Sea life of the Isle of Coll
The unpolluted seas around Coll are rich with nutrients and, consequently, prolific with a rich diversity of sea life. Coll has become increasingly famous for basking sharks and is now recognised as one of the best locations in the UK to watch them. In addition there are regular sightings of dolphins, otters, seals and whales, usually Minke but if you’re lucky, Orca. Of course, some of these are seasonal but many can easily be spotted from the coastal rocks and beaches, and even from the main CalMac pier in Arinagour. Basking sharks have been seen from one of the hotel’s windows!
You don’t need a boat to experience the spectacle, just a keen eye and, perhaps, a pair of binoculars.
Less dramatic, yet no less spectacular, are travellers on the Gulf Stream; jelly fish, turtles, sunfish and goose barnacles have all been found in the nooks and crannies of Coll’s coastline. If you’re really lucky, actually this should read unlucky, you may find a mass stranding of Velella velella, commonly known as sea raft, by-the-wind sailor, purple sail or little sail – quite incredible, their journey to Coll.
The many rock pools, exposed at low tide, reveal a host of little critters, many hiding behind the seaweeds……
The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust have loads more information on their website
Birds of the Isle of Coll
Bird watchers flock to Coll, not only for the diversity the island offers but just to experience the trip across to Coll through the Sound of Mull. Here one can often see shearwaters, petrels, even White-tailed Eagles and watch diving Gannets and auks.
Coll’s speciality bird is the Corncrake, Crex crex and the RSPB has purchased a considerable part of the SW corner of Coll and established a bird reserve to help protect the Corncrake. There is, however, a lot more to Coll than just the Corncrake. There are Merlin, Hen harrier, divers and Twite to name just a few.
Whether you come during the breeding season or mid winter you will never be disappointed at the diversity of birds that live here, get blown here and migrate through. A guidebook, Birds of Tiree and Coll is available at the Post Office
RSPB on Coll
The RSPB manages 1075 ha of mire, bog, machair and dunes on the Isle of Coll. The reserve is a key site in the Corncrake Recovery Programme and a haven for wintering geese, breeding waders and farmland birds. Other wildlife includes otters, Irish Lady’s-tresses and the Great Yellow Bumblebee. This rich biodiversity reflects the island’s low intensity farming practices, which we are working to maintain.
RSPB and Corncrakes
Coll’s Corncrakes breed on in-bye fields. We have already more than quadrupled their population on the reserve, to around 60 calling males each year. Small adjustments to farming practice made in partnership with local farmers are largely responsible for this success. These include providing early cover, mowing in August rather than July, and adjusting the arable rotation system. We are continuing to refine our techniques and share our knowledge. In 2012 there were 103 calling male corncrake on Coll, spread from Cornaigbeag down to Crossapol. The best time to see Corncrake is the last week of April and the first few weeks of May, don’t expect to come in July and see one!
Other birds of the in-bye fields that benefit from Corncrake conservation include skylark, Twite and Reed Bunting, while the fields host important wintering populations of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted geese. Habitats on the reserve protect such notable species as sand lizard, belted beauty moth and the extremely rare Short-necked Oil Beetle Meloe brevicollis.
The reserve’s upland habitats include heather moorland, bog and unimproved grassland. We are working to maintain these for their plant life, birds of prey and passerines such as twite.
The flora of Coll is quite exotic, diverse and exciting. It is, without doubt, a main attraction of Coll and brings many visitors to the island.
Orchids may be the magnet for some but for many it’s just the vast spectacle of un spoilt machair that borders much of the coast and beaches.
For the more budding botanist, Coll has some exciting speciality species. Pipewort, Eriocaulon aquaticum, can be found in some of the more remote lochans and in 2004 Spotted Rock-rose, Tuberaria guttata subsp breweri was discovered; the only record of this plant in Scotland. Elsewhere amongst the bogs you may find Irish Lady’s-tresses, Spiranthes romanzoffiana, one of Coll’s more secret orchids.
Even visitors having little interest in flowers will gasp at the colours across acres of sand dunes covered with vivid purples and blues and yellows….
A full photographic guide to the Wild Flowers of Coll and Tiree has been produced by the two island communities and is available in the Post Office.
The local Post Office stocks a range of books that you may find useful when exploring Coll. You will find a selection of books in the Quiet Room at An Cridhe, our community centre, which you are welcome to browse through.