Sunday, 30 May 2010

Farmer walks from Lochaline to Cape Wrath

Farmer's walkabout ended today and soon he will be back on duty looking after his animals and back to that never ending list of chores!   Here he is at Cape Wrath on Sunday 30th May, having left Lochaline two weeks before.  He started out in sunshine and finished in sunshine - but it seemed that Treshnish and Mull obviously had the best of the weather over the last 2 weeks, as he had wet feet ( most of the time.

Daughter wants you to spot the oystercatcher, seen as we landed back at Keodale.

Walkabout, chores and corncrake

Ferns are unfurling in lots of different shapes and sizes, beautiful heads uncurling and last years fronds dying back into the soil now.  Unfortunately the bracken is also coming up, in ever increasing places.  Farmer has been 'walkabout', taking a well earned break from day to day Treshnish life and all that entails.  This has left Daughter and Self to take charge of the chores with the help of Local Sheep Contractor who looked after the well-being of cows and sheep.  

With the warmer weather the heating system at Treshnish has used alot less wood-chip, but the boiler  needs some TLC every now and then - the level of chip needs to be checked, visible slithers taken out where possible, ash bins emptied and a daily walk past to make sure everything is as it should be.   Sometimes the Fall Chute Cover Opens and you have to stop the boiler, turn it all off safely and investigate.  It happened earlier in the week but thankfully the blockage was easily cleared without needing to call the engineer for help.

The corncrake is still around, audibly and visibly!  This is great news and proof that the conservation measures we take really are creating suitable habitats for them. The Haunn corncrake has been entertaining guests in the garden of East, Middle and West this week and showed no fear when the strimming was done either!

We often have strong winds at this time of year and lose the apple blossom.  It hasn't happened yet and I am enjoying their colour.  Gooseberry sawfly have hatched though - my annual problem in the veg garden.

The Recycling Shed has come into its own now - a collection point for recycling glass and plastic bottles, batteries, used light bulbs, jam jars, tins and cans, paper and cardboard and raw vegetable waste which we use to make compost for the veg garden.  Cyclists can store their bikes here and we have a supply of logs and kindling for sale.

Making up the milk for the bottle fed lambs has become more part time, they are only fed twice a day now, though three of them (all bar Breeze) baa loudly still whenever they see anyone going past despite having plenty of grass and a trough full of nuts to nibble at.  For some reason Breeze refuses to improve her bottle technique but she is first in the queue when the trough is filled up so there are no concerns there!

Sunday, 23 May 2010

A guddle of hens, Bob and Breeze

I am not even sure how you spell guddle, but if there ever was one, this was one.  It has been hot and muggy today, overcast but still bright, air very still and silent but for swallows calling as they swoop into the yard and out again, distant call of lambs in the field below the house, and the chitter chatter of sparrows and finches on the bird table.   The clumps of montbretia against the farmhouse wall provide perfect dusting baths for the hens but I have never seen them in such a tight ball of everyone's feathers before.  All together, in a hot heap, sunning themselves, dust-bathing, pecking at the lush grasses, rolling and turning over in the soil underneath the montbretia foliage.

Bob has now got the message about the bottle feeding and baas whenever we appear.  He cannot drink fast enough.  Breeze is a little slower to learn, but she was more poorly when they came in, so it is not surprising I suppose.  She is taking some milk but she tends to chew the teat rather than sook!   Both are penned off in a corner of the field shelter, with hay, nuts and water.  We need to keep them indoors until we are sure they will both come running for the bottle once we let them out!  You can usually tell a bottle fed lamb as they baa as soon as they hear human voices.

Last afternoon as guests arrived for Shian we noticed a lamb baa-ing in a field where it shouldn't have been, with its mother steadfastly ignoring the call in a neighbouring field. Intervention was called for, and we managed to re-unite them fairly easily without a dog.  On our way back we stopped to see how the tadpoles were getting on in the lochan beside Duill.  We found none, and the level of water in the lochan was quite low - there has been so little rain.  In the process of looking about at the water margin, we disturbed a female mallard which clumsily flew across to the other side of the lochan, leaving behind her a fluffy raft of ducklings.  We made a hasty retreat so she could get back to them.

Late afternoon sunlight in the wood walking the dogs, with almost monochrome glinting silvery light on the sea towards the Headland.

