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Monday, 21 May 2012

Our latest goodies..

Sorry for the lack of updates over the last few weeks or so... it's been pretty manic on here lately with plenty to record and organise; for the island, its definitely the busiest time of the year.And with such fine weather dominating things for a change, I've been out most days with the camera.So hence this massive blog with heaps to talk about, and illustrated with heaps of photos we go, take a deep breath!

The end of April saw a dusting of redwings around the island, including a single in Kinloch (a singing male) from the 20th to the 23rd.In fact, we may even get a breeding record this year, as a pair are still knocking around the village (last seen on May 10th). A pair of linnets have been seen regularly in Kinloch since early April also, so there must be a favourable chance of a breeding record this season too.The first grasshopper warbler of the year was reeling around Lea Cottage on Saturday 21st April, with one also holding territory in the walled garden since about the 23rd.Another has been heard along the upper road between the start of the Dibidil track and Bay View on several occasions up to May 10th.

Harris had the first cuckoo of the year on the 23rd April, but has also played host to quite a large flock of golden plover up on the raised beach area this spring, with 23 being counted on April 24th. Presumably these are migrants stopping off on their way north, or perhaps a second batch of breeders waiting their chance in Rum's ploverly gene pool.

Two of our golden plovers

Twenty three of our golden plovers

Short-eared owl must be breeding again this spring, as they keep cropping up at various places around the island.One was reported from Glen Shellesder on the 23rd April along with a single bird at Harris on the 3rd of May. 8 snow buntings and 2 juvenile dippers were reported from Hallival on the 23rd April, and a single great northern diver and a lone cormorant (annual but still a rare occurrence on the island) were both in Loch Scresort on the 25th April, and 7 red-throated divers were noisily displaying on the 27th April. The 27th also saw the first of this seasons blackcaps returning, with several males now singing in the village. A pair of common buzzards have been seen on various occasions over the village and seem to be holding territory out in the North of the island.

Flying high in blue sky over the Community Hall...a common buzzard
Despite the fact that otters are quite secretive at this time of year, several have still been spotted around the island, with reports of singles at Cave's Bay on the 29th April & 19th May, Kilmory on May 4th, and a very nice male observed at Rubha na Roinne on the 13th May.

An awesome male ring ouzel at Harris on the 28th April was a welcome surprise. This species is very much like a blackbird, but has a white crescent on its breast (see picture below).It is a scarce breeder on Rum that usually frequents higher areas of the island where it will nest in all probably.This individual was apparently just in from its wintering grounds around the Mediterranean and North Africa, as I initially spotted it in the tree plot. We're not entirely sure how many breed on the island, but there's a couple of pairs at least...a future project for me perhaps, but both the words needle and haystack immediately spring to mind? Sadly the species has declined so much since the 1970's, that it is now included on the UK 'Red List', so definitely a worthwhile project.

Adult male ring ouzel, Harris.
Unlike its close relative the blackbird, ring ouzels are usually wary and wild,
so I couldn't get a closer photo.
The cuckoos have arrived from their wintering grounds in equatorial Africa (so it must be summer), and many have been very obvious at various places around the island.They're usually shy, but not at this time of year; this pair at Harris were displaying and frolicking about all over the Harris tree plot on the 28th April. Lots of most excellent acrobatics with the male chasing the female or vice verca!The male was giving off the species infamous call, but the female gives off a rapid bubbling which always reminds me of a small monkey. Its weird anyway, and not very bird-like.

Acrobatic cuckoo action

Frolicking cuckoo action
As I'm talking cuckoo....the cuckoo flower is in full petal out around Kinloch Glen and village environs at the moment.This is a pretty springtime flower and is called the cuckooo flower because it blooms for the most part in April and May, when the cuckoo begins to call.

Cuckoo flower Cardamine pratensis
As the end of April and early May has been awesome weather wise, I finally took the opportunity to use my spring traps for the first time this season, and have been catching and ringing plenty of wheatears down at Harris (under BTO licence of course).The birds pictured below are males as they have the classic highwayman's mask.You can see this species throughout much of the island in the summer months, but as there's plenty of short grass both at Harris and Kilmory, these areas are especially good.In fact, it's quite rare to see them around Kinloch village, so the four that turned up on the shore near Ivy Cottage after the gales on May 14th were a welcome village change.

Male wheatear

Male wheater, Harris 29th April
Mid May is without doubt the best time of the year to observe skua passage around the west coast of Scotland, so as May 13th was forecast to have gale force south westerlies with rain, I decided to get out to Rubha na Roinne on Rum's east coast for a five hour seawatch, and try to see what was passing through. Despite finding a great bit of shelter, I got pretty wet and didn't really see anything of note, as there was little moving.BUT you have to try these things as undoubtedly birds will be blown into our inshore waters.If only we had had some of the magic 417 long-tailed skuas or a trickle of the 172 pomerine skuas reported off North Uist that day....I'm forever the eternal optimist and we will one spring!!

