We’re privileged to live in an area of Mull that boasts some great adder habitat. Back in April we surveyed a local area for “Make the adder count 2016” and submitted our records to Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. We found four individual snakes that day which was amazing, but it’s clear that their habitat is fragmented and due to no regular or historic data for this area they could be declining quite severely. The same area is pretty good for slow worms and common lizards too – amazingly I’ve seen all three reptile species within inches of one another!
Yesterday, we got to enjoy another adder. This time a lovely, small female snake, with stunning brown markings. If you’re lucky enough to spot any reptiles or amphibians, do submit your records to Record Pool – this really helps with their conservation!
Yesterday, we ate our lunch outside in the school garden, which we’ve done often lately. However, yesterday we enjoyed the techno noises made by lapwings overhead. A few pairs a nesting in fields either side of Ulva Primary and so the adults were whizzing above on their lovely rounded wings. A few weeks ago on a trip with Nature Scotland, we watched four lapwing chicks as they explored their field, with adults nearby to fend off the ever present hooded crows. We’re also hearing the bubbling call of curlew, they too are nesting in the next-door fields, chasing off any bird that comes to close for comfort.
On Monday I stopped to take a snap of these amazing foxgloves on my drive home from work. The road verges are looking brilliant at the moment although Argyll and Bute council are doing their best to keep the wildlife to a minimum by strimming and clearing huge areas, with no apparent relation to road visibility. Not to mention some locals who mow “their”road verge as well as their garden.
Despite this though, many of the roadsides are thriving and you can clearly see the abundance of wildlife making the most of it. Yesterday I saw fledgling goldfinch feeding on flower heads and the foxgloves were vibrating with insect life.
I took part in Moth Night 2016 by putting my trap out on Saturday night. Sunday morning was spent sorting the catch and identifying the moths. I had my first ever peach blossom, which was lovely and instantly recognisable. I also had my first buff tip of the year – what an incredible species, super camouflage! Moth Night was focusing on hawkmoth species this year, I had one poplar hawkmoth in the trap on Sunday, always a great one to see. I’ve not yet caught any other hawkmoth species here on Mull in my garden, fingers crossed for elephant hawkmoth someday!
Today we went to a local golden eagle territory to see how things were going. The site is wild and rugged, away from the busy roadside viewing sites on Mull; it really shows the adaptability of the species, and hints at their secretive nature. We hunkered down in the bracken at a safe distance so as not to disturb the pair. The wind was very much in our favour and the male raptor was soon mere metres above us, using the easterly breeze to his advantage. We had multiple fly overs, admiring the silhouette of an amazing 6ft wingspan.
The eagle covered a large expanse of his territory in seconds and disappeared over a forestry plantation, to reappear soon after and power in our direction. When they choose to really flap, these raptors can fly with great power and speed; it may have been a white-tailed eagle from a nearby territory to encourage this burst of energy in defence and dominance. Whatever the cause, we had breathtaking views, almost at eye level. I could see the beautiful golden nape and the dark eye with clarity. What a privilege to share space with these birds of prey.
Eyeballing an Oil Beetle
After our eagle encounter we continued on for a walk and spotted an oil beetle on the footpath. These creatures are fascinating, with an extremely interesting life cycle. They are also declining fast, becoming rare and some species have already gone extinct in the UK. If you do spot an oil beetle, the charity Buglife would love to know and you can submit your sightings online. The beetles rely on solitary mining bees to complete their life cycle, and so their fate is intricately connected to the fate of bees and wild flowers. Oil beetle larvae hitch a ride with a bee to its nest, where the larvae then munch their way through the bee’s eggs, pollen and nectar, before emerging as an adult beetle. Our land management and loss of meadows, rich grasslands and open woodlands mean solitary bees and oil beetles are struggling, so what a treat to get up close with a stunning specimen! Interestingly, the beetle was being made a meal of too. Numerous midges were covering the back of the beetle, presumably for food. I’m fairly sure this individual is a violet oil beetle.
Yesterday at school I worked with the children on their Wildlife Action Awards through the RSPB. We’re now aiming for our gold level award, having already received our bronze and silver for completing a 12 different wildlife related activities including making bird boxes, beach cleaning, creating a bug hotel and pond dipping. One of our chosen activities for the gold level was writing to our local MP about an issue in our local area.
