Moths, flowers and walks

Lots of things happening down the Ross this month, including our children’s events that are part of the Gala fortnight. Teddy Bear’s Picnic for 3-6 year olds at Ardalanish and Survivor Camp at our community forest for 9-15 year olds. To find our more and how to book visit our events page and get in touch, hope to see you soon!
In June we did the annual moth count on Burg which is important in managing their population and monitoring the habitat they depend on. With help from NTS colleagues we counted Transparent, Six Spot and most importantly the rare Slender Scotch Burnet. They only fly in June and require a warm, sunny and calm day to count them flying or sunbathing on the steep slopes. It was a lovely day to walk over this gorgeous landscape and we counted a good number of each species.

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We ran a wildflower walk on Iona, looking at the species found there. It was a lovely gentle walk identifying the very varied species of flowers, plants and grasses found in the fields and sides of paths. In total, we counted 86 different species including Crested dog’s tail, Red Bartsia and this stunning Northern Marsh Orchid. Thank you to Peter for helping to identify the more difficult ones and everyone who attended on the day.

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We attended Iona Abbey to run a session with their guests where we looked at what makes Iona special and our underlying motivations for environmental care. The guests enjoyed exploring the Abbey’s grounds looking at the different species found under their feet, sticking them to these strips. It was lovely seeing each person’s interpretation and creative colour boards.

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Into July, and this week we have had visiting botanists to the area, who have been ticking off islands they hadn’t been to around Mull and the Treshnish islands. On Tuesday, myself and Emily had the pleasure of being able to join them and learn from the experts about the different flowers and plants that we found. A useful days training for both of us. We went out on Mark’s ‘Birthe Marie’ to the island of Inch Kenneth in Loch Na Keal. It is a fascinating island composed of limestone and has a rich variety of wildflowers. It was fascinating for both myself and Emily to see just how many different species grew there and surprised myself of how many plants I have already learnt from my time here on Mull.

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We had a stunning day of weather on Wednesday morning for our walk at Carsaig Bay. It was calm, sunny and very warm and enjoyed a 3 hour walk along the coast line. We saw lots of wildlife including a Garden Tiger moth, baby frogs and a White-Tailed Sea Eagle! There was also a chance to cool down behind this amazing waterfall and at low tide we went searching for fossils, finding part of this ammonite.

Kate

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National Meadow Day

National Meadow Day

The first day of July saw events around the country in support of our British flower meadows. We’ve lost 97% of our hay meadow habitat across the UK and so National Meadow Day highlights their importance. Meadows are vitally important for many species, including the flowers and grasses, plus those species which rely upon them. So, with the help and enthusiasm of Carolyne and Somerset of Treshnish, a wildlife friendly farm, we hosted a National Meadow Day event on Mull – where we have our own local Coronation Meadow. For the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation, a meadow was created in every county, aiming to halt the rapid decline, and too stimulate a new mood toward protecting our meadows.

Magical Moths

On the eve of Meadow Day, we set up three moth traps around the farm, hoping to catch an array of moths to showcase the local biodiversity. Typically, only one of the traps worked throughout the night, but thankfully the few moths we caught were eye-catching and colourful. So, for the first section of the day we crowded into the barn, sheltering from the rain to admire the moths. We also chatted about how to get involved with moth trapping, where to send records and investigated some of the traps available. Three of the stunning moths we enjoyed were the White Ermine, Magpie Moth and a Poplar Hawk Moth.

 

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Enthralling flowers

Following this, we braved the dreich weather and walked together to the Coronation Meadow itself. Even before we arrived we’d spotted countless wildflower species – the track edges teeming with life. We stopped to admire a Greater Butterfly Orchid, a species thought to be pollinated by moths nocturnally. Also along the tracks we recorded Meadowsweet, Heath Bedstraw, Tormentil, Lady’s Bedstraw, Slender St John’s-wort and Selfheal among many others. Upon reaching the meadow itself, the ground underfoot became a luscious carpet of flowers. Yellow Rattle, Red Bartsia, Red Clover and Eyebright were bountiful, the colours rich. Dotted amongst the dominant species, were others including Northern Marsh Orchid, Tufted Vetch and Meadow Vetchling. Along the edges of ditches we also saw Marsh Lousewort and on the meadows edge two rare species were inspected; Wood Bitter Vetch and Moonwort.

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Moonwort – said to “open locks and unshoe such horses as tread upon it”.

