Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Mull Hen Harrier Day...With Harriers!!

One of my roles for Hen Harrier Day was to provide hour long tours in search of the wonderful raptors throughout the day. In our location here on Mull we are fortunate to have an increased chance of seeing the birds on short tours due to the lack of criminal activity and destruction of the iconic species. 

Prizes to raise money on the day...
HH Day Cake made by Sarah Padders!
Owl not forget you!

The first tour left Craignure Bunkhouse at 11:00 and within five minutes of arriving at Hen Harrier habitat to the south we got onto a Short-eared Owl hunting high up on the hillside. We all watched the bird for around ten minutes before it disappeared out of view. A wonderful start and just like the Hen Harrier this species gets illegally shot, trapped and poisoned on Red Grouse moors due to their predatory instincts towards the game birds so it was very relevant to see this bird as well on a day where we all stand together in stance of criminal activity in our uplands. 

Within forty five minutes of the tour we had a Hen Harrier on Hen Harrier Day! As all aboard turned to watch a Hooded Crow fly over the road, a female Harrier suddenly appeared just afterwards as I was turning the van round! We lost sight of the bird but parked up and persevered for five minutes as the bird appeared again and flew right in front of us, silhouetted in the 'scotch mist'. 

Rise for Raptors...
Rain does not stop play...

The second tour started at 13:00 and with a full vehicle we headed south to spend an hour observing everything we possibly could in a Hen Harriers world with the top prize being the Skydancer itself of course! 
Good proper Scottish rain throughout the second tour as were joined by naturalist John Miles who has a lifetimes experience living and working in the uplands with Hen Harriers alongside grouse moors. He talked about all the wild flora in a Harriers upland habitat and after fifty minutes persevering he spotted a female Hen Harrier from a distance, hunting in the rain! 
Minutes later we got a male Harrier hunting on the opposing hillside working his way up the slope and out of view. All the passengers managed to see at least one of the birds so it was another great success!

Studying the open moors...
Hen Harrier Hat-trick!

Our third Hen Harrier Day tour departed Craignure Bunkhouse at 14:30 with another full van load all set to search for the majestic 'ghost birds'. After views of a distant pair working the hillside we had a memorable encounter on the way back in with an adult female Hen Harrier quartering the roadside habitat, providing incredible views! A second ringtail appeared from nowhere and interactions were observed between the birds as the Red Deer hinds grazed all around them. A wonderful finish to our final tour of the day and seeing these birds in the wilds reminds us what we are fighting for and provides more fuel and urgency to help protect them in the future.

What a photo by Luke Hasler - https://www.facebook.com/lukehaslerphotography

Lord of the Wings

A lot of people do not realise that the Hen Harriers which breed on Mull are still under great threat from persecution. In the non-breeding season young birds will naturally disperse to cover new grounds and also adult birds can travel nationwide depending on food availability. A Hebridean Hen Harrier could pass through dozens of Red Grouse moors on their journey south. The fictional equivalent is Frodo Baggins trying to define all the odds to avoid mass evil on route to Mount Doom.
In the movies the good guys always seem to win so lets hope in the near future that this moorland monstrosity ends and there is a fairytale finale for the majestic Hen Harrier. 

 Ewan

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

10 petitions to sign in August...

If you think that releasing balloons into the environment looks good then your head is full of air as well, please sign...
https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/105551

Use the money properly, repair roads, create more viewpoints for people and stop destroying our natural heritage! Please sign - http://www.plantlife.org.uk/roadvergecampaign

Don't kill off our bees! - please sign
https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/104796

Save the bees, help us reach 500,000 signatures!
http://action.sumofus.org/a/neonics-uk/2/2/?sub=fb

Put a ban to bull fighting - https://www.change.org/p/prime-minister-of-spain-mariano-rajoy-brey-end-all-bullfighting-in-spain?recruiter=197634541&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=autopublish&utm_term=mob-xs-share_petition-no_msg&rp_sharecordion_checklist=checklist_promote&fb_ref=Default

A complete ban on driven grouse shooting, one of the most corrupt industries on the planet
https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/104441

If the bees go then so do we, please sign - https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/ban-the-pesticides-that-are-harming-our-bees#petition

Save the hunting act, new government petition 
https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/104637

Ban the monstrosity of trophy hunting...
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/610/392/435/?taf_id=14207523&cid=fb_na 

Join the global movement...
http://www.worldanimalprotection.org/wildlife-not-entertainers?utm_medium=Twitter_celeb&utm_campaign=INT_WinE


Thanks for looking

Monday, 10 August 2015

July Excursions

Inspire Wild blog post, also viewed here - http://inspirewild.co.uk/blog/

Guided Walk with MICT 

At the start of the month I helped out on a guided walk at Loch Tor led by Rachel French of Mull and Iona Community Trust and Mull Eagle Watch. Temperatures of around 23 degrees with low winds provided an increased opportunity to observe the reptiles, butterflies and dragonflies in the area.
We started with great views of a pregnant Common Lizard (pictured) and also a very small new born nearby. We recorded a number of dragonfly and damselfly species which included Golden-ringed, Four-spotted Chaser, Beautiful Damoiselle (pictured) and Large Red Damselfly. I submitted all records to the British Dragonfly Society.
Butterfly and moth species recorded were Dark Green Fritillaries, Speckled Wood, Speckled Yellow and Small Heath.
A small woodland pond produced a dragonfly nymph with over 10 Palmate Newts also present. 

Northern Egger

A Swift Appearance 

During a Mull Evening Tour on the 1st July, as the warm setting sun beamed down on the sea loch, we watched two Otters actively feeding on the shoreline. Earlier we had watched a White-tailed Eagle and a male Hen Harrier in the same binocular field of view!

