 months.

My first day started quite relaxed, meeting Emily and sorting my paperwork, until about 4pm when we decided the weather was good enough for a midnight corncrake survey. We rushed home, grabbed our camping kit and caught the last ferry to Iona where the birds, declining across Western Europe, have a stronghold.

Exploring the island and eating a delicious pub dinner was a great way to spend the evening, made all the better by views of dolphins just off the coast! When the time came, the survey involved walking up and down the island listening to the birds’ calls and trying to figure out if you heard two individuals or one plus its echo. I’m glad Emily was there; the echoes fooled me more than once. With the survey done my first day was over and we headed to bed, slightly disappointed with the number of birds we’d heard.

The next day was just as hectic as the previous evening. We stomped across the island to find the shag nests I’ll be monitoring for the rest of the summer, then went all the way back to run an after school “nature club” at the island school. In the middle of that I managed to survey the fields to see whether they were being grazed or left to meadow – important information for conserving the corncrakes.

The next few days were slightly easier going. We took a group down to Carsaig, spotting seals and seabirds as well as the fossils the area is known for, then visited Lizzie and Caoimhe, the incredibly knowledgeable Mull Eagle Watch Rangers. Thanks to them I saw my first White Tailed Sea Eagle adult AND watched it feeding its precious chick in the nest.

White Tailed Sea Eagle, Craignure compressed

My first sea eagle, shame about the photographer!

My second week of work was just as extraordinary as the first. Starting on Sunday, Emily and I joined a Thistle Camp – a National Trust for Scotland working holiday group – that had boldly decided to wild camp on the beautiful Burg peninsula. None of us had banked on that day’s  feral goat count being a 9 hour hike, but I’m starting to think that no one gets an easy first day on Mull!

The next day we rejoined the campers to count Slender Scotch Burnet Moths and survey their food plants. These moths are endemic to (only found on) Mull and Ulva, so it’s important that we keep an eye on their numbers. After some initial confusion with six-spot Burnets and cinnabar moths, the group got their eyes in and found hundreds of  individuals across the sites we checked.  The future looks good for these pretty insects.

Slender Scotch Burnet, Burg (9) compressed

Slender Scotch Burnet Moths

 

The camp wasn’t only about survey work. The team pulled bracken, cleared debris from the beach and helped repair the Burg bothy, a structure that will soon be restored its former glory. It was wonderful to join the campers for their final night in the wilderness, sharing their homemade mac and cheese and listening to the stories of the fun they’d had throughout the week. Thistle Camps are a great way to contribute to the maintenance of National Trust properties throughout Scotland – you can find out more here

DSC_0011 compressde.JPG

Not a bad place for a campsite…..

I’m not sure how I squeezed everything in, but week two also saw me head to Tiroran Community Forest with the RSPB and other conservation organisations to watch the ringing of a sea eagle chick, and revisit the shag nests on Iona to find that at least 3 chicks have hatched!

Week three has barely begun but is already off to a good start – I visited Staffa yesterday with Peter, the first dedicated Staffa Ranger, seeing bottlenose dolphins as well as the booming puffin population. It was a shame about the rain, but I suppose that’s to be expected in Scotland. We’re returning to the island later in the week to finish the seabird surveys that we couldn’t manage. A Ranger’s work is never done; there just aren’t enough hours in a day!

Spring is the season of new life…

…and there’s lots of new and exciting things to tell you about!

Lizzy Grieve has started as our seasonal ranger at the eagle hide, and you can read more about what’s happening over on the Mull Eagle Watch blog.

Next week Peter Upton takes up the role of Visitor Services Assistant for the island of Staffa for four months so look out for him if you’re over there this year.  I’ve been getting the island ready for the season with some beachcleaning, infrastructure checks and our first seabird count of the year, black guillemots.  Thanks to Miek Zwamborn and Rutger Emmelkamp for their help and for the photos below.  Please note that there is still no access to Fingal’s cave while we continue to repair storm damage to the walkway.

Over at Burg, there is still a landslide blocking the path to the fossil tree.  It’s a lovely walk, even if you turn back at this point you’ll still get a flavour of the coastline with its flowery slopes, and chance to spot eagles and otters.  If planning to venture onto the beach and around below the landslide to rejoin the path, please take extreme care and judge for yourself the risk of more material falling from above.

Most exciting for the Fionnphort area as work has started on our new path to Creich hall after years of hard work and fundraising by the steering group.  It will make a safe off-road walking and cycling option for local journeys, and form part of several long-distance routes.  Very well done everyone, can’t wait to start using it for ranger events!

I’ve been busy with sessions for both Bunessan and Iona primary schools recently.  The older class from Iona carried out a study of the River Coladoir on a misty March day.  Bunessan nursery children visited Tiroran Community Forest to explore and learn about baby animals including eagle chicks.

We are looking forward to our Woollen Woods event at the forest, come along to celebrate the launch on Sunday 19th May or drop in for a walk anytime over the summer to spot the creatures on display.  This project has really caught people’s imaginations and we’ve loved receiving everyone’s creations, thanks to everyone who has contributed so far!

Traffic is building up again on our island roads, so if you’re not used to single track roads with passing places, please make sure you take time to watch this video before you visit and ensure stress-free driving for everyone!

Likewise please take care if visiting with your dog, especially at this time of year when lambs and ground-nesting birds are everywhere.  Make sure you keep your dog under close control and follow any local signage.

It’s also time for our events programme to get going again.  While a day of sudden bad weather cancelled my attempt at an Iona birdsong walk, Jan had better luck the following week and a lovely day with the Glengorm ranger at their Easter event.

Coming up we have a free guided walk to the mysterious Scoor Cave on 8th May in return for helping out with a beachclean as the gully there really funnels in debris off the sea.  You can join Jan on the lovely island of Ulva on the 15th May or come to Iona to learn about wildflowers on the 22nd.  Keep an eye on the events page for the full programme coming soon and we look forward to seeing you all at some point this summer!

Emily