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Our older children, Oliver 14 and Hazel nine, expressed an interest in buying presents for friends and family for Christmas. So, in true Brooks family tradition, we took them to earn some cash picking winkles. I grew up doing the same and saved up money to buy my own pool table when I was 10.
Picking winkles is not for everyone, especially if the weather is blowing a gale and hail stoning, but luckily, the kids had a nice spell of weather over the weekend and so we had an enjoyable family time scrabbling around on the shore.
We came to an agreement with our youngest daughter Blue, that she could get an item of her choice at the shop in Salen if she looked after little Oak for us. Oak didn’t really need a lot of looking after though, as he was knee deep in rock pools pointing out all the sea life. The kids’ picking were regularly interrupted with squeaks of excitement every time they found something hiding among the seaweed.
The flapping butterfish were most common, but there were also lots of other small fish that live among the rocks on the shore and are stranded when the tide goes out. Fish that Mull otters love to feed on. Young sea scorpions, five bearded rockling, gobies, pipefish, little flatfish and 15 spine sticklebacks. We also found squat lobsters, something I do not remember seeing before on my winkling excursions.
We all had to be careful for the often half buried small spiny sea urchins, they are beautiful, but get a spine under your nail, and you know about it for days! I found a delicate saddle oyster wrapped around a small stone, a large common whelk attaching its bundle of bubble eggs that you often find washed up on the shore to a rock.
Our two girls have one day at week at the tiny Ulva Ferry primary school doing shore school. All 15 pupils in the school go out with their teachers – yes, they even have two teachers now at that school, for the first time in a long time – and learn all they can about what they find. They are loving that school. Thank you to all involved for making it a school our kids look forward to going to – most mornings.
We are in full winter now, but already nature is showing signs of the spring to come. Our local sea eagle pair are hard at work building a new nest for the 2022 season already.
One might not expect common dolphins to hang around over the winter, but we have seen small groups of them from our home here at Ulva Ferry. We are so lucky to have been granted this home. It’s a dream come true to be able to sit at my window and watch all the wildlife we do. And the rays of light!
The lovely late Eleanor Cameron from Bunessan used to pick me up to take me to school, thanks to her those rays of light coming down through the clouds will always be known to me as ‘God Speaks’ and it seems very appropriate.
It’s a regular reminder here on Mull that we are so lucky to be witness to all of Nature’sGod’s creations. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and enchanting new year. Big festive love from myself and my family.
PS. For those interested, the common dolphin I wrote about last month is still swimming round and round a fishing float in Craignure Bay.
Daniel Brooks is a wildlife guide, adventure seeker, conservation campaigner, forager, bushcrafter, rewilder and father of four. His website mullman.co.uk is coming soon.