i first visited the isle of coll whilst working for the rspb when myself and a group of keen naturalist colleagues went on the search for elusive invertebrates and a spot of birdwatching. This was over 4 years ago and the trip was mostly covered with rain so I was excited to be making a return to this magical island full of wildlife in high summer.
Coll is one of the Argyll islands situated to the west of Mull and just adjacent to tiree. the main way to get there is by ferry from oban, offering fantastic views along the sound of Mull. with a human population of around 200 people there must be At Least as many species, if not many more, of flora and fauna. It is home to an abundance of wildlife including a large proportion of the UK's breeding corncrake and a large covering of the majestic machair (sandy soiled wildflower meadow). being a relatively small island at just under 30 square miles you are never too far from the coastline, resulting in a proximity to an array of interesting marine life including the second largest fish in our oceans, the basking shark, and many seabirds.
during a glorious ferry crossing at sunrise i was treated to the sights of razorbills, puffins, gannets, shags, cormorants, guillemots and manx shearwater flying past the boat. the isle of rum, to the north of coll, is one of the hotspots for the shearwater in the uk with 100,000 pairs, c40% of the British population. Travelling by boat gives great opportunity to see these birds gliding just above the sea.
Coll is well known as a corncrake island. this elusive species migrates from africa to breed in a small number of locations in britain. Coll has a significant area designated as a special protection area for this bird. It is thought it hosts roughly 4% of the breeding british population. known for their distinctive 'crex crex' call which sounds like a wood block they are often hard to spot hiding in long vegetation. This is why I was so lucky to capture the image below of a young bird dashing from a field margin on the rspb coll reserve. the reserve on the island hosts a key population of this species and offers A great opportunity to see these quirky birds as well as a host of other wildlife.
As mentioned earlier, the island is also well known for its marine life. a couple of the seabirds found here breed in very few places in the UK. Both the great skua, also known as bonxies, and arctic skua can both be seen on the island if you are lucky. breeding on moorlands close to the sea they are more frequently seen in orkney and shetland. This is one of the most southerly places in britain you can spot these birds. These birds are full of character and are notoriously pesky for other seabirds which has led to them being considered pirates of the sky.
Coll has an extensive area of land which is protected as a special area of conservation designated for machair. This type of dune grassland is found nowhere else in the world apart from the north and west of Scotland and western Ireland. Due to its unique landform and climate there are no other places where these conditions exist for the habitat to survive. Colls machair is particularly diverse in structure resulting in a wide variety of species. In the summer months it is most floristically diverse with a vast array of wildflowers in bloom which in turn provide a great resource for invertebrates and then provide a prey base for a wide variety of bird species. SCOTTISH NATURAL HERITAGE Explain that 'Some scarce species live in machair. Its real conservation value, however, is how a fairly high human population manages the land in a way that delivers high biodiversity'.
Coll is a really special place, Not least for the array of spectacular wildlife but the landscape, amazing beaches and very friendly locals make it an excellent ISLAND to visit. The recently renovated Coll Hotel ALSO provides a most welcome place for a delicious meal serving local produce. With friends having recently moved to the island, I look forward to visiting again in the near future.