Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Damsels and Dragons

Our May Bank Holiday walk saw us return to the North-West coast of Mull which has brought us so much pleasure in recent weeks. With temperatures soaring into the sizzling sixties, we found that our previously ‘private’ beaches had become somewhat public, as visitors to the island headed to the Costa del Mull for some fun in the sun.

The rising Mercury in local thermometers provided the necessary impetus for a fresh emergence of beautiful, but short lived Large Red Damselflies. With their distinctive red and black markings, this is usually the earliest damselfly on Mull to be on the wing in Spring. The damselflies that flew ahead of us as we walked down the track to the beach will probably live no longer than 7 days. Such a lot of living has to be packed in to such a short time when you’re a damselfly!

The Four-Spotted Chaser is a chunky, medium-sized dragonfly that gets it’s name from the number of spot marks on it’s paired wings. The adults emerge from their two year life cycle in May and we watched as sexually aggressive males patrolled their territorial ponds and ditches with a certain degree of intent. Dragonflies change colour with age and we located an amber-coloured immature as it perched on nearby vegetation. Dragonflies are fearsome predators and, although they are harmless to humans, many people find them rather scary.

Like dragonflies, butterflies are the essence of Summer. The cool temperatures on the Isle of Mull this Spring have meant that these exquisite day flying insects have been in short supply. The Speckled Wood is one of the first butterflies to be seen on the island in Spring and has a very long flight season, with tired looking individuals not uncommon during sunny early October days. Fiercely territorial, a male rose at our feet to intercept an intruder, as we wandered through a dappled grove of Hazel trees. Preferring the sticky honey-dew of aphids, the Speckled Wood is a butterfly with a difference, as it is not a true sun worshipper or an ardent flower seeker.

The warm sunshine that encouraged day trippers to visit the normally deserted beaches and coves of North-West Mull presented problems for the shore nesting birds that usually have such places all to themselves. The eggs of many of the local breeding Common Gulls, Oystercatchers and Ringed Plovers have only recently hatched or are about to do so. It is a particularly stressful time for these birds and the Bank Holiday weather brought with it added concerns. Having followed their fortunes over these past few weeks, Mull Magic has it's fingers well and truly crossed that all their dedication will have the happiest of outcomes.

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