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A quick catch up

It’s been some time since my last blog, I took some holidays in October and since returning I’ve been very busy which has meant neglecting the blog a little. I’m very busy with school projects at the moment as both Barvas and Airidhantuim schools are working towards their green flags. So far this term we have planted bulbs, hedges and made bird feeders as well as meeting to discuss the various eco projects the schools are doing.

On the wildlife front our winter migrants are now settling down, there are whooper swans throughout the estate and there have also been plenty sightings of redwings and snow buntings. Not too much to report on the mammal front though, very few sightings of  Otter or Deer and as always our rabbit population is keeping us on our toes!. The Grey Seal pupping season is now well underway and I’ve had my first seal pup rescue of the season already.

Ranger assessing seal pup. Photo courtesy of E Soutar

I was called out to Eoropie beach to assess a pup which had been on and off the beach for a few days, we were able to uplift and treat it before sending it to the mainland for further care, sadly it died before reaching the seal hospital. Events like these are always sad but I was very encouraged by help and information that was passed onto me by members of the community beforehand.

The weather is now beginning to feel distinctly wintery, it seems to have been raining for weeks which doesn’t make work outside particularly appealing!. This time of year is the best for report writing and planning for the year ahead which will hopefully be another good one for all aspects of the estate.

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Well , it’s cold, wet and windy outside which means that autumn is upon us again- the wheatears, corncrake and swallows will be heading off for warmer climates and the geese, whooper swans and redwings will be amongst those arriving for the winter. It seems to have been a good year for our birds this summer; the terns numbers have been good and this is due the Mink trapping that is going on at the moment, and the little birds seem to have done well too judging by the numbers of Pied Wagtails, sparrows and starlings there are around.

There have also been some very interesting sea related sightings with basking shark and Minke Whale both being seen around Port of Ness and some really good sightings at the lighthouse too including Orcas, bottlenose and white sided dolphins and a turtle.

It’s been a tourist season of up’s and down’s,the fact that all the accommodation providers are reporting a busy season is fantastic but the problem of camper vans have been well documented in local and national press and on the estate we’ve seen a definite increase in them.  We’ve also experienced some of the same problems as other islands areas in relation to lack of facilities and illegal parking and damage to the machair – however this is a situation we hope to address in the coming year. We are now almost at the end of september and still there seems to be a steady flow of visitor traffic and the ferries are still booked to capacity most weekends.

My guided walk programme is also drawing to a close and it too has been a bit of a mixed bag. The response to the archaeology month walks has been fantastic, the galson walk particularly always seems to be well attended which is very encouraging for future projects we’re looking at in relation to the local archaeology.

Now the schools are back I’m continuing my work with the eco-schools projects as they work towards a green flag. Airidhantuim Veg bedsThe vegetables they planted earlier in the year did really well with all of them producing good crops for the canteen, hopefully this will lead to us planting some more for next year. Lots of planning to do over the winter which will mean a bit more time in the office than I would like, mind you if the weather carries on like this I won’t complain too much about being inside!!.

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Surveys and Vikings

It’s been a while since I blogged but there has been so much going over the last few weeks that is been difficult to sit down and write something. I been doing a wide range of things over the summer which I didn’t expect but all of them have been really interesting. I was luck to get to spend some time looking for bumblebees with Bob Dawson from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust who is doing a tour round Scotland looking at various projects that are going on to help the Great Yellow Bumblebee. I’ve also been out with the Western Isles Fisheries Trust who have been surveying some of the rivers on the estate to look at the fisheries potential. My best day out was spending the day with a group doing a botanical survey around the coast at Skigersta. I thought I was fairly knowledgeable when it came to local botany but I was shocked by the number of plants we identified that I wasn’t aware of. The highlights for me were definately bog pimpernel, frog orchid and Euphrasia campbelliae – a species of eyebright that is endemic to Lewis, any particulalry in Ness.

There were also a few interesting wildlife sightings such as grey seals, guillemots, fox moth caterpillar and dragonflies, but the highlight was definately two Hare sightings – I haven’t seen any in nearly four years and then I saw two within ten minutes – fantastic.

Other projects I’ve been working on was a children’s event which were part of the LNR celebrations. I decided on a Viking theme as there are stories relating to Vikings using Loch Stiapabhat as a passage route from west to east. We had an art day where the children made helmets, shields and Jewellery and a hands on day where the children got to experience the day to day life of a viking – including milking a wooden cow which proved to be very popular!!!.

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The scent of summer

We’ve been lucky to have some very good weather over the last few weeks which has meant a lot of time out of the office. I particularly enjoy walking

Swainbost Machair

Swainbost Machair

on the machair at the moment as the flowers are in full bloom, not only producing a raft of colour but the smell as you walk through it is amazing. My guided walks programme started at the beginning of the month, turnout has been slow but that is expected in June as the tourist season is just building up. I have been surprised by the number of local people coming along, or expressing an interest in the walks this year, it seems that the locations are a bit more appealing to them as their not the usual tourist locations.

As well as my walks I have also done a talk on local wildflowers for the local women for mission group, set up through the free church to support projects overseas. I thoroughly enjoy doing talks like, unfortunately I don’t get to do them as much as I would like.

Painted lady butterfly - photo by Alison Brown

Painted lady butterfly - photo by Alison Brown

Wildlife wise things have been good, this year seems to be a bumper year for the painted lady butterfly, with numerous sightings being reported around the estate. The mute swans on Loch Stiapabhat are also doing well and are now the proud parents of a single cygnet. I’m also pleased to see that the Arctic Terns are back at Dun Eistean after a short absence. I paid them a visit a last week to try and assess how many nests there were but true to form the Terns bombarded me with a mass aerial assault so I wasn’t able to get close enough to count!

Lots coming up in the next few weeks with the walks programme continuing, end of terms school visits and various surveys so there will be plenty to keep me busy.

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Time for another quick update, particularly as my mum now says the only way she finds out what I’m up to is to read my blog!!!!!.

It’s been another busy month, I was in Musselburgh mid May for a community archaeology conference which was very interesting. We are looking to develop a project on the estate so it was great to hear about other people’s experiences and lend some support to my friend Anne who was giving a presentation about her involvement in the Dun Eistean project.

On Monday I was out with my first coach party of the year, we have a number of cruise liners that come to Stornoway every year and tours are put on all over the island for the day. This particular group were with the National Trust for Scotland and they were visiting North Lewis in the morning and afternoon and I was asked to accompany them. We had a great time and fantastic weather for both trips and managed to get in a bit of wildlife watching to with eider duck, dunlin and a harbour porpoise at the lighthouse. We stopped at the Comunn Eachdraidh for some tea and everyone thoroughly enjoyed visiting the new exhibition spaces created over the winter.

On Wednesday I spent the morning with the children at Airidhantuim school working on more Eco-school activities, this time we were planting wildflowers and vegetables in their new raised beds. Hopefully once the children return from their summer holidays they should have bumper crops of onions, potatoes, peas and carrots (now you can see what the title was about!). We had the added pressure of being filmed as part of the Gaelic aspect of their recent HMI inspection, it’s very distracting trying to plant potatoes with someone pointing a camera at you!!!. Both Barvas and Airidhantuim schools received very good HMI reports and both were recently awarded their silver Eco schools awards – it’s great to see all their hard work being recognised.

On the wildlife front there are a few bits and pieces to report: the mute swans on Loch Stiapabhat have a cygnet, there have also been sightings of green winged teal, ruff and little stint and an Atlantic swift was seen heading north from Brue. There have been lots of butterflies reported and many of the wildflowers are starting to emerge. I think it’s going to be a good summer this year!

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Yes, I’m still here!, thought I’d better write another update as I was being nagged at by certain individuals (you know who you are!). We’ve had some fantastic weather over the last few weeks so you can imagine that sitting in the office has not been my top priority.

It definitely feels like spring now as the lambs are all running around in the fields, flowers such as Coltsfoot, Primrose and Butterburr are emerging and our summer birds are back. There are lots of Wheatear around and the Corncrake are also back at Loch Stiapabhat although they have been fairly quiet so far. The White billed Divers have also been sighted around Port of Ness and Skigersta again.

Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot

We’ve had quite a lot of activity at the Loch recently with some interesting sightings such as a Pectoral Sandpiper, Shovelers, Brent Geese and a Killdeer which caused a bit of excitment as it’s only the 7th record of one on the islands. We also had some sightings of the Snowy Owl again on the Galson moor but it seems to have disappeared again for now.
I also got some great sightings of Red Grouse and a Golden Eagle when walking out on the moor last week with Mick from John Muir Trust.

Sheiling

Sheiling

We went out to look at some sheilings which were summer houses used by the crofters family when livestock was moved onto the moor as crop was being harversted on the machair.

As well as walking and wildlife watching I’ve also been working with the local school at Barvas. We spent a day a the castle grounds learning about trees and then a morning out planting trees at the new hall in the village. I’ve also been visiting the nursery in Borve where we made some bird cakes. As you can see I’ve very busy and there is still plenty to do with walks soon to start and coaches and cruise liners arriving on the island.

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Bog Slog

I spent the weekend on the mainland doing some training on peatland restoration which is something I hope we can do here on the estate in the future. I attended a work party organised by the John Muir Trust where we were working in an area of peatland owned by the Assynt Foundation – another community land trust. The work involved using sections of corrugated plastic to make dams along stretches of old drainage ditches, I can imagine this is much to the horror of many a farmer or crofter but the land hadn’t been grazed for many years and the work has many environmental benefits. The blocking of the ditches causes flooding which raises the water table which leads to the restoration of  peatland vegetation such as Sphagnum moss and prevents areas of exposed peat from drying out. As well as restoring the area of blanket bog the work also helps to slow the release of Carbon Dioxide and Methane which is stored in the bog.

Luckily we had some very good weather and with a fantastic group of people the time seemed to fly by and the work that was supposed to take two days was in fact finished in one. The day was made even more interesting by the appearance of a couple of helicopters continually flying overhead – apparently it was Deer Commission Scotland doing a deer count in the same area.

On day two we went out to do some pathwork or Quinag which is one of the properties own by the John Muir Trust. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t so kind and we ended up clearing drains along the path in the pouring rain, at one point the drains were filling with water as fast as we were clearing them!. We then went back to check on the dams from the day before and thanks to the torrential rain we were able to see them working to full effect. Despite the weather (and the rough ferry crossing home!) I thoroughly enjoyed it and learnt a lot and I was lucky enough to be working with some great people who I hope will come and visit one of the work parties here one day.

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