The Island of Mull
The Island of Mull
By Alan Spellman. The following article is reproduced with permission of Mullbirds Online.
Mull has a variety of habitats: mountains and moorlands, sea lochs and hill lochans, damp boggy marshes and sandy beaches. Supporting a good range of resident and migrant birds; many passage birds call in to re-fuel en-route. Raptors to be found on Mull include two species of eagles, Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Kestrel, Merlin, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard. Resident owls are Barn Owl, Long-eared Owl and Tawny Owl, and Short-eared Owls visit to breed. Ravens and Hooded Crow are plentiful. The coastline of Mull is 300 miles long and the tidal lochs are very attractive to breeding waders and birds of passage which feed whilst en-route to their summer and winter grounds. Whooper Swan, Bar-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Redshank, Snipe and Whimbrel are just a few.
Large flocks of Teal and Wigeon overwinter with Shelduck, Goldeneye and Merganser. All three Divers can be seen at different times of the year. Slavonian Grebe can be seen on the sea lochs in the winter months. Corncrake have made a remarkable recovery due to sensitive and friendly farming on Iona, and whilst not easy to observe, Iona in May is the best time to see this elusive bird. There are many good and safe vantage points from which to watch sea birds, including Guillemot and Black Guillemot, Shag, Cormorant, Gannet and Great Skua. Boat trips are available to take you to the Treshnish Isles during the summer, where you can get close to nesting birds: Puffin, Shag, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Guillemot and Razorbill.
We get our share of rare birds and vagrants including, over the years, American Golden Plover at Loch Beg, Pied-billed Grebe on Mishnish Lochs, White-billed Diver in Loch na Keal, Black Redstart at Glen Forsa, Tree Sparrows on Iona, Lesser Whitethroat at Loch Buie, Rose-coloured Starling at Bunessan, and Scarlet Rosefinch at Killiechronan. In 2010, rare visitors included female Hawfinch and a pair of Bee-eaters at Calgary, a Yellow Wagtail by Kintra, Blue-winged Teal at Killiechronan and Spoonbills at Lochdon.
There are lots of red deer, two small herds of fallow deer, hedgehogs, polecats, rabbits, mountain hare and pine marten. Mink continue to be a major problem. There is a good population of otters which can be seen regularly around the coast and sea lochs. There are no badgers, foxes or squirrels on the island and we do not have any Magpies resident on Mull. Lochdon is a tidal sea loch and provides a valuable source of food for many waders. It holds a good variety of birds at all times of the year, and is a regular stopping off and feeding area for spring and autumn passage migrants. Mull is the best place for seeing Golden Eagle and White-tailed Sea Eagle, which can be seen all year round.
This is a tidal sea loch and provides a valuable source of food for many waders. It holds a good variety of birds at all times of the year, and is a regular stopping off and feeding area for passage migrants. The local pair of White-tailed Sea Eagle can be seen all year around Lochdon; also regularly seen are Golden Eagle, Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Short-eared Owl and Hen Harrier. Occasional Barn Owl, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon and Red Kite have been seen in autumn on migration, and passage Osprey regularly call into Lochdon, most often in Spring and in Autumn.
On the shoreline Common Sandpiper breed in summer, also Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Rock Pipit, and Grey Wagtail. The scrub around the shores is good for migrants at the right time of year: Grasshopper Warbler, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Wood Warbler, Redstart, Blackcap, Whinchat and Cuckoo. Other resident birds including Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Dunnock, Treecreeper, Wren and Robin can be seen all year round. Great Spotted Woodpecker (our only woodpecker) is common and is often seen feeding at bird tables and on nuts in local gardens. There is a Sand Martin colony at Gorten, along the Lochdon road, with 35 active nest holes at the last count, in 2009.
White-tailed Sea Eagle often hunt over Lochdon, or sit on the rocks in the mouth of the loch at any time of the year.
