The Island of Mull
By Alan Spellman. The following article is reproduced with permission of Mullbirds Online (July 2015)
The habitats of the Isle of Mull are varied from mountains and moorlands to sea lochs and hill lochans, damp boggy marshes to sandy beaches. It supports a good range of resident and migrant birds, many passage birds call in to re-fuel en-route. Raptors include Golden Eagle and White-tailed Sea Eagle, Hen Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Kestrel, Merlin, Sparrow Hawk and Buzzard. Barn Owl, Long-eared Owl and Tawny Owl are resident and Short-eared Owls visit to breed. Corvids include Ravens and Hooded Crow are plentiful. The Isle of Mull has a coastline of some 300 miles long and the tidal lochs are very attractive to many waders and birds of passage which stop to feed whilst en-route to their summer and winter feeding grounds. Whooper Swan, Bar-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Redshank, Snipe and Whimbrel are just a few.
Large flocks of Teal and Wigeon over winter with Shelduck, Goldeneye and Merganser. All three Divers can be seen at different times of the year. Great Northern and Black-throated Diver in winter on the sea lochs and Red-throated Diver in fresh water lochs in spring and summer. Slavonian Grebe and occasional Red-necked 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 see, they arrive on Iona in late April. Your best chance of seeing this elusive bird is in early May before the iris beds have grown to make Corncrake almost invisible.
All the sea lochs on Mull hold otters and there are excellent opportunities to see Mulls’ otters along many of the coast roads.
There are many good and safe vantage points from which to watch sea birds, including, Guillemot and Black Guillemot, Shag, Cormorant and occasional 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, Guillemot and Razorbill.
Mink are a very serious problem on the islands of Argyll and ground nesting birds are suffering because of lack of controlling measures. These problems will have to be addressed if we are to protect them. A programme is in operation to protect Arctic and Common Tern colonies and this is proving to be very successful, and we need more such programmes operating.
Mull has lots of red deer and a small herd of fallow deer, hedgehogs, polecats, mink, rabbits, and Mountain Hare. There is a good population of otters which can now 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.
Good views of White tailed Sea Eagle can usually be had all year round from Lochdon & Grasspoint, also regularly seen are Golden Eagle, Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrow Hawk, Tawny Owl, Short eared Owl and Hen Harrier and occasional Barn Owl, Merlin & Peregrine Falcon. Red Kite have been seen in autumn on migration and the occasional passage Osprey calls into Lochdon, most often in Spring and Autumn.
There is a small colony of Marsh Fritillary at Lochdon and at a few other areas. Many other species of Butterfly such as Speckled Wood, Peacock, Scotch Argus and Common Blue can be seen on the wing at different times of the year.
Large numbers of Teal & Wigeon 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 Goosander fish in the pool by the bridge to Grasspoint.
The mouth of the loch, from Grasspoint can be good for Great Northern Diver in winter & occasional Black throated Diver, Red throated Diver and Little Grebe. Redshank, Greenshank, Whimbrel, Turnstone, and Bar tailed Godwit on passage in spring and autumn, Occasional large flocks of Golden Plover & Lapwing in autumn plus Ringed Plover & Curlew, There are Snipe & Woodcock at most times of the year.
On the shoreline Common Sandpiper breed in summer, Rock Pipit, Grey Wagtail also. The scrub around the shores are good for migrant warblers at the right time of year, Grasshopper Warbler, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Wood Warbler, Blackcap, Whinchat and Cuckoo. Other resident birds including, Meadow Pipit. Rock Pipit, Stonechat, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Dunnock, Tree Creeper, Wren and Robin can be seen all year round. Great Spotted Woodpecker is common and is often seen feeding at bird tables and on nuts in local gardens. There is a Sandmartin colony at Gorsten (45 active nest holes in 2002).
Grasspoint will give good views of local sea birds, Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Fulma, GBB & LBB Gulls & occasional Gannets, & Kittewake.
Porpoise are often seen in the Sound of Lorn from a Grasspoint vantage point.
Otters can occasionally seen at Grasspoint and in the outer loch area.
There is good bed & breakfast& self catering accommodation available in the immediate vicinity. Details & information can be found on the “stay here” pages.