We brainstormed and the children came up with some brilliant, insightful ideas with regard to improving things for local wildlife on the island. They were angry that people drove so fast, killing lots of our wildlife and were unhappy about the levels of litter on and around the island. On a national scale, they also mentioned the continued persecution of beavers in Perthshire, they couldn’t understand why we’d bring them back to allow them to be shot on a regular basis. Despite not having any squirrel species native on Mull, the children are well aware of the threat grey squirrels pose to our British reds and mentioned this too. This level of awareness, despite living on an isolated island is amazing.
We finally decided to write about the litter in our local seas and suggest ways to improve the situation. The children did an amazing beach clean in May this year, collecting well over 50 bags of litter, but this doesn’t fix the real problem. The children want to install signage advising people to “Bag it, bin it and keep our oceans clean”. These would be in busy areas around pontoons and ferry terminals, or busy beaches. They also suggest more recycling bins onsite and they’d love reverse vending machines, to encourage people to recycle plastic bottles and pick up other people’s litter. They have sent the letter to Mr Brendan O’Hara (SNP) and Mr John Finnie (Green party).
Plus, yesterday for my birthday I received some lovely wild gifts including ammonite fossil earrings and a book on ravens which I’m very excited to read – “Mind of the Raven, investigations and adventures with wolf birds” by Bernd Heinrich. This year I was privilege to watch a raven nest site, situated on a secluded sea cliff. The pair raised four youngsters and they all fledged successfully. They are incredibly interesting birds and I’m sure this book will make them all the more interesting.
We have a patch of garden that isn’t managed or mown and the flowers are looking great right now. The daisies and buttercups are everywhere, proving brilliant food for insects and birds. They also look stunning – much nicer than a tightly mown green lawn! It feels great under bare feet too, bringing back lovely childhood memories of barefoot days.
At Ulva Primary we spent the afternoon in out in the school grounds, preparing some planters for our vegetables and flowers. The children have grown tomatoes, courgettes, leeks and some flowers from seed this year and they’re all ready to be relocated in the garden. Whilst clearing the planters the kids found plenty of wildlife and aren’t afraid to touch and feel, often bringing me the creature to identify, before safely returning it to the wild.
One planter is no longer accessible to us – ants have moved in. What look to be yellow meadow ants have created their colony in the pot. We happily left them in peace and moved on. The children also found butterfly caterpillars and enjoyed watching a race between two garden snails. All the while our blue tit parents whizzed in and out of their nest box and the swallows overhead chattered.
We also found a moth pupa and are keeping a close eye on it to see which species emerges. The pupa itself had us all engrossed as it wriggled in defence. Hopefully, the moth emerges in the next few weeks before the schools are on holiday, so soon for Scottish children!
We’re lucky in the Hebrides to have a fantastic array of lichens and mosses, thanks to our interesting climate and lack of air pollution. Our native Atlantic woodlands are temperate rain forests; they’re very green and full of life but you do need to look closely. I love my little hand lens – it opens up a whole new forest of species that we overlook daily.
Invest in a hand lens – they can be less then £10. Magnifying something by x30 or x40 makes an incredible difference, it can transport adults and children alike into a completely different world. Plus, lichens are fascinating – they’ve lived for an astounding length of time. Even more jaw dropping; lichen isn’t just one organism – it’s built up from algae or bacteria AND fungus, they live and work together symbiotically. So much going on in a tiny space.
Yesterday evening I was struggling with a migraine and so my wild action for the day involved a brief catch up on a favourite wild webcam. This camera gives an incredible insight into the lives of the 4th largest eagle in the world; the White-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla).
The nest is situated in West Estonia and the pair are raising three chicks this year, which can be an unusual sight. Typically these birds raise one or two chicks, especially in our country. But watching the webcam now, all three seem to be doing great and should be set to fledge the nest in July.
We’re extremely lucky in Scotland that this species is now thriving after their reintroduction (1975 onwards) and we have around 100 breeding pairs. Lets hope they continue to expand, despite ongoing threats from illegal raptor persecution.