A Busy Week!

Good morning from the Ross of Mull! We’re enjoying a day in the office for the first time in a while after a busy week last week.

We kicked things off on Sunday with our Thistle Camp Volunteers who were staying at Burg for the week. In the morning we carried out some habitat management, clearing overgrown bracken which was hiding many of the old farm dwellings from view.

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Before

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After

After lunch, we moved onto beach cleaning and removed over 10 black bin bags full of ropes, plastics and other interesting items including several shotgun cartridges from Burg’s shoreline. For the remainder of the week, the Thistle Campers carried out various other tasks such as moth surveys, path and road repairs and gorse removal. Their effort throughout the week was greatly appreciated and we can’t thank them enough for their help!

On both Tuesday and Friday, Emily and myself carried out seabird surveys of the many islets around the coast of Iona with the help of the Mull Bird Club and aboard the ‘Birthe Marie’.

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The ‘Birthe Marie’ of Alternative Boat Hire

Sea bird colonies around  Scotland have been in decline for a number of years and therefore, it is important that we monitor our populations on an annual basis. During our two days surveying, we recorded numbers of shags, fulmars, gulls, kittiwakes, oyster catchers and puffins and Emily is currently in the process of writing up the results and I’m sure they will be published shortly.

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A ringed fulmar about to be released on Soa.

On Wednesday, we teamed up with tour operator ‘Turus Mara’ and the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust to organise an evening trip to Staffa. Although the weather wasn’t as pleasant as the previous week, our guests had an extremely enjoyable evening. Staffa’s puffins were in great spirits and were often seen feeding mouthfuls of sand eels to their pufflings!

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A few of Staffa’s puffins

Whilst our guests were on Staffa, I carried out a count of the fulmar population on Staffa with the help of Izzy from the HWDT. We counted 94 pairs of fulmars on the island – a slight decrease in comparison to 2015.

On our way back, ‘Turus Mara’ skipper Colin spotted a Minke whale and we had the pleasure of watching it surface for around 10 minutes before it finally disappeared from view heading south towards the Ross of Mull. If that wasn’t enough, we also had the pleasure of enjoying another fantastic sunset!

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On Thursday, we carried out our annual goat survey on Burg. The goats here are feral and are believed to descend from those left behind during the Highland Clearances. We monitor the goat population so that the grazing on Burg can be managed appropriately. In total, we counted 115 goats, whilst we also had the pleasure of encountering two golden eagles and several red deer!

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Some steep scrambling on Burgs north coast

Overall, it was an extremely enjoyable and productive week and we thank the Thistle Camp volunteers, Mull Bird Club , Turus Mara, HWDT and Mark Jardine of Alternative Boat Hire for their assistance throughout the week.

Next up, we have our Moth and Wildflower walk on Wednesday at Burg. We will be meeting at the NTS Car Park at 10am. Booking is essential and can be made via email (ewilkins@nts.org.uk) or by phone (07717581405 or 01681700659).

I look forward to meeting you in the near future.

Daniel

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Hello!

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Hello folks! My name is Daniel and I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself as the new Volunteer Seasonal Ranger for South Mull, Iona, Burg and Staffa, where I will be assisting Emily for the next 10 weeks. I’m originally from Musselburgh, East Lothian, and have recently completed a degree in Environmental Protection BSc (Hons) at SRUC and the University of Edinburgh.

For the past year or so I have volunteered regularly with the NTS’ Lothian Area Ranger Service and I thoroughly enjoyed assisting in the provision of environmental education and various wildlife surveying and practical countryside management tasks. When the opportunity of a full time placement came up I jumped at the chance and here I am three days into my 10 week stint!

I have long had a passion for the outdoors, often spending my spare time fishing and hill walking (I’m at the summit of Meall nan Tarmachan in the photo above), and this has allowed me to develop an active interest in environmental management and conservation. During my time here on Mull, I look forward to carrying out wildlife surveys, including on sea bird colonies and corncrakes, as well as working with Thistle Camp volunteers and various school groups.

After a hard 4th year at University, which concluded a little over a week ago, I can’t find the words to describe how excited I am to get started. Already, I’ve been involved with building stepping stone paths across areas of bog on Iona, allowing easier access for visitors to the area. I’ve settled in well and spent last night fishing for mackerel from Bunessan Pier. I never caught any, its still a bit early, but it was a cracking night to sit and watch the sun set over the Dutchman’s Cap (Bac Mór).

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Coming up shortly, we have an evening’s sail to Staffa on the 8th June where we’ll be looking out for various cetaceans along the way before spending time with the Island’s puffin colony. Tickets are priced at only £30 and it’s certainly not an evening to be missed! However, we do have several other events planned for those who don’t have their sea legs! If you’re staying in the North of the Island, my colleague Jan is running a day trip to Ulva where she will provide a small guided tour on the 1st June.

Details of all further events can be found on the ‘Events’ section of this website or for the most up to date information please check our Facebook page.

I look forward to meeting you over the summer.

Cheers,

Daniel

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.

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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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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!

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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:

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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!