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Monday, 23 April 2012

Easter seabirds stories and songs

The return of Our Ocean Wanderers (SNH’s Manx shearwater promotional event) went very well on Saturday 7th April and everyone I spoke to gave very favourable reviews, and visitors went away with a lasting impression of these remarkable birds. It was really great to see that our island’s most important biological feature were at the forefront for once, pushing into the light past our walking venison, and it would be fantastic to see more of the same. Although BBC Radio Scotland (the Out Of Doors programme) were here recording the days shearwater events as they unfolded, it was rather predictable that the BBC and red deer should hook up yet again, a classic recipe I suppose, but isn't there supposed to be always something new to discover these days, or should this just be taken with a pinch of salt?

Rum's most important biological feature doing what it does best (photo Ian Sargent) 

The shearwaters were obviously the stars of the day (and night), but I was very impressed by ‘Shearwater’, a collection of stories and songs about seabirds by Malcolm Green and Tim Dalling which was performed in the Community Hall in the afternoon before the BBQ and night time colony expedition.

Malcolm Green (left) and Tim Dalling 

Malcolm's passionate description of the Leach's petrel
What a unique way of communicating the natural splendour and the conservation of seabirds.Very entertaining and fascinating.These stories should really be heard by everyone, especially the young. If you didn’t care two hoots about shearwaters or knew very little about them at the outset, then you certainly walked away with a lasting impression. You could feel it hitting a chord with everyone in the room, and I couldn’t help thinking all the way through how well this would lend itself to being performed out of doors, maybe next time!

In 1969, storyteller Malcolm Green (far right) spent three months on a small uninhabited island off the coast of Iceland studying huge colonies of seabirds, and it was these experiences that formed the frame into the world and folk law of the seabirds of this story. Malcolm and Tim created Shearwater not only as a piece of entertainment, but to help raise awareness of the very real threats to the survival of seabirds in these dark days of marine stewardship, and this it certainly does..great work guys and keep up the good work.

Recent sightings

Like the rest of the country, Rum has been dominated by northerly winds during the first half of April which has definitely slowed things up a tad for our returning migrant birds.Manx shearwaters have been present around the Small Isles since early April and are now regularly observed from the ferries. The lone redshank continues its loch-side residence, and the greenshanks also continue to feed for the time being on Loch Scresort (did see them mating on the 17th). Common gull and oystercatchers have also been observed mating recently and our red-throated divers, eiders and mergansers continue with their noisy loch-side loving.

Here’s the best of the last two weeks or so....

3 black headed gulls were present on Loch Scresort on the 6th, but Sat 7th was quite productive with the first bonxie (great skua) of the year, 3 Iceland gulls, 2 great northern divers around the east side of the island, and a single linnet was observed on top of Stable Bothy.

A linnet.. (a species of finch).Definitely on the house list now...7th April
The wind swung around SW during the latter half of Easter Monday (9th) producing the first willow warbler of the year. Good numbers (25+) of returning/passage meadow pipits have been around the castle fields and Glen Park from the 10th.The first small tortoiseshell was noted in the village on the 10th also. A scattering of redwings have been noted around the island since the beginning of the month, and one was singing from the top of a beech in the Dairy Woods on the 11th. Greenfinches are also zzreeeing from every tree around the old dairy it seems, and you cant help admiring the understated (but fine nonetheless) breeding plumage of the males at this time of year.On the NNR there is confirmation that 2 out of our 3 pairs of golden eagles are now sitting on eggs (11th)..more on this as the season progresses.The weather took a brighter turn on the 12th -13th and the wind turned slightly to the east.This produced good numbers of returning willow warblers with a least 6 males singing in Kinloch

A willow warbler Phylloscopus trochilus caught and ringed.These amazing little leaf warblers are still an abundant breeder in this part of northern Europe.Like all its brethren, this individual has just completed a 4,000 km journey from its wintering grounds in tropical Africa.   