Loch na Keal
Loch na Keal is one of the largest sea lochs and offers opportunities to see many of Mulls best birds. In winter through to early spring, Slavonion Grebe, in eclipse & in summer plumage, Great northern & Red throated Diver, occasional Black throated Diver, Winter ducks are Wigeon, Teal & Goldeneye, plus all year Red breasted Mergansers, Mallard, Eider & Shelduck. There is always the chance, after winter storms, of picking up a vagrant or rare bird from North America.
It is always well worth checking Loch na Keal with your scope for rarities or vagrants..
Sea birds include Gannet, Fulmar, Kittewake, GBB & LBB Gulls, Common Gull, Guillemot & Black Guillemot.
Regular waders are (in Autumn and Winter) Greenshank, Redshank, Dunlin & Turnstone, and in Spring& Summer months, Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Oyster Catcher, (all year round) also on the shore Rock pipit. In the open areas around the loch are Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit & Sky Lark. The scrub areas hold Stonechat, Whinchat, Whitethroat, Willow and many other warblers in the summer months.
Scanning the hills can regularly produce White tailed Sea Eagles and Golden Eagle, (often flying together) plus Raven, Kestrel, Sparrow Hawk & Buzzard. Peregrine Falcon are occasionally seen near the sea cliffs at Griburn area hunting Rock Dove and Feral Pigeon, and there is always the chance of picking up a Merlin as it flashes past.
In summer months, a very rewarding walk along the shore of Loch Ba can produce Red-throated Diver, Common Sandpiper, Pied & Grey Wagtail, Dipper, Redstart, Wood & Willow Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher & Tree Creeper. And one again, keep scanning the horizon and hills for Raptors.
Loch Beg is the small loch at the head of Loch Scridain and it is tidal and providing good opportunities for feeding waders at all times of the year. There is good habitat for Hen Harrier, Short eared Owl and occasional Merlin. With superb views of the Ben More range of mountains, a scan of the hills will show Buzzard and Raven and often pick up Golden Eagles and White tailed Sea Eagle.
Great Northern, Black throated and Red throated Diver are regularly seen in winter on Loch Scridain. Duck species include Goldeneye, Red breasted Merganser, Teal, Widgeon and Mallard. Migrating Osprey have been regularly seen in both spring and autumn in each of the past few years, opposite the Kinloch Hotel.
Along both shores there are usually otters to be found and occasional sightings of Porpoise and Bottle nosed Dolphin in the loch.
The scrub land around the shores provides good cover for warblers and other summer migrants including Whitethroat and Whinchat.
Along the north shore, Tiroran bay can hold good numbers of Teal and Wigeon in winter and in its sheltered bay, Slavonian Grebe and Divers can show well in winter.
There is a small herd of Fallow Deer at Loch Buie with another herd in the Gruline area.
Iona & Ross
The best place to see Corncrake is on Iona in May, the birds arrive regulary at the end of April each year. It is never an easy task seeing Corncrake, they are more often heard than seen but a trip to Iona can be rewarding for this bird.
There are many other species on the island and the journey from Craignure through Glen More gives opportunities for Short eared Owl, Hen Harrier, Raven and Golden Eagles.
The drive along the length of Loch Scridain can produce a wide assortment of birds.Stop at the Kinloch Hotel and check out Loch Beg with a scope, it’s one of the best wader sites, and in Autumn up to 100+ Golden Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Greenshank & Redshank and others are regularly seen. It was here that we had our first American Golden Plover, found amongst a flock of Golden Plover in 2005.
At Fionnphort make time to check out Fidden, It’s a great place to see Geese in Winter. In Spring& Summer you have a good chance of seeing Corncrake at Fidden as they are now begining to spread out from Iona. also Greenshank, and breeding Redshank, Lapwing, Snipe, Common Sandpipers and other waders. In winter flocks of White fronted geese,
Barnacle geese & Greylag geese forage in the fields.
Nearer Bunessan the road down to Uisken beach has an open habitat of scrub and heather and is ideal for Merlin, Hen Harrier and Short eared Owl and smaller birds such as Stonechat, Whinchat and warblers. Uisken Bay in winter can give good views of all three Divers. While the iris beds in spring can hold newly arrived Corncrake early in May. Loch Assapol in winter can hold Whooper Swan, White fronted and Greylag Geese, Goldeneye and Tufted Duck.
Carsaig has the most spectacular cliffs where, if you are lucky you can see Perigrine and Golden Eagles. Sea birds include Fulmar, Gannets, Black Guillemot and out in the bay all three Divers, Great Northern and Black throated Divers, autumn through to spring and Red throated Diver all year round.
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