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)

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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

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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One thing is for sure

Completing start-of-season checks and the first bird count of the year on Staffa over Easter weekend, the light was stunning in the early morning as the mist rolled back.  Here’s some photos and a wee guest blog from one of our ranger service volunteers:

Easter Sunday morning Staffa Josef photo Black guillemot count Staffa Josef photo Misty Treshnish Isles from Staffa Josef photo Inside Clamshell cave Josef photo

One thing is for sure. There is a big difference between going on a trip to Staffa with a boat and having one hour ashore before immediately traveling back again, or waving goodbye to the boat that would take you back and spend 24 hours on the island to yourself. For one, you get Fingals cave all to yourself as the light is starting to fade and there is no one else in sight that could look at you in a strange way when you decide to test the cave acoustics by shouting out a medieval chant from that children’s program you watched on telly twenty years ago when you were a kid in Sweden (any likeness to real people in the previous sentence is purely accidental). Just in case you were wondering.

Of course, I wasn’t alone.

The whole reason I was there was because it was somewhere decided that spending 24 hours alone on a tiny island in the Atlantic isn’t something you can require from your employee. So I tagged along. And so did round about 122 Black Guillemots as it turns out when we did the bird count at dawn the following morning which was one of the main reasons for the trip.

I promised Emily I would include a Haiku in this blogpost.

Eight or twelve or ten?
Maybe there was seventeen?
I’ve lost my count again…

So There.

Josef
NTS Volunteer
(And proud owner of a get-into-nts-things-for-free-card)

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)

Brazilian Reflections

As Jan has mentioned before, for us rangers it’s sometimes difficult not to have a ‘busman’s holiday’, and as I’ve recently been lucky enough to visit friends in Brazil, I thought I’d share some of what I noticed of wildlife and conservation during my travels.

What comes to mind when you think of Brazil?  For a lot of people I suspect it would be ‘Rio’ and ‘rainforest’ or perhaps ‘football/world cup’…but Brazil is a huge and extremely diverse country, a true melting pot of many cultures, different landscapes and in the coastal Atlantic rainforest some of the most species-rich habitat in the world.

Rio de Janeiro is a city built among mountains.  Steep, forested mountains which present some challenges for the road network with its long tunnels and crazy traffic jams, but also intersperse greenspace and forest wildlife throughout the city.  Street trees are popular in Brazil, often sprouting tropical fruits, and to my surprise it’s not unusual to look up from an ordinary street to see huge brightly-coloured butterflies, hummingbirds or capuchin monkeys right there amongst the towerblocks, shops, vehicles and people.  I enjoyed spotting my first wild toucans in the treetops of the Botanic Gardens (backing onto an area of native forest)  and the coastal path around the base of the Sugarloaf, with its joggers and climbers, waves crashing on boulders as huge cargo ships pass nearby, large birds gliding high up on the thermals and close-up wildlife encounters (and an idyllically-sited nursery school with access to forest and beach right from the gate!).  Of course, looking up it’s impossible not to notice the favelas, shanty towns straggling up the steep hillsides…

Rio 2014 View from SugarloafCapuchins in Rioprotest 102

Recycling is widely promoted in public areas – it is common to see a row of several different bins encouraging waste separation – although another side to this also commonly seen in residential streets as people from the favelas work their way systematically through domestic rubbish bags, looking for plastic bottles or cans to sell.  A degrading sympton of poverty built on others’ wastefulness…or a useful source of income with environmental benefits?

Travelling west from Rio, it was easy to see why this area is known as the Costa Verde (Green Coast) with mile upon mile of forested mountains, white sandy beaches, small towns (and the odd nuclear power station…just like Scotland!).  Crossing by boat to Ilha Grande in the misty drizzle I wondered if I had been transported back to the Hebrides!  The whole of this lovely island is a car-free protected area, with reserve staff giving information on walks and wildlife, running a tree nursery to restore degraded areas of forest, trying to control invasive species and providing environmental education for local young people.  I enjoyed staying in a guesthouse on the edge of the village with giant lizards, squirrels and lots of birds visiting the garden, and making use of forest trails and brightly-painted wooden boats to get around.

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After a couple of days in another lovely car-free coastal town which made good use of horses and wheelbarrows for pollution-free transport of tourists, supplies and rubbish, it was time to head inland to the state of Minas Gerais (General Mines) and my friends’ home city of Belo Horizonte.  As the name suggests, evidence of open-cast mining was everywhere, long trains filled with iron-ore producing constant background noise, and many hillsides on fire, presumably to stop the forest from re-colonising areas of farmland.  Perhaps this is a familiar picture, as we are used to statistics about the rate of rainforest destruction, but it’s still a shock to see it up close, and not hard to see why only 7% of the original Atlantic rainforest still remains…though the fact is this is what provided the wealth to build many of the beautiful buildings I’d just been admiring in the town of Paraty.

