Friday, 21 May 2010

Where have all the Stonechats gone?

Strange as it may sound, it has been raining here on the Isle of Mull these past couple of days. Nothing heavy, of course, but the gentle breeze has found it very difficult to shift the drizzle and accompanying scotch mist, which, on occasion, has reduced visibility to a premium. At Mull Magic we have been blessed with a rather fecund imagination. Not only can we see the sun on the cloudiest of days, our palette allows us to paint a vivid portrait of our island’s life-affirming sea and landscapes, even when they are shrouded in mist!

Our walk today had its origins in the picturesque village of Dervaig, located at the head of Loch Cuin, in the North-West of the island. Established in 1799 by MacLean of Coll, Laird of the nearby Quinish Estate, the village is dominated today by the white, pencil-shaped, steeple of Kilmore Church, which was built in 1905. Similarly shaped churches, though not uncommon in Ireland, are rare in Scotland.

Despite some earlier misgivings on account of the day’s weather, our extended walk through the estate to Quinish Point proved to be exceptionally fruitful, with over 60 species of birds recorded. While it is always more comfortable to watch wildlife in fine weather, sometimes it is the days when conditions seem less than ideal that provide you with the best sightings and experiences!

For its largest part, the Isle of Mull is an upland environment. Beginning to show itself on the local Quinish moorland were the pink and white flowerheads of the downy perennial, Mountain Everlasting. Considering its name, it is somewhat incongruous to think that this attractive member of the daisy clan should be found growing barely a stone’s throw from the sea, here on Mull!

Having emerged from their Winter hibernation in recent weeks, the large and attractive caterpillars of The Drinker moth are conspicuous on the island at present. Locally common in areas of rough grassland and moorland, it is hard to avoid these colourful larvae, such has been their widespread abundance. Named after the caterpillar’s supposed habit of drinking dew from a variety of its food plants, it is not until later in the Summer that the adult moths will be on the wing.

Local nature lovers have been lamenting the lack of sightings of one of Mull’s favourite small birds. One of a triumvirate of chats that breed on the island, the Stonechat is the only member of the trio that is resident all-year-round on Mull. Its close relatives, the Wheatear and Whinchat, both choose to migrate at the end of the breeding season to overwinter in warmer climes in Africa. Stonechats can be particularly susceptible to prolonged cold spells and their population can be decimated as a result. The Winter past has been officially recognised as being the most severe in living memory on the island and it seems that many of our local Stonechat population have paid the ultimate price for their sedentary lifestyle. We thought ourselves lucky to be able to get such good views of this delightful wee bird today and very much hope that our remaining Stonechats enjoy a successful season.

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