We’re still here!

Could be what our wildlife is thinking after a very mixed-up season.  Late spring, hot dry weather with the occasional sudden stormy wet day to contend with and now autumn colour seems to be creeping in early.  The Ross of Mull rangers are still here too – not much news from us lately I know, so let’s catch up!

In early June we had a group of enthusiastic volunteers on a working holiday, the National Trust for Scotland’s Thistle Camp scheme, visiting Burg.  A great chance for us to get all sorts of maintenance tasks tackled with many willing pairs of hands.  We had scheduled the camp earlier than usual hoping to survey our rare Slender Scotch Burnet Moths and much to our relief, numbers were the highest for several years.  These small but beautiful insects are only on the wing for a few weeks each June and it seems they have shifted their flight period to earlier in the year.  Most of the feral goats however were nowhere to be seen on our walk around the Ardmeanach peninsula, perhaps they had travelled elsewhere in search of water during this unusual dry spell?  However it wasn’t a wasted day as we were able to make good use of the walk by splitting into groups and one group set up some new plots for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme which will now be checked twice each summer.  The Thistle Campers also tackled repointing work on Burg’s bothy which is undergoing restoration, cleared out ditches and pulled bracken to improve moth habitat and reduce damage to our archaeology.  Many thanks everyone!

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Slender Scotch Burnet Moth

The same week Georgia and I led a walk to the fascinating St Martin’s caves on Iona.  A great place to visit as it’s quite hidden away and only accessible at high tide.  Sadly the rain poured down but the few hardy souls who joined us had an interesting time learning about crofting, geology and seaweed!

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St Martin’s Caves

Georgia has been working on a productivity survey of one of Iona’s shag colonies.  Unforatunately a day of heavy rain amongst weeks of sunshine caught them off guard and lots of nests have been washed away.  Shags do stagger their breeding times so we’ll keep an eye on things to see whether they can rebuild and lay more eggs or whether they’ll give up and wait until next year.

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Shags nesting at Pigeon’s Cave.  Photo credit Alan Foulkes.

In late June we had another lovely walk along the coast at Carsaig, plenty to see including ringed plover chicks like little balls of fluff on stilts running amongst the rocks, and interesting fossils on the beach at low tide.  It was almost too hot though so some of the group enjoyed going behind a waterfall into the coolness of the cave beyond.

It’s been great having local girl Abbie Cato on work experience with us during the summer holidays.  Living at Knockvologan she was the ideal person to help us out with her knowledge of Erraid on a guided walk around the tidal island.  She’s also lent a hand with several other events including our stand at Bunessan Show and our summer nature club on Iona, for which we had 18 children busy with a treasure hunt learning about what nature does for us, and an afternoon of art and games on the beach thinking about what we can do for nature.  Both Georgia and Abbie are working on their John Muir Awards and have contributed an article to Young Scot’s My Story 365 as part of the Year of Young People.

Photo credits: Tim Sparks

With the warm weather it’s been a good year for butterfly sightings – some of our highlights have been a rare Marsh Fritillary in the office garden, the lovely Scotch Argus and the Grayling with its camouflage pattern on the underside of the wings – and we have been promoting the Big Butterfly Count at our events including our stand at Uisken Games where we were kept busy with sea creature facepainting and making seed bombs and badges.

Our Biodiversity Day in the garden at the Ross of Mull Historical Centre turned up some great moths from our (harmless) trap set overnight, including the stunning Garden Tiger and the less common Old Lady, last recorded on Mull back in 2009!

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Gold spot moth

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Cockscomb Prominent moth

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Old Lady moth

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Moth trap in action

Add to the mix helping out with a Keats-themed historical walk at Derrynaculen…

Photo credits: Abbie Cato

…looking at history in the landscape around Iona with a lovely American family, plant surveys at Burg, more bird surveys and visiting archaeologists on Staffa (where repair work has commenced on the cave walkway) and leading eagle walks at Tiroran forest and it’s been a very full and interesting summer so far.

Until next time…

Emily

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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

 

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.

 

Moth madness

What a week!

We’re definitely lucky to be in the ranger service with weather like this, who wouldn’t want to work outside? Unfortunately the guided walk on Ulva earlier this week didn’t go ahead but we’ve still been busy! 

We’re preparing for the Uisken Beach Games which is this Sunday from 2pm, come along to see us there. We’ve got lots of fun activities for kids to enjoy and to keep them busy from fishing and beach bingo, to the “rotten game” and wee beach critters to explore. The weather is forecast to stay pretty good too so pop down and say hello.

It’s also not long till both Bunessan and Salen shows, again with lots of fun outdoor activities for the children. Rachel, our eagle ranger will be there too with eagle activities, and interesting things for adults to have a look at too.

Moth Madness  

Next Monday morning we’re running an interesting event, join Rachel and Sian Scott for a morning of moth madness. We’ll run a moth trap over night to catch lots of lovely moths, we can then investigate, ID and enjoy the contents in the morning whilst enjoying a brew too. We have about 500 moths in Scotland, most of which you’ve probably never seen before, some are absolutely stunning. Come along to Craignure Village Hall at 10am – 12pm on Monday morning.

Everyone welcome and hot drinks are on hand.

£5 per adult

£3 per child

(Costs go towards the use of the hall and to the ranger service)

Call 07540792650 for more info!

Moth Trapping