A Swift was a nice record as it is a non-breeding bird on the island. Wonderful to watch the avian master, with their anchor shaped profile in flight. The average age of the bird is 7 and the oldest recorded Swift was still alive at 21 years old! 

LNK sunset

Rare Raptor

The highlight on our Mull Half Day tour on the 4th July was undoubtedly watching a male and female Merlin mobbing a male Hen Harrier! Merlin’s are regarded as a rare breeding bird on Mull but I am sure will be under recorded on the island.


Sight for Soar Eyes

At the beginning of a Mull Evening Tour on the 12th we watched an Otter and Harbour Seals being very active in a sheltered bay in the Sound of Mull.
A bit later on we had exquisite views of a 1st year White-tailed Eagle soaring overhead. A Buzzard interacting with the bird added to the spectacle and provided a great example of size comparison between the two raptor species.
Red Deer sightings increased in numbers as the evening went on and three small fawns were also recorded. 

Red Deer stag and Pied Flycatcher

Mammal Mania

On a beautiful sunny Mull Evening Tour on the 13th we recorded eight species of mammal on the tour, which included Otter, Mountain Hare, Common Pipistrelle and Grey Seal.
Great views of a Male Hen Harrier and White-tailed Eagles were also had along with Red-breasted Mergansers, Ravens, Kestrel and Buzzard.
We finished the trip off watching a beautiful sunset to the north-west and also watching a Tawny Owl fly into a Sitka Spruce woodland. 

Euriasian Otter

Fledging to Freedom

Mull Half Day and Evening Tour 22/07/15 - One of the days highlights was watching a newly fledged White-tailed Eagle on the wing in a not so elegant manner! The bird was very vocal when in flight and we were all so curious to what he/she was saying! 

On the evening we enjoyed unbelievable views of a pair of Golden Eagles interacting with Buzzards and Ravens. Again the soundscapes are just as important to the experience as all three species were very vocal and it was amazing to hear how weak the yelping calls of the Golden Eagle are in comparison to the other two species.

Two males and a female Hen Harrier were seen hunting successfully in the rough grasslands as the light faded. 

Hawking in the Sunshine

On an Ardnamurchan Tour on the 23rd we explored a young Birch woodland which had great views over Loch Sunart. Speckled Wood butterflies were seen in flight over the moss-laden woodland floor.
We saw three Common Hawker dragonflies when the sun appeared and all records have been sent to the British Dragonfly Society.
Manx Shearwater and Gannets were seen gliding effortlessly over the choppy sea state on our ferry journey back to Tobermory Isle of Mull.

Female Common Darter

Flight Perfectionists

No trips on the weekend (25th - 26th) but a great evening doing Dragonfly fieldwork yesterday, which included recording a pair of Keeled Skimmers (pictured, blue abdomen) mating in tandem. The species have a patchy distribution, mainly western Britain.
Three female Common Darters (pictured, yellow abdomen) also seen. They are a summer/autumn species which can even be recorded on the wing in December!

All records were sent to the British Dragonfly Society.

Keeled Skimmers mating

Fantastic Falcons!

On our evening tour on the 27th while we were watching our second Otter of the tour we heard the screeching of Peregrine Falcons overhead and enjoyed wonderful views of a pair patrolling their coastal territory.
Two adult female Hen Harriers were also seen on the tour along with a Black-throated Diver, Hedgehog, Short-tailed Vole, Red Deer (pictured) and Common Pipistrelle Bats.

Low light is Best light!

We had an amazing half hour spell watching owls on our evening tour on Wednesday 29th. Whilst we were on our way north back to Tobermory during the dusk period we noticed a white haze in the opposing field and as we got a bit closer we noticed that it was a Barn Owl hunting low over the buttercup meadow. Shortly afterwards we had a Tawny Owl cross our bath while driving through a woodland and as we stopped and looked to the right we had the bird perched looking back at us, providing another amazing nocturnal connection. We were well and truly spoilt five minutes later again as a second Barn Owl was seen working the rough grass further north. We admired the ghost bird as it crossed over the road in front of us to cover more hunting grounds. Three memorable owl sightings in the space of ten minutes and one of our clients could not hold back the tears as we watched the second Barn Owl.

Minke Magic

On our wild west excursion to Ardnamurchan on the 30th July we were treated to the sight of an adult White-tailed Eagle sharing a thermal column with two Peregrine Falcons and a Buzzard! In the afternoon we had a walk in the RSPB woodland of Glenborrowdale and encountered Golden-ringed Dragonflies, Speckled Wood and Green-veined White butterflies. Before the end of the tour we covered the remote settlements on the north side of the peninsula and were in awe of the seascapes looking out to the Small Isles and Skye. A short spell sea watching ended up being very productive with two minke whales including one that was very close into Swordle Bay. It was amazing to study the sea from such a height as you could see the shoals of fish moving right at the surface with Manx Shearwaters and Gannets tracking their very move. 

National Whale and Dolphin Watch

It is National Whale and Dolphin Watch from 25th July - 2nd August and we contributed the following cetacean records to Sea Watch Foundation and HWDT -

28/07/15 - 1 adult Minke Whale, Ardnamurchan Point. 
30/07/15 - 2 adult Minke Whales, Kilmory, Ardnamurchan.
30/07/15 - 2 Harbour Porpoise, Kilchoan, Sound of Mull.

HWDT sightings records
Big Butterfly Count

The Big Butterfly Count is from 17th July - 9th August and we have submitted our records so far from the time period. A location we cover near Loch Tor was productive on the 25th July as when the sun appeared so did Green-veined White, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown and Common Blues. 

Butterfly Count records

Look out for more blog updates in the weeks to come as we approach the later stages of the tourism season based on Mull.

Ewan