Winter update

Fans of Changing Landscapes will be glad to know the results of last September’s project are now online!  We gathered together another great team of tutors and Oban High School pupils for a couple of days on Iona, and their creative efforts in music and poetry can now be viewed here.

Feels like it’s been a busier winter than usual, in spite of the storminess!  I enjoyed catching up with ranger colleagues at the NTS countryside conference, including a site visit to the Knapdale beaver trial – we all know species reintroductions can be controversial so it was fascinating to learn all about how that one’s been going.

knapdale beaver signs knapdale3

Bunessan primary afterschool nature club has been running all winter, and Iona’s will restart in the spring.  We’ve been making art to celebrate our local environment with It is Our World, learning about the Scottish Outdoor Access Code through games, video clips and an obstacle course challenge, taking part in the Big Schools Birdwatch and doing some citizen science through the What’s Under Your Feet? project.

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Meanwhile I’ve started visiting the Bunessan Pre5 class every month, so far exploring hibernation and winter using all our senses, and also enjoyed some evening stargazing with Iona primary school families including spotting familiar constellations and waving to Tim Peake as the ISS flew past!

stargazing iona primary stargazing iona primary2

Have been spending plenty of time planning our summer events programme so look out for some old favourites and a few new ideas in the mix!  This year I hope to take some school and holiday club groups to our new community forest at Tiroran as well.

On Iona, the National Trust for Scotland’s new Shelter is nearly ready to open…hope to tell you more about this soon!

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Emily Wilkins – ranger for South Mull, Iona, Staffa and Burg

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!