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)

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Magnificent moths

Our moth morning event went well. Thankfully the weather the night before was suitable for moths, high winds or heavy rain aren’t the best for trapping – either for the moths or the trap itself! But we had a cloudy night with fairly low winds, ideal for catching lots of moths. Great to have some children join us for the event too, as moth trapping is a great interest and can be a hobby for life. Thanks to the huge number of species you’ll always be learning, plus as the climate changes the range of moth species will change, so this will present new challenges! It made a nice change to sort through moths with interested people rather than alone!

All of our records will be given to the county recorder and contribute to country wide data and help target conservation. We’ll also send our records to the National Moth Week team.

Tobermory Moth Trap

Purple Bar x1
Buff tip x1
Beautiful golden Y x6
White ermine x7
Broom moth x1
Antler moth x2
Purple clay x5
Nutmeg x1
Smoky wave x1
Gold spangle x1
Lesser swallow prominent x2
Ingrailed clay x3
Clouded-bordered brindle x5
Bright-line brown-eye x1
Dotted clay x2
Green arches x1
Knot grass x1
Six-striped rustic x2
Light emerald x1
Smoky wainscot x7
Flame shoulder x1

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Buff-tip

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Gold spangle

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One of the children enjoying a lesser swallow prominent, what a connection with nature!

Another child, Henry, had brought along his emperor moth caterpillars to show everyone.  They were feeding on heather and will become large, spectacular moths!

Bunessan moth trap

Dark arches x1
White ermine x3
Purple clay x2
Clouded-bordered brindle x1
Common rustic x1
True lover’s knot x1
Magpie moth x1
Cinnabar x1
Clouded border x2
Green carpet x1
Common marbled carpet x1
Flame shoulder x2

We’ve highlighted the moth species found in both traps, but you can see quite a variation with species, one main reason will be the variety of habitats at the two trap locations. Different bulbs were also used which may be one reason the Tobermory trap had higher numbers.

We hope we’ve inspired you to try moth trapping, it can be great fun and a really great hobby to have. Look up your nearest butterfly conservation group, they often run events or can lend out moth traps.

Thanks – Rachel & Emily 🙂

Moth Morning – 22nd July

Night Time Nature

National Moth Week begins on 18th July, a global citizen science project focusing on the fascinating world of moths. This week long event celebrates the insects belonging to the same group as butterflies, but because many emerge at night we often overlook them. Moths are most known to us for their clothes munching larvae, and most people think they’re all brown and boring, and they’re wrong! Only a handful of moth larvae actually eat clothes and these are often the tiny micro moths, not the macro moths that most moth-ers focus on. In the UK we have around 60 species of butterfly and for those of us that live in the North of the country many of these species are out of reach, much preferring the warmer climate down South. Moths on the other hand are in abundance with around 2500 moth species found in the UK, in Scotland we probably have around 500 species of large, macro moths – plenty to keep us interested! You can join in with National Moth Week if you have your own trap but if not look out for events being held around the country, this is a great way to get an introduction to the underestimated world of moths. You can join myself and Emily on Wednesday 22nd July for a morning of moths.

Moth trapping

Moth trapping is a growing nature based hobby in the UK and I started moth trapping this year after first trying whilst volunteering for two weeks on an RSPB reserve. My trap is homemade and was much more affordable than some traps you can buy online, so don’t be put off by the price if you’re thinking of starting out. My trap cost around £60, you just need someone who is handy with a hammer and nails! Because of work commitments I only trap on weekends at the moment, and even then we’re very dependent on weather conditions, but beware, it can become addictive. The trap works by using a light bulb to attract moths which are then caught in the bottom of the trap (harmless and they’re released), and so the following morning you can investigate what you’ve caught. This can be daunting when you first set out because of so many species, but having a good book will help enormously. Plus, there are many facebook groups and twitter users to ask for help and your county recorder will always be happy to assist, just take photos of any you aren’t sure on.