Things were obviously moving during those easterly days as a high skein of 145 unidentified geese were observed moving north over the Monadh Dubh area. Presumably these were either Greenland white-fronted, barnacle or brents moving to the arctic to breed (Greenland and eastern Canada), and a male hen harrier was also seen at Kilmory on the 12th. I keep hearing the subtle call of the bullfinch (particularly around the Visitor Centre) over the last week or so, but can’t seem to pin the birds down.They’re pretty shy and don’t hang around long once discovered, keep your eyes peeled they’re pretty smart! Friday the 13th wasn’t unlucky for Ronnie from Dundee on my usual eagle walk. As it was just the two of us, we diverted off the usual route along the North Side Trail and surprised an adult goldie plucking a goose...the close views were much appreciated (just a thought, but probably should go back to ID the goose if there's anything left).The first peacock (butterfly) also on the North Side Trail on the 13th. A single short-eared owl was observed hunting in Kilmory Glen at dusk on the 13th (a lingering bird?) and three redwings huddled for cover around the old laundry. The wind was still bitter on 14th and the 15th, but was more to the north west, this produced a 2nd winter Iceland gull, 2 white wagtail, 2 starling, a single goldfinch and a male hen harrier (a lingering bird?).

The single male hen harrier at Kilmory, 15th April.A passage migrant or scarce breeder?

Thrift and scurvy grass is now in evidence around much of the coast, as are common louseworts, butterworts and dog violets inland.

Check out these photos of some of our early spring plant life...

Feed me Seymour! Common butterwort or bog violet Pinguicula vulgaris, is an attractive insectivorous plant which likes a tasty insect of two. Note the leaves, they're sticky...once caught there is no escape!  

Common dog violet Viola riviniana

Common scurvygrass Cochlearia officinalis.High in vitamin C 

Thrift Armeria maritima, thrives in poor soil

Over the last month or so, this very attractive little fruiting body of the bog beacon Mitrula paludosa (pictured below) can be seen in most of the woodland plantations on the island.The species really likes boggy areas under tree cover.It is one of the Ascomycetes fungus which are particularly efficient at shooting their spores over large areas, so are usually found in good sized patches.Check out the Kilmory tree plots until about June when it disappears.

The bog beacon (4-5 cm tall).Termed a recycler fungus because it breaks down dead plant material and plays a vital role as it releases nutrients back into the soil. 

On Monday 16th it was time to really flog the patch to see what was lurking in Kinloch’s quiet places, as the winds had finally turned to the east with moderate force.The first major fall of thrushes was apparent straight away with at least 18 redwings and the first swallow of the year over the Byre building and Tattie House fields. On the 17th the weather was more typical with westerlies with rain. The redwings remain however (24) and the lingering male mallard popped up again on Loch Scresort.

The first barn swallow of the year

One of last weeks migrant redwings

As usual, here is some more recent wildlife,weather and fantastic skies in pictures...

Clear skies over the village hub...
Evening sun towards Canna and the Outer Hebrides

Ringed plover

Still very much alert..a roosting oystercatcher're never more then a few feet away from one at Kilmory

Rum ponies, Kilmory

All clear on Hallival

Monday, 9 April 2012

All change on Rum...the beginning of yet another busy summer season

As things are surely set to change for our visiting public, there’s something very positive in the Rumic air lately. The new pier waiting room is looking swish and feels like it’s always been here, and in a strange way I suppose it has, because most of the stone came from Ferry Cottage (burnt down in 2004). Visitors will no longer have to cross their legs as they wait for the ferry either or dart into the bushes for that matter, as the waiting room will also have a compost toilet nearby, which will be built much more inexpensively than the new toilet facilities on Handa (£50 K), have you seen that? It’s almost ready for use and SNH are just waiting for a completion certificate which Richard hopes will be passed in the next week or so.Even in the wilds of the island, the public will ‘taste the difference’ as a new public observation hide will be built at Kilmory by the end of April. Sandy and Carl from Eigg have been working hard getting it ready, and it will soon overlook the rutting stands which were made famous by BBC’s Autumnwatch a few years back.

The new pier waiting room/welcome building
On the People’s Popular Ranger Front things are all set and in place for the fourth year of rangering activities. The controversial new Ranger Base in the Community Hall is up and running and will provide a dedicated space where the public can actually talk to me when I’m not guiding, strimming cats or chasing after dogs. It will be midge free also, which in my humble opinion is the key to longer visitor/ranger interactions. It’s worked well over the last few days and I’m happy to continue. I’m even right next to the Tea Shop and very close to the second best chocolate cake in the world..I haven't yet worked out whether this is a good or a bad thing.

The corner of discontent..the new Ranger Base in the Community Hall

Vikki, Ali,Chain, Jinty's Dad Pete and Rachel have been working hard to make sure all went smoothly with the new camping cabin delivery and groundworks last weekend.They were made by a small firm in Applecross and were delivered and installed by two very nice guys called James and Duncan.

