A Busy Week!

Good morning from the Ross of Mull! We’re enjoying a day in the office for the first time in a while after a busy week last week.

We kicked things off on Sunday with our Thistle Camp Volunteers who were staying at Burg for the week. In the morning we carried out some habitat management, clearing overgrown bracken which was hiding many of the old farm dwellings from view.

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Before

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After

After lunch, we moved onto beach cleaning and removed over 10 black bin bags full of ropes, plastics and other interesting items including several shotgun cartridges from Burg’s shoreline. For the remainder of the week, the Thistle Campers carried out various other tasks such as moth surveys, path and road repairs and gorse removal. Their effort throughout the week was greatly appreciated and we can’t thank them enough for their help!

On both Tuesday and Friday, Emily and myself carried out seabird surveys of the many islets around the coast of Iona with the help of the Mull Bird Club and aboard the ‘Birthe Marie’.

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The ‘Birthe Marie’ of Alternative Boat Hire

Sea bird colonies around  Scotland have been in decline for a number of years and therefore, it is important that we monitor our populations on an annual basis. During our two days surveying, we recorded numbers of shags, fulmars, gulls, kittiwakes, oyster catchers and puffins and Emily is currently in the process of writing up the results and I’m sure they will be published shortly.

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A ringed fulmar about to be released on Soa.

On Wednesday, we teamed up with tour operator ‘Turus Mara’ and the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust to organise an evening trip to Staffa. Although the weather wasn’t as pleasant as the previous week, our guests had an extremely enjoyable evening. Staffa’s puffins were in great spirits and were often seen feeding mouthfuls of sand eels to their pufflings!

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A few of Staffa’s puffins

Whilst our guests were on Staffa, I carried out a count of the fulmar population on Staffa with the help of Izzy from the HWDT. We counted 94 pairs of fulmars on the island – a slight decrease in comparison to 2015.

On our way back, ‘Turus Mara’ skipper Colin spotted a Minke whale and we had the pleasure of watching it surface for around 10 minutes before it finally disappeared from view heading south towards the Ross of Mull. If that wasn’t enough, we also had the pleasure of enjoying another fantastic sunset!

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On Thursday, we carried out our annual goat survey on Burg. The goats here are feral and are believed to descend from those left behind during the Highland Clearances. We monitor the goat population so that the grazing on Burg can be managed appropriately. In total, we counted 115 goats, whilst we also had the pleasure of encountering two golden eagles and several red deer!

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Some steep scrambling on Burgs north coast

Overall, it was an extremely enjoyable and productive week and we thank the Thistle Camp volunteers, Mull Bird Club , Turus Mara, HWDT and Mark Jardine of Alternative Boat Hire for their assistance throughout the week.

Next up, we have our Moth and Wildflower walk on Wednesday at Burg. We will be meeting at the NTS Car Park at 10am. Booking is essential and can be made via email (ewilkins@nts.org.uk) or by phone (07717581405 or 01681700659).

I look forward to meeting you in the near future.

Daniel

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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 🙂

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)

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