What a summer!

Another update from us here on the Ross, but also a fond farewell from me as my time on the island volunteering with the Ranger Service draws to a close – what a summer it’s been! Some fantastic wildlife encounters and successful events along with unbelievable weather for the first few weeks of my stay have definitely made this a summer to remember.

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Iona sunsets are just something else…

It’s been great to experience such a wide range of wildlife survey techniques in some amazing locations – from monitoring Storm Petrel chicks on Staffa to surveying plants under the dramatic cliffs of Burg, it’s sometimes easy to forget that this is an actual day job! A couple of times this summer Emily and I have been helping Lynne Farrell, the county recorder for the Botanical Society of the British Isles, update her plant records – most recently on Burg coinciding with our own plant survey, and earlier in the season we were lucky enough to go out to Little Colonsay on Mark Jardine’s boat. Here we saw (and learnt) loads of interesting wildflower species, including the vibrant Bloody Cranesbill.

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B. Marie moored at Little Colonsay

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Bloody Cranesbill

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Beneath the cliffs of Burg

We’ve also had a couple of successful events recently – Abbie, who was doing summer work experience with us, held a survival skills event at Tiroran forest which included building a rather impressive den and then foraging for plants to make tea out of at the end. A great day had by all, even if the fire took a few valiant attempts to get going! The next week I was back at Tiroran leading an Eagle Hide walk, where we had nice views of a white-tailed eagle soaring over the treetops in the distance. I also organised and lead my own event recently – a drizzly yet interesting morning on Uisken beach exploring the rockpools and the beach, finding lots of cool species including breadcrumb sponge and by-the-wind sailors.

 

In mid-July I went to work with the NTS ranger team at Ben Lawers NNR for a couple of weeks, a very different landscape to what I’m used to on Mull. Here I got to experience some of the more land management perspectives of rangering including bracken bashing, tree planting with an NTS Trailblazer camp and path maintenance. The weekend that I arrived coincided with the launch of Chris Packham’s Bioblitz campaign – the team at Ben Lawers took on the challenge of 24 hours of biological recording, and we were the first site for Chris Packham and his team to visit, resulting in a very long but enjoyable day out recording on the hill. Being at Ben Lawers was great to experience working in a team of rangers, and my thanks go out to team for making me feel so welcome there.

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Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers behind

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Looking down the glen

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Chris Packham chatting to dragonfly expert Ruary Mackenzie

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The truck on it’s holidays

And finally, how can I not talk about some wildlife encounters whilst I’ve been here on Mull? You will have read my previous blog post about the evening trip to Staffa and the multitude of basking sharks, which still is a massive highlight for me, but it’s been a great few months overall for wildlife. Recently Emily and I were out on top of the cliffs at Burg, just walking to our National Plant Monitoring Scheme plots, when a family of golden eagles casually cruised by at eye-level. What a treat! By far the best Goldie sightings I’ve ever had. Along with that, I just can’t tire of seeing white-tailed eagles – looking up to the sky and seeing this unmistakeable ‘flying barn door’ is such a fantastic privilege.

Somehow, I managed to go the whole of June and July without seeing an otter, on the coastline that is supposedly so famous for otters, and I was starting to wonder what all the fuss was about. However, when my boyfriend and parents were over visiting a couple of weeks ago, an otter conveniently showed it’s face and allowed us to watch roll about preening in the seaweed. And typically, I continued to see another 2 otters in that same week!

Along with the west-coast signature eagles and otters, this summer has been great for hen harrier sightings and lots of interesting moths and butterflies. I’ve also learnt loads of wildflowers – Emily has put up with my consistent pointing and saying “ooh what’s that?” for the last few months, so for that I’m very grateful for her patience!

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Making friends on Staffa

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View from the back of Fingal’s Cave during site tour with repair contractor – cave access is still out of bounds but walkway repairs are well underway!

Overall, volunteering with the ranger service has been such a valuable experience, and I’m so thankful for being given this opportunity. I’ve learned a countless number of new skills, met some great people and seen some fantastic wildlife.

I’m going to miss this place far too much, so I’m sure Mull will see me again soon!

Cheers

Georgia

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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)

Erraid & Kids Beach Day

Coming up this week we’ve got two lovely events!

Tuesday 12th – Erraid guided walk with Emily

A walk exploring the natural and cultural history of this tidal island (setting for Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped’), stopping off at the seal colony, lighthouse observatory and a beautiful sandy beach. You may wish to linger and explore the many lovely beaches around Knockvologan after the walk.

10.30am-2.30pm, £7.50/£5, meeting at Knockvologan Farm, bring along waterproofs, sturdy walking footwear, lunch and a drink, call  07717581405 to book or for more info!

 

Thursday 14th – Kids Beach Activity Day

Spend the day on the beach. We’ll do lots of activities, including a beach clean up & rock pooling. Take the plastic challenge – how many “one-use” plastic items do you use in a day? Try and count before you come along. Use an ID sheet to find local shoreline creatures. We’ll have a great day whatever the weather and get our feet wet!

10am-2pm, £7.50/£5, meeting Calgary Bay car park, wear suitable, weather appropriate clothing, good footwear and bring along lunch and a drink. Booking not required, but helpful. You can call Rachel on 07540792650 for more info.

 

Next week… 21st August – Froglife comes to Mull

Dragons on the move – a unique opportunity to learn more about pond life from wildlife charity Froglife! Join the Ranger Service and Froglife to study and learn about the local pond life in the area with:

– fun pond dipping sessions

– activites

– craft sessions

– use of lab facilities to study what you find

– join a guided walk to look for reptiles in the area

1-3pm, £5/£3 at Corry Meadows, Fisnish (PA65 6BA), please wear appropriate clothing and footwear, for more info please contact Jan on 01680 300640 or 07765898600

 

We had a great time over the last two weeks with Bunessan Show and Salen Show, both great days! The was windy and then very muddy respectively for each, I think my van only just made it out of the field. Things are just about back to normal with Scottish children back to school this week already. We will be at Tobermory Lifeboat Day this weekend though (Sunday 17th), so come and support our much appreciated emergency service!

Hello from the Ranger Service

Welcome to our brand-spanking new blog; a great way to keep up to date with the ranger service, event dates, when and where, island acitvities, beach cleans and more. We’ll post loads of lovely photots, write about events and days out and about on Mull and Iona.

Ranger Service Logo

We’re also on facebook, just search “Mull and Iona Ranger Service” or click here!

All of our upcoming events are listed with details on the events page. Tomorrow Rachel is running a guided walk on the Isle of Ulva from 10am-3pm. A great one for wildilfe including raptors, wildflowers, seals, otters and more. The isle also has some fantastic geology, it is a great place to see basalt rock columns without going to Staffa. Plus the island has some very interesting history, linking in with the highland clearences. Meet me in the Ulva Ferry car park at 10am. £7.50/£5 plus small ferry fair. Call 07540792650 for info.Ulva