What Heat Wave?

There are two fundamental forces that govern my working life:  the wildlife and the weather. This year, Mother Nature has quite literally flipped me the bird. Star-Species sightings have never been so good – but the weather has never been so bad.

For our smaller residents, things are looking pretty bleak. I have only seen one Beautiful demoiselle this season; even on sunny days, the display sites that I regularly walk past have been devoid of life.

But, just when I’m scuffing my boots and zipping up my rain jacket, Mull sends a scene to lift even the dampest spirit.

This season, two White-tailed eagles are spending time in the vicinity of our hide. It has provided an opportunity to enjoy some of their more intimate and engaging behaviours.

The birds fly low over our vantage point on a regular basis. Though they previously enjoyed sitting on our small offshore skerries, they have now taken to loitering further up the loch – offering superlative views.

Their interest is largely focussed on the flotillas of young Greylag geese that cruise about the weedy margins with their parents. Following a landing with a Surf ‘n’ Turf group a couple of weeks ago, we witnessed one of the birds making passes at geese less than 20m away from us on shallow water. It seemed completely unperturbed by our presence, having arrived just as we were clambering across the rocks from the boat.

Last Tuesday, I watched the adult male fishing in the loch for only the second time ever. It seems possible that recent rainfall has raised the level of the burn – perhaps attracting a small run of Sea trout up to spawn.

Better still, there have been times when both birds have arrived together. My guests Tony and Barbara were treated to the spectacle of the female bird vocalising; drawing her mate down from the sky and engaging in a noisy but tender greeting display. Sitting together on the opposite shore, they were magnificent. We even witnessed a brief spell of mutual preening.

Otter sightings have been excellent too – very encouraging news after last year’s quiet spell. The resident dog otter has been loafing about at almost every decent tide, and a female with two older cubs is frequently seen working the shoreline.

I might not have had opportunity to wear my shorts yet (!) but there is still plenty to look out for here on Glengorm.

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward

Eagle Eyes: one of our White-Tailed Eagles flies low for a closer look… 

White-Tailed Eagle

A Bad Case of Songthrush

The Song Thrush: one of Britain’s most charming and decorous songbirds. Dressed tastefully in brown, black and gold, it hops about in our pasture tweaking at this or that worm, bashing snails against rocks or cocking its head to watch passers-by.

One of the most frequently asked questions on my walks is “why do you have so many thrushes?” Why indeed. I have often asked myself the same question at 3:05am, when they all erupt into song right outside my window. I have a high tolerance for birds; but at that time in the morning, good humour is thin on the ground.

Even more annoying is their interval – usually somewhere between 4:00-5:00am – which lulls the human sleeper into a false sense of tranquillity. At 6:00am they all strike up again, shrieking like car alarms. This uncharitable behaviour would try the patience of even the most virtuous bird lover.

So why do we have so many Song Thrushes on Glengorm? To answer that, we must turn the question on its head: why might there be fewer of them elsewhere? Song Thrushes are a Red Listed species in Britain – their decline seems to be linked to the way our landscape is used.

Intensive arable agriculture doesn’t suit thrushes. They prefer a mixed farmland environment, and preferably, one that includes permanent cattle pasture. Such pastures are rich in manure and its associated insect life; ideal foraging habitat for the Song Thrush. They also like hedgerows, woodland, wet flushes and gardens – all of which provide opportunities for nesting and feeding on insects and fruits.

Most Song Thrushes don’t live long [average 4yrs] but they can make up to five breeding attempts per season when the getting is good. Song thrushes produce fewer broods per season in intensively farmed areas – to such a marked extent, that they can no longer recruit enough young birds to keep the local population topped up.

Thankfully there is evidence that the overall decline is stabilising, and there has been a partial recovery in the last 10yrs. With luck, thrushes will be depriving me of sleep for many years to come.

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward

Fueling Up: this Songthrush has to keep energised for all that early morning singing!Songthrush

Chasing Dragons

I have a confession to make: I’ve gone off birds a bit.

As a result, I risk being cast out from certain factions of our island community. I’ve fallen for a new order. How does it feel? Superb.

Mull has around 10 species of resident Odonata, give or take. These include both the mighty Dragonflies, and their smaller [tastier] relatives the Damselflies.

On Glengorm, they have helicoptered their way deep into my affections. Nothing else gets me splattering about in a bog [and enjoying it] for an entire day. The most wonderful thing is their disregard for human observers. Once they have labelled you as a slow and hopeless terrestrial being, it’s business as usual for the Odonata.

This is not an excuse for inconsiderate behaviour. Rather, it is licence to observe some remarkably intimate and alien deeds at close range. The vibrancy, ferocity and diversity of Dragonflies are just three of their most charming attributes. In some cases, their scarcity is also exciting: a female Northern emerald at the start of June looks set to be a highlight of my Glengorm year.

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward

Gold Standard: the ovipositor of the female Golden-Ringed Dragonfly makes  this species the joint largest dragonfly in Britain! 

Golden Ringed Dragonfly

The Immigration Game

For the last couple of weeks, the sun has been shining on Glengorm.

