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Walking the walk

I’ve been doing a lot of walking over the week or so as I’ve just got a new GPS unit which has meant I can go out and survey the paths on the estate. Today I walked from Habost to Cross, I’d intended to walk further but the batteries in my camera died!, never mind – at least it means if we get more weather like today I can go out and do some more tomorrow. Unfortunately when I did the upper parts of the walk last week the weather was not so kind as I got got in a downpour – an occupational hazard when you do a job like mine.

The lighthouse is one of the main attractions on the coastal path.

The lighthouse is one of the main attractions on the coastal path.

The coastal path runs from North Dell to Port of Ness and includes some fantastic coastal scenery as well as archaeological sites such as the lighthouse and Dun Eistean. There is also the opportunity to see some great wildlife including Grey seals, basking sharks and a variety of seabirds and waders.

I’ve seen some great bird life whilst I’ve been out and about over the last few weeks including goldfinches, snow buntings, ringed plover, divers, red grouse and the skylarks are beginning to sing which means Spring is definitely in the air.

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Busy, Busy, Busy

Well its been a busy few weeks, so much so that I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting the blog a bit. I’ve been up to all sorts over the last few weeks and it’s great to have a job that allows me to get involved in a wide variety of projects.

I’m doing more work with the schools and this term we are looking to get a mural painted on both schools with a biodiversity theme so we’ve been working with some local artists producing sketches of the kind of things the children want on the mural. Both schools are also working on whole school projects – Airidhantuim are focusing on the local area so I’ve been in talking to the younger children about the peatlands. Barvas are now working on trees so hopefully I’ll be helping out with that too – although trees are a little scarce on the estate.

I’ve also been helping out with the monitoring of an archaeological site at South Galsonand earlier in the month I went out with a local archaeologist to sketch the site and discuss options for protecting the site. Hopefully this will develop further in the coming months.

I also got involved in a bit of wildlife rescue last week – not a seal this time but a buzzard which had been hit by a car. Thankfully I was able to adapt my seal catching skills to uplift the buzzard and avoid a very sharp beak and talons. I made a dash to the vet in Stornoway but sadly the buzzards injuries were too severe and the kindest thing to do was put it to sleep. It was sad that it couldn’t be saved but I’m glad I was able to get it to someone who could assess it properly and I’m pleased people call me in situations like this rather than leave the bird to suffer.

These are just a small selection of the things I’ve been doing but there is plenty more I haven’t mentioned as this blog would go on for ever!, hopefully it means there will be lots of exciting projects taking place in the coming months which will keep me even busier!!

Watch the Birdie!!!

This weekend I will be taking part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, an annual bird count that has been taking place for the last 30 years. All you have to do is spend an hour this weekend counting how many of each bird you see in your garden at any one time. The top three birds counted in Western Isles gardens last year were the Starling, House Sparrow and Blackbird which was quite similar to the UK top three which placed sparrows in number 1 spot. Over the last thirty years the bird watch has highlighted major changes in garden bird numbers, nationally the average number of birds seen in each garden has declined by 20% since 2004. Since the survey started there have been major declines nationally of Song Thrush, Sparrows and Starling, since 1979 sparrows have decreased by 65% and Starlings by 75%. However there have been increases in the number of Collared Doves and Wood Pigeons being seen as well as some more unusual birds.

Red Deer have also been in the news this week as a group of researchers from Edinburgh University have been looking at the rate of cross breeding with Sika deer. It has been known about for some time but it is now thought that around 40% of deer on the mainland are cross bred. We are lucky on the islands that legislation has been put in place to protect deer populations, if the current mainland trend continues it may soon be the case that the islands will be the only place people will be able to see genetically pure red deer. Hopefully this research will allow new measures to be put in place in order to better protect one of Scotland’s most symbolic creatures.

You can read more this story on the  BBC website

Happy New Year

Wow, I can’t believe 2009 is here already, the new year seemed to come around very quickly and its now a case of getting ready for another busy season. I spent christmas at home on the mainland but I saw in the new year back on the estate, enjoying the various events that were taking place at the social club.

Unlike most of the rest of the country we have been very fortunate with the weather, the sun has been shining and the temperature hasn’t been too bad and this has meant there has been a fair bit of activity around the estate. The play park  has been quite busy with families making the most of the holiday time and there have been quite a lot of walkers out and about too.

Our rabbit shooters have also been making the most of the finer weather and they have been out regularly over the festive period along with some of those who are using ferrets. I have to say they have been doing a grand job as there is definitely a significant reduction of numbers on the machairs at Fivepenny and Eoropie which is no doubt helped by the natural mortality at this time of year, I am under no illusion that we still have a lot of work to do but we are making a positive start.

On the wildlife front there are plenty of birds about, there are still hundreds of golden plover and plenty of lapwings, redwings and turnstones to name but a few, whilst Loch Stiapabhat  is busy with Wigeon, Swans and Geese.

Things have been much quieter on the mammal front (apart from rabbits!), both deer and otter sightings have been few and even reports of seals have been less than I expected with only one report of a potentially abandoned pup back in November which turned out to be a false alarm.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that 2009 will be another good year for wildlife sightings!

