Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Sunshine, Sawfly and Sharks

Sunday morning on Calgary Beach - as you can see it was mobbed. The Friends of Calgary Bay were doing some beach cleaning, and strimming/cutting thistles and we went down to help for a while before Farmer came home to watch the football. (As it turned out he should have stayed on the beach).

The machair at Calgary is flowering beautifully this summer - there have been less sheep grazing here and consequently everything has had a chance to get ahead. The Lady's Bedstraw and Wild Thyme are flourishing, in purple and pale yellow drifts. On the hill behind you can see the fence line - left of which is grazed by sheep and right of which is not.

People say we have only had 8 days rain in 6 months. We don't have a rain gauge so can only try and think back, but it certainly has been dry and calm for most of the time. Alot of the burns have run dry on the hill and we have to be careful to make sure the burns are still running in the fields where the animals are. Our cottage water supplies are holding up well, and our guests are being mindful, so we haven't been in the unfortunate situation some places have found themselves in, of having to cancel bookings as they have run out completely.

Farmer is using some of his time for routine maintenance. The wooden rails in the new fank (has it really been there for 10 years?) need treating, and he has been painting them with a mixture of used tractor oil and creosote - a pungent mixture which turns the silvered wood dark brown. It will have weathered in nicely before the next time we need to use the fank.

We are still seeing lots of Basking Sharks in between Treshnish headland and Calgary Bay, which is always a privilege. And almost every day too!

A Small White Orchid in the Haunn field. There are lots this year.

And in the veg garden, a naked gooseberry bush - victim to attack from gooseberry sawfly, which thrives in our garden. It seems to make little difference to the yield, but this leaf-less look does make it alot easier for our garden resident birds to see where the fruits are. So we battle to pick them before the birds get them!

I won't be posting for a while as it is time for a little break. Back in a couple of weeks....

Friday, 25 June 2010

Happy Cows, Basking Sharks and a fire on Coll

Farmer went to check his cows in the field below the Treshnish Cottages this afternoon. Contentedly sitting in the species rich grassland, in the bright sunlight. Just out from the boathouse rocks was a huge Basking Shark.

There have been lots of sightings over the last 10 days or so, just off shore, and easy to spot.

We could also see a fire burning on Coll. Muirburn stops mid April, so we assumed this was an accidental fire - clouds of smoke billowing above the low lying land. It looked fairly menacing.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Midsummer flowers and chicks hiding under the container

Clover is the built in nitrogen in our grassland, as we don't use artificial fertilisers.

Middle Cottage, with beachcomber treasure in front of the kitchen window. It is very peaceful and quiet down at Haunn. The corncrake has not been heard for a few days, which hopefully means they are just privately getting on with breeding.

We had important visitors today - and they were great! The Man from Butterfly Conservation Scotland and the local Recorder (moths and butterflies) came to look at our 'in bye', joined by Prasad. B C S advise on applications to the SRDP for conservation management, and we are hoping to get their support for what we do here with grazing, cutting late silage and stock numbers to encourage biodiversity particularly in relation to British Action Plan species such as Marsh Fritillaries and Burnet Moths and. It was so interesting walking round with people who really know their stuff, and great to hear that we have suitable areas for both the Marsh Frits and the rarer burnet moths.

We spent most of the day wandering through the grassland looking at different habitats, and abundant wild flowers, talking grazing regimes and stocking densities. (bliss).

I saw my first cinnabar moth - see Prasad's photograph as it is much better than mine.

Ragged Robin is popping up all over the species rich grassland we call the 'in bye'.

And below the Treshnish Cottages, near the Ensay Burn, bladder campion is flowering and also beginning to go to seed. Prasad showed us the Thyme Broomrape in the same place. Many thanks again to TP., AS., and Prasad for their input today.

Tucking in at the trough, before bed, at the end of another day, the four pet lambs are much more independent now. Brownie (Zwartble) has grown the most, followed by Bob (Cheviot cross), followed by Breeze (same) with the smallest one being Brian (Blackface).

And last but not least. The hens have won. And we were so determined not to have dozens of chicks this summer after the many broods we had last year! Probably our oldest hen (a Scots Dumpy bantam) managed to hide her eggs for 21 days, in a place there is no way we could see let alone get to. Finally we heard the cheeping of the fluffy little chicks on Midsummers Day! Now all we have to do is catch her so we can feed the chicks properly.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Orchids, roses, bacon and eggs in the sunshine at Haunn

The view from Haunn field to Calgary's turquoise waters.

Black Park - a species rich delight at the moment, looking north across clusters of vivid birds foot trefoil and pignut. There were lots of creamy white burnet roses and just this one pink one.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Fledglings, the corncrake, orchids, pignut and lambs

I saw it!! Down at Haunn, by the gate into the gardens, near East. I haven't been walking in that direction with the dogs because I hadn't wanted to disturb the corncrakes and other ground nesting birds, but it was such a beautiful morning and I wanted to photograph the burnet rose in Black Park.

So I walked one of the dogs (on a lead!) this morning, approaching the cottages, skylarks soaring and singing above my head, I heard a very loud crek-crek coming from the bank just outside the garden fence. Sat down beside the track, in the sun, waited 5 minutes before it called again and popped its head out of the long grasses and irises. My first corncrake!

We seem to have it pretty well organised now - a sociable corncrake at Haunn and a noisy one at Treshnish, so guests in either location have a good chance of seeing or hearing them!

The sparrow fledglings have been learning about fast food on the bird table in the farm house garden. Their fluffy chests puffed out make them look twice the size of the exhausted parents. We are getting through huge amounts of bird food and fat balls, trying to keep up with demand.