Recent records

I’ve been using my trap whenever weather and time allows, so to get you excited for moth week I thought I’d share some of the moths I’ve caught. At the beginning of July I caught around 35 different species in one night, this was my largest catch so far and took me a while to sort, but it was brilliant all the same. Here are some images I’ve taken whilst I’ve been trapping throughout the season so far:

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Poplar hawkmoth

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Clouded border

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Early thorn

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White ermine

 

Emily adds…

I’ve been trapping in my garden in Bunessan this week too.  It’s amazing the beautiful colours and details out there to be discovered, of which we’re often unaware unless they come to our windows at night, like this Riband Wave did.IMG_1436

This is the rather lovely Burnished Brass, and my photographic skills don’t do justice to its green iridescence…let’s hope we catch another one to show you on Wednesday!

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The pictures below show the unmistakable Garden Tiger, which displays its surprisingly bright orange underwings if disturbed.

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Bright colours in nature are often a warning, for example ‘Don’t eat me I’m poisonous’!  Day-flying burnet moths can produce their own cyanide from the plants they eat as caterpillars.  Here’s a newly hatched 6-spot burnet I found during a walk at Burg last week, which has just emerged from its pupal case and cocoon, and is letting its new wings dry before flying off.

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As Rachel mentioned there are lots of ways to get help with identification, another useful website is iSpot where you can upload photos and descriptions of any wildlife you find and experts will give you their opinions on what it might be!  Give it a try here: http://www.ispotnature.org/communities/uk-and-ireland

 

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)

Woodland Wonders

Wild woods

Woodlands are places that catch your imagination. Woodlands are the home of fairytales and folklore, they inspire. Free play in a woodland encourages children to explore and develop. Trees enrich our senses – whatever the season. But springtime is surely one of the most enchanting times to visit a wood; your senses will be overwrought with sounds, smells and sights. Luckily for me I lead guided walks and can share the experience with others.

Bluebell magic

Bluebell magic

Aros Park

Last Friday the National Trust for Scotland cruise ship, the Saga Pearl 2 made a last minute change of plan and arrived in Tobermory rather than Oban. I ran two short walks in Aros Park for some of the passengers. We started out on the coastal path from Ledaig car park and strolled along the track looking for woodland wildlife. This is a great walk and offers a very different perspective on Tobermory Bay and Aros Park itself, as we so often drive in to the main car park. The park is owned by Forestry Commission Scotland and is a great asset right by Tobermory.

Flower power

Wildflowers are only just starting to come to life, everything seems to be clinging to winter, emerging later than normal this season – probably due to the colder temperatures, it feels more like January than May! Along the coastal pathway in Aros we relished the smell of wild garlic, also known as ramsons, an edible woodland treat. Bluebells were looking brilliant too, here in the UK we have 50% of the worlds bluebell population. We also spotted yellow archangel – a species of dead nettle, opposite leafed golden saxifrage and water avens. Another plant we see a lot of in Aros is called Tutsan which is thought to mean “all-healthy”, linking in with healing properties. We also spotted some dor beetles on the move; we looked at these guys through a hand lens and were amazed by the small details and metallic colours.

Water avens (Geum rivale)

Water avens (Geum rivale)

Dor beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius)

Dor beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius)

Ancient woodland walk 

This week I ran another woodland guided walk which was open to the public. We began the walk at the Loch Buie/Croggan turn off from the main road, south of Craignure and enjoyed some of the protected woodland nearby. Ardura and Auchnacraig are both listed as a SSSI (site of special scientific interest) primarily for the large area of ancient oak woodlands, geological interests and a small section of salt marsh. The largest area of ancient atlantic oak woods in the Hebrides remains here, most of the woodland across the islands is lone gone.

Osprey encounter 

There is a footpath through some of the woodland which emerges onto the shoreline of Loch Spelve. We were lucky enough to catch a great view of an osprey, a species which doesn’t breed here on Mull. This individual bird has been hanging around for a few weeks now though and will maybe return to breed in the future. Due to the leg ring we know this male bird was ringed in 2012 at Loch Lomond. We also saw plenty of greylag and canada geese, oystercatchers and common sandpipers.

Invasive non-natives 

Within the woodland itself we spotted some worrying non-native invasive species, very concerning when walking in such an important site. Japanese knotweed and rhododendron were both present. The third was skunk cabbage, an American bog plant that is readily available in garden centres in the UK. Also known as the swamp lantern this species is spreading from gardens to interfere with our native wildlife.

