Sunday 7th found us braving the very autumnal weather for the second year running on Mull. We were one of 12 national events across the country, all aiming to raise awareness of the ongoing illegal bird of prey persecution – particularly impacting the Hen Harrier. We’re lucky that at the moment, hen harriers do well on Mull.
Craignure Bunkhouse were kind enough to host Hen Harrier Day for the second year running and we were there from 10am in the morning to chat to people, explain the situation and of course offer everyone hot drinks and home baking. We ran a raffle with some amazing nature books as prizes, with many thanks to Langford Press, Alan Stewart, Bloomsbury and Mark Avery among others. We also ran a silent auction, a hen harrier drawing competition and more.
Despite the rain and very strong winds the day was a success. Nature Scotland provided two short trips to search for harriers and both were successful – probably one of the only HH Day events which can say that! We managed to raise around £325 on the day, which will be added to last years money. We hope to use these funds to satellite tag a Mull bred hen harrier. This will highlight how important the islands are for these birds, but also make people aware that they don’t stay here all year round and aren’t fully protected from illegal persecution elsewhere on the mainland. It’ll also be a brilliant chance to educate the local children about hen harriers – a bird that isn’t that well known here in comparison to eagles!
Thanks to anyone who supported us and hen harriers by coming along, donating or even just liking a facebook post – much appreciated. We have plans for next year already, with bigger and even better ideas.
If you haven’t already, please take a look at the petition to “Ban Driven Grouse Shooting” and read a little more about the issues surrounding this. This petition is supported by the likes of Chris Packham, Mark Avery, Bill Oddie and more.
I’m playing catch up today for 30 Days Wild as I’m a week behind on my blog posts. I’ve still been doing wild things every day despite being busy with the school holidays fast approaching; this time next week I’ll be visiting my family in Northumberland!
I received my Plantlife magazine in the post, it’s always great to get some good reading delivered regularly and I spent some time reading up on British meadows and the brilliant success of the Coronation Meadows project. We’re lucky to have one of the Coronation Meadows here on Mull, at Treshnish Farm owned and managed brilliant by the Charringtons. The meadow is incredible and only enhanced by the spectacular views over Hebridean waters and the Treshnish Isles. We’ve lost 97% of our meadows since the 1930’s – a statistic I’ve heard so many times now I forget how scarily serious it is. Our land management has changed drastically and for all the wrong reasons and our diverse, species supporting meadows have gone. It isn’t just the flowers, but everything from insects up in the food web. The work Plantlife are doing to reserve this trend is worth my membership, with other large nature conservation organisations losing my contribution recently – they’ve lost their voice.
Yesterday we were lucky enough to head out to the Treshnish Isles aboard the Lady Jayne of Mull Charters to celebrate Zara’s birthday with some wildlife and “puffin therapy”. The weather was brilliant and the islands looked beautiful, surrounded by clear waters, grey seals and seabirds. We heard the rasping call of a corncrake on a smaller, nearby island and found the camouflaged egg of an oystercatcher as we landed among the pebbles and boulders.
Puffins are always a favourite and it’s hard not too love them with their comical behaviours and colourful bills. The island of Lunga, along with other small islands and islets, boasts large numbers of breeding puffins, along with a whole host of seabirds and is of national importance for many of these declining species. Often there are between 2,500 and 3,000 occupied puffin burrows, with yearly fluctuations. The puffins are extremely tolerant of humans, maybe benefitting as we deter predatory species like raven and skua. Unfortunately some humans take this tolerance too far and offer the puffins food or encroach too far by peering down nest burrows – encouraged by a well known “wildlife cameraman” on TV recently.
If you manage to get past the initial puffin burrows without becoming engrossed you’ll navigate the coastal pathway to Harp Rock – the main seabird breeding colony, with vast numbers of guillemot, razorbill, kittiwake and fulmar. You’ll also pass some angry shags, repelling you from their nest sites which are tucked into tiny rocky crevices.
Great black-backed gulls are herring gulls are also in the area, with a handful of territories. Yesterday we spotted three large great black-backed chicks, with adults nearby. Debris of prey items littered the ground and included puffin and rabbit. Further on a little more and you’d enter a great skua territory and risk being pummelled by these irate birds! The islands are well worth the visit, it’s a brilliant day out, but please remember they’re wild species, avoid taking dogs and have some respect!
Today at school we spent the afternoon completing another Wildlife Action Award activity. We went out in the rain to snap photos of the wildflowers in the school garden to later ID. We found lots around the edges of the garden (the areas the council aren’t so against) and checked some flowers out up close with hand lenses. We found foxgloves, self-heal, red campion, tutsan, cuckoo flower, stickyjacks, daisies, bramble, flag iris and more. The children looked up information and the gaelic names for the species before drawing and labelling some of their favourites. We chatted about Charles Darwin and ensured our curiosity was up to his standards whilst enjoying the sound of lapwing and skylark overhead. It’s important that children appreciate our native wildflowers and learn some of their names, after many common species names were removed from the English dictionary!