Teal and Wigeon in large numbers overwinter on Lochdon, joined by lesser numbers of Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Shelduck and Mallard. Whooper Swan drop in and stay only to rest and refuel before flying off again. In winter occasional Little Grebe and Goosander fish in the pool by the bridge to Grasspoint.
The mouth of the loch can be good for Great Northern Diver in winter, Red-throated Diver and occasional Black-throated Diver plus Redshank, Greenshank, Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, and Bar-tailed Godwit on passage in spring and autumn. Occasional large flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing in autumn plus Ringed Plover and Curlew; Common & Arctic Terns gather here prior to migration. There are Snipe and Woodcock at most times of the year.
Grasspoint will give good views of local sea birds Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Fulmar, Shag, Cormorant, Great Blacked-backed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls; occasional Gannets, Kittiwakes and Great Skuas are seen off shore. All three Divers are regularly seen off shore at Grasspoint. The landowner has kindly prepared a parking area which allows viewing of White-tailed Sea Eagles; please use this area and do not park on the roadside verge and obstruct the movement of farm vehicles.
Loch na Keal (NM4838)
This is a large sea loch and offers opportunities to see many of Mull’s best birds. In winter through to early spring, Slavonian Grebe, in eclipse and into summer plumage, Great Northern and Red-throated Diver, occasional Black-throated Diver. These divers often arrive in summer plumage (September-October) eclipse into winter plumage and move back into summer plumage in late spring before the move north again (April-May).
Winter ducks are Wigeon, Teal and Goldeneye, with occasional Goosander and scarce Common Scoter plus, all year, Red breasted Mergansers, Mallard, Eider and Shelduck. There is always the chance, after winter storms, of picking up a vagrant or rare bird. It is always worth checking Loch na Keal with your telescope for rarities and vagrants. Iceland, Glaucous and Little Gull and Little Auk have all been recorded. Sea birds include Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Greater Black-backed & Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Common Gull, Guillemot and Black Guillemot. Occasional Great Skua come into the loch.
Regular waders in Autumn and Winter are Whimbrel, Greenshank, Redshank, Golden Plover, Dunlin and Turnstone, and occasional Black-tailed Godwit. In spring and summer months, Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher and Rock Pipit nest along the shore line; in the open areas around the loch are Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit, and Skylark. The scrub areas hold Stonechat, Twite, Linnet, Whinchat, Whitethroat and Willow Warbler. The first Wheatear regularly arrives on the shores of Loch na Keal, usually in early March.
Scanning the hills regularly produce White-tailed Sea Eagles and Golden Eagle (often flying together). Scarisdale Rocks NM3852 in loch na Keal is a favourite ‘winter’ resting area for this raptor. There is a viewable nest site at Killiechronan which is a very popular area for visitors. There are also Raven, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, and Buzzard. Peregrine Falcon is occasionally seen near the sea cliffs at Gribun area hunting Rock Dove and Feral Pigeon, and there is always the chance of picking up a Merlin as it flashes past.
Loch Ba (NM5637)
In summer months, a very rewarding walk along the shore can produce Red-throated Diver, (Slavonian Grebe, autumn to spring) Common Sandpiper, Pied and Grey Wagtail, and Dipper. In the oak woodland are nesting Redstart, Wood Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, and Tree Creeper. In Glen Canna, regularly scan the hills for raptors, and you will be rewarded. Dipper and Grey Wagtail can usually be seen at the Knock hump-backed road bridge over the river Ba.
At the head of Loch na Keal is a beautiful oak woodland, ideal for Redstart, Wood warbler and Spotted Flycatcher. Great Spotted Woodpeckers (our only woodpecker) make use of the woodlands, and breed here. The bird club installed twenty one nest boxes in the wood in August 2010. The shingle beach has nesting Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher, and usually a pair of Shelduck. White-tailed Sea Eagles have taken to sitting on the shingle beaches, often for long periods, and in winter passage waders also stop off, including the delightful Black-tailed Godwit returning south and often still in summer plumage.
