Each day is different on this enchanting little isle and is packed full of its own hitches, delights and adventures to which some will be forever engrained into my memories. Being an avid birder, I have been truly blessed since my arrival on Eigg. So far I have been treated to countless pictorial and auditory delights such as the departing of some of the islands over-wintering birds like the revering redwing, as well as a dotting of passing vagrants like Icelandic gulls and the odd brambling.
I have also been lucky enough to observe masses of migratory pink-footed geese, honking near deafeningly as they moved in their tell tail 'v'-like formations to their breeding grounds in the north. Additionally, as I write this post the islands breeding migrants such as cuckoos, grasshopper warblers, common sandpipers and willow warblers have all established themselves, filling every scrub and burn with the energy of spring. It is not all feathers however, my excitement for the summer has grown this week with the emergence of the first of the frog orchids on the islands western shores and wafts of peacock, small heath and green veined white butterflies which can now be seen fluttering through the lowlands.
My highlights so far have been watching the powerful and majestic golden eagles soaring high upon the cliff tops, watching one of Eigg's elusive otters navigating through the exposed kelp forests in search of a fishy breakfast, looking after an injured short-eared owl for the best part of a week, and the presence of a pair of hen harriers hunting through roughage around my abode. It is still early days though, with much excitement still to be had as some of the islands breeding birds have yet to arrive and the fields are still rather devoid of the aroma and bloom of wildflowers. Furthermore, I am still yet to catch sight of some of Eigg's other mysterious offshore visitors like minke whales and basking sharks, but I have high hopes for the next few weeks as the seas start to gradually warm.
Another part of Eigg enchantment is its climate. On some lucky periods I can be treated to what seems to be all four seasons in the span of a day. The rains of early April to which I was welcomed eventually gave way to some truly lovely but chilly spells. Then, as if we had fast forwarded eight months, continuous carpets of unpredicted snow fell overnight, turning Eigg into a wonderful wintery wonderland. This came as quite a surprise as I had been told it hasn't snowed to any sort of degree on the isle for 20 odd years! Although the snow provided some truly awe inspiring scenery, there was a dark side to it all, namely the nesting failure of some of our ground nesting birds such as lapwings and ringed plovers. All is not lost though, because just as soon as the snow arrived it quickly vanished, giving way to some truly gorgeous heat and sunshine. Now the breeding season seems well and truly back on track with many of the ground nesting birds either displaying or back on eggs. Only time will tell how much of an effect this brief snow spell has had on their overall productivity!
Other than my daily wildlife monitoring adventures, I have also been taking kids from the Wildlife Watch club down to the shore, to help provide an alternate perspective of life on the coast and the daily challenges that wildlife faces there on a daily basis. Here, I tried to present an insight into the identification of some of the islands shorebirds, marine algae and other creepy critters before been nearly frozen solid by some harsh and unforeseen gales from the North! Despite a number of highly mobile games and activities, there were a few wee pinched cheeks going blue, which resulted in our retirement to the tea room with our finds in hand and bucket. The kids seemed to really enjoy the experience and are now recalling tails of gelatinous seaweeds and gritty sand mason worms which they are now finding elsewhere on the island. It has been a great pleasure teaching these enthusiastic and endearing students and I am thoroughly looking forward to the next day out, Wildlife in the Woodland!
The guided wildlife walks have also been stellar as of late, with each weekly gathering being treated to some of the best wildlife Eigg has to offer! Already we have had some truly unforgettable and jaw-dropping encounters, for example white-tailed eagles flying close overhead and playful otters seemly loving life in the shallows of Kildonnan Bay. If you find yourself on the isle this summer, why not join me on a walk – who knows what delights could be in store!
Although my time here has been brief, I've already succumb to the magic of Eigg, a spell of which I can tell will be very hard to break at the end of my seasonal post here.
Stay tuned for some more cracking Eigg Wildlife News! (darn it, thought I would get through this without any Eiggy puns)
by Dean Jones, Isle of Eigg Ranger