 

Plastic-free Picnic

Just as the weather began to clear, we trooped back into the barn to be welcomed by Jeanette, from Ballygown Restaurant. She’d prepared delicious picnic lunches, all in fully compostable trays, alongside compostable cutlery – no plastic waste (my kind of picnic!). Not only did Jeanette provide lunch, we were also treated to homemade desert and Elderflower cordial – yummy!

Safe to say, that despite the ever-unreliable weather we all had a super day at Treshnish and I’m sure we all left with no doubt to the great biodiversity a well-managed flower meadow can support. We’d love to say an enormous thanks to both Carolyne and Somerset Charrington for holding the event and for farming their land so wonderfully. Plus thanks to Meryl, the RSPB Mull Eagle Watch Ranger for joining us, as well as a very scrumptious thanks to Jeanette for her mouth-watering food and consideration to the planet. I’m sure the event will return in future years!

 

Calaich Point Headland Walk

The Ranger Service teamed up with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust for a Headland Walk on the 28th June. We explored Caliach Point, jutting out on the North West of Mull, giving views out toward Coll and Tiree as well as the Small Isles; Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna.

We unknowingly timed the event perfectly, and had super weather, with flat calm conditions – perfect for spotting marine life. We started off with a Harbour Seal and local breeding Lapwings calling overhead. On route we checked the fertilised mounds along the coast, which are frequented by gulls, corvids, eagles and otters alike so they’re ideal to check for pellets and spraints.

Just as the local pair of Ravens appeared overhead with their fledglings Pippa from HWDT and one the guests spotted a Minke Whale surface close by! We managed to gain a little height on the point and managed to get a few more surfaces even though the animal seemed to be travelling and moving through the area quickly. Other sightings included Fulmar, Gannet, Shag, Great Black-Backed Gull and Black Guillemot.

We had a lovely afternoon in a peaceful part of the island.

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Watch out for more of our Ranger Service events which are continuing throughout the summer, along with our Wildlife Hide drop in sessions.

Get in touch to book, or leave us some of your sightings over on our Facebook page.

Thanks for reading,

Rachel (Mull Eagle Watch Ranger)

Bluebell Woodland & Plastic-free Workshop

Eagles & Electricity

Almost two months into my seasonal position here at the Ranger Service already, and it’s been a busy start with some wonderful weather. Most of my time is given to providing daily guided tours at Mull Eagle Watch – I’m based primarily at West Ardhu, in the North West Mull Community Woodland. This is so handy and environmentally friendly as this area is my home patch, and I’m lucky to be driving a fully electric van (thanks to the Mull & Iona Community Trust/Sustainable Mull & Iona). The van, running completely on electricity is so enjoyable to drive, whilst being better for the planet. So far at the eagle viewing hide we’ve had a great start and our adult eagles Hope and Star are very busy raising two eaglets/chicks in their nest.

Unique Ulva

For my first main event of the season I led a guided walk on the stunning Isle of Ulva. I was joined by the knowledgeable, retired Wildlife Ranger Steve Irvine and twelve guests for a lovely woodland walk on the peaceful, car free island.

Annoyingly, after having glorious sunshine for days before the walk we were provided only with thick cloud but never the less we still had a great time and spotted plenty of wildlife. Sadly, the numerous butterfly species the island has to offer weren’t active. A few days before the walk I’d visited to check my route and enjoyed lovely views of the tiny, but beautiful green hairstreak butterfly.

The woodland on Ulva is brilliant and much work has been done by the owners to improve the habitat by deer fencing and management, and the higher slopes have recently been replanted with native tree species. We marveled at the variety and the dense undergrowth among the trees – something missing from many overgrazed woodlands.
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Flower species we spotted included;
Yellow pimpernel, bugle, ramsons (wild garlic), lousewort, water avens, wood anemone, lesser celandine, birds-foot trefoil, dog violets, bitter vetch and of course bluebells.

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The bluebells were out in full force throughout the walk and were a real treat. Did you know that bluebells were used back in the bronze age to fletch arrows and that they’re poisonous? On Ulva there are standings stones dating back to the bronze age – so they could well have used the island’s bluebells for many things!

Other wildlife we noticed included a family of grey wagtails with recently fledged chicks, heron, greylag geese, tree pipit, wren and willow warbler.

We all finished off with either a delicious lunch or a tea and cake at The Boathouse.

Plastic Beach Workshop – become a “plastic-free person”

You can join me on Wednesday May 24th for my next event! I’m running a ‘Plastic Beach Workshop’ on the shore of Loch Buie. We’ll have a  pleasant walk to reach our picnic site, whilst enjoying the local wildlife and chatting about the global impact of plastic on the our planet.
We’ll munch on our picnics – can you bring along a plastic free lunch? I’ll then talk you through easy, cost effective ways to reduce your reliance on plastic at home, with some of my alternatives on hand for you to look at.