Loch Beg (NM5428)
This is the small loch at the head of Loch Scridain. It is tidal and provides a good food source for migrating waders at all times of the year. There is excellent habitat for Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owl, with occasional Merlin seen. Wonderful views of the Ben More range of mountains, and a scan of the hills will find Buzzard and Raven, and often pick up Golden Eagles and White-tailed Sea Eagles. Migrating Osprey have been regularly seen in both spring and autumn in each of the past few years, opposite the Kinloch Hotel. (Not to be confused with a pale phased Buzzard also seen in this area).
Loch Beg in winter is perhaps the best place to see a wide selection of migrating waders, include Golden Plover (it was here the first American Golden Plover was found), Greenshank, Redshank, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Lapwing. Wintering ducks are Goldeneye, the occasional Goosander, and Wigeon and Teal. Mallard and Red-breasted Merganser are year round birds. The wet boggy land around Loch Beg provides breeding habitat for many Waders including Curlew, Snipe, Ringed Plover and Lapwing. Also Meadow and Rock Pipit.
Loch Scridain (NM4525)
This is the very large sea loch which continues from Loch Beg on its south shore, all the way to Fionnphort. All three divers can be found in winter. In late spring Great Northern Divers congregate here where up to 30 birds have been recorded in the evenings. Auks can be seen all year round including Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Razorbill and occasional Puffin and rarely Little Auk. Loch Scridain is also a good place to find Otters, almost anywhere along the shores. It’s easier to find them in the water by watching about 15 metres off shore as they fish in the seaweed margins.
Duck species regularly include Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Teal, Wigeon and Mallard. Shag are common, with Cormorants being less numerous. Along the shoreline are breeding Rock Pipits with an abundance of Meadow Pipits. The scrub land around the shores provides good cover for warblers and other summer migrants including Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and Whinchat. Resident Stonechat have territories all along the coast. Along the north shore, the sheltered area of Kilfinichen and Tiroran Bay can hold good numbers of Mallard, Teal and Wigeon in winter. Slavonian Grebe and Divers can show well in winter and often come close inshore here.
Bunessan Bay (NM3723)
The bay holds resident Mallards and Red-breasted Merganser plus, in winter, Teal and Wigeon. Occasionally in winter months Glaucous and Iceland Gulls will stay around if there is a seal carcass on the shore. Grey Heron, Grey and Pied Wagtails and Rock Pipits forage on the shore with occasional small parties of Twite amongst them. Uisken and Ardalanish beaches are only a few miles from Bunessan and well worth looking at any time of the year: one of the best places for migrating Sanderling in spring and autumn.
Iona is the best place to see Corncrakes, and the time to go is in early May, before the iris beds have grown tall. The birds arrive at the end of April each year. It is never an easy task seeing Corncrake, and they are more often heard than seen, but a trip to Iona gives you the best opportunity and can be rewarding for this bird. A favourite area is on the shore in the iris beds by the Abbey and in the field next to the Abbey. The Hotel organic gardens is also a favourite place and a bird can often be found here. The field at the back of the fire station is very productive. Iona habitat is ideal for Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Linnet and Twite. Garden birds include Dunnock, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Greenfinch and Chaffinch. There is a small population of Tree Sparrow and a rookery close to the Nunnery and Jackdaws around the Abbey area.
At Fionnphort make a left turn. Fidden is a great place to see a variety of geese in winter. Flocks of White-fronted Geese with an occasional Pinkfoot. Barnacle, Greylag and Brent geese forage in the fields. On the shore line in spring there are often large flocks of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits as they arrive on the island. In autumn and winter flocks of up to 40 Twite can be found on the shore at high tide level. Occasional Snow Bunting can sometimes be found on the shore. Autumn and spring migration of waders will often find large flocks of Golden Plover, Lapwing, Curlew and Whimbrel in the fields.
