Slender Scotch Burnet Moths on Ulva

wildlife

Ulva is home to many native species of wildlife, on land and in the waters around it. The animals and plants you see on a visit to Ulva will depend upon three things: the time of year, your powers of observation and pure luck.

mammals

Red deer, mountain hares, the occasional sea otter, stoat or hedgehog might be spotted at any season. A researcher from Leeds University studying the habits of otters managed to see them every evening for six weeks in the summer of 1986 along the south shore of Ulva. There are no foxes on Ulva and although the Vikings may have seen wolves (naming the island ‘Ullfur’ or ‘Wolf Island’) there have been none around lately. Atlantic grey seals may be seen at any time of year. Some especially good places to find them are: the reefs just beyond Starvation Point, the bay near the old cruck mill and the reefs between Ulva and Gometra that you see from the Viking fort at Dun Ban.

cetaceans

The water around Ulva, Mull, and the Inner Hebrides are renowned for their sightings of dolphins, porpoises and whales. Ulva offers many good vantage points over the open sea from which to watch for cetaceans, including harbour porpoises and bottle-nose dolphins. To increase your chances of seeing these creatures, take advantage of the boat trips available from Ulva Ferry on board Turus Mara. These trips to Staffa and the Treshnish Isles are a magical way to get to see the landscape and wildlife of the area from a unique angle. There is more information about sightings in the area from the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, based in Tobermory. Whale Bay on Ulva faces into the prevailing wind, and is often the resting place of interesting flotsam and jetsam. In 1966 a pilot whale was found washed ashore here and another in 1987.  More recently in 1991 two sperm whales were washed up. In 1722 a large whale cast ashore here made history when nine members of the MacQuarrie clan and 17 others from all over Ulva were charged in the Admiralty Court at Inverary for theft of the valuable spermaceti whale oil. Finders were not keepers when beachcombing in those days.

wild flowers

Botanists can have a field day on Ulva – literally. There is such a variety of plant habitats here from dark, cool, damp gully walls to high, exposed, tundra like conditions, with all gradients between, from fertile, well drained crop land to peat bogs. Rare wild orchids aren’t rare on Ulva. Grass of Parnassus sparkles in boggy places and there are enough carnivorous plants to make you wonder how the midges survive. Throughout the spring and summer there are a huge selection of wild flower species to see, and the native woodlands provides home to many lichens, ferns and mosses as well.

birds

Ulva’s woodlands, shores and open moors make it an ideal place for bird watching. The Visitors Guide to Ulva  lists the 123 bird species currently recorded on the island. The wide variety of species seen reflects the variety of habitats to be found on the island. Bird activity is intense throughout the year. There are exciting seasonal events – the coming of the terns to the small islands south of Ulva to breed, the puffins in the waters west and north of Ulva in early summer, the occasional cry of the corn crake. Herons nest in the beech woods beyond the Hill Steadings. Shags raise their babies in slovenly looking and bad smelling nests in the ravines on the south shore. Not far from them, on Castile Mor, a family of ravens speak in deep voices. They leave home when spring gives way to summer. Oyster catchers gossip as they pace the sharp spine of a reef and eider ducks respond in scandalized tones. On a lucky day, you’ll look up and find a sea eagle soaring above you. Any day you’ll see hooded crows and buzzards. Further information about birds on Mull and the surrounding area can be found on the Isle of Mull Bird Club website.

butterflies and moths

The local butterflies, moths and their caterpillars are a welcome addition to the wildlife here on Ulva. From April through until October there are butterflies on the wing, including at various times marsh fritillary, grayling, speckled wood and red admiral. However on Ulva it is the moths that really steal the show. The Slender Scotch Burnet is rare in the UK, found only on a handful of sites on Mull and Ulva. This striking red and black day-flying moth depends upon the Common Bird’s-foot Trefoil that its caterpillars feed on, and on the slopes of basalt scree found on Ulva. Recent conservation work carried out on Ulva by Butterfly Conservation Scotland has helped to improve the local habitats for these critical species. Ulva also provides the perfect habitat for Marsh Fritillary butterflies, and their unusual caterpillars that can be seen basking in their webs during the late summer.

other species

You may see a frog or toad, or, if you are very observant, a slow worm. If you are very sharp-eyed and very lucky, you might see one of Ulva’s two rare species, the Keeled Skimmer dragonfly (Orthetrum coerulescens) or the Slender Scotch Burnet Moth.