Plastic is one the biggest global threats facing our planet, it’s wildlife and us.

Petrifying Plastic Facts:

* Did you know that 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans every year?

* By 2025, 10x more plastic will end up in oceans each year.

* Plus 70% of that plastic sinks, so we’re seeing only the tip of the iceberg!

* Each day we throw away 100 million plastic bottles across the world – every day!

* 80% of the plastic in the oceans leaks from land based sources like landfill sites

Black Beach Litter

We should all be doing the simple things to reduce our reliance on plastic – especially, the one-use “disposable” items like plastic bottles, straws and cutlery. Plastic lasts forever, yet we use it to make things we use once!

Join me on our Plastic Beach Workshop – call 07540792650 for more information.
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I’m looking forward to next few months with lots of exciting summer events and great wildlife to spot around the island!

Thanks for reading – back soon!
Rachel

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)

Sunshine at last!

Hello from the Ross of Mull!  You haven’t heard much news from me lately, as I’ve been out and about away from the office making the most of the good weather which has arrived at last after a cold, wet windy spring (including some unseasonable snow and hail!).  This is my busiest time of year so here’s a glimpse into some recent activities.

May and early June were busy with nature clubs at both Bunessan and Iona primary schools – finding out about bumblebees and other insects, insectivorous plants, herons and foraging.  Also this morning I took Bunessan early years class on an exploration of their school grounds to investigate how living things depend on other things for survival – with the help of some friendly animal puppets who showed us their favourite places to find food and shelter.

Iona young nats walk June 2015 2butterwort Iona Iona YNs May 2015 2Bunessan YNs May 2015 2 Iona YNs May 2015 3animal puppets

Regular readers won’t be surprised to hear about more of one of our favourite conservation tasks – beachcleaning!  In late May I led a free guided walk to see the mysterious rock carvings at Scoor Cave, along with Catriona Joss from the Ross of Mull Historical Centre, in return for participants helping to clear the beach while there.  A great effort resulted in a human chain bringing up two pick-up loads full of rubbish, luckily I could deposit this in the skip at Bunessan primary school, hired for their own fantastic beachcleaning efforts a few days later, by the end of the weekend it was full to overflowing!  Then more recently the lovely NTS Conservation Volunteers (Glasgow group) arrived for a weekend visit, they cheerily collected rubbish in the rain, and next day in very welcome sunshine, make short work of adding the final coat of paint to our handrail stanchions on Staffa.  Thanks guys!  Thanks also to the hardy Thistle Campers staying on Iona earlier in May who started the job, alongside ditch clearing, cutting back vegetation at Tireragan nature reserve, and you guessed it, yet more beachcleans!  For information on outdoor volunteering with the NTS, have a look here: http://www.nts.org.uk/Volunteering/Outdoor and of course at Mull and Iona Ranger Service we always welcome local as well as visiting volunteers 🙂

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAScoor cave beachclean human chain4 Scoor cave beachclean rubbish 2015

kilvickeon beachclean with glasgow cvsstaffa painting

So environmental education, leading guided walks and practical conservation tasks keep us busy at this time of year, but there’s always a few more unusual things happening just to add to the mix!  Rachel mentioned the NTS cruise in her previous post, well I was lucky enough to get invited to work on the ship as an onboard ranger for a week, spotting wildlife, giving commentaries as we passed seabird colonies and leading a tour to Iona, quite strange to take part in the daytrip that brings so many visitors our way!  Wildlife surveys are in full swing, and for me that could mean wandering Iona with a clipboard at midnight mapping corncrake territories (thanks to the night owls who help with that task and let me sleep on their floors afterwards!), or chasing brightly coloured moths around the hillside at Burg!  I also hosted a visit from Simon Goodall (NTS Wildlife Filming Editor), with the Google Trekker, although it looks like an alien hitching a lift it’s actually the same camera from the Google Car, but mounted on a backpack, so by the end of the year you should be able to take a ‘streetview’ style virtual walk to the fossil tree at Burg, around Staffa or on a circular route around Iona!

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To prove that summer has arrived at last, I’ll leave you with these sunny photos of Iona, taken on my way back from monitoring a seabird colony down at Pigeon Cave yesterday afternoon.  Hope this inspires you to get outdoors and explore your own patch!  You could try the ‘30 days wild‘ challenge as featured on BBC Springwatch, or have a look at our events page on this blog for some walks and activities you could come along to.

Emily

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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 🙂

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!