Bringing you up to date

Hello!  Thought it was time for an update of news from my patch over the last couple of months.

Our summer events programme finished earlier than usual as I was off to Edinburgh to begin a part-time postgraduate course in Outdoor Environmental and Sustainability Education.  I enjoyed the company of some great people from all over the world, and perhaps I’ll share some of my learning with you as the course progresses over the next few years, as we are very much encouraged to reflect on our own practice.  Of course it was also good to come home to one of my favourite Mull views!

Anyway, before I went there was plenty of time to fit in some great outdoor days with both visitors and locals, including another lovely walk to the tidal island of Erraid, always a popular event in our guided walks programme.  It was hard to drag everyone away from the beautiful beach at Balfour’s Bay!

Kate and I led another successful visit to Tiroran Community Forest with Bunessan Primary class 1, learning all about our sea eagles with Meryl at the hide, and finding out about dinosaurs and fossils.  We made plaster casts of footprints, played games about camouflage and designed dinosaurs which might survive in a forest habitat, out of natural materials.

Our final NTS Thistle Camp of the year worked hard to improve access around Iona and Staffa with lots of very muddy pathwork including building stone steps, repairing stiles and bridges, and replacing a section of boardwalk.  They also cleared a huge bramble patch from an area behind Iona school, and had a go at scything.  This year the week  included 2 days on Mull where the group helped Highland Renewal replace a bridge at Tireragan nature reserve and teamed up with local volunteers on a large-scale beachclean.  Great effort everyone!

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While the Thistle Camp were working on Staffa we had the expert help of Nan Morris from our path repair team, and we also had a visit from the structural engineer.  This is required to help us monitor and plan for future repair or replacement work of all of our built infrastructure that helps people access the island, for example the pier, ladders and handrails.

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The following week I headed over to Mar Lodge estate in Aberdeenshire for some valuable catch-up time with colleagues and to see how various land management projects there are progressing.  Woodland restoration is coming on very well.  On the way I dropped off Kate for a couple of days experience of working in mountain habitats at NTS Ben Lawers where she was well looked after by the team there.  A long way to travel but our early start was rewarded with a spectacular sunrise.

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Kate’s last day was spent finishing off a plant survey on the Ross, along with local volunteer Peter Upton.  Wishing Kate all the best as she moves onto pastures new.

Our final survey of the season involved walking the coast of the Ardmeanach peninsula on our annual goat count which helps us work out grazing levels.  100 goats were happily spread around the beach boulders sunbathing!  What a hard life!

Last week I escorted a few cruise ship passengers around the coastal path at Burg on a perfectly clear sunny day and we spotted some pure white harebells.

Bunessan afterschool nature club has now restarted – our first event this autumn was a local walk finding plants which had animals in their names – how many can you think of?

Enjoy your autumn!

Emily

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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

Spring holiday events

Hello again from the Ross!  It’s the middle of the school holidays at the moment and last week we were busy with several events.  First of all we had the lovely Aberdeen University Conservation Society helping out with tasks all around the island.  You can see what they got up to on our facebook page: beachcleaning at Aird Fada, path clearance and removing tree tubes in Aros Park, and outwith the ranger service, also helping out John Clare, Forest Officer, with improving wildlife habitats at Tiroran Community Forest.  Thanks for all your hard work!

Catriona Hood has been volunteering with me over the last few months and this week she stepped up her efforts to help plan two children’s holiday events.  For the first one on Wednesday 6th April we also had the help of the very capable Jane Gordon-Chauvet.  Although heavy rain and hail showers prevented us from being outside as much as we would have liked, judging by the time it took to clear up afterwards, a lot of fun was had by all!  The pictures show some of our Art in Nature efforts including games of ‘Nature’s Dominoes’ and ‘The Great Circle’ along with painting stones, making recycled paper and decorating suncatchers.  Thanks for coming along everyone!

Later in the week we tried out our first ranger service event in Tiroran Community Forest. Fifteen intrepid young folk took part in OrienTREEing during which they explored the forest in groups looking for clues attached to particular trees, with the help of a tree ID guide, a cartoon map drawn by Catriona and some pre-programmed GPSs.  They had to complete a number of challenges including discovering micro-worlds with the aid of magnifying glasses, choosing soundtracks or slogans to fit the views they could see, using all their senses to get to know the trees, smelling bog myrtle buds, finding wildlife from birds to tadpoles to a delicate moth chrysalis, exploring out what lives inside dead logs, investigating human impacts on the forest over time, collecting water and sticks to prepare their own hot chocolate.  We just managed to finish before the rain but most people had fun getting wet and muddy all the same!  Thanks to Maureen and Naomi for bringing their group from Oban and to Julie Ward for her help too, also to Celia Compton for driving the community bus.  Think we all know the forest a bit better now.  This was also a taster event for the John Muir Award and its themes of Discover, Explore, Conserve a Wild Place and Share the experience with others, so along the way we heard about John Muir himself and some of his crazy exploits.  If you know any 11-16 year olds who’d like to get involved in similar events during the summer holidays just get in touch with us!

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)

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

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 🙂