Marvel at the Miniature

Marvel at the Miniature 

I was thrilled that the sun chose to shine on Wednesday for my guided walk at Loch Torr. This Forestry Commission Scotland site is really productive for the wildlife on the smaller side, including dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies but they’re only really active if the weather allows. Thankfully on the day we weren’t disappointed by the variety and complexity on offer.

We started off at the lovely Loch Torr Wildlife Hide and scanned the surrounding landscape here to spot buzzards in flight, with a family of greylag geese below on the loch itself. We wandered off up the track and discussed how an interest in the less iconic or ‘big’ species means you’ll never be disappointed – there’ll always be something to see. Our participants were shocked to realise we have two carnivorous plant species on the isle, which you can spot easily once you know what to look for. We hunted out butterwort and round-leaved sundew, both of which acquire nutrients from unsuspecting insects.

We then marvelled at mating four-spotted chasers, watching the male and female join on the wing and whilst she laid her eggs into the most unwelcoming pond – a pool of water you’d dismiss and walk on by. We had great views of these wonders of flight, but then also spotted numerous newts dwelling in the algae ridden water. These were palmate newts – Britain’s smallest amphibian.  Look even closer and you might spot a camouflaged caddis fly larvae, they cover themselves in available materials and can end up looking like twigs or something much more unusual. A lesson in wildlife; expect the unexpected in the most unexpected locations!

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Other species we spotted included golden-ringed dragonflies, small heath butterflies, dor beetle, red admiral butterfly and plenty of wildflowers. We’re were surrounded by the sounds of siskin and willow warbler too.

Pop-up Ranger Service

Join me this Wednesday morning at the Loch Torr Wildlife Hide for a “Pop-up Ranger” session. I’ll be at the hide with binoculars, scopes, ID guides and local wildlife knowledge. Come along and pop in! In the last few weeks we’ve had great views of buzzards, sand martins, dipper, grey wagtail, ravens and more. Otters have been seen regularly in the loch, so we’ll keep an eye out for them too.

It’s a great place to visit if the weather isn’t playing ball, or somewhere handy to stop off for lunch.

I’ll be there on Wednesday 14th, 10am-12pm.

Free, but donations welcome.

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Mull Eagle Watch 

Look out for a Mull Eagle Watch blog coming soon with some exciting images giving a real insight into the nest life of our fast growing chicks. Our eaglet pair at West Ardhu (North West Mull Community Woodland) were ringed earlier this week, which will allow us to monitor their progress in future years.

The season with both our eagle pairs is going well and we’re getting some great views of the adults and youngsters in their nests. It’s flying by though, as the West Ardhu eagle chicks are around 6 weeks old already!

Thanks for reading, back soon with another one!

Rachel (Mull Eagle Watch Ranger)

Wildlife Walks

Wolf Island

I’m now extremely jealous of the amazing weather everyone else in the UK is enjoying; Wimbledon looks more like America than London! We’ve still been busy with plenty of events going on and I’m now busy most days at Mull Eagle Watch (read about our eaglet here). It’s a great time of year to appreciate the smaller wildlife, including butterflies and wildflowers. Jan and I led a guided walk for a group of American visitors on the Isle of Ulva on Sunday 21st June and it actually turned out to be a nice day!

Marsh management

Ulva is a great place for wildlife, with lots of deciduous woodland remnants and areas of land managed particularly for rare butterfly species. The marsh fritillary butterfly is one of Europe’s rarest butterflies and relies upon devils-bit scabious as the food plant for its caterpillars. Grazing and cutting of fields at the wrong time can be catastrophic for these butterflies and so support and good management are important. The island is also known as wolf island, giving another indication of the part fauna here, it is thought that this name comes from the Viking/Norse people who took Ulva as their home for a time. Obviously we’ve lost our large mammalian predators like the wolf and the lynx but thankfully we do at least have the white-tailed and golden eagles.

Luscious lichens

We enjoyed lots of wildflowers and trees in bloom – particularly the hawthorn. We spotted lousewort, foxgloves, birds-foot trefoil, bluebells, flag iris, tormentil, bugle, water avens, common bistort and more. We also enjoyed the amazing diversity of lichens covering the trees and walls including dogtooth lichen and beard lichen; this gives us an indication of ancient woodland and demonstrates the cleanliness of our air.