Fidden is one of my favourite places, perhaps because it was here that we found a Ross’s Gull (Arthur and Pam Brown and myself) in 2004 and also a Pectoral Sandpiper has been recorded. Sea watching can produce all Divers and occasionally scarce ducks: a Long-tailed Duck in 2004. Breeding Redshank, Lapwing, Common Sandpipers, Oystercatchers and Snipe are regularly seen. In early Spring there is a good chance of Corncrake at Fidden as they begin to spread out from Iona. Also, occasional passage birds stop off here in April en-route to Coll, Tiree and the outer isles.
Uisken Bay (NM3918)
Near Bunessan: the road down to the bay has an open habitat of scrubland and heather and is ideal for Merlin, Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl, and smaller birds Stonechat, Whinchat, Meadow Pipits and warblers. Uisken Bay in winter can give good views of all three Divers and it’s worth checking for ‘rare’ sea ducks here. Tread carefully on the beach in spring as there are nesting Ringed Plover. The iris beds in spring can hold newly arrived Corncrake late April to early in May.
Loch Assapol (NM4020)
A large fresh water loch. In winter it briefly holds Whooper Swan, White-fronted Geese and Greylag Geese. Also Goldeneye, Teal and Wigeon, occasionally Red and Black-throated Divers, and Mallard and Tufted Duck all year. It was here that a pair of Common Pochard was recorded and recently there was a single Whooper Swan which spent all summer on Loch Harrison and in the general area (found dead in 2010). Bird club members found a Moorhen here in 2010 – extremely rare on Mull.
Carsaig has the most spectacular views and cliffs and here you can find Ravens, Peregrine Falcon, Common Buzzards and Golden Eagles. Sea birds include Fulmar, Gannets, Black Guillemot and out in the bay all three Divers can be seen: Great Northern and Black-throated Divers autumn through to spring, and Red-throated Diver all year round.
Caliach Point (NM3554)
This is a great place for sea watching, from the highest point looking north west out to Coll, Tiree and the outer isles. It offers the chance to see some marine birds: Manx Shearwaters, Arctic and Great Skuas, Gannets, Puffins and other Auks, Fulmars, Kittiwake and other gulls, including Great Black-backed Gulls. Even whales and sharks can be found in the right conditions. A telescope is essential to get the best out of this area. Sea watching can produce all three divers and even Long-tailed duck in autumn.
The Frisa White-tailed Sea Eagles are frequently seen at Caliach point, predating young Fulmar from the colony here. In the spring and autumn large numbers of migrating Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and Pied Wagtails (with a few Alba amongst them) are harassed by hunting Merlin, Peregrine and Hen Harrier. Calliach has always been a good area for Twite, Snipe and, in winter, Jack Snipe. Another of my favorite places on Mull where I spend a lot of time.
A large sandy bay which can get crowded in summer. Look out to sea for Divers and marine species, and to the hills for Ravens and Golden Eagles. Spectacular views to Coll and Tiree in the west. Ringed Plover nest in the dunes. It’s a great place in winter too, when waders stop off to rest and feed: species include Sanderling, Black tailed Godwit and Purple Sandpiper, plus Dunlin and Whimbrel. There was a report of Chough here in summer of 2009.
Here is the largest reed bed on the island, which holds Water Rail, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat and Grasshopper Warbler. It’s a very under-recorded area and could be a likely spot for a passing Bittern one day perhaps. The shores of Loch Cuin, in autumn and winter, are a feeding station for migrating birds, including Common Snipe, Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin, Golden Plover and Ringed Plover, plus Teal, Wigeon, Goosander, Goldeneye, Mallard, and occasionally Little Grebe and Slavonian Grebe.
Mishnish Lochs (NM4852)
The three linked fresh water lochs, close to the road between Tobermory and Dervaig, hold resident Little Grebe. There is a gull roost which is always worth checking out as a Ring-billed Gull was here in 2006. In winter the lochs usually hold a family or two of Whooper Swan, Goldeneye and occasional Goosander. It was in 1998 that a rare vagrant Pied-billed Grebe was found here, and stayed for three months. In the moorland habitats around the lochs you can find Short-eared owl and Hen Harrier hunting. In the scrub around the loch Stonechat, Whitethroat and Reed Bunting nest.
