Thursday, 24 June 2010

Drought on a Rain-swept Island

Many people were perplexed when Mull Magic started conveying to the wider world what tremendous weather the island has been enjoying. A lack of rainfall isn’t something that most would associate with the Isle of Mull, yet the island is starting to, quite literally, pay the price for the months of dry weather that have bamboozled and delighted in equal measure. Private water tanks may be running dangerously low, yet, thankfully, the marvellous wildlife experiences that we encounter on our walks show no sign of drying up. Even our local birdlife are getting in on the act of chilling out and soaking up some sunshine. This male Blackbird was oblivious to our approach as it sunbathed, the ultraviolet rays helping to convert the preen oil on the bird’s feathers in to valuable Vitamin D. Or, maybe, it was simply topping up its tan!

Cold-blooded insects, like butterflies, are most active during warm, sunny days, so it was no surprise when a Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary glided past, fast and low, before alighting on vegetation close to the path that we were walking along in North Mull. These orange and black butterflies are exceptionally attractive inhabitants of woodland clearings on the Isle of Mull, where it is far more likely to be encountered than its rarer relative, the Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

The same damp wooded areas are home at this time of year to the beautiful flowers of Water Avens, which we always stop to admire. Held on long stalks, the peach-infused petals are supported by purple sepals, which give this plant a certain aristocratic grace, as the flowers nod in the Summer breeze. The feathery seed heads are burr-like, which aids their distribution, as they often get caught in the coats of passing animals. This is a plant that we have a particular fondness for.

Considering the ‘arid’ conditions, we were surprised to come across our first Russula fungi of the season, tucked away in the woodland leaf litter. Past its best, the olive-green cap suggested that it was a variety of the Charcoal Burner, which although common and edible is a highly variable mushroom. Without wishing our lives away, it won’t be long before we will be back in these self-same North Mull woods searching for even greater culinary treats, in the delicious forms of Chanterelle and Horn of Plenty!

The emerging clusters of the funnel-shaped, pinkish-white flowers of Common Valerian are proving to be ‘heaven scent’ to hoverflies. Several large and very attractive Pellucid Hoverflies allowed us a very close approach. So much so, we were able to tell the sexes apart, just by looking at the insects’ eyes: males have larger compound eyes, which almost touch each other in the middle. The Pellucid Hoverfly is a bumblebee mimic and extremely visually aesthetic to us humans. Makes a change from some flies less than endearing habit of feeding by vomiting the contents of their stomach and sucking the liquid back up again. Yeuch!

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