Having spent 2 seasons on the idyllic Isle of Islay, I arrived on the Mull of Galloway not knowing what to expect, my first visit to Dumfries and Galloway and only the second region in which I have worked for the RSPB. Whilst on Islay, I embarked on a passionate love/hate relationship with The Oa. Just to reassure you, as time ticked on, it tended to love more than hate, because the more time you spend with The Oa, the more it rewards you with fantastic weather, views, wildlife including feral goats (or is that shoats or geeps…? I never did get to finish my research on that topic) and never forgetting Davie Laing’s award-winning highland coos. Arriving in April, my first impressions of the reserve on the Mull was: “This is like The Oa on Islay… only smaller and minus the highlanders and goats… but just as windy, wet and foggy…… a ‘mini Oa’ where the weather can be just as ferocious”.
Mull of Galloway - Dave Maynard
Unlike The Oa, the Mull of Galloway reserve is small, compact and therefore presents a wonderfully diverse world of wildlife, right at your feet. It is also my first reserve where sea birds are centre stage at this time of year, together with April’s returning migratory passerine species – whitethroat, blackcap, chiffchaff (going ‘chiffchaff’), sedge- and willow warblers and as well as fieldfare, ring ouzel and reed buntings, and amongst the gorse bushes, sightings of yellowhammers, all passing through, sometimes spending a few hours on the reserve, sometimes over-nighting before moving on to more suitable breeding habitats, like the common redpoll, after an absence of 4 years, spotted at the bird feeder together with more regular visitors, 30 goldfinch and a white wagtail. The cliffs on the Mull provide good breeding habitat for the sea birds mentioned earlier: shag, razorbills, guillemots, fulmar as well as herring gulls – with cameras located below the foghorn, enabling visitors to the Visitor Centre to follow the antics of some of these birds on TV screens. The reserve has its own ‘mini-gannetry’ too, where 2500 pairs of breeding gannets, returning from Senegal, Africa, breed on ‘Big Scar’, which glistens white in the midday sun, 4 miles off Lagvag point.
With the first sightings of swallows, swifts and house martins, summer was imminent, borne out by record breaking temperatures and sunshine in the UK for the bank holiday weekend, in early May. On the Mull, however, it was a different story. You may be familiar with the classic photographs of Table Mountain, bedecked by a layer of cloud, the ‘table cloth’ draped over the flat-topped mountain.… well, on the Mull we were enveloped in fog, not just blanketed, but a veritable 25 TOG duvet of mist. For 3 days, the chances of bumping into the lighthouse were more likely than seeing it. The fog was to our advantage though, as it played into our hands for an authentic demonstration of the Mull of Galloway foghorn, restored to working order, with its blast of sound, eerie, gut wrenching and nostalgic (not unlike the 130 decibel singing of huge seal, if one’s imagination can stretch that far) resonating through the murk after a 30 year silent dormancy. It scared the living daylights out of me the first time I experienced it, not to mention the kittiwake who, over the subsequent weeks, have become less spooked by the wall of sound that advances across the sea and fades away into the distance on each of the Sunday demonstrations. These have now been stopped for the next couple of months whilst the cliff-nesting sea birds lay their eggs and rear their young. I also breathe a sigh of relief!
Lichens and English Stonecrop - Dave Maynard
Mid-May, and a week away travelling to and from The Mull and Edinburgh with visiting family, I returned to a sun-drenched reserve that had exploded with colour: spring squill, sea campion, common scurvy grass, buttercup, tormentil and lesser celandine, only in the smallest evidence before my absence, had all thrust their flowers into full view - not just along the cliffs, but on the cliffs as well, and together with the mosaic of lichens on the rocks and stone walls next to the paths, provided a kaleidoscope of colour that only a month previously I could not have imagined.
Dave Maynard - Community Engagement Officer
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