A Ranger Rendezvous

What is a ranger rendezvous I hear you ask?, well it was the largest gathering of rangers in Scotland which took place near Aberfoyle earlier in the month and I was able to go along. The event took place over three days and was an opportunity to network with other rangers as well as discuss the various issues affecting rangers and the work they do. It was very interesting to see the wide variety of work that rangers do throughout Scotland and it was also encouraging to hear from Environment minister, Mike Russell, that rangers have an important role in delivering key government strategies. I also came away from it with a huge sense of achievement in terms of how far the Galson Estate ranger service has come in such a short space of time, which was great.

After a much needed holiday I am now back and catching up with the goings on in my absence and it seems the rabbits have been as active as ever whilst I was away and whilst we have a network of people now shooting them it will take some time to see significant results. In terms of the other wildlife it has been quite busy, there are now plenty geese around and the machair is covered in Lapwings, Golden Plover and turnstones, I’ve also seen a few ringed plover on the beaches and I’ve heard a few curlew too. Lots of snow buntings and redwings around, definitely beginning to feel more like winter now!

The big project ongoing at the moment is Mink trapping which is being carried out by those involved in the Hebridean Mink Project. I’m not personally involved in the trapping but I am in regular contact with those overseeing the project and I am also a member of the forum group which meets to discuss the project and provide feedback from the community. Although the project is set to run for a number of years yet it is anticipated that around 80% of the islands Mink population will be eradicated in the first couple of years.

Also received an interesting e-mail on my return form holiday regarding the little goldcrest I mentioned in my last blog. Curiously it would seem that it was almost 4 years to the day since the last report of a Goldcrest in almost exactly the same situation. Seems that every few years Swainbost shop is a popular destination for goldcrests passing through, maybe on the lookout for a bargain or two!!!

Today has been one of those that reminds me why the estate is such a fantastic place to live and work – as your never really sure what the day will bring.

It started with the arrival of one of the directors at the office with a box which contained a ‘surprise’, not quite sure what to expect I approached causiously and peered over the side of the box and was pleasantly surprised to find a small feathered creature  cowered in the corner. The creature in question was a Goldcrest – the UK smallest bird, it was easily identifiable from the yellow crest on its head and its ‘cute’ expression which makes it look almost sad. These are fantastic little birds associated mostly with coniferous woodlands although there have been a number of sightings of them on the estate over the summer in gardens with a lot of bushes. The poor wee thing had somehow found its way into Swainbost shop and after a couple of hours of being chased by customers it was eventually caught and brought down to my office. I was able to ID for the curious customers and then gave it a quick check over for injuries before setting it free in a group of bushes behind the office.

Only an hour later I was travelling back from Ballantrushal when I saw a large bird flying over the moor behind the church at North Dell, its size was a clear giveaway and there was absolutely no mistaking that it was a White -tailed Sea Eagle, I’ve seen them here many times before but you can’t help but be in awe of them when you see them up close. This bird had a red tag on each wing so I made a quick call to the local RSPB officer as it helps them to identify where the bird has come from and learn more about its movements and habits throughout the year.

It’s an interesting time for birdwatching at the moment as we are at the cross over for the migrating birds. Already I’ve seen winter visitors such Snow Bunting, Turnstones, Whooper Swans and large numbers of Geese but some of our summer visitors such as Wheatear are also still around, there have also been reports of Corncrakes being seen on the island in the last couple of weeks.

There can’t be many days where you get to see the smallest and largest birds in the country in the space of a couple of hours – fantastic!

A Great Summer

Well yet again it has been some time since I last wrote something here, the times seems to fly by so quickly and it’s hard to believe the summer season is all but over and autumn is creeping up on us again. It’s been a fairly eventful month for a variety of reasons as I’ve found myself dealing with a number of different issues on the estate, some of which have proved to be more difficult than others.

The estate is a hive of activity again as the birds have returned to the machair and in bye now that breeding is finished. Over the past fews I’ve seen increasing numbers of Lapwing and Golden Plover on the machair and there are more Greylag geese appearing now too as well as the smaller birds such as pied wagtail, sparrows and starlings. Not much to report on the mammal front, the deer are still well hidden in the moor and haven’t seen otters for a while either, although I have seen a couple of hedgehogs out on the machair – it’s amazing how quickly they can move when they want too!. Was lucky enough to get a fantastic couple of Cetacean sightings in the last couple of weeks though, managed to catch a glimpse of a pod of Orcas as they headed up the coast and had a great sighting of bottlenose dolphins feeding last week when out with a walking group, the ladies in the group were absolutely delighted as they’d come to the island to see marine mammals.

Things have also been very busy on the people front too with plenty visitors spending time on the estate and taking part in the walks programme and a number of coach tours also visiting the area. The only downside of an increase in visitors is that it puts extra pressure on some already fragile habitats and it now meant there are a few issues regarding access that need to be addressed for next year. The crofters have also been very busy, livestock have now been moved back onto the machair to graze and a number of crofters have been busy cutting hay for feed over the winter months, seeing so many bales in the fields this year reminds me a little of being at home on the east coast.

Looking forward to a busy winter too as I prepare for next year and I have a number of projects with schools and our new youth forum I’m working which should be great fun.