Incredibly, it has already been a month since I moved to Tiree.
The island has changed in that short time – and it has changed me.
Lamentably, not all modifications have been for the better. Living on Tiree in winter and having neatly coiffured hair seem to be mutually exclusive in my case.
It is not unusual for me to arrive at work resembling a split silage bale.
The bright sheen of enjoyment has worn off bicycles. Even on a downhill slope, one remains puce-faced and puffed as the wind propels you relentlessly backwards.
The logistical nightmare that getting into a vehicle represents (whilst holding a laptop and other sundries) is, at times, almost insurmountable.
– Unless you don’t mind having your car door ripped off, or watching your paperwork take wing and soar to freedom over the green pastures beyond.
But for all that, the wind is… refreshing somehow.
If nothing else it slows the birds down a bit so you can get a better look at them!
Birds [Lapwing pictured] always prefer to face into the wind: It gives them more lift and control.
I have become used to the seasonal cycles of Mull. The rhythms of livestock, wildlife and island visitors were familiar to me – but they are different on Tiree.
Already, there are calves and lambs bouncing about in the fields. It is amazing to see week-old cross lambs capering in 45mph+ gusts, or taking blissful naps behind little grass knolls as everything else battles to maintain a purchase on solid ground.
The sheep on Mull haven’t even been scanned yet; they are still weeks away from giving birth.
Trying to install signage in this kind of weather feels rather like being sand-blasted in a wind tunnel. Forget your expensive cosmetic treatments: Ten minutes with a post driver on Tràigh Bhàigh and I guarantee you’ll have skin that’s tighter than Madonna’s bottom.
For people who are interested in Natural History, squalls can bring a grizzly (but intriguing) bounty of dead birds and marine mammals to our shores.
Since my arrival in January, the remains of three individual common dolphins have been found. These animals were dead prior to washing up on our beaches, but still reasonably fresh.
This was the first Common Dolphin that I went out to. If animals are found, it’s always good to report them so that samples can be taken and sent away for testing. Don’t be tempted to touch them – dead marine mammals carry some seriously nasty bacteria.
It goes without saying that finding these enigmatic creatures is a sad event.
However, mourn them not: There is always something to be learned (if you have a strong stomach and a nose peg).
Steve Nagy, John Bowler and myself have taken various measurements and tissue samples from these carcasses. This information is then handed to the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme [SMASS] to help them learn more about cetacean life history, mortality, levels of pollutants in our seas and the impact of human activity on cetacean populations.[Curious? See: www.strandings.org ]
Further, the presence of these large (and dare I say tasty) carcasses serves to attract other interesting species – such as glaucous and iceland gulls, which are scarce winter visitors from the far north.
This Glaucous Gull had been feeding on the first dead dolphin; they have an uncanny ability to find carcasses.
In a couple of weeks, I will be assisting John and his flock of trusty island volunteers with the annual RSPB Beached Bird Survey [BBS].
The BBS monitors bird mortality around Britain’s coast. On a designated weekend in February, 550+ RSPB volunteers will cover almost 2,000km of coastline to search for dead birds and other indicators of environmental health – such as oil.
This Citizen Science project, which has run continuously since 1991, generates extremely important data on seabird mortality trends – helping to guide conservation efforts for a range of maritime species.
So all in all, life on Tiree is bright, breezy and rather busy at the moment.
Looking north-east from Gott on a windy day. Notice the snow on Mull’s hills beyond.
I will be attending the cattle mart on Saturday February 18th at the Tiree Rural Centre, so all are welcome to “step into my office” and say hello.
With an additional nod to the farming community: Please bear in mind that from this point onward, the number of heavily pregnant and young animals on the island will increase. Further, it will soon be time for our ground nesting birds to start raising their own families.
The presence of livestock and large numbers of breeding birds is a huge part of Tiree’s unique landscape; it’s what makes the island a beautiful and enjoyable place to be.
Indeed, crofting is the linchpin that supports Tiree’s astonishing biodiversity.
If you’re having fun with your pet, please exercise caution at this very important time of year. I would strongly advise a refresher of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (see specific advice for dog owners) which can be perused at your leisure and downloaded here:
A mixed flock of Golden Plover and Lapwing (also known as “Green Plover”) over Tràigh Bhàigh.
With my sincere thanks and kind wishes to all who follow this Blog,