Friday, 11 June 2010

Those Life-Affirming Moments

It has been an exceptionally busy time for Mull Magic recently. Barely have we had time to draw our breath, such has been the intensity of our current walking schedule. Luckily, this busy spell has coincided with some of the best weather that the Isle of Mull has enjoyed so far this year. Our Wildlife Walks this week exceeded our expectations and those of our visitors to the Isle of Mull, with rare butterflies and moths out in force – along with the SPF30! Some of our guests admitted that they didn’t quite know what to expect of the island prior to their visit. However, by the time of their departure, all were in raptures regarding the wondrous wildlife and scintillating scenery that provided them with a whole host of life-affirming moments to take back to their respective homes.

Shaped like a battleship, protecting the western approaches to Mull, the Isle of Lunga is the largest island in the Treshnish archipelago. Our visitors were attracted by the not-to-be-missed opportunity of having lunch with the 2,000-plus pairs of Puffins that breed on the island’s plateau of short turf. The popularity of this ‘Puffin Therapy’, where we sat within a few feet of these iconic little Sea Parrots, remains as prevalent as ever.

Mull Magic has never known the Lunga Puffin population look so healthy, but our local birds’ good fortune isn’t mirrored at some other colonies around the coast of the British Isles. Indeed, declining numbers elsewhere have prompted scientists to fit high-tec ‘Sat Nav’ devices on to the feathers of these comical little birds, in the hope of finding an answer to this mystery. With concerns regarding reduced fish stocks and global warming, it is refreshing to know that these avian ambassadors to Mull and Iona are bucking a trend and increasing in number!

The warm sunshine of recent days had prompted many more of the island’s butterflies and moths to put in an appearance. While walking in North-West Mull, we took the opportunity to search the South-facing, herb-rich grassland for the rare Slender Scotch Burnet Moth and were thrilled to find several on the wing. This crimson and black coloured moth is often mistaken for a butterfly, due to its highly attractive colours and day flying habits. Our guests were amazed at its beauty and intrigued to learn that it is only known from a handful of sites on the Isle of Mull and our neighbouring island of Ulva.

Walking along the grass verge that skirts the main road in to the island’s ‘capital’, Tobermory, we stopped to admire the striking magenta-coloured flower spikes of a colony of Northern Marsh Orchids. Recognisable by its deep colour, compact flower head and diamond-shaped lip, these orchids made a vivid statement among the more usual buttercups and daisies.

Our attention was grabbed by a small butterfly that was feeding on one such buttercup. Its checkerboard pattern of orange, black, brown and cream was unmistakeable. It was a Marsh Fritillary, one of the rarest butterflies to be seen on the Isle of Mull. Here we were, crouched, within inches of an insect whose Scottish distribution is restricted to Argyll and the Isles. And, here it was, adjacent to a busy housing development and only a few metres from the Tobermory to Craignure highway! Prone to population booms and slumps, the Marsh Fritillary has to be resilient to survive. In many parts of their former British range they are now extinct. Increased sightings in North Mull in recent days give us hope that 2010 may be a good year for this gorgeous little butterfly.

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