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.
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.
The nature gods are blessing the Isle of Mull with incredible weather at the moment so every chance we get throughout the workday we’re outside, soaking up the blue skies and sunshine rays. Today, instead of heading straight home and getting irate at our busy seasonal roads, I took a wild break to read and enjoy the stunning place I call home.
My drive to work is amazing, with the very scenic Loch na Keal making up around 7 miles of the 19 mile journey. I pulled off the road to read my current natural history book out in the fresh air, surrounded by bird song and sparkling water.
I also wandered in bare feet over the warm, volcanic rocky shore line and cooled my feet in the crystal clear seawater. Numerous small crabs scuttled near my bare toes and I marvelled at the colours of the periwinkles. From the photo you wouldn’t even know I was in the water!
I could have been under the water, amongst the slime of green algae and the carnivorous creatures hanging motionless in the water, I was living the life of a pond, nose pressed up to the cold glass.
We were inside the living building of the Ardnamurchan Natural History Visitor Centre exploring the information boards and collections of natural objects. The building had a soundscape of the long gone wolf howl, it made my skin tingle and raised the excitement. The rafters play host to the pine marten and they’re often seen from the “one way window”. No pine marten whilst we looked, by a grey wagtail bobbed on the burn. Stuffed animal specimens demonstrate the size of the species, red deer, hedgehog, fox, badger and golden eagle.
Best of all though was the pond! My excitement really bubbled over when I realised you could see the hidden depths of the pond through glass. I’ve always loved pond life and spent hours by the pond I badgered my Dad to create. What a different world beneath the surface of the water. This was brilliant. Tiny snails dotted the glass wall of the pond outside and I could see their foot if I looked closely, it was like a little snail nursery. Caddis fly larvae laboriously pulled themselves along the pond bottom, top heavy with camouflage materials and tadpoles bumped their noses against the glass. Small beetles whizzed up and down with their air bubble beaming like a light in the murk. A newt hung in the weed almost motionless – how incredible to be able to watch this secretive creature at home under the surface. When I peeked above the surface pond skaters slid effortlessly, waiting to feel the vibrations of drowning, dying, creatures.
The beast that stole the show was menacing and decidedly carnivorous. They hung in the water, unmoving yet dangerous. I watched with my nose squeezed up against the glass as one gnawed on a lifeless tadpole. These creatures were master predators of the pond. Immersing myself into the life the freshwater habitat I could really understand the dynamics and marvel at the species living in it. These monster tadpole eaters would become great-diving beetles – the beetle I had stared into my pond for hours hoping to spot as an enthralled child. The larvae were just as brilliant, despite now only being an enthralled adult. I was a child again for a wee while, with a cold nose and straining eyes, peering into the life of a humble garden pond.
WildChild hands on: quick, fun ways to get our children doing and making!
An easy way to connect to wildlife and get our hands a little dirty is to make bird feeders! Leading up to the Big Schools Birdwatch, a nationwide citizen science project ran by the RSPB we got our mits grimy by making lardy pine cone feeders and lardy cupcakes. This was also one of our tasks for the Wildlife Action Awards, we’re working towards our bronze level and we will have completed six wildlife supporting tasks soon.
Pine cones are brilliant, natural method of creating a bird feeder – involving no plastic or expensive bought equipment. It also allows the kids to hunt for them in a local park or woodland, giving them some fresh air and breathing space. So why not head out and see if you can collect some from the woodland floor before it springs back to life? Much of our country is still experiencing some cold and stormy weather with snow hitting some areas, so putting out small amounts of bird food now can be a great help.
Allow your pine cones to dry out – place them by a radiator or in a warm space to speed the process and then you can get started. You can alter the ingredients and try different bird food recipes, but stick to unsalted peanuts and other unprocessed, natural products! Here is what we used:
Unsalted lard (you can also use suet)
Mixed fruit i.e. raisins/sultanas etc
Desiccated coconut (soak in water before using)
Leave the lard in a warm spot to soften and then get mixing! Make sure the kids get hands on and mix all the ingredients up really well. Once the lard and the tasty extras are mixed you can add it to the cones (attach some natural fibre string or wool first, so that you can hang them outside easily). The mixture needs to fill in all the nooks and crannies on the cones and make them a brilliant bird treat. Pop them in the fridge to harden and then they’re ready to go!
If you have any leftover mixture you can get creative and come up with ideas to re-use regular items. We used some non-recyclable yoghurt pots and cupcake cases to make some lardy bird cupcakes! There are never ending possibilities! Get the children to develop their own recipes and try them out – whose is the most popular with the garden birds and do they attract different species?
Garden birds are a brilliant way to connect to wildlife. They can be relied upon to be at your table most days and can give hours of enjoyment. Take it a step further and pop up a nest box to replace the many natural sites humans have removed and enjoy a family soap opera at home or in the school grounds!