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Mull lichen diversity

Loch Torr guided walk

On Wednesday 1st I ran a guided walk in the Quinish Forest surrounding Loch Torr. We had a brilliant afternoon in the warm weather with a huge array of wildlife to be seen. We were also joined by Ewan Miles of Inspire Wild, great to have him and his wealth of knowledge for the afternoon. Ewan spotted some great species for us including some common lizards, one of reptile species that were enjoying the heat of the day.

Common lizard

Common lizard (Ewan Miles)

Insect life

Much of the area is commercial plantation with Sitka spruce and larch trees making up the bulk but despite this the area is brilliant for insect life. The rides along the forest tracks are wide and sunny, with large open areas full of heather and cotton grass. We enjoyed a multitude of butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies throughout the afternoon making for a very slow walking pace! We recorded species like dark-green fritillary, small heath, speckled wood and green-veined white butterflies. Dragonflies are on the wing now and we watched golden-ringed and four spotted chasers hawking along the waterways. Damselflies were in abundance; we spotted large red damselflies and the stunning beautiful demoiselle. Day flying moths were also visible, speckled yellow was the most notable. I also noted a very odd looking parasitic wasp species, which I think is called the black slip wasp, very mean looking black and red individual!

Beautiful damoiselle

Beautiful damoiselle (Ewan Miles)

Northern Eggar

Northern eggar moth (Ewan Miles)

Coming up 

I’m already getting lots of bookings for the butterfly/wildflower morning at Treshnish (Wed 15th July), so if you’re interested it would be great  if you could let me know on 07540792650. Straight after lunch on the same day you join myself and Dr Conor Ryan from HWDT to do some sea watching to look for marine mammals and seabirds, so you could spend the whole day with the ranger service!

Speckled wood on water avens

Speckled wood butterfly on water avens flower (Ewan Miles)

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

Mighty moths

Moth Morning

With the fantastic help from Sian and Chris we ran a lovely moth morning today, and what a catch! Moth trapping is a fantastic way to see some native wildlife that would otherwise go unnoticed, largely due to moth’s nocturnal habits. You can start out by simply using a white sheet hung on a washing line with a torch, or strings dipped in something sweet and sickly – hang these on a tree and see what you attract. Or go a little further by either constructing your own moth trap or spend some money to invest in one. Moth trapping is brilliant for everyone and is very exciting for children, it’s a little like a present when you have your first look in the morning.

Mothing

Mothing

Sian and Chris set up a trap last night and left it running, ready for this morning. Inside among old egg cartons we had lots of moths (egg cartons are great to give shelter and hiding places). Sometimes you also get some other critters, I’ve had burying beetles before which are amazing, but beware, these smell strongly of rotting flesh so having them inside your home is definitely not recommended! All you need to ID your catch is some storage containers; these can be specifically for bugs or even something like a urine sample bottle. Collect up you moths so they’re safe before they start to become active and you lose them. You can them ID them one by one. The best way to do this is with an ID guide or book, there are lots to choose from. I’d also have a notebook and a pen handy to record your findings.

 

Here is our list of findings

Macro moths:

July highflyer (Hydriomena furcata) x5

Antler moth (Cerapteryx graminis) x6

Gold spot (Plusia festucae) x2

Bordered beauty (Epione repandaria) x1

Common wainscot (Common wainscot) x3

Small fan-footed wave (Idaea biselata) x1

Beautiful goldenY (Autographa pulchrina) x2

Mottled beauty (Alcis repandata) x1?

Scalloped oak (Crocallis elinguaria) x1

Lesser swallow prominent (Pheosia gnoma) x1

Lesser broad-bordered yellow underwing (Noctua janthe) x3

Dark arches (Apamea monoglypha) x3

Dun-bar (Cosmia trapezina) x1?

Lesser yellow underwing – Hebridean specimen (Noctua comes) x1

Lesser swallow prominent

Lesser swallow prominent

Gold Spot

Gold Spot

 

Micro moths:

Honeysuckle moth (Ypsolopha dentella) x1

Bird cherry ermine (Yponomeuta evonymella) x2

Eudemia species

Depending on where you are in the UK your species list could be really different and of course it will depend on the time of year too and what food plant species you have nearby. If you trap regularly over a period of months you’ll see things change. The more you trap the better you’ll get at recognising the common moths, anything unusual will jump out at you. A lot of them are quite docile to handle and photograph but if not a safe way to slow them down is to pop them in the fridge for a while.

So, why not get outside and enjoy the UK’s 2500 species of moth? They beat our 70 species of butterfly hands down and a lot of them are just as stunning. My favourites from today were the Lesser swallow prominent and the Gold spot.