Harriers & hawk moths

Blimey, almost another four weeks have disappeared since I last managed to write a post. Of course this is a busy time of year for the Ranger Service and Mull Eagle Watch, with our daily trips at the viewing hide a large part of my working week. We’re still struggling with nice weather though and this is showing with our wildlife.

Harrier hunting – with binoculars 

Since my woodland walk in May I’ve ran a few more events. On a crisp, clear afternoon we set out on a “Skydancer Spotting” guided walk, to try and see some hen harriers. This was at the north of Loch Frisa and we wandered down the forestry commission track stopping to scan regularly. Probably due to the weather during May hen harriers proved to be elusive in this area but we still had a great afternoon with plenty of wildlife. We’re very lucky to have good numbers of hen harriers on the island, we don’t have any problems with illegal raptor persecution here, but elsewhere in the UK they’re on the brink of extinction as a breeding bird, wholly due to illegal killings, such a shame for a wonderful raptor. An adult white-tailed eagle from a nearby territory flew right over head and we all got fantastic views of the broad, 8ft wingspan. We also caught sight of golden eagle pair. Countless buzzards were seen throughout the walk, all enjoying the blue skies and strong breeze. We tend to take buzzards for granted now that they’re our most common raptor, but it wasn’t that long ago they were missing from the majority of the country. We also spotted a pair of my favourite bird, the kestrel. These raptors are in short supply on the island and are undergoing rapid declines across the country, up to 40% of our kestrels have gone. Wildflowers were varied along the edge of the track and included birds foot trefoil, bugle, wild strawberry, bitter vetch and tormentil.

Tormentil

Tormentil

Loch Buie Wander 

Despite the weather on Wednesday 17th we had an enjoyable walk at the head of Loch Buie, covering Laggan Sands and the restored Mausoleum. We enjoyed the view of three fallow deer and one red deer stag with only one velvety antler, sure he won’t be the top boy during the autumn rut. We noticed the first flowering foxgloves, along with flag iris, birds foot trefoil and tormentil. We then had brilliant views of a white-tailed eagle pair, both of which disappeared along the inaccessible coastline.

Flag iris

Flag iris

Drop-in Ranger Service 

In addition to the varied events I run, every other week I also provide a drop-in ranger service in the Fishnish wildlife hide. This hide is community based and open at all times, so do pop in. Sightings here are varied and include white-tailed eagles, heron, oystercatcher, greylag geese, gull species, otter and marine mammals like harbour porpoise. I’m next in the hide on Wednesday 24th June, so call in between 10am and 12pm to say hello.

Coming up 

We have so many events to look forward to toward the end of the month and throughout July. On Wednesday 24th along with the Fishnish hide drop in you can join a geology based guided walk at Carsaig, a fantastic area. Our yearly fishing competition is coming up next weekend, so head down to Lettermore for that one. In July we have plenty things to chose from, kicking off with a guided walk at Loch Tor, a brilliant area of mixed habitat. You can join a wildflower and butterfly walk at Treshnish Farm in the morning, followed by coastal sea watching in the afternoon, both on Wednesday 15th. Look out for the moth morning in July too, we’ll have a few hours to appreciate some of the night time wonders we don’t often see. I’ve been trapping in my own time when the weather allows and caught my first ever hawkmoth, an incredible poplar hawkmoth, definitely better than butterflies! We’re also running the nature club in Aros park for children again, where we’ll focus on moths!

Poplar hawkmoth

Poplar hawkmoth

Head over to our events page for more information on all of these.

Thanks for reading again, back soon with more!

Rachel

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Woodland Wonders

Wild woods

Woodlands are places that catch your imagination. Woodlands are the home of fairytales and folklore, they inspire. Free play in a woodland encourages children to explore and develop. Trees enrich our senses – whatever the season. But springtime is surely one of the most enchanting times to visit a wood; your senses will be overwrought with sounds, smells and sights. Luckily for me I lead guided walks and can share the experience with others.

Bluebell magic

Bluebell magic

Aros Park

Last Friday the National Trust for Scotland cruise ship, the Saga Pearl 2 made a last minute change of plan and arrived in Tobermory rather than Oban. I ran two short walks in Aros Park for some of the passengers. We started out on the coastal path from Ledaig car park and strolled along the track looking for woodland wildlife. This is a great walk and offers a very different perspective on Tobermory Bay and Aros Park itself, as we so often drive in to the main car park. The park is owned by Forestry Commission Scotland and is a great asset right by Tobermory.

Flower power

Wildflowers are only just starting to come to life, everything seems to be clinging to winter, emerging later than normal this season – probably due to the colder temperatures, it feels more like January than May! Along the coastal pathway in Aros we relished the smell of wild garlic, also known as ramsons, an edible woodland treat. Bluebells were looking brilliant too, here in the UK we have 50% of the worlds bluebell population. We also spotted yellow archangel – a species of dead nettle, opposite leafed golden saxifrage and water avens. Another plant we see a lot of in Aros is called Tutsan which is thought to mean “all-healthy”, linking in with healing properties. We also spotted some dor beetles on the move; we looked at these guys through a hand lens and were amazed by the small details and metallic colours.