Native wildflowers 

Plenty of lovely native wildflowers and plants to be seen too though. The main tree species in this area are silver birch and oak, with holly, rowan and hazel making up the threadbare understory. We were pleased to see some successful saplings but overgrazing in some sections of woodland was apparent. Wildflowers included:

Opposite-leaved golden-saxifrage

Primrose

Lesser celandine

Tormentil

Marsh marigold

Yellow pimpernel

Wood anemone

Wood sorrel

Greater stitchwort

Selfheal

Bluebell

Heath milkwort

Lousewort

Cuckoo flower

Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa)

Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa)

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some and this doesn’t even consider all the lichen and moss species, out woodlands are teeming with life. Well worth an hours exploration, take the time to get lost in a wood and encounter some new wildlife.

Thanks for reading as usual! Check our events page for upcoming dates to join us soon. Rachel 🙂

April showers?

Another couple of weeks have flown by and it’s April tomorrow, although it certainly doesn’t feel like it should be Spring with the wintery weather we’ve not been enjoying the last few days. I found myself putting out extra bird food first thing today whilst it attempted to snow! It feels like the showery month of April has arrived early, minus the warmer temperatures we’d expect. Hopefully this bad weather snap won’t last long and our wildlife will be able to bounce straight back. We now have all of our events planned out for the season, head to our events page to have a look, we have a few coming up in April including Bunessan Birdsong and a Calgary Beach work party.

Bat Bonanza

I’m running my first event of the season tomorrow evening in Aros Park. Come along to do some bat detecting and to enjoy a nice evening wander around the loch. If it’s clear we’ll have a lovely view over to Tobermory from the old pier. Bat detectors allow us to hear the complex system of echolocation that our bats depend on, not only to catch their prey, but to ensure they don’t crash into an obstacle. You might be surprised to find that here on Mull we have a few bat species, including the most familiar the common pipistrelle. We also my favorite, the daubenton’s bat, also known as the water bat. No need to book, just turn up – I hope to see some of you there.
Where: Aros Park, meet at FCS notice board
When: 6.30pm – 8.30pm
Cost: £5 adult £3 children
Bring: Waterproofs and warm clothing

Bat Bonanza Event

Bat Bonanza Event

Mull Eagle Watch

Mull Eagle Watch is open from Monday 13th April 2015 and you can now book in by calling the Craignure Visitor Information Centre on 01680 812556.

Sula and Cuin’s nest site from last year is now playing host to another brilliant bird, the raven! Corvids like crows and ravens happily move into larger disused nests. As our eagles are nesting at another eyrie within their territory, ravens jumped at this highly desirable housing opportunity and are now incubating their own eggs. Ravens aren’t often a favored bird, especially by the farming community as they do regularly cause issues within lambing season but they are a fantastic species. They’re one of our most intelligent birds and can have a repertoire of 70 different vocalisations.
So Mull Eagle Watch will leave the ravens to it. We’ve been welcomed back to Tiroran in Glen Seilisdeir with open wings by Iona and Fingal and we look forward to working with this wonderful pair of eagles again.

Fingal - seen through the telescope at Tiroran

Fingal – seen through the telescope at Tiroran

Geocache galore

The ranger service have now hidden over 40 geocaches around the island, so give it a try if you haven’t already. Or, if you thought you’d found them all, think again! Jan and I had a lovely, albeit very blustery morning at Loch Buie and Croggan to hide a few. This is such a great area with a range of habitats for Mull’s wildlife. If you do head down that way think please think about taking a couple of pieces of litter home with you to recycle, the beach and coastline around here has accumulated debris over the winter. Look out for eagles and otters, I found a well used otter track and some spraint full of fish scales and crab claws.

Fishnish Wildlife Hide

Don’t forget about the community wildlife hide at Fishnish. This is open at all times so drop in to enjoy your lunch or shelter from the weather. We don’t yet have a visitor book or white board for your sightings yet, so if you do spend some time there, please let us know what you see. The location is great for seabirds, otter, harbour porpoise and white-tailed eagles. Look out for the tiny dab chick in between it’s feeding dives too.

Thanks for reading again and check back soon for more, Rachel 🙂

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)