Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Migrating north back to the Hebrides...

Here are my recent wildlife/geological discoveries from the last fortnight back on the Isle of Mull...

Shark soup on Easter weekend
I am guiding for Sea Life Surveys throughout April and on our first Whalewatch of the season on the 4th April we encountered up to ten basking sharks feeding in a concentrated area off the isle of Coll! We recorded a smaller number the following day on Easter Sundays trip and a few days after we observed a solitary breach by an animal west of Coll's landmass. It was little surprise that the plankton samples were highly concentrated with copepods and crustacean larvae (preferred basking shark food). As far as records and observations go this is a very early sighting for the species, and the little understood animal always keeps enthusiasts on their toes as they continue to provide wonderful unpredictability. 

Basking shark surface feeding off the isle of Coll - image courtesy of SLS
Abundant copepods and crustacean larvae in the plankton trawl - image courtesy of SLS
Reading the Rocks
Stuart and I spent a full day in the field on the 7th of the month with most of the time spent covering Carsaig on the south coast immersing ourselves into the spectacular geological surroundings. I am always fascinated when covering the exposed sedimentary Jurassic coast to see what fossils I can find and try to visualize what the planet would have been like in that time period. The key thing I wanted to see was big congregations of belemnites which I noticed last time but after discovering why they are are embedded in big concentrations I wanted to see it again with a fresh understanding. As you can see from the photo these ancient squid died in large numbers and in tight groups. This was in fact not a catastrophic climatic event but a species orientated natural fatality after a sexual gathering had taken place, in the same way present day squid do. Other fossil records of interest were ammonites, bivalves, Brachiopods and tree bark. An amazing geo-excursion! 
The shallow Jurassic seas - What Carsaig would have looked like 145 - 200 Ma years ago
Brachiopoda fossil
Fossilized Tree Bark
Buff-bellied Pipit?
A potential buff-bellied pipit was seen by Stuart and I on the 7th April at the north head of Loch na Keal. It was showing next to a meadow pipit metres from us on the shoreline and Stuart pointed out the diffused tinge to the breast of the bird with a nice comparison to a meadow pipit alongside. No photo records though as the bird had moved on by the time I went to get camera.

White Wingers
A nice number of white winged gulls encountered in the last fortnight with three Iceland gulls recorded roosting on Calve island opposite Tobermory. Records on Sea Life Surveys trips were an adult iceland gull of Bloody Bay on the 8th and a 1st year glaucous gull off the north end of Coll on the 9th. Stuart and I found the remains of an Iceland gull in Carsaig on the 7th in the heart of a white-tailed eagle territory (See photo).

Iceland Gull remains
Owl be back
Two male short-eared owls haunting the low light on the north side of Loch Frisa (09/04) with wing clapping and calling heard. Drumming snipe, piercing redwing and roding woodcock also providing wonderful soundscapes.

Moth Trap Discoveries
Rachel has a new moth trap which she has had in action when the forecast has been sufficient for it. An exciting record she had in March was an oak beauty which was the first record for the island since 1975! Rachel put the trap out on the 9th and moth records were Hebrew Character, Early Grey and Twin-spotted Quaker. 

Hebrew Character Moth
Early Grey
Twin-spotted Quaker
Amazing Ant-ics
Rachel and I were in the field on Sunday 12th and after checking under some corrugated sheets we were privileged to observe the busy world of a yellow meadow ant colony. This species amazingly 'farm' aphids on the roots of grass to obtain the rich honeydew. Ants are the only species apart from humans that manage livestock to provide food source. Another lifted sheet revealed a colony of small black ants carrying larvae down to their networked tunnels. I cant wait to research more on these species and go back again to observe their complex behaviour to have a bit more of an understanding on this fascinating animal group. 

Yellow Meadow Ants
Spot the Snake?! - female adder
Reptile Encounters
On the 12th April Rachel and I encountered two neighbouring species of reptile in a female adder and a male common lizard out sunning them selves. Always a thrill to encounter the most successful phylum that has ever lived on the planet.

Thanks for looking

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