It’s been an exciting day at the cottage – we’ve had runners pounding by on the road – striding out to complete the Tiree 10k and Half Marathon. Full of purpose and determination they passed us twice – once on the way down to Hynish then on the way back. There were smiles and waves and everyone looked very relaxed. It was bright and breezy – perfect for a run and even better for those of us who chose the tough option of spectating!
In May we often get amazing days when the sun strikes across the beach with stunning effect. The sand, rocks, sea and sky display a vibrancy that pulls you back to childhood and to those long summer days when everything seemed to shimmer with light and colour. This little corner amongst the rocks, just below the cottage, is a favourite spot when family visit and we light beach fires and toast marshmallows in the evenings. As we sit and stare into the flames we share memories of summers past and make new ones to be remembered in the summers to come.
Yes – after an absence of six months – we’ve got Corncrake on the island again. Calling males are making their presence felt on the headland by the cottage and in the fields to the west. Because of their abrupt departure in autumn and their sudden arrival in the spring – and their preference for leaving and arriving in the dark – tradition on the island was that these elusive birds hibernated underground in the winter – only emerging in the warmer weather of spring. We now know that, amazingly, young from the first brood head south to their wintering grounds in West Africa as soon as they are fit enough to leave Tiree. Heading south alone on a journey they have never been on before, they cross oceans and deserts to reach lush grasslands in West Africa. Geo-locater studies have revealed that later in the winter, Scottish birds all then cross over the Congo rainforest to spend the mid-winter period in grasslands on the eastern side of the forest. They then seem to head back to West Africa once again before heading north to Scotland in spring. All of this seems quite remarkable for a bird that would rather run across a Tiree road than fly!
After a week of glorious weather, when each successive day has been calm and warm, today has been wild – with winds gusting over 40 mph. It’s been a bit nail-biting because today was to be our first change-over day, and our cottage guests were due to leave on the ferry this morning. Thankfully, all went well and our guests were able to leave on time. Our new guests have arrived and seem unshaken by the ‘lumpy’ crossing. Hopefully, the weather will settle and we’ll return to calmer waters.
The landscape of Tiree has been described as a ‘vivid frontier of land, sea and sky’ – and on a day like today you can begin to appreciate the perfect balance of these three visual elements. This beautiful island – twenty-two miles west of the nearest point on the Scottish mainland, and at the same latitude as southern Alaska and the same longitude as the border between Spain and Portugal, can be the perfect place to re-charge and re-create. We may only be the twentieth largest island in the UK but we punch well above our weight as a destination for relaxing reflection.
So, this is March. We’re in the waiting room – we’re on pause – everything seems to solidify in amber. Time seems to stop and life seems somewhat inadequate. “Never make life decisions in March, wait it out.” an old friend once told me. I understand that now. This time of year seems to create anticipation and impatience in equal measure – a burden caused by lack of progress. We keep getting glimpses of new life. I guess there’s nothing to do but wait it out!
The great yellow bumblebee (GYBB) is creating quite a buzz on the island.
It’s one of the UK’s rarest bumblebees and its distribution has declined by 80% in the last century. The cause of its decline is most likely due to agricultural intensification and the subsequent loss of clover-rich flower meadows. Tiree’s expanses of machair, which includes a variety of clover and clover-like flowers, make an important refuge for this enigmatic bee, but even here, the species appears to be struggling.
Bumblebee surveys conducted by the Tiree Great Yellow Bumblebee Project from mid-May to the end of September revealed some astonishing results. They recorded 105 GYBB over the summer of 2017, and a whacking great 370 in 2018. Until then no-one had realised just how important Tiree was for the species.
Tiree homes are scattered throughout the island, usually within bee’s-reach of GYBB nesting and hibernating habitat, making their gardens ideal for creating a ‘mini-machair’ network. In total, Tiree Great Yellow Bumblebee Project, planted around 40 areas with GYBB ‘super-food’.
Over the next two years they will review the success of the ‘mini-machairs’, continue to conduct bumblebee surveys and grow more GYBB ‘super-food’.
As a summer visitor – expect to see more of these rare and beautiful bumblebees.
As the days grow longer, and winds turn warmer, signs of the season to come make a welcome entry. Snowdrops and daffodils begin to show themselves as hardy harbingers of the much anticipated seasonal change. Their perseverance and determination is something we can only hope to emulate in our lives.
At last the days are lengthening. In the early morning, as the sun rises, shadows are created across the beach in the golden light of a strengthening sun. Arcs of silver light, like the flight of a bird, stretch out to meet the ascending glow. The morning light lingers like a halo. There is peace on the beach at the start of day.
Wild storms, with violent seas and crashing waves, followed by calm and tranquil days. A seasonal pattern is starting to re-establish itself. It’s easy to forget the ebb and flow of winter weather patterns – but these last few days have reminded us that we can always expect some ‘pet days’ no matter what the weather throws at us as we approach the shortest day.