Now in my second year on the estate, I watch for our returning migrants with anticipation born from familiarity.

For me, there is something reassuring about the seasonal rhythms of our natural world. Watching the same sequence of events unfold each year feels like dropping an anchor in time. It reminds us that we belong. That we too are a part of this annual cycle, in an age where it’s easy to feel detached from nature.

When I stop to look at a dormant bramble patch in the cold months, then visit again in April to find a Whitethroat singing from the greening stems – it shores up the cracks that creep into our busy urban lives.

In that moment, the bird and I become links in a chain that stretches back for numberless generations. The bird is singing to compete for a mate and a place to breed, as millions of others have done before it. I am watching the bird, and hearing in its song the first bells of spring – as millions have also done before me.


You can almost see spring advancing over Baliacrach – note how green the vegetation is in the glen, but has yet to turn on our higher slopes. The Larch trees are also leafing up; they are the bright green trees in the darker patch of Spruce. I was pleased to find new buds on this beautiful Ash too. 

The Whitethroats are not alone. With the warm weather came Wheaters, Chiffchaffs, Willow warblers, Blackcaps, Cuckoos, Spotted flycatchers, Whinchats, Swallows and Common sandpipers. All within a week or two of one another.

In the morning, the lilting voices of migrants mingle with those of our resident birds [- and the earsplitting screeches of my parrot; who thinks he needs to “sing along” at 5:30am…]


This is a male Northern wheatear – photographed close to Baliacrach. Wheatears actually raise their young in crevasses and small burrows, not in “nests” as you might expect.  

Among the vegetation Adders, Slow worms and Common lizards are stirring. I’ve had several Adder sightings so far this year – perhaps because I’ve taken to exploring some more inaccessible areas of Glengorm. They are extremely well camouflaged when basking amongst dead Bracken and Heather.

Males are usually smaller; tending to have ash grey and black colouration. Females often look more bronzed [nothing new there] and sometimes even have a reddish hue […make your own joke].

They are very difficult to spot unless they give themselves away by moving – though occasionally, you might be lucky enough to see them coiled on a warm rock out in the open:


A fabulous Adder [quite a big male] photographed by Jen English on one of our guided walks! Thanks again for sharing this, Jen. 


A Common lizard basking under a Bell heather plant

The Lapwings and Curlews have moved from their neutral feeding grounds up onto the breeding terraces, where they are displaying to one another with vigour. One male Lapwing managed to bring down an adult Grey heron last Wednesday – much to my surprise.

The unfortunate heron was flying low over an area of wet ground, and was so astonished by the vicious advances of the Lapwing that it fell completely out of the air and ploughed keel-first into a bog.  It’s worth mentioning that herons – though unassuming at most times of year – are more than capable of predating a Lapwing chick. In light of this, the attack was not entirely unjustified… but still spectacular to witness.

Our herons are actually looking rather flash just now. The drab yellowish-green legs and beak have turned to a splendidly sexy orange; in honour of their breeding season. Loch Mingary is usually lined with their melancholy grey forms – but now, they have disappeared to perform covert nesting operations in the forest.

Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to see a White-tailed eagle hunting in Mingary Burn. This adult made two unsuccessful passes at Greylag geese and a gull roost on Laorin Point, before retiring to a convenient perch over the burn mouth. From the hide, I could see it tilting its head to eyeball fish below the surface.

Every so often, it jumped down into the shallow water. Its wings were extended for balance, and it was splooshing about trying grab a fish with its talons. This made for an amusing spectacle – and was clearly frustrating for the bird. After a third attempt, it positioned itself on a rock and yelped forlornly at the surface of the water. When no fish were forthcoming [can’t imagine why] it finally gave it up and left the area.

For me, this is the beauty of wildlife watching: I see White-tailed eagles on a pretty regular basis, but no matter how well you think you know an animal, they can still offer up intriguing and surprising behaviour.


 Loch Mingary in the afternoon sunshine

As far as our smaller residents are concerned, on Sunday March 10th there were absolutely no invertebrates. By the Monday [first sunny day of the year] Glengorm felt like they’d never been away.

I found myself edging round spiralling swarms of small midge-like flies. Solitary bees buzzed industriously over rotten wood and stone dykes. My first Peacock butterfly of the year settled on a rock, the better to enjoy some afternoon sun.


The first “official” butterfly of 2014. It’s only official because I saw it 🙂

Reactions to most invertebrates swing from indifference to terror. Conquer your aversion: a fascinating and complex world waits. Take an interest in butterflies and you will soon discover the unadvertised benefits. Being creatures of warmth and sunshine, you need not trouble yourself with early mornings or poor weather [spare a thought for “birders” here].

Trundling through a pleasant meadow or attractive woodland ride will be time well spent in pursuit of enlightenment. I found my first Green-veined white and Speckled wood on April 15th this year – so fairly early. All it takes is a little warmth and sunshine to bring them out of the woodwork. I’m already excited about seeing my first Dragonfly of the year…

Mull is blessed with some truly rare and wonderful invertebrates, so why not get out and introduce yourself this summer? Better still – note down what you see and pass the information on to your local recorder. Trust me, it’ll make their day!

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward