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)

Bio blitzing & Beach cleaning

Easter has sped on by and the island enjoyed a rush of visitors for the break. The weather played ball on Easter Sunday and Monday thankfully although the beginning of the weekend was a little doubtful! The last few days have given us all a taster of summer and we’d love it to hang around. Wildlife has been booming. Basking sharks arrived and were seen in nearby Hebridean waters over the weekend; often they aren’t around till July in any numbers! Hopefully this is an indication of a great year for our wildlife. My family spent the weekend here too and we had a great few moments along the shores of Loch na Keal with lovely views of a golden eagle above the skyline. This was followed by an otter fishing nearby, despite my water loving dog splashing around!

Nature Detectives

Aros Park played host to our first Nature Detectives club in the evening yesterday. This is aimed at children aged 5-12 and will give them a fun and hands on way to love nature. So many children these days have a real disconnection to the outdoors and nature, often thanks to TV, computers, smart phones and tablet devices. Alongside the technology we’ve developed a fear of natural play thanks to health and safety and worry of stranger danger. As a child I was extremely lucky and on weekends rampaged about getting muddy, climbing trees and catching frogs. I have no doubt that my childhood created my love of nature and shaped who I am now.

I’ll be running five more Nature Detective clubs for children over the season. Last night we focused on bats and learnt all about them, how to listen in on their world of echolocation and what we can do to help them out. Over the next five sessions we’ll meet some small mammals face to face, dip into the crazy world of pond life, the night time life of moths and the creepy crawly creatures in the undergrowth. This fun and active approach will be great for the kids and maybe spark a lifetime love and respect to our natural world. The next club is Tuesday 5th May; this one is all about mammals. We’ll start at 5pm for one hour, so please be prompt!

Mammal Bio Blitz - Nature Detectives

Mammal Bio Blitz – Nature Detectives

Beach clean

Looking for something to do this Sunday afternoon? Head to Calgary beach to lend a hand in tiding it up! Help get this busy beach ready for the summer, as well as beach clean the paintbrushes will be out for tables and we’ll generally spruce the place up. Litter in our oceans is an ever growing issue unfortunately, with plastic waste being top of the list. Plastic does not degrade, ever. It ends up as tiny little micro beads or nurdles, which looks exactly like plankton or fish eggs – food for many animals which then works its way up the food chain. So all that plastic we use once and throw away ends up in the ocean and will remain there forever. Unless it washes up on our shores, we can then collect it up, but even then it’s likely that once again it’ll end up in our waters. If you can, every time you head outdoors please bring a few pieces of litter home with you, even if it isn’t yours! We can all help a little. It doesn’t cost anything, it takes very little time and it’ll make you feel good! Here is a brutal photograph just to demonstrate the issue; it isn’t nice to look at but a great way to make us wake up on plastic.

Albatross deaths due to plastic waste

Albatross deaths due to plastic waste

The Calgary Beach clean and work party is on Sunday 12th April, 2-4pm. It’s a free event but donations to the ranger service are appreciated as is any home baking for tea and coffee afterwards.

Calgary Beach

Calgary Beach

Mull Eagle Watch

Don’t forget you can now book your trips to Mull Eagle Watch. We are open from next Monday, 13th April and will be running two trips per day. Please call 01680 812556 for more information or to book in. You can also head over to the Mull Eagle Watch blog page to catch up.

 

Thanks for reading, 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)

Rain, rain go away!

I’m waiting with baited breath for my first butterfly or slow-worm of the season, but I think we’ve forgotten what sunshine looks like. Whilst we swim about in mud and rain, with gale force winds, the rest of the country seems to be relishing the coming of spring with red admirals, small tortoiseshells, bees, adders and slow-worms emerging. It feels more like autumn than the start of spring and temperatures are still on the chilly side. The only inkling I’ve enjoyed so far of wildlife waking from winter slumber is in the pond. One evening the sound of mating frogs emanated from the depths and with a brief respite from rain yesterday I went to investigate.

Amphibians

Frog spawn surrounded the pond edge, lying dejectedly on the grassy banks. Frogs in their excitement can go a little overboard but this only means a tasty meal for others like otter and heron. Eyes peered back at me from the water but with any movement they would disappear. On the opposite side of the pond toads were at home, moving around below the surface. Frog and toad spawn differs; toad spawn is less familiar, long thin strings rather than clumps; I couldn’t see any in the pond yet. I did see a newt though! These small newts are really difficult to spot unless they move and spend most of their time looking like vegetation. Palmate newts are the UK’s smallest amphibian. The name comes from the black webbing of the males hind feet in the mating season, making them look like over large palms.

Common Toad

Common Toad

Stargazing – Pennyghael Hall

Come along to enjoy an evening of stargazing with the ranger service at Pennyghael Hall. It’s a great time of year for looking up at the night sky with lots of planets in view. You should be able to see Jupiter and its moons. Venus, the “evening star” will rise just after sunset but disappear at 9.30pm and Mars will be showing too, not from Venus.

Pennyghael Hall; 7-9pm
Cost: £6 adult/£3 child
Learn how to find your way around the night sky with Seamas Westland and Emily Wilkins.
18th, 19th, or 20th March – weather dependent, clearest night will be chosen so please register your interest and we’ll let you know

Call 01681 700659 or 07717581405

PennyghaelWreck Ewan Miles

Pennyghael Wreck – night sky (thanks to Ewan Miles)

Easter Events

Bat Bonanza -Come along to Aros Park for an evening bat walk. Bat detectors on hand so we can ID the species & hear them in action. We’ll have fun facts, activities for children and ending at the old pier for a lovely view of Tobermory.

Wednesday 1st April, Aros Park
6.30pm – 8.30pm
Meeting at FCS notice board in main car park
£5 adults, £3 children
Call 01680 300640 or 0754079265

NEW – Bioblitz Nature Detectives

New Nature Club for 2015 – every four weeks, 6 sessions across the season – Aros Park
Tuesday 7th April – Bioblitz Nature Detectives: Bat Bioblitz
First session of six, open to children aged 5-12
Come along to the first session to Bioblitz Aros Park and the bats that live their!
We’ll have 1 hour to record as many bats and different kinds of bats as possible.
Learn lots of cool facts, hear bats echo location and have a later night than usual!

6.30-7.30pm (please be prompt)
£3 per child (parents encouraged to stay for free, especially with the wee ones)
Aros Park, FCS notice board in main car park
Appropriate footwear and warm clothing. Notebook or camera if you like
01680300640 or 07540792650

Seeing Stars

Wednesday evening this week I ran my final event of the season at Ulva Primary School. We were extremely lucky as it turned out to be a fantastic clear evening with an almost full moon for “Seeing Stars”.

I started off quite early, well before dark to run some activities for the children. We learnt some interesting facts; did you know that one million Earth’s could fit inside the sun because it is that big? Or that Saturn has 62 moons? Then we enjoyed some hot chocolate and played with some clever apps, a great way of getting kids interested in all things wild. You can download things like Sky Walk or Star Walk and Moon Phase for free – these help us to find constellations, planets, individual stars and satellites in the sky.

By around 9pm adults were welcome to join and we had a great turn out of both locals and visitors to the island. We watched as the moon rose from behind the rugged hills of Mull and it was looking absolutely stunning at 86% full. The telescope provided an amazing detailed view of the moon’s surface, even allowing us to pick out craters.

Stars began to emerge, with the key constellations easy to find – the bright moonlight drowning out some of the less obvious stars. We found some familiar constellations to begin with, like the plough. This well known shape in the sky actually makes up part of Ursa Major, the Large Bear. Above is Ursa Minor, you guessed it, the Small Bear. The end star of the smaller bear is Polaris – the celestial North Pole. Draco the dragon wraps around Small Bear, the head curving around to point toward Vega and Lyra. Others we looked at include Aquila, the eagle, Cygnus the Swan with the Northern Cross showing very well, Hercules and Cassiopeia the vain Queen. Plenty of satellites passed through too, and last night I caught the International Space Station passing overhead! 

As with wildlife and the natural world, space and stars give us an unlimited amount of learning opportunities. With 88 defined constellations plus many of the smaller lines or individual stars we can always find something new. Autumn and winter are the best time to get out there and enjoy our dark skies, something we are lucky to have.

Thankyou so much to Ulva Primary School for allowing us to run Seeing Stars there and for the hot drinks and biscuits!

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!

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