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.
On Thursday the Ulva Primary School children vacated the premises for the polling station and visited Lochdonhead Primary School for the day. These primary schools are under a joint head teacher and have great links, giving the children chances to make friends outside of their own small number.
At Lochdon school, the children have access to a brilliant patch of woodland within easy walking distance which gives amazing outdoor learning opportunities (at Ulva Primary we use a local beach as an outdoor learning area). We made the most of the schools being together and spent the morning working on teamwork skills in the woodland school.
The walk into the forest area is great for wildlife too, with flower-filled road verges boasting orchids, daisies, dandelions and birds-foot trefoil. The kids also spotted a slow-worm on the track and knowing it posed no threat they were excited to see the reptile. We talked about why it was a lizard and not a snake, nor even a worm and chatted about the differences between male and female before leaving it in peace to find cover.
The children were split into mixed school teams and were tasked to build a den. Outdoor education like this really gives the kids a chance to develop life skills and highlights areas that need more support. Confidence, communication, risk management and compromising were all required and some fared better than others, but on reflection all the children could discuss areas to improve and what worked well. This outdoor activity also encourages creativity and free thinking – brilliant skills which lead to creative futures in the real world. Plus, being out in nature has numerous health benefits!
I have an incredible drive to and from work everyday and I admit I tend to take it for granted some mornings as the 45 minute route can be tedious during the busy tourist season. So, I made an effort to take notice during a drive home more than usual. I always have an eye out for birds and other species, but I never write them all down and I see a huge variety some days.
Wheatear, pied wagtail, meadow pipit, common buzzard and hooded crow are regulars at the moment. I also often see ravens – I drive through a coastal territory where earlier in the year the off-duty bird would perch on the cliff top. Lapwings and curlew are both nesting in the fields by the school itself and are regularly visible from the car as they defend their youngsters from the plundering crows. Oystercatchers and common sandpipers are also a daily sighting. I also pass through both a white-tailed eagle and golden eagle territory. The birds were more visible to me during my journey throughout the winter months but I do still spot them sometimes. One of the golden eagle pair was seen above their distant ridge line with smaller corvids harassing it.
You see so much when you take the time to notice it.
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!
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.
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.