Sunday, 25 April 2010

Tom Thumb and the Awesome Giant

You couldn’t think of two more contrasting birds on the Isle of Mull than the tiny Goldcrest and the enormous White-tailed Eagle. The former, measuring barely 9cm from tip of bill to base of tail, is the smallest bird on the island, whilst the Sea Eagle (as it is often called) sometimes appears to be larger than life itself, with it’s 2.5 metre wingspan and weighing in at a hefty 7 kilograms.

We had the unusual prospect of rain to contend with as we set out on today’s walk, which took us in to the heart of one of the ten territories of Mull’s White-tailed Eagle population. It has been a fractious last few days for everyone involved in ‘Eaglewatch’, the scheme set up to protect these magnificent raptors here on the island. Concern has been expressed that all may not be well with some of our ‘celebrity’ eagles and we fear the worst that this breeding season may not prove to be as successful as was hoped. We were pleased and just a little relieved that all appeared to be well with the local pair on today’s walk and our guests were thrilled to bits with their first ever encounter with this awesome giant of Mull’s birds.

Despite the low cloud and intermittent drizzle, the air was alive with the sound of birdsong, as we made our way through the Sitka Spruce plantation, near the head of Loch na Keal. The most severe Winter in living memory on Mull must surely have had an impact on the survival chances of the island’s smallest birds, yet all-around was heard the thin, high-pitched, spiralling song of the tiniest of them all, the Goldcrest. Specially adapted to glean an existence at the tips of conifer branches, the Goldcrest is our ‘Tom Thumb’ bird, yet what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in heart!

The hills and moors of Mull are inhospitable places to live and those plants and animals that choose to do so have to have something special about them. The Lousewort is one such plant. Despite its rather unattractive name, this is a plant that really does what it says on the tin! As a hemi-parasite, it obtains much of its nourishment from the roots of neighbouring moor grass. However, as it has green leaves, it is also able to manufacture its own food by harnessing the energy of the sun. The pink flowers are sugar-rich and used to be a common between-meals snack for children in days of old.

1 comment:

  1. Love the picture of the Goldcrest. However I think i'd prefer a Milky Way to the Lousewort flowers thanks.