However, government policies are changing and there is now much more support nationally for protected areas and for the land rights of indigenous people.  Alongside this is the work done by environmental charities, many of which are international and undertake high-profile campaigning in the UK.  It’s unlikely you’ll have heard of the next place I visited though, staying there was a unique experience like nowhere else I’ve been.

Caraça is a true sanctuary, an old monastery in the hills which used to be a school from which emerged several influential Brazilian leaders.  Since the school building burnt down in the 1960s it has functioned as a guesthouse with the aims of integrating hospitality, spirituality and mission, culture and education, environmental conservation, leisure and tourism.  The church and residential buildings are part of the Catholic church, and are set in a huge private nature reserve of forest and grassland habitats full of wildlife such as tapirs, anteaters, jaguars and many birds.  My particular favourite was the guaço, building intricately woven hanging nests dangling from the fronds of palm trees.  We hired a knowledgeable guide for a mountain walk taking us up to one of the rocky peaks from where it was clearly obvious the contrast between protected natural habitats within the ring of mountains, and development outside…it felt a little like a scene from the end of Lord of the Rings!!  The guesthouse grows some of its own food, composts and recycles waste and meals are taken communally in a huge old refectory.  There’s an education centre where local school groups come to learn about the surrounding nature reserve.  It attracts many visitors and provides about 70 local jobs, but the whole place still has an air of quiet contemplation about it.

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In the 1980s one of the priests discovered that the local maned wolves were raiding bins and had the idea to start feeding them.  These wolves do not hunt in packs but are more solitary – one family needs a large area to sustain them, and they are omnivorous eating small mammals, birds and fruits.  The priests have gradually gained the wolves’ trust, to the extent that it’s possible to sit on the church steps in the evening where a plate of food is placed on the ground, and wait…sometimes for several hours…until someone spots a shadow slipping across the terrace and suddenly the wolf is padding cautiously up the steps, ears constantly scanning for danger, grabbing a mouthful of food and running to the top of the steps to check for safe escape routes, it could return several times and seems oblivious to the camera flashes and hushed excited whispers at being so close to a wild animal.  It is truly wild, free to come and go as it chooses and sometimes may not turn up for several days…a beautiful symbol of trust and respect between humans and another species which surely gives hope that our relationship with the planet is not all doom and gloom.

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I was recommended other hopeful projects that I didn’t have time to visit, for example the Guappi Assu Bird Lodge integrating ecotourism with conservation.  Then there’s the success story of the golden lion tamarin.  Having been a member of the pioneering Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (who breed and re-release endangered species) since I was four years old, and then studied the issues surrounding these tiny golden monkeys during one of my university courses, I was delighted to read of a local farm hosting a programme of environmental education and ecotourism daytrips from Rio based around a population of captive-bred golden lion tamarins reintroduced to the wild, see this website for more information.

My final travel destination was the Iguaçu National Park in southwest Brazil where it borders Argentina and Paraguay.  In fact the park spans the border with Argentina and it’s possible to visit both sides to view the magnificent waterfalls, largest in South America and a sight I’ll never forget.  Although the well-developed tourist infrastructure created a slightly theme-park like atmosphere at times, and is not without its problems – signs everywhere reminding people of the dangers of feeding the coatis and monkeys – again it was great to see so many people looking for an up-close-and-personal experience of wild nature. Tiny swifts were darting through the curtain of water catching insects.  Part of the area was closed off due to walkways being washed away in a flood earlier in the year, seeing the remains of large iron supports wrapped around rocks was a reminder of the power of floodwater, that there are some things humans can’t control!

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Rangers were very much in evidence here, with a moving memorial to one who was killed while on duty.  Sadly there many similar stories of deaths during clashes over land development versus protection, with Chico Mendes, one of the most famous, giving his name to the Brazilian Institute for Biodiversity Conservation which administers this park.  Interpretive signs drew visitors attention to different issues, for example the fact that the water often runs red with the evidence of soil erosion in the river catchment area.  I loved the informative visitor centre explaining all about rainforest wildlife and ecological niches, and the history of the local Guarani people, with a vision for sustainable small-scale agriculture and selective harvesting of forest products alongside conservation, very inspiring!  While in this area I also visited Itaipu, the largest hydro-electric power plant on the planet and an impressive engineering feat, but source of another controversial debate as Brazil is currently constructing another huge dam in the Amazon…is all of this clean renewable electricity generation worth what is lost when large numbers of people, wildlife, forest and waterfalls are displaced or destroyed?  Is that a question we can ask in today’s energy-hungry world?  Itaipu were keen to show off their many environmental and social responsibility projects and it’s certainly good to see what has been achieved in terms of mitigation 30 years on.

After enduring temperatures of up to 42°C, part of me is quite glad to be back to autumn in our small temperate country, even though the weather has been causing ferry disruption all week!!

So, I hope this post has inspired you to look beyond the ‘doom-and-gloom’ headlines, to look for signs of hope on your own travels, or even to ask a few questions about landuse here in Scotland.

(PS – yes I will be carbon offsetting all of those flights, with Climate Stewards)

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!