Loch Spelve-Croggan (NM6927)
A very large sea loch which provides shelter for all three Divers in autumn and winter. Also Common Eider, Mallard, Red breasted Merganser, occasional Goosander, Goldeneye and Common Scoter have been recorded. Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover breed on its shores. In autumn Ruddy Turnstone and Golden Plover are found in the fields and on the shore line. Common Gulls nest on the shore, Shag and Cormorant regularly fish in the loch, as do Razorbill, Guillemot and Black Guillemot.
In winter around the fish farm there are often both Glaucous and Iceland Gull. Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Skylarks, Pied Wagtail and Grey Wagtail nest along the margins throughout the summer; also Common Sandpiper and Wheatear. From Ardura there is an Oak woodland for nesting Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and Wood Warbler, also Treecreeper. It was here that a Pied Flycatcher was first seen (May 2002) and a few boxes have been installed in the hope of encouraging them to return, so far without any success.
This is a good site for Otters, and is a vantage point for sea watching the Firth of Lorn where Porpoise are often seen. The Narrows at the entrance to Loch Spelve are strongly tidal and often hold fishing sea birds on an incoming tide. There is scattered oak woodland along the south shore which holds both Redstart and Wood Warbler.
Loch Buie (NM2460)
A large south facing sea loch, holding a variety of species including all 3 Divers in winter. Raptors include Sea Eagles and Golden Eagles, regularly seen here; also Peregrine and Ravens. Gannets and Shearwaters, with Fulmar and other gulls, are often fishing in the bay. Usually good for Otters, and often excellent for Dolphins in summer. Splendid views on a clear day towards Islay, Jura and Colonsay.
Ardalanish Bay (NM3718)
A beautiful beach (perhaps the best on the island), it’s the best place to see Sanderling in spring and autumn (occasionally in summer), also Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Oystercatcher.
All three Divers can be seen in the bay at different times of the year. The farmer creates excellent habitat for smaller birds by farming organically, and Twite and Linnet feed in small flocks in autumn. Skylarks and Meadow Pipits are numerous, and gather in winter flocks before migrating south. Rock Dove (true birds) feed in the fields. A few Jackdaws with Rooks which come over from Iona, and Hooded Crows are usually present. There is a small reed bed which holds nesting Reed Bunting and it’s a likely habitat to hold Water Rail. Reed Warbler has also been recorded here.
Nesting Snipe and Lapwing can be found on the edges of the reed bed and in August there is a field full of Grass of Parnassus, plus many other wild flowers including many varieties of orchids. Chough were in the area until recently; it’s worth listening and looking out for these birds which breed on Islay and Colonsay which is not very far away, so they could be back anytime.
The largest village on Mull. The distillery burn runs down the hill and into the sea, it usually holds many Gulls and is always worth checking. In winter it often holds Glaucous and Iceland Gulls and recently held a Ring-billed Gull. Grey Wagtail and Dipper use the distillery burn. A walk to the lighthouse can often be productive for sea birds. Smaller birds, especially in spring, find respite in the shrubs along the walk, including Whitethroat and Blackcap and other warblers.
Glen Gorm (NM4358)
North of Tobermory; a 4 miles long glen can be good for Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl. Excellent sea watching, looking north west out to the outer isles of Rhum, Egg, Muck and Ardnamurchan, will often find marine birds including Skua, Gannet, Puffins, large movements of Manx Shearwaters and Kittiwakes in autumn.
Aros Park (NM5154)
A created woodland park with a lochan. Little Grebe, Goldeneye and Mallard, also Moorhen, Sedge Warbler and Grasshopper Warbler. In the reed bed you may find Water Rail, and Kingfisher in winter have also been spied near the fish farm cages. It’s good for Great Spotted Woodpecker and Treecreeper in the surrounding woods. Lots of resident Blackbirds, Thrush, Winter Wren and Robins. Occasional rare birds turn up on the loch including a Long-tailed Duck in the winter of 2004.