Lots of sightings of the corncrake near Toechtamhor at Haunn which is exciting.  We hope that dog owners will be extra careful when they are either staying here or walking through the farm, keeping their dogs under control when they are out walking so they don't disturb them, and the other ground nesting birds benefiting from the species rich grassland at Haunn.  We have put an Outdoor Access Code sign up in the yard notifying path users that there are ground nesting birds, and hope that everyone will take heed.  It would be wonderful if they managed to safely breed.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Tourism matters, corncrakes and a day out on Morvern

This glowing roundel of spring green beech is on the side of the Sound of Mull, on the way down from Drimnin to Lochaline.

It has been a week of excitement on the wildlife front.   Those who follow Prasad's birdlog will know there have been a few sightings of the elusive corncrake this last few days and we are hoping they stay put and breed - this would be a perfect conclusion for our last summer of the Rural Stewardship scheme.  

During one of our first summers here we had our initial experience of corncrakes.  We didn't see them but we enjoyed being kept awake at night by their calling in the field below the farmhouse.  

During the time those corncrakes were here, way back then, we earned some extra money by having two scenes for an Ikea advert filmed here.  Money for old rope we thought, but by the end of the day of filming, we felt as if we had earned every penny, as the crew completely invaded our home and our lives, asking for this, demanding that.  

One scene was filmed outside the Treshnish Old Schoolhouse (which had been transformed into a northern European cottage, with plastic roses round a plastic porch tiled in red plastic tiles).  A postman was to be filmed being bitten by a dog and defending himself using an Ikea chair.  In the event the actor-dog would not attack the postman as commanded!   

The second scene was of a boy cycling through the field below the house, through long grass, and something happened with another Ikea chair but all I can remember of this scene was that the corncrake was calling every now and then in the background, quite loudly, which disturbed the filming much to the irritation of the Director and to the amusement of all of us.  We didn't ever see the Ikea advert as it was made for the northern European market, but we certainly felt the corncrake had the last laugh!

We have 2 new orphan lambs today.  Think they are to be named Bob and Breeze - though this may change.  Brownie and Brian had moved into the deluxe Stack yard hotel next to the veg garden and they seemed very content.  Today they have been joined by the newcomers.   When we left them after the evening feed tonight, the two pairs of lambs were eyeing each other up across the Stack yard, a real sheep us and them scenario.

Apple blossom - usually towards the end of May we have some string winds which comes through especially to strip the blossom from our precious, wind-gnarled apple trees. And tonight it is suddenly very windy.

We had the Green Tourism Business Scheme inspection yesterday.  There is a daunting amount of paperwork and monitoring involved in this nowadays, but I am reluctantly realising that monitoring is a really good thing for focusing the mind, giving us a baseline from which to move, encouraging change and improvement.  In addition to the monitoring we already do, now we have the new Recycling Shed, I am going to attempt to start monitoring how much we send to landfill and how much goes to be recycled.   After nearly 2 hours of pen pushing and discussion, we went out for a look around, I showed him the Laundry, the wood-chip boiler and a cottage or two.  Hopefully we will have kept our Gold Award.

And today I went to a Sustainable Tourism event in Oban held by Visit Scotland.  The idea behind these events is to encourage tourism businesses to become more sustainable - but not just through things like energy savings or adopting renewables, but through 'community engagement' and 'waste awareness'.   I had agreed to giving a short presentation (my first, probably my last, and in all a very amateurish presentation) about what we do as a sustainable tourism business.  Afterwards I walked back along the sunny Oban sea front muttering to myself about what I should have said but hadn't. (which was quite alot)!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Hail and shine

Lambs lie together in old tyre tracks or shallow dried up burns, catching the warm of the sun but out of the wind which is bitter today.  (This is Brownie, above) The sun is so bright but it is still very cold.   

In our corner of the island everything is a little behind, so a trip out today in the car to Dervaig and our fantastic village Post Office to post some parcels and do some shopping, was a good way of seeing how spring is progressing elsewhere.  The beech woods at Calgary are almost luminous with the sun casting its contrast between the dark shadows and the brightness of fresh young leaves unfurling.  

This can seem like a cruel time of year - the sun is shining but the grass is still slow to grow.   At a time when the ewes need to recover their strength after a winter pregnancy and provide a good supply of milk for their lambs, there is still a way to go before we reach the abundant grass stage!

