Sunshine at last!

Hello from the Ross of Mull!  You haven’t heard much news from me lately, as I’ve been out and about away from the office making the most of the good weather which has arrived at last after a cold, wet windy spring (including some unseasonable snow and hail!).  This is my busiest time of year so here’s a glimpse into some recent activities.

May and early June were busy with nature clubs at both Bunessan and Iona primary schools – finding out about bumblebees and other insects, insectivorous plants, herons and foraging.  Also this morning I took Bunessan early years class on an exploration of their school grounds to investigate how living things depend on other things for survival – with the help of some friendly animal puppets who showed us their favourite places to find food and shelter.

Iona young nats walk June 2015 2butterwort Iona Iona YNs May 2015 2Bunessan YNs May 2015 2 Iona YNs May 2015 3animal puppets

Regular readers won’t be surprised to hear about more of one of our favourite conservation tasks – beachcleaning!  In late May I led a free guided walk to see the mysterious rock carvings at Scoor Cave, along with Catriona Joss from the Ross of Mull Historical Centre, in return for participants helping to clear the beach while there.  A great effort resulted in a human chain bringing up two pick-up loads full of rubbish, luckily I could deposit this in the skip at Bunessan primary school, hired for their own fantastic beachcleaning efforts a few days later, by the end of the weekend it was full to overflowing!  Then more recently the lovely NTS Conservation Volunteers (Glasgow group) arrived for a weekend visit, they cheerily collected rubbish in the rain, and next day in very welcome sunshine, make short work of adding the final coat of paint to our handrail stanchions on Staffa.  Thanks guys!  Thanks also to the hardy Thistle Campers staying on Iona earlier in May who started the job, alongside ditch clearing, cutting back vegetation at Tireragan nature reserve, and you guessed it, yet more beachcleans!  For information on outdoor volunteering with the NTS, have a look here: http://www.nts.org.uk/Volunteering/Outdoor and of course at Mull and Iona Ranger Service we always welcome local as well as visiting volunteers 🙂

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kilvickeon beachclean with glasgow cvsstaffa painting

So environmental education, leading guided walks and practical conservation tasks keep us busy at this time of year, but there’s always a few more unusual things happening just to add to the mix!  Rachel mentioned the NTS cruise in her previous post, well I was lucky enough to get invited to work on the ship as an onboard ranger for a week, spotting wildlife, giving commentaries as we passed seabird colonies and leading a tour to Iona, quite strange to take part in the daytrip that brings so many visitors our way!  Wildlife surveys are in full swing, and for me that could mean wandering Iona with a clipboard at midnight mapping corncrake territories (thanks to the night owls who help with that task and let me sleep on their floors afterwards!), or chasing brightly coloured moths around the hillside at Burg!  I also hosted a visit from Simon Goodall (NTS Wildlife Filming Editor), with the Google Trekker, although it looks like an alien hitching a lift it’s actually the same camera from the Google Car, but mounted on a backpack, so by the end of the year you should be able to take a ‘streetview’ style virtual walk to the fossil tree at Burg, around Staffa or on a circular route around Iona!

google trekker sara google trekker simon emily

To prove that summer has arrived at last, I’ll leave you with these sunny photos of Iona, taken on my way back from monitoring a seabird colony down at Pigeon Cave yesterday afternoon.  Hope this inspires you to get outdoors and explore your own patch!  You could try the ‘30 days wild‘ challenge as featured on BBC Springwatch, or have a look at our events page on this blog for some walks and activities you could come along to.

Emily

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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)

What a load of rubbish!!

Very satisfying day today, the time was finally right to collect all that rubbish piled up on the beaches of Burg and Iona!  Earlier in the year hardworking Thistle Campers (www.nts.org.uk/thistlecamps) had cleared the coastline, taking out what they could carry and leaving behind the heavy stuff, including 2 lorry tyres and lots of broken creels.  I’ve been waiting for the right weather to take it all away and thanks to some very cheery helpers and sunny calm conditions, today was the day!  We did give the beautiful B.Marie a temporary alternative makeover as a rubbish barge, but she’s none the worse for the ordeal, and our haul is now piled as neatly as possible on Fionnphort pier ready for the bin lorry to take it away.  Many thanks to Mark, Stuart, David and Sophie for all their efforts and our contribution to making some of our coastline and seas a little bit cleaner.

You’ve probably seen some of the shocking photos of the effects of marine litter on wildlife, and even entire islands made up of floating plastic…but this week I came across a hopeful twist, a company which is processing plastic taken from the sea into threads to weave fabric, and make it into clothes to sell – how’s that for creative recycling?!

If this has inspired you, more beachcleaning opportunities after our Scoor Cave walk on 3rd September.

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News from the south!

Hello, I’m Emily the ranger for Iona, Staffa, Burg and the Ross of Mull.  What have I been up to recently?

Well, wildflowers and seashore safaris have featured in many of my events this year.  Here’s a lovely scarlet pimpernel found growing near Sandeels Bay on Iona, and some rockpool friends:

ranger pics july 001Rockpool friends

I have been working alongside Mary Ireson and Scott Douglas, youthworkers in Tobermory and Oban respectively, to bring together young people from all over Mull, and from Oban, for fun outdoor activities.  This week’s challenge was a camping trip to Ulva (thanks to Fran and Isaac from Camas outdoor centre – http://www.iona.org.uk/island-centres/camas) as part of the John Muir Award, discovering, exploring, conserving and sharing the experience of wild places: http://www.johnmuiraward.org

The group worked as a team to help carry all the equipment, stopping for games and butterfly spotting along the way, and set up camp near the coast.  A highlight of the evening’s beach exploration was observing the fascinating world of the hermit crab as we found a large colony in a nearby rockpool and spent time offering them empty shells as potential new homes or watching them delicately scavenging the eyes from some nearby dead sandeels to eat!  Some of our group made an in-depth study of the creatures living inside a cowpat!!  I think John Muir would have approved 🙂

Ulva Ferrycamping triparriving at last!