Aros Estuary (NM5644)
About 1 mile north of Salen, in winter the estuary holds Goldeneye, Eider, Mallard, Teal and Wigeon. It’s one of the most regular sites for Goosander in autumn and winter. Further along the river Aros are Dipper, Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper. The estuary is a food station for migrating waders including Dunlin, Greenshank, Redshank, Whimbrel, Oystercatcher and others. Otters are regularly seen between here and Salen at all times of the year.
The forest gives the best opportunity to find Crossbills in winter, and also breeding birds. Great Spotted Woodpecker frequent the woods and an abundance of smaller birds can be found: Treecreeper, tits, and warblers including Grasshopper Warbler. It was this general area where Nightjar was heard for the first time in 20 years in 2006.
The coastal walk from Garmony to Fishnish allows sea watching along the Sound of Mull for divers and ducks. The scrubland and foreshore is excellent habitat for Sedge Warblers, Whitethroats and Lesser Redpoll, whilst on the beach and shore can be found a variety of waders, including Common Sandpiper, Snipe and Ruddy Turnstone. In winter there is a roost of Black-headed Gulls, numbering circa 300 birds.
Loch Frisa (NM4751)
This is a four mile long fresh water loch in the northern centre of the island, and breeding White-tailed Sea Eagles are the big attraction here. The public viewing hide is situated here and regular daily guided tours are organised. Booking is essential as places are limited. (You can book at the Tourist Office in Craignure.) However there is much more to see for those able to walk the length. Small birds are plentiful along the shore, including nesting Common Sandpipers and Grey Wagtail.
Great Spotted Woodpecker can be found in the woodland and both the north and south ends of the loch provide good habitat for Short-eared Owls and Hen Harriers. Occasional Eurasian Jay has been found in this area; sightings have been increasing over the last few years and now it is more frequently seen, but still ‘scarce’.
Loch Frisa is a great place to see the colourful Crossbill in the pine trees. It’s an early breeder, and on occasions large flocks of 20 plus birds in family groups are seen in the spring. Look out for Goldcrest high in the pine trees. Raptors include Golden Eagles, which are regularly seen above the ridge. Sparrowhawk and Merlin can be found chasing small birds. Osprey on passage in spring and autumn seem to favour Loch Frisa and often stay a while to fish before moving on again to or from breeding grounds. Tree Pipit, Bullfinch, Chaffinch and Siskin, Dunnock, Whitethroat and Linnet are all recorded on the walk along Loch Frisa from Aros to Dervaig. (There is no vehicular access on this track.) An early morning walk in the spring for the dawn chorus gives an amazing soundscape. Red and Black-throated Diver are recorded on the loch in the summer months, and in winter Goosander, Goldeneye and Mallard are regularly seen.
Staffa and Treshnish Isles
The islands are reached by sea using one of the boat trips starting from either Ulva Ferry or Fionnphort, which is in the south of the island. The tour guides operate several different trips which allow visitors to stay on the islands for up to three hours. Staffa is famous for Fingals cave of course, and the amazing basalt rock cathedral-like formations.
There are breeding Atlantic Puffins in colonies on both islands during the summer months, which are also home to nesting Shag, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Razorbill and Guillemot, where one can get very close to the birds. Corncrake have recently arrived on Staffa. Small numbers of Purple Sandpiper on passage regularly use Staffa to rest up and feed whilst en route. However the boat trip can also be very rewarding for the keen observer with Black Guillemot, Manx Shearwater, Common and Arctic Tern, Great Skua (Bonxies) and other Skua all out there to be found. Common Seals, Porpoise and Dolphins are regularly seen and with all those eyes looking out, occasionally a Minkie whale and Basking shark are spotted.
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