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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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)

Where did April go?

We’ve recovered from the busy Mull Music Festival weekend and now we’re busy again for the bank holiday weekend. There’s plenty for us to be preparing for as we’re nearly into May, a great month to visit the isle and join one of the many events we run and hopefully we’ll have some lovely weather to enjoy too.

Countryside Code

We’d just like to remind everyone about the countryside code, this helps everyone enjoy our wild areas and ensures livestock and wildlife are safe. Please keep all your canine companions under close control. Dogs should be on short leads in areas with sheep during the lambing period. In areas with cattle please use your discretion, but often owners are safer when dogs are off the lead if cattle are looking unhappy. Many of our protected bird species are nesting right now and many of them are ground nesting, including species like lapwing, curlew, redshank, hen harrier and short-eared owl so please be aware of this, your actions could determine the success of a nest. If you have any issues regarding this please contact us on 01680 300640.

Mull Eagle Watch & Fishnish Wildlife Hide

Unfortunately due to tree felling and timber extraction we have had to temporarily close Mull Eagle Watch. Due to disease the Larch trees have to be removed as soon as possible. The forest operations mean we lose access to the hide and our parking area. It would also give us considerable concerns over health and safety and it would deter from our usually peaceful experience. We are hoping to open again by Monday 11th May. We’ll keep you all up to date with progress, along with Iona and Fingal news – we’re expecting our first egg to hatch around the 6th May.

In the meantime I’ll be running drop in ranger sessions at the Fishnish Community Wildlife Hide. I’ll be there every morning from Monday 4th May – Friday 8th May between 10am and 1pm. If you were disappointed to miss out on Mull Eagle Watch come along. We’ll look for a variety of wildlife including a nearby pair of white-tailed eagles, otters, seabirds and marine mammals like harbour porpoise and seals. I can help you spot wildlife, answer questions you may have and point you in a good direction for other sights! This is free but we’d appreciate donations to the Mull and Iona Ranger Service.

Oystercatcher - lots of seabirds to see from the Fishnish Wildlife Hide

Oystercatcher – lots of seabirds to see from the Fishnish Wildlife Hide

Bioblitz Detectives – Nature Club Numero 2

We’re nearly ready for the second nature club of the season! Last time we enjoyed an hour learning all about bats. This time we’ll be up close and personal with some small mammals like voles and mice. We don’t notice them often but they’re found in big numbers anywhere with grass and they’re so important for lots of other wildlife. We’ll check out harmless mammal traps to see if we caught any critters, play some games and look for mammal signs.

Come along to Aros Park, we start at 5pm (please be early) and finish at 6pm. Meet me in the main car park.

Children aged 5-12 are welcome (£3 per child) and parents are encouraged to stay for free, especially with the wee ones.

Call me on 07540792650 for more information, but booking isn’t necessary.

Mammal Bio Blitz - Nature Detectives

Mammal Bio Blitz – Nature Detectives

Ulva – Guided Walk

Join the ranger service on Wednesday 6th May for a guided walk on the Isle of Ulva. Enjoy a tranquil wander around part of the island, giving you a taste for future visits. We’ll learn about the island’s history and look at island life now whilst looking out for wildlife too. Please wear sturdy footwear and weather appropriate clothing. Bring binoculars if you have them. We’ll stop for lunch at the Boathouse.

Meet at Ulva Ferry for 10am. Ferry fare and lunch per menu are required plus £5 per head to the Mull and Iona Ranger Service. Booking is essential (20 places), call 01680 300640 or 07765898600.

Staffa Stuff – Puffins

If you’d like to be slightly more adventurous and head out to sea, why not take a trip to Staffa to meet our Ranger out there, also on Wednesday 6th May. Make you own way to Staffa via one of the boat operators (boat trip fare required) and meet the ranger who will be on hand to answer your questions and guide you to the best place to see puffins up close.

Puffin - head out to Staffa or Lunga to see these comical birds

Puffin – head out to Staffa or Lunga to see these comical birds

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!

News from the south!

Hello, I’m Emily the ranger for Iona, Staffa, Burg and the Ross of Mull.  What have I been up to recently?

Well, wildflowers and seashore safaris have featured in many of my events this year.  Here’s a lovely scarlet pimpernel found growing near Sandeels Bay on Iona, and some rockpool friends:

ranger pics july 001Rockpool friends

I have been working alongside Mary Ireson and Scott Douglas, youthworkers in Tobermory and Oban respectively, to bring together young people from all over Mull, and from Oban, for fun outdoor activities.  This week’s challenge was a camping trip to Ulva (thanks to Fran and Isaac from Camas outdoor centre – http://www.iona.org.uk/island-centres/camas) as part of the John Muir Award, discovering, exploring, conserving and sharing the experience of wild places: http://www.johnmuiraward.org

The group worked as a team to help carry all the equipment, stopping for games and butterfly spotting along the way, and set up camp near the coast.  A highlight of the evening’s beach exploration was observing the fascinating world of the hermit crab as we found a large colony in a nearby rockpool and spent time offering them empty shells as potential new homes or watching them delicately scavenging the eyes from some nearby dead sandeels to eat!  Some of our group made an in-depth study of the creatures living inside a cowpat!!  I think John Muir would have approved 🙂

Ulva Ferrycamping triparriving at last!