Resting fields allows it to recover and we do that here and there in accordance with our 'open grazed grassland' management, this enables the grass to grow and along with it the flourishing of herb rich flowers, and provides a safe haven for ground nesting birds at the same time.
Sunset from farmhouse garden, through sycamore leaves.

The cows seem to have settled into their new groups and found their new order.   Soon the large group of cows and their calves, along with the bull, will come into the 'Field beyond Haunn' and graze the fresh spring grass we have been saving for them.  This means for anyone wanting to walk a dog along the coast path, they will meet a sign reminding them that it is not permitted to walk a dog through young stock, and that they should find an alternative route.  (in this case it means skirting along the outside of the field, going through the deer gate by the cottages, walking above the deer fence and coming back to the track or path on the other side of the field).  

Some regular guests of ours sent us a lovely email yesterday about how much they had enjoyed the 2 different holidays they had had at Haunn recently (one at Easter and the second just last week).  They usually expect to see otters at Port Haunn but on their last visit they didn't see them there. However they did have a wonderful sighting at Calgary.  In AB's words:  "On our visit at Easter we spent well over an hour watching 2 otters (mum and teenage cub?) in Calgary Bay.  One was busy catching fish while the other rolled about in the water, floated on its back and generally messed about, suggesting teenager to me!  They eventually climbed out of the water, groomed each other for about ten minutes then curled up under a rock and went to sleep." What a memorable sight.
Brownie and Brian now have a trough in their pen with some lamb nuts in it - time to tempt them onto
solid food. As it is whenever he gets the chance Brian tries to eat stones. They are growing, becoming more adventurous.

And the trees continue to burst forth in so many hues of spring colour - not all of them green. Pictured 
above, oaks on the road between Treshnish and Torloisk - and below, near the Eas Fors waterfall - ash 
tree flowers. A shower of hail as I took this photograph!

For more photos of the light and the trees look at

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Case studies and animal behaviour

Richard from On Site Generation Ltd emailed me today to tell me that we have been included in a Energy Savings Trust Case Study re planning issues for wind turbines.   Their website is a useful information source for renewables and energy saving ideas, and if you are thinking of putting up a turbine their Planning Pack could be very helpful.

Calgary Beach on an early spring afternoon.

Changes afoot with the cows...The bull came home on Sunday from his stay at Killiechronan with the dairy heifers. Farmer took him out onto the hill above Toechtamhor to join the cows and this years calves.  We have 2 lots of heifers - the older ones (now 2 years old) are called 'bulling heifers', which means they are old enough to breed from - so they have joined the grown ups.   The younger ones (born last year) are with the 2 older cows who won't go to the bull this season.  Now these 2 older cows were the dominant females, and the rest of the herd are left to adapt and form a new order.   Usually the cows will range over the gentle slopes above the Haunn Cottages - enjoying the young grasses coming in sheltered places, but always within range of the feeding station in case Farmer arrives with some additional ration.  At the moment however, they are over by the hill park fence as they seem to know the others are within hearing distance - calling out to them.  It will take a few days before the new order shakes into place.    The younger heifers and older cows will go to the graveyard field once the grass comes on a bit.  There are straight rows of daffodils in this field, left over from a scheme in the 1970's called the Hebridean Bulb Venture.

And lambs.  Lots of lambs.  Brownie and Brian seem always to be hungry and call out to anyone who walks past their pen, made of recycled pallets.  Brownie dances when he is drinking - as above.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

A rare visitor to the garden

The larger bird to the left of the one of the Treshnish hanging feeder is a female Hawfinch.   We noticed her whilst enjoying a sunny lunchtime yesterday.  They are quite unusual here - according to Prasad (see his blog), only 14 records in Argyll since 1953.  But there was one seen last year at Calgary so perhaps it is the same bird.  There have been a pair of Goldfinches on the table as well and they are so pretty.

Lambing continues. Luckily no more orphans to date.  Little Bill and his new mother are still indoors. She is a gimmer and takes fright whenever Farmer goes near, so it is difficult to see how they are really bonding but he doesn't bleat as he might have, had he been hungry - so fingers crossed all is well there.   Cold weather is forecast for the weekend, which will be a bit of a shock for the newborn lambs after yesterdays warm day.

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