As the MV Sheerwater is now sailing regularly from Arisaig on the summer timetable, the usual Thursday Ranger led boat trip to Soay is now being advertised to our visiting public (check out the website).The first trip on the May 3rd wasn't disappointing, as we had plenty of close manx shearwatters, two nice bonxies, 2 red-throated divers, kittiwakes and gannets galore (see pics below).

I haven't personally spotted any cetaceans yet on the trip (which is now into its third week), but  things are picking up on the marine front with a scattering of minke whales (2 in the outer Loch Scresort area, 1 off Sleat, 1 off Eigg) and 100 + short-beaked common dolphins have been observed around The Small Isles from May 1st. Basking sharks are also back on the menu so to speak, and a bumper season has been predicted by the scientific community (would be great to know how they work this out eh).Sean spotted one off the east of Rum on the May 3rd and up to five have been seen around Tiree on May 8th, so they're on their way.We should now start to see many around the coast as we get into June. Oh and before I forget, also 12+ harbour porpoise inbetween Arisaig and Eigg on May 8th.

THE MV Sheerwater..the first of many wildlife watching trips to Soay
Soay bound on the Sheerwater...
The great skua or bonxie as its now commonly known, is the old Norse word for the species.
This literally translates as the bully of the sea, because like all skua species, the bonxie attacks other birds (usually gannets) for their food. Even the big gulls get twitchy when these guys are lurking about!

Bonxietastic views! Our usual pair at Kilmory are now on territory..beware!
Adult gannet
Rum's favourite species
Talking of our old favourites, an exciting and very valuable time was had by students on the Ecology and Field Studies course from the University of Edinburgh, when we undertook a night time shearwater colony expedition up to Hallival on the 30th April. Professor Pete (Higgins) has been taking students from all over the world up to the sub-colony for many years, but doesn't usually go via the shearwater research hut and the North East face, so my rangering services were appreciated.As the island lends itself so well to outdoor learning experiences such as this, we should really be organising more of this kind of thing in the future, i.e.adventure education.All aspects worked well, as noise and light disturbance was managed effectively.A trial run this space.

Up at the colony.
Environmental learning outdoors at its very best

I'm just going with the flow here, so apologies for jumping from one subject to another!

Now plants!

Everything is growing so fast and I cant keep up with it, but here are some of the best of the last few weeks......

Common milkwort Polygala vulgaris
Marsh marigold Caltha palustris
Common cottongrass Eriophorum angustifolium
Wood sorrel Oxalis acetosella 
The blue bell wood
Other recent wildlife includes a single collard dove (at Tattie House) and a sand martin in the castle fields both on May 10th, and a single adult summer great northern diver seen on May 10th and 15th in Loch Scresort.Both sedge warbler and whitethroat turned up last week from the 14th at least. The first 'commic' tern of the year was on May 6th off Arisaig, and at last one confirmed arctic tern in loch scresort yesterday (May19th). Good news on our breeding hen harriers with conformation of a breeding pair at the usual place (they've got five eggs this season).Swallows are back at full strength with birds using the Byre Building and more recently at the Visitor Centre from May10th at least (lots of swallow droppings very evident from that date...defo going to have to get that mop and bucket out again this summer) and two whimbrel off Rubha na Roinne on May 17th heading north. 

Over the last few weeks or so most of our red deer have been casting (or dropping) their antlers (well the males that is) and I've noticed many visitors leaving the island with an antler souvenir attached to their backpacks.If they're found in either Glen Shellesder or Kilmory, the Kilmory Deer Project are asking that you hand them in so that important information can be gained.

Researcher Martyn Baker will be very busy down at Kilmory over the next few weeks, as this is the peak calving period when many hinds will be literally dropping their little bundles of munching joy into the long grass or heather.The calving team that will be wrestling these new borns will be at full strength next week, when even more volunteer deer catchers and spotters arrive.

Red deer..single sex groups at the moment.
The stags pictured here at Harris are dropping antlers, whilst the hinds are dropping young!  

We've had the usual run of visiting ships and cruise liners of late with the Stockholm, Polar Quest and Ocean Nova popping in for visits (the Stockholm being in 3 times this spring already).The Ocean Nova i.e., Excursions Ltd, booked my services for a guided walk up Kinloch Glen (for 22!) on May 15th. Great stuff, but how can we persuade more passengers to step away from the castle for once?