Farmer got all the lambs marked and was pleased with the results - more lambs from less ewes than in the last couple of years, so that is as good as it can be at this stage! The next hurdle is the price, of which we have little control if we end up going to market again. Good prices seem to depend on whether or not the dealers turn up in good moods! With transportation to Oban being a major additional cost to island farmers, we are not likely to bring them home again if we don't like the price we are offered. One of the advantages of being organic (we no longer are) was that we did the deal with the organic finisher before the lambs left home. We will try and do the same with a non organic finisher this year and avoid the uncertainty of the market ring altogether.

The herbs and salad leaves are flourishing in the polytunnel.

And outside, on the side of the track towards Haunn, there is a bank, now fenced off from stock, with an abundance of common orchid, pignut and bluebell. On the other side of the fence there is a marked difference!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Sunsets and rainbows

This week we have been bathed in glorious June sunshine, it has been warm and bright, the sky so blue. As for the sunsets....there have been some wonderful ones, and one with rainbow - when Farmer's Daughter discovered that we don't have a 'pot' at the end of the rainbow we have a curlew.

A team of engineers from Scottish and Southern Energy (who everyone still calls 'the Hydro') have been on Mull for years replacing all the old overhead electricity wires with new copper wires. They have reached our area now and so the turbine had to be turned off and padlocks put on it whilst we are on generators while they deal with the lines. Luckily it isn't that windy and we are re-connected to the copper wires next week.

Tragically the beautifully made House Martins nest fell off the wall 3 days ago, and Prasad has done some emergency cementing to the wall surface in the hope that they will try again - as they are still ignoring the new build option Terrace that Farmer put up earlier in the year. We keep our fingers crossed.

Gathering took place yesterday. Farmer, Crofter from Dervaig and Contractor walked the hill with their dogs, bringing in the ewes and lambs along the coast and across the hill ground. It is always a slow gather, with young lambs. This is when we count the lambs and give any medicine required at the time. They get a nick in the ear to show they are ours - this is an old tradition and each farm or croft has its own individual lug mark, so that locally you know whose lambs are whose. Up in the north of Scotland, around Durness, we saw branding on the lambs, a letter or a number on the fleece to show which crofter each lamb belonged to. When they all graze the same common grazing this is important to be able to easily identify your own lambs.

Farmer always does a bit of gathering on his own before the 'big gather' up onto the Sitheans to bring in the ewes hefted to that part of the hill. He came across a sight he had not seen before - a red deer fawn suckling from its mother. There are lots of fawn stories going round at the moment - the children at Ulva School observed a fawn which momentarily had its head caught in the rylock fence on the edge of the playground. Apparently it made a strange noise when it cried out for its mother.

The Treshnish corncrake is still calls from below the farmhouse, and the Haunn ones from the garden of East, Middle and West.

Friday, 4 June 2010

ESA, RSS, SRDP, a few cows and some lambs

Seedhead and flower of Marsh Marigold, wetland area, Haunn field.

In 1995 we joined the ESA Scheme (Environmentally Sensitive Area).  This entailed following a tight list of management prescriptions for the different habitats and historic sites on the farm.  For example, stock exclusion from species rich grassland for certain months in the summer, or fencing off a wooded area to allow regeneration, or delaying cutting silage or allowing stock to graze until a certain date to allow ground nesting birds to safely rear their young.  All good things come to an end though as this did for us in 2005!  The ESA was replaced by the RSS (Rural Stewardship Scheme) which involved similar principles and now we are in our last year of this scheme.  

So yesterday we had a meeting with the Man from SAC.  (SAC stands for Scottish Agricultural College, and as well as running agricultural colleges in Scotland, they are farming advisors. Our local office is in Oban and we rely on them for advice about for all sorts of farming things.)  The main agenda yesterday was to work on our application to the SRDP (Scottish Rural Development Programme) for the next 5 years of environmental management on the farm.

Maps on the kitchen table first of all, looking at the Rural Priorities for Argyll and which of the deemed important species we have here and need to nurture and protect.  This is going to be a bit of a campaign!  We need to build a picture of what species we have (enter Prasad and the ongoing log at this point) and have our plans supported by the relevant experts in each area.  Luckily for us, Prasad has been in contact with quite a few plant, fungi and bird experts over the years anyway and we are hoping they will support what we want to do.     The Hazel Gloves Fungus is one species here which is high on the list, and Prasad already has been surveying the woodland and mapping lots of different stoma, so we are a step ahead on this one!

Bluebells on a knoll in the field below the house.  Farmer and Advisor marking something on the farm map.  This particular knoll will be fenced off in the new scheme to provide early and late cover for the corncrake and other ground nesting birds.  It has to be adjacent to the grassland we cut for silage.

At the sound of Farmer's voice the cows all came over to the fence to see what was going on.

How these calves have grown.

The bottle fed lambs (Brownie, Bob, Brian and Breeze) are growing too - with Brownie taking the lead over the others.  They are still enjoying some milk twice a day, some nuts and the fresh grass in the Stack yard field next to the Studio and Shieling.   This week being Whitsun week we have lots of families staying and so the lambs have been enjoying alot of extra attention.

And in the afternoon the proof that all the paperwork and discussion behind the scenes is worthwhile.  One of our RSS projects was the restoration of the little lochan just beyond Duill.  Due to negligible rains recently this is getting a little dry, but there is plenty of mud around the edges.   We found a couple of House Martins beginning to build a nest on the steading.   They are using the mud from the pond, flying off to collect it in their beaks, returning, one by one, to add a little more to the nest wall (to the left of the tail in the poor quality photo above).  The irony is that Farmer put up a nice House Martin Terrace 10 feet from where they have chosen to nest - underneath the sliding door cover!    When we came home last night about 10pm, they were clinging on to the small ledge they had built in the previous few hours, quietly at roost.
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