Thursday, 25 August 2011

You can't hear the bees, but there were lots of them buzzing around.

Sometimes you have to ignore the paperwork. So I did this afternoon, and went to photograph Field Gentian in the sun. It was blissful down in Scoma field, near the Haunn Cottages. I ended up photographing Devil's Bit Scabious too, and the lovely wetland end of the Natural Regeneration woodland area. Views out to Rum, Coll, Muck, Skye, Canna, Eigg and back in towards Calgary Beach.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Small steps and wild flowers

After a quick trip to Tobermory this morning and some lovely fresh Tobermory Bakery rolls for lunch, filled with Mull Cheese, Farmer donned his crutches and we headed west with the dogs. Tig (see photo below) had her first experience this week of dog grooming. No one has quite got used to her tight fleece!

This Cinnabar Moth caterpillar was found on a bit of Ragwort which Farmer had picked. The strikingly stripy caterpillar on this frond of Ragwort was carefully re-located to some other Ragwort plants growing in a stockproof area, giving the caterpillar a good supply of food!

I have been back several times during sunny spells this week to see if there were more Field Gentian flowering. I took this photo yesterday morning.

By the time we had got home Farmer's pockets were full of Ragwort picked on his crutch aided wander. (No date for the operation yet). It is very important to strike a balance - providing food for Cinnabar Moth but not allowing too much Ragwort to go to seed. The last thing we want is dead Ragwort in our silage.

Angelica is still flowering. Love the variation in stage on the one plant, the faint white blossom on some heads, whilst other have moved into the deep purple seedhead stage. This plant had a great curl.

St John's Wort beautiful next to the Heather.

This Birch seedling has self seeded in the Black Park. There is lots of grass, and we will let the cows in here soon - though we are waiting for the breezy carpets of Devil's Bit Scabious and Knapweed go over first. No sheep in here until October.

Looking from the north side of Black Park back towards Calgary Beach. We have been told we are in second place in the RSPB Nature of Farming Awards, with only a handful of votes between us and the leading farmer. It is very humbling to have received so much support, so many votes, not only from our families, friends and neighbours but tremendous support from perfect strangers, and that is a wonderful feeling. If you want to vote there is still time. Click here!

It is sometimes the small and common flower like this Eyebright that catches the eye. The detail in the marking....lovely when all the other plants around it were far paler. We sat looking at the view: myself lost in flower photograph compositions and Farmer looking at the march of the bracken, longing for next year when hopefully conditions will be better and he can get the precious stone dyke habitats sprayed - the storms at the end of May this year put paid to aerial spraying this year. Black Park is still inspiringly beautiful as the flowers move into a later summer appearance - purple Knapweed, yellows of Hawksbit and the blues of Devil's Bit Scabious, amongst creamy Meadowsweet.

Our 6 kW turbine was fixed last week. The engineers arrived with a machine to aid winching the turbine down. In this photograph the gentle lean shown by the turbine is not wind damage, but the motorised winch beginning to bring her down. Must be alot easier using a generator and motor than doing it by hand!

Here you can see the end of the spring, dangling top left corner of the photo - gives you an idea of the length of the spring that had sheared off and embedded itself in the ground! Much to our relief all 3 sets of springs were replaced - and off she goes again. It is like having our old friend back - looking out from the kitchen to see the blades turning again. Noticing the blades turning when the wind gets up. A stationary turbine is no friend at all!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Hundreds and hundreds of them. Awe-inspiring.

There are areas of Skoma field, near Haunn, with literally hundreds of Field Gentian. We have found one or two or a few more before, but never in the incredible number that Prasad found yesterday. Field Gentian are on the Threatened Species list. They open their sky blue flower when the sun warms them up. It had been raining hard today so they were tightly furled when I first got there. This field has not been grazed for several months and the Field Gentian are growing where the sheep love to sit! (and munch).

The grazing regime is paying off. Devils Bit Scabious flowering in fluttery carpets, blue heads dangling and swaying in the breeze, like a wild sketch of blue dots hovering above the grasses. This is an essential plant for the survival of the Marsh Fritillary as they feed on the leaves of the Scabious in March. In March there was no sign of this abundance, which tonight was really awe-inspiring.

I feel so lucky having spent an hour in the late afternoon early evening, wandering through these 2 magical sights.

We have been told that the voting is pretty close in the RSPB Nature of Farming Awards, and we are very touched by the response from past guests, friends, neighbours, islanders, people we don't know, and everyone else who has been supporting us, and asking everyone they know to vote. Having said that.. please keep up the good work!! It is not over yet! (And again, thank you.) This is the link to the RSPB website where you can vote.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Days out before holidays end.

No chance for a Tunnocks tea cake at Crinan - by the time we got there tea room was closed.

Friday was the last chance for a family day out before the school holidays end, and we had a meeting in Oban first thing. So it seemed like a good idea to pickup an Artmap Argyll map and head out into deepest Argyll to look at some open studios.

