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7 reasons birdwatchers need to wing their way to the Isle of Coll!

7 reasons birdwatchers need to wing their way to the Isle of Coll!
Wild-life lovers will have a field day on Coll, the small Hebridean island that sits some ten kilometres west of Mull. The island’s beaches, meadows, moors and machair provide a home for a wealth of flora and fauna, and twitchers are in for a real treat. Much of western Coll in an RSPB reserve, and a vast variety of birds can be spotted, including the corncrake, one of Britain’s rarest birds. If you’re a birdwatcher, grab your binoculars and wing your way to Coll. Here are seven reasons why!

1. On the ferry
Before setting foot on Coll, you’ll be treated to a seabird spectacle. On the ferry journey through the Sound of Mull, keep your eyes peeled for a host of seabirds, including manx shearwaters, petrels, gannets, auks and fulmars. In the summer there’s a good chance of seeing dolphins, whales and basking sharks too.

2. All year round
Each season brings new birdlife to Coll, so there’s something fascinating to observe all year round. In spring, Corncrakes arrive from their wintering grounds in south-east Africa and breeding waders such as lapwings, redshanks and snipe begin to display and nest. In summer, Coll is alive with the sound of breeding birds as razorbills, guillemots, puffins, manx shearwaters, terns and gannets can all be seen (and heard!) offshore. There’s a good chance of seeing skylarks, twites, meadow pipits and stonechats. Autumn, meanwhile, brings the first over-wintering barnacle and Greenland white-fronted geese. Fieldfares, redwings, dunlins, black-tailed and bar-tailed godwits and golden plovers can all be seen migrating south.

3. The call of the corncrake
A highlight of a visit to Coll is the chance to catch a glimpse of a corncrake. These very rare birds were once commonplace throughout Britain, but the population sharply declined due to changes in farming practice. Ten years ago, they were almost extinct in Scotland. Coll is one of the most important refuges for corncrakes thanks to the work of the RSPB. Small adjustments to farming practices made in partnership with local farmers has more than quadrupled the corncrake population, which currently sits at 66 calling males. Corncrakes are elusive, but you’ll certainly hear them! Listen out for the distinctive rasping ‘crex crex’ call from the hay and silage fields on a spring or summer evening. Your best chance of actually spotting one is during the last week of April and the first few weeks of May. Head to the corncrake viewing bench by the RSPB information centre.

4. Look out for lapwings
This once familiar farmland bird has suffered a significant decline recently and is now a ‘Red List’ species. But Coll is home to a good population of lapwings, also known as peewits because of their display call. Watch the nesting lapwings chase predators that come too close to their nests or show too much of an interest in their chicks. The protective parents regularly give chase to crows!

5. Redshank – ‘the sentinel of the marshes’
In spring, keep an eye out for redshank display flights over the wet meadows. They’re sometimes known as 'the sentinel of the marshes' for their noisy habit of drawing attention to predators.

6. The Coll Bird Festival
Every year the island hosts the Coll Bird Festival, with guided walks, trips and activities over three days. It’s a great way to to learn about the key species on the island and find out more about the work of the RSPB on the island. There’s also the option for a seabird safari to see puffins on the island of Lunga.

7. The RSPB Nature Reserve
The Coll RSPB Nature Reserve, 1,075 hectares of mire, bog, machair and dunes on the west coast of the island, is a key site in the Corncrake Recovery Programme and a haven for wintering geese, breeding waders and farmland birds. There’s also a host of other wildlife to spot, including otters, sand lizards and great yellow bumblebees. You’ll find a visitor centre at Totronald, which is a great introduction to the birdlife of Coll. From here, take a stroll through corncrake country down to explore Hogh Bay, a magnificent sandy beach.

It’s not just the birds in the sky that are of interest in Coll. The island is an official ‘Dark-Sky Community’ and offers fabulous star gazing. The Coll Bunkhouse runs stargazing weekend breaks throughout the year.

Find out more about things to do and see in Mull, Iona, Coll & Tiree.

Photos by Cavan Campbell
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