Sunday, 11 July 2010

Mull Magic Back Home

We have returned home to the Isle of Mull with a severe dose of post-Cairngorm blues, feeling that we haven’t really been away! These feelings won’t last long, though, as we realise only too well how very privileged we are to breathe the life that we do, here on this marvellous island, surrounded by such fantastic scenery and wonderful wildlife. After all, it is always a pleasant journey that ends amongst old friends!

A week is a long time in wildlife terms at this time of the year, as different flowers fade and bloom and insects emerge to take advantage of the seasonally abundant nectar rush. The sweetly-scented flower clusters of Common Valerian that flanked our route through the damp, coastal woods of North Mull are proving a god-send to hoverflies and sawflies. The roots of this perennial have long been used in herbal medicine to reduce anxiety, to counteract insomnia and to relieve intestinal colic. As a sedative, it was used during the Second World War to help calm the nerves of civilians distressed by frequent air-raid activity and continues to be used in alternative stress-busting drugs today.

Among the various insects taking advantage of these honeyed flowers was a rather robust Club-horned Sawfly. Looking like it was wearing a coat of metallic green and gold armour plating, this insect is as distinctive as it is beautiful. Largely feeders of both nectar and pollen, it derives its common name from the club-shaped tips of its antennae, which can be clearly seen in this photograph.

The sawfly had better watch out, as sharing the same flight path through this woodland glade was a male Golden-ringed Dragonfly. A voracious predator of other insects, it cut an intimidating figure as it patrolled its highway in a rather automated fashion. This, our largest dragonfly to be commonly encountered on the island, is unmistakeable owing to its black and yellow banding and bulging green eyes. With those looks, it wouldn’t look out of place in a scary, sci-fi blockbuster or in an episode of Doctor Who!

Basking Sharks have been appearing close inshore around the North Mull coast earlier than usual this year, so it was with hopeful optimism that we scanned the open water of the bay. Our search didn’t take long and proved exceptionally fruitful when a huge, dark dorsal triangle broke the surface of the tranquil sea. These benign ‘monsters’ of the deep have become a huge draw for eco-tourists on local whale-watching trips, as they are easier to spot than similarly-sized Minke Whales and tend to hang around for a whole lot longer!

A pair of Wheatears had nested in the vicinity of the old settlement we visited, deserted at the time of the infamous Highland Clearances in the early half of the 19th Century. One of their fledged youngsters proved to be a bit of a poser and obligingly stayed still long enough for us to obtain some good photographs. It is a steep learning curve that this juvenile has started out on, one which will see it lay down sufficient stores of body fat over the next couple of months before it flies South to sub-Saharan Africa for the Winter. It’s great to be back home, again, on the Isle of Mull. As we said, its like we’ve never been away!

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