Took a wrong turn up a side street in Kilmartin and found this rusting safe lying on the ground. It brought to mind the contrast between back lanes in Argyll compared to looted streets in London. In fact I was surprised that anyone would have had need of a safe here.

On our way back to Oban from Lochgilphead we took the turning up Kilmichael Glen. What a wonderful detour. Lots of tin sheds but no time to stop this time. This caravan beside the covered cattle crush, number 32. Gates to open and close across the potholey single track road. Wondering if it really was alright to be driving that way. Just after this gate stop, we passed an elderly farmer coated and hooded, walking his dogs - he smiled and waved as we went past.

Loch na Keal last evening on our way home from Tiroran gallery opening.

Treshnish heather where the sheep do not graze.

Prasad found huge numbers of field gentian today on a new site. I am hoping it stays dry long enough to photograph them tomorrow.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Another Salen Show

I dont know how many inches of rain fell on Mull yesterday, but the burns roared, puddles filled, drains overflowed, and a neighbours house narrowly avoided being flooded by the river in spate, and everyone thought what unfortunate weather for the Salen Show the next day.

But this morning, it was drier and so the annual Show went on. Farmer looked after the Sciatica by filling a skip (?) as opposed to standing around all day chatting. (He finally got rid of the coin-op gas fired tumble drier we bought in 1996 from a boatyard on the Ross of Mull, which had become a bit of a fire hazard as well as an old gas cooker that we had kept for the 'just in case', but couldn't re-use because it is no longer legal). Daughter and I left him to it, and went off to share a picnic with cousins at lunchtime and consequently went a little too late to the Show.

Definitely missed most of the excitement though I did find myself taking part in one round of the Tug of War. NEVER before have I done anything so rash, and our end didn't win - my once in a lifetime shot.

At the end of the busy day we had mostly missed, we noticed crowds of footprints treading on footprints in the muddy grooves of livestock vehicle tracks; burger stalls packing up; bins filled with recycling; animals and humans wearing rosettes of all shapes and colours; chatting and greeting; buckets of stock showing equipment; empty cans; landrovers and pickups driving onto the show-field to retrieve their animals.

Debby and Dave on the RSPB stand got rid of all the voting slips for the Nature of Farming Awards. And apparently before we got there we were mentioned over the tannoy - very glad we were late and missed it.

All that goes on, against the back drop of the tide coming in and going out. By the time we circumnavigated this puddle on the way to the car, the tide was in again.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Coconuts and communities

The USCA Fete.

Setting up Saturday.

Open for business in the Tea Tent.

USCA information.

Scarecrows watch it all.

Car park nearly full.

More crows.

Showcasing local salmon and beef.

Tug of War.

Mr Froggle.

More tugs.

Farmer's Coconut Shy.

Looking down on the field.

USCA Tea Tent.

USCA Produce Table raised over £300.

Runners return from Dun Mor Hill Race.

Bert Leitch, and Ronnie Campbell (who travelled all the way from Bunessan to do the Auction).

Finally, the day we had been planning for months was here. Teams of people from within and outwith the small Ulva School community came together to prepare, cook, bake, build, transport, to do whatever needed doing. And on the day, hundreds of island folk and visitors came along to enjoy the day. The atmosphere was really special, the coming together of lots of people for a common cause. There were so many things going on throughout the afternoon and evening, I don't know where to begin. First ever 'Prattley Competition', Hill Run up Dun Mor, sheep shearing competition; Tug of War; demonstrations of Mull Cheese making, spinning, bodging, wood carving; scarecrow making competition; coconut shy; face painting; tapestry; so many teas and cakes served; poike pots cooking stews and curry; fish filleted and barbequed; and later on songs sung, and tunes danced as rain started to fall on the marquee rooves. And people began to feel tired.

Late the night before the Fete, I wrote a timeline to relate the sequence of events that led up to the formation of USCA. Looking back on the dark days of last autumn and winter when the school was under threat of closure brought back all the despair of that time, and to get to the present day to the place we are in now is such a delightful contrast. It only goes to show. When individuals come and work together, great and unexpected things can happen!

USCA is on facebook.

Life returns to normality. Farmer's back still a bit raw and no sign of an operation date yet. Cottages are busy and guests enjoying the good weather and wildlife.

The lovely blue of scabious.

Jan and Cap cool off. They have just moved the sheep out from the hill park back on to the hill.

Last week Iain Thomson (AKA The Singing Shepherd) came to our rescue to shear our sheep. A team gathered together by the Contractors had the whole flock sheared, fleeces rolled and bags sown up in one go. The atmosphere in the shed was calm as Iain and Jim quietly handled the ewes, slowly and steadily working their way through the pens and pens of waiting ewes. It is obviously back-breaking work but they worked through and got it all done. The 'sciatic Farmer' was banned from helping. We are very grateful to them all for their considerable help.

We are racing through the summer now. Looking at schools going back next week. Still time to vote in the RSPB Nature of Farming Awards.
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