The Stockholm
The Polar Quest

The Ocean Nova
And Rumics (the folk of Rum) celebrated 3 years of community ownership on Friday 11th May with a ceilidh, BBQ and much swaying, some more than others anyway.Neil, I must get a pair of those magnetic boots you wear, they keep you amazingly vertical.

Happy Rumics at the ceilidh

Apart from the odd day, the weather and the light has been absolutely awesome lately, so as usual, some recent weather and landscapes from the island in pictures (there's quite a few sorry, but it's been so nice!).

Bagh na h-Uamha
A mid afternoon moon...could be anywhere, but it is Rum.
Cave's Bay or Bagh na much better without a fish farm!
Just like the Mediterranean...Coll from Harris.
Evening views out east....Loch Scresort 
The tree plot of migrant dreams (Harris).

The pre-clearance village, Harris

Harris beach

Front road evening sun
Cooling off...afternoon evaporation on Hallival

Smokin! Morning helm cloud on Hallival.

 I sometimes wonder whether I'm becoming a bit of a Richard Dreyfuss from Close Encounters (of the Third Kind) , ie a wee bit obsessive over a mountain and its shape.There is something very satisfying about Hallival however, but I haven't resorted to making mash potato models out of my dinner or huge clay ones in the living room.
Well not yet anyway...there's plenty of time to go completely bonkers in the winter.    

Another satisfying shape....Eigg from Loch Scresort

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Sausages and shipwrecks

Where do I start when so much has happened over the last few weeks?There's been a beach clean up at Kilmory; lots of migrant and nesting birds; emerging butterflies; a flowering plant growing frenzy; speedy wildlife gardening; a busy campsite; international volunteers and students galore; canoeing trips; the first Rum Seabird & Dolphin Experience of the year (the usual Thursday boat trip to Soay); the new Ranger Service postcard; a shearwater colony expedition up to Hallival; and sorry to say, and most certainly due to the awesome weather we've been experiencing lately, early biting midges.Yes those most beloved of Highland critters have arrived! Although they're not too bad at the moment, they're bad enough to start bugging you whilst having a well earned evening beer at the shop.It's funny how everyone forgets about them for at least seven months, then as May arrives, slowly but surely they soon become the main conversation starter down at the shop.

With such a busy few weeks, I don't really know where to start, so I'll start with the beach clean because it's conveniently at the top of the list.More on the rest later....

But first I would like to thank all who gave up their Saturday on April 21st.These were the Goddards (Rum's brand new family) or also known as Nic, Ady, Davis and Scarlet in their own right, and also Ali, Sean and Eve, Martyn, Rachel, Lisa and Corran. Also thanks to SNH for the use of the Landrovers and to the Kilmory Deer Project for the use of Kilmory.

Great work everyone, and well worth the effort as Kilmory was getting covered in plastic buoys, plastic fishing nets and plastic fishing crates.Most of this fishing gear has undoubtedly come from the Jack Abry II, the French trawler that ran aground near Kilmory on the night of the 31st January 2011 (during a storm force 8). It's still here and is still spitting its rubbish into Rum's pristine marine environment, Rum's supposed Special Protection Area.It would have been great to actually find something with the vessels name on it, but we did find the remains of this French medical kit (pictured below) and you don't have to be Miss Marpel to guess where it came from. 

Rum's biggest piece of fishing waste...the FV Jack Abry II (here to stay?)

Remains of the French medical kit

Lovely Kilmory!

Action on the day......

 Martyn starts to wonder why he went for that small piece of green netting he spotted on the surface .

Released at last...Martyn and Ady man hauling    

When it comes to hard work, the young always think they can get away with it.But not this time..Corran had to earn his lunch!

To be fair, there are many sources of plastic found in the worlds oceans (our main culprit happens to be the fishing industry), and globally it is a major environmental problem.It is estimated that over one million birds and around 100,000 marine mammals die every year from entanglement or ingestion of plastic. It is a huge issue representing a major threat to many species because plastic never biodegrades, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces and never disappears.

If you've never seen the horrors of the Pacific Trash Vortex, then please check out this You tube link .....its food for thought.


Talking of food (I should really be an anchor man eh!), the BBQ was appreciated by all as there is nothing better than a tasty sausage or two cooked out of doors after a bit of ard graft.  

Community beach cleaners 2012 

In the end it was all too much for Bonnie .. (don't worry, she's only snoozing)

We couldn't weigh the total amount collected, but it was substantial!

In the halcyon days of the island's recent past, Kilmory beach cleans were more frequent, so its nice that they've been resurrected.Although by the looks of things we probably need to organise more than one every year and not just at Kilmory, Harris is looking pretty bad also.