Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Lazy Hum of Summer

The dry weather of the past six months, that brought drought to the Isle of Mull, would appear to be a thing of the past. In time honoured tradition, the heavens opened over Tobermory at the beginning of the Scottish schools’ Summer holiday! Initially, the recent rain did little but darken the surface of the parched ground, but days of heavy, persistent wetting has penetrated deep in to the soil, ensuring the return of muddy footpaths across the island.

Warm sunshine, befitting of the season, has been at a premium, but when the sun has managed to shake off the grey rain clouds, the air has taken on the lazy hum of Summer. The ambient droning of honey bees, bumble-bees and hoverflies, along with the colourful sight of butterflies indulging themselves on sugar-rich flowers encapsulates the heady days of July on the Isle of Mull.

The long, arching branches of the bramble thickets that adorned the paths we followed during today’s walk in North Mull were festooned with flowers. Full of nectar, they are a honey trap for many species of insect, while the soft fruits that will develop later are beloved of Blackbirds. These fruits are delicious and have a high nutritional value, being rich in antioxidants, as well as Vitamin C and Folic Acid. You have to be quick to reap the true benefit of these luscious treats, however, as after the 29th September you should leave brambles well alone. Superstition has it that the devil takes possession of the fruit after this date and marks his property by urinating on the leaves!

Hoverflies are highly attractive insects that, despite their excellent mimicry of bees and wasps, are not harmful to humans. The bright warning colours and similar behaviour to unpalatable or poisonous insects offers this Striped Hoverfly protection, as it gets drunk on its nectar fix: ‘Look at me, I taste nasty, so keep away!’ Hoverflies, because of their resemblance to stinging insects, are greeted with a certain antipathy by the general public, which is a great shame, as they are among the most colourful and spectacular of flies.

Stopping off for a breather and a blether, we were amazed to find a Dark Green Fritillary feeding on a thistle head, only a few metres from where we were standing. This gorgeous orange and black butterfly was so engrossed in its nectaring duties that it appeared oblivious to our closer approach, when we were permitted as instructive a view of this species’ diagnostic underside markings as we could ever have wished. This was the best view that we have ever enjoyed of this fast flying insect and one that will live long in our memory.

The recent return to rain has provided the island’s population of Black Slugs with conditions more to their liking, much to the dismay of local gardeners. At Mull Magic, we are forever championing the role of the overlooked and hidden wildlife of the island and slugs fall in to that category. ‘Surely not!’, we can hear you cry, yet these slimy gastropods play a very important and undervalued role in gardens and woodlands on the Isle of Mull. Much of this mollusc’s time is spent recycling waste matter and helping improve garden and forest soils. They may eat some desirable garden plants, but they also have a taste for more unsavoury ‘treats’, helping get rid of unsightly cat and dog faeces, recycling it as more acceptable slug poo. A slug’s tongue has as many as 27,000 teeth on it. Ever wondered why you never see slugs kissing! Yeuch!

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