Water avens (Geum rivale)

Water avens (Geum rivale)

Dor beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius)

Dor beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius)

Ancient woodland walk 

This week I ran another woodland guided walk which was open to the public. We began the walk at the Loch Buie/Croggan turn off from the main road, south of Craignure and enjoyed some of the protected woodland nearby. Ardura and Auchnacraig are both listed as a SSSI (site of special scientific interest) primarily for the large area of ancient oak woodlands, geological interests and a small section of salt marsh. The largest area of ancient atlantic oak woods in the Hebrides remains here, most of the woodland across the islands is lone gone.

Osprey encounter 

There is a footpath through some of the woodland which emerges onto the shoreline of Loch Spelve. We were lucky enough to catch a great view of an osprey, a species which doesn’t breed here on Mull. This individual bird has been hanging around for a few weeks now though and will maybe return to breed in the future. Due to the leg ring we know this male bird was ringed in 2012 at Loch Lomond. We also saw plenty of greylag and canada geese, oystercatchers and common sandpipers.

Invasive non-natives 

Within the woodland itself we spotted some worrying non-native invasive species, very concerning when walking in such an important site. Japanese knotweed and rhododendron were both present. The third was skunk cabbage, an American bog plant that is readily available in garden centres in the UK. Also known as the swamp lantern this species is spreading from gardens to interfere with our native wildlife.

Native wildflowers 

Plenty of lovely native wildflowers and plants to be seen too though. The main tree species in this area are silver birch and oak, with holly, rowan and hazel making up the threadbare understory. We were pleased to see some successful saplings but overgrazing in some sections of woodland was apparent. Wildflowers included:

Opposite-leaved golden-saxifrage

Primrose

Lesser celandine

Tormentil

Marsh marigold

Yellow pimpernel

Wood anemone

Wood sorrel

Greater stitchwort

Selfheal

Bluebell

Heath milkwort

Lousewort

Cuckoo flower

Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa)

Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa)

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some and this doesn’t even consider all the lichen and moss species, out woodlands are teeming with life. Well worth an hours exploration, take the time to get lost in a wood and encounter some new wildlife.

Thanks for reading as usual! Check our events page for upcoming dates to join us soon. Rachel 🙂

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

April showers?

Another couple of weeks have flown by and it’s April tomorrow, although it certainly doesn’t feel like it should be Spring with the wintery weather we’ve not been enjoying the last few days. I found myself putting out extra bird food first thing today whilst it attempted to snow! It feels like the showery month of April has arrived early, minus the warmer temperatures we’d expect. Hopefully this bad weather snap won’t last long and our wildlife will be able to bounce straight back. We now have all of our events planned out for the season, head to our events page to have a look, we have a few coming up in April including Bunessan Birdsong and a Calgary Beach work party.

Bat Bonanza

I’m running my first event of the season tomorrow evening in Aros Park. Come along to do some bat detecting and to enjoy a nice evening wander around the loch. If it’s clear we’ll have a lovely view over to Tobermory from the old pier. Bat detectors allow us to hear the complex system of echolocation that our bats depend on, not only to catch their prey, but to ensure they don’t crash into an obstacle. You might be surprised to find that here on Mull we have a few bat species, including the most familiar the common pipistrelle. We also my favorite, the daubenton’s bat, also known as the water bat. No need to book, just turn up – I hope to see some of you there.
Where: Aros Park, meet at FCS notice board
When: 6.30pm – 8.30pm
Cost: £5 adult £3 children
Bring: Waterproofs and warm clothing

Bat Bonanza Event

Bat Bonanza Event

Mull Eagle Watch

Mull Eagle Watch is open from Monday 13th April 2015 and you can now book in by calling the Craignure Visitor Information Centre on 01680 812556.

Sula and Cuin’s nest site from last year is now playing host to another brilliant bird, the raven! Corvids like crows and ravens happily move into larger disused nests. As our eagles are nesting at another eyrie within their territory, ravens jumped at this highly desirable housing opportunity and are now incubating their own eggs. Ravens aren’t often a favored bird, especially by the farming community as they do regularly cause issues within lambing season but they are a fantastic species. They’re one of our most intelligent birds and can have a repertoire of 70 different vocalisations.
So Mull Eagle Watch will leave the ravens to it. We’ve been welcomed back to Tiroran in Glen Seilisdeir with open wings by Iona and Fingal and we look forward to working with this wonderful pair of eagles again.

Fingal - seen through the telescope at Tiroran

Fingal – seen through the telescope at Tiroran

Geocache galore

The ranger service have now hidden over 40 geocaches around the island, so give it a try if you haven’t already. Or, if you thought you’d found them all, think again! Jan and I had a lovely, albeit very blustery morning at Loch Buie and Croggan to hide a few. This is such a great area with a range of habitats for Mull’s wildlife. If you do head down that way think please think about taking a couple of pieces of litter home with you to recycle, the beach and coastline around here has accumulated debris over the winter. Look out for eagles and otters, I found a well used otter track and some spraint full of fish scales and crab claws.

Fishnish Wildlife Hide

Don’t forget about the community wildlife hide at Fishnish. This is open at all times so drop in to enjoy your lunch or shelter from the weather. We don’t yet have a visitor book or white board for your sightings yet, so if you do spend some time there, please let us know what you see. The location is great for seabirds, otter, harbour porpoise and white-tailed eagles. Look out for the tiny dab chick in between it’s feeding dives too.

Thanks for reading again and check back soon for more, 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

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 🙂