Kool Kamping Kabins (please note the old wooden shelter as seen in Flora Celtica page 77)

James and Duncan two minutes before the ferry..a mad rush and gone!
They’re great additions to the island's facilities and definitely fill that ‘glamping’ niche.I think they’re proving popular already this spring, so if you would like to book one please e-mail Ali on .

Unlike her predecessor...Vikki is serious about development

They were funded by HIE and 
Leader and we all appreciate Vikki’s hard work seeing it through from the funding application to the finishing touches.Nice one bro!

The two cabins have names already and have been christened Minishal and Fioncra after two of our smaller western peaks.Nice sign writing Ali.... 

Also new this season is the purpose built walking route signage around the village and NNR. These will make sure that less people will be walking around the village scratching their heads...they’ll only be scratching because of the midges from now on. I bet we still get a few folk who walk the long way round the front road for a castle tour though, I suppose it’s just the way it's the Rum Factor! There are three routes on offer, a red route (a sundew) will guide you into Coire Dubh, the blue route (an otter.. or a dinosaur if you look from a distance according to Fliss) takes you right around the loch from the Community Hall to the otter hide, and the yellow route (a golden eagle) will guide you up onto the North Side Trail.

New village signage

Can’t say that everyone in the community think them great, but they’re a vast improvement to what was there before and will definitely make life easier for everyone. I guess you cant please all of the people all of the time! Must say that I did like my old North Side Trail sign and am slightly sad it’s been retired to the garden at the Ranger Mansion.Oh well, onwards and upwards.
Now we're on the summer timetable, last Wednesday's (4th April) busy ferry was the first of many to come.It's strange at this time of year, as you've become so accustomed to very little in the way of social stimulation...then come April 1st there's lots of people and potentially they all want to talk to you!Can be a bit overwhelming at first, but you soon adapt.Last Wednesday also saw the first of the big cruise liners of the season, with passengers from the Hebridean Princess popping in for a castle tour.

Off the starting blocks..the first busy ferry of the year

The Hebridean Princess with a new lick of paint 

Recent sightings
Spring has apparently disappeared for the time being as conditions since the 29th have been much cooler with a more northerly to westerly airflow bringing some drizzle and snow to the higher ground.We've still had a bit of passage however.Two of the crossbills from last week stayed around until Saturday 31st, whilst the usual suspects, i.e. the ducks and divers were displaying in Loch Scresort still.

Frankie Howerd's favourite ducks...bill-tossing and neck-jerking are features of the male eider's courtship display
Some raptor interest on the 31st with 2 Buzzard displaying over the Dibidil Track and the pair of adult sea eagles were seen on occasion at Kilmory. 23  whooper swans were observed heading north from Kilmory on the 1st April as were quite a large flock of black headed gulls (18 individuals).
Whooper Swans moving north. Kilmory, 1st April 2012
Surfing female eider
The wind turned to the NE on the 3rd April which brought some snow to higher ground.The wind was ripping right into Loch Scresort that day and the eiders had no choice but to surf it out. One song thrush was observed brooding chicks also on the 3rd.They're fairly early, but that's the gamble many of our resident birds face at this time of year...presumably they were fooled into thinking it was summer by last weeks glorious weather.
Other noteworthy species included a single linnet on the 3rd and a white wagatil on the 3rd and 4th (around the castle grounds).
The single white wagtail Motacilla alba alba noted on the 3rd and 4th April  

Thought I'd just pause it here for a moment and carry out some bird ID pointers ..check out the differences between white and pied wagtail, these birds are basically races of the same species.White wagtail Motacilla alba alba is the continental form and therefore the bird above is a passage migrant, i.e. a bird passing through Rum. The pied wagtail Motacilla alba yarrellii (pictured below) is the British race and breeds on the island.It's not rocket science, but in alba note the contrasting black crown and nape with the grey mantle (back).In yarrellii the crown and nape are the same colour as the mantle, jet black.

Motacilla alba yarrellii...a true Scot

Return passage of winter thrushes has been quite disappointing with only a single redwing at Kinloch all week, and another out over at Harris on the 5th.Lesser redpoll and siskins numbers have been good with many birds heard in Kinloch, presumably passage migrants and some returning breeders.Try the alders near the old Ferry Cottage site (near the current campsite).Oh and some news of our bittern, it was seen on Barra (Outer Hebrides) on the 4th.Well I presume it was ours, as there cant be many other bitterns in these parts at the moment.
Some of the weather in pictures over the last week......
Easterly blow...Tuesday 
Hardly snow capped...Hallival and Askival

Chilly sunrise out east

Another chilly sunrise out east!