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Otter on the shore of The Shielings, Craignure Bay (October 2011) [Photo © Steve Marshall / Wild Future]

Wildlife & Wild Places, Isle of Mull

With an enviable range of habitats and more than 5000 years of occupied history, Mull is a superb holiday destination for wildlife and heritage.

 

Landscape & habitats

With an area of 338 square miles (875 sq km), Mull is the second largest of the Inner hebrides and the fourth largest Scottish island.

Volcanic in nature, the centre of the island is formed by distinctive pyramidal mountains, the Ben More range (see photo below), rising to a summit of 3,170 feet (966m). Several peninsulas, dominated by moorland, bog and wet heath habitats, radiate out from the centre.

Much of the rest of the island is formed of basalt lava flows - from fissure volcanoes, million sof years ago - which have formed terraced hills of open moorland and small lochans. Coniferous woodland plantations can be found today on the lower slopes above a 300 mile (480 km) coastline of rocky outcrops and white sandy beaches. The sea lochs of Loch na Keal, Loch Scridain, Loch Buie and Loch Spelve cut deep into the island. The oak woods in the south of the island represent the largest remaining example of native woodland in the Hebrides.

The warm Atlantic currents have a strong effect on the climate and the fauna and flora of Mull.

More detail can be found in Isle of Mull Landscape Capacity Study (Argyle & Bute Council, December 2009) or on the website of the Mull Historical and Archaeological Society.

Ben More range panorama [photo by B Campbell, used under Creative Commons]

Wildlife

Mull is one of the UK's premier wildlife destinations, with a large number of important and well-known species not only present but also fairly easy for the visitor to find - if you know where to look! The Wild Future website brings you detailed information on where to go to help you make the most of your stay on the island.

The key species everyone wants to see are listed below and more detail is given in the group sections or site pages.

Target species

All year: Red Deer (80%) • White-tailed Eagle (75%) • Golden Eagle (75%) • Mountain Hare (50%) • Common Seal (40%) • Fallow Deer (30%) • Otter (20%) • Hen Harrier (20%) • Harbour Porpoise (10% from shore) • Red-throated Diver (20%) • Spring: Pearl-bordered Fritillary (10%) • Summer: Puffin (80%) • Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary (70%) • Iceland Purslane (70%) • Slender Scotch Burnet (50%) • Corncrake (see 30%, hear 70%) • Northern Emerald (30%) • Lesser Butterfly Orchid (10%) • Autumn: Grey Seal (60%) • Whimbrel (30%) • Merlin (20%) • Winter: Great Northern Diver (30%) • Black-throated Diver (20%) • Slavonian Grebe (20%)

Other species of interest

All year: Feral goat • Hooded Crow • Raven • Red-breasted Merganser • Spring: Osprey • Summer: Adder • Bogbean • Common Sandpiper • Golden-ringed Dragonfly • Grayling • Harebell • Marsh Fritillary • sundews • Whinchat • Autumn: waxcap fungi • Winter:  • Goldeneye • Goosander

 

Birds & birdwatching

QuicklinksLatest Mull bird sightings and Isle of Mull Bird Report from mullbirds.com

Well known for its White-tailed Eagles, Mull has a good range of resident species and attracts an array of migrants to its shores, making for excellent birdwatching all year round. An overview of the island's birds is given below; for more geographical details, please see the more detailed area pages.

The raptors tend to take the headlines. The White-tailed Eagle is perhaps the UK's most impressive bird and Mull is the top spot to see them; once persecuted and brought to national extinction, several pairs now breed at well-protected sites. In spring they soar over mountain ridges on their display flights and thousands of people visit the Mull Eagle Watch hide each year to see the most famous pair at the nest; in 2015 it is at Glen Seilisdeir. In late summer and autumn they can be seen feeding with their young and lucky boat trip observers can even watch them fishing at very close quarters.

White-tailed Eagle [photo by Hilary Chambers, used under Creative Commons]

 

 

Golden Eagles nest in the mountainous heart of the island and patient observers can be watch them circling above the hills on dry days with little wind - sometimes together the White-tailed Eagles, especially in spring. Buzzards are common, Kestrels frequent and both Peregrine Falcon and Hen Harrier are regularly seen. Sparrowhawks are widespread and reports of Goshawk have been increasing in recent years. There is some winter migration. Barn Owl, Long-eared Owl and Tawny Owl are all resident. In the breeding season Short-eared Owls hunt the moors in Glen More; a handful of pairs of Merlin breed on the island but are more commonly seen on migration. Osprey also pass through, with one or two sometimes staying for the summer; no breeding records.

Iona, and increasingly Fidden on Mull, is a core area for the Corncrake, once nearing extinction in the UK; there were 34 calling males in 2010 on Iona and approximately 10 on Mull.

The endless shoreline is attractive to waders, especially in the tidal lochs. Curlew, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Snipe and Oystercatcher are breeding residents, joined by Common Sandpiper for the summer. Golden Plover and Greenshank are also scarce breeders but more common on passage and in winter. Regular passage migrants include Golden Plover, Turnstone, Sanderling, Dunlin, Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit, whilst several other more scarce species have at least a few records and are probably under-recorded.

Offshore, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider, Shelduck and Mallard are present all year with winter ducks including flocks of Teal and Wigeon, Goldeneye, Slavonian Grebe and more occasionally Goosander. Red-throated Divers breed in small numbers and are more commonly seen at sea on passage and in winter with Black-throated and Great Northern Divers. All can be in breeding plumage, particularly in spring. Shags and Cormorants are very common flying and diving offshore and it seems as if every small bay has a Grey Heron!

Red-throated Diver [photo by Ómar Runólfsson, used under Creative Commons]

 

 

Mute Swan breed in sheltered areas on sea and freshwater and Whooper Swan is regular on passage. Greylags breed and small numbers of Pink-footed, White-fronted, Brent and Barnacle Geese occur on migration. Hooded Crows are common everywhere but especially on the coast, and Rock Pipits are frequent. The typical UK gulls are all common; Common Terns and Arctic Terns breed on the smaller isles and in the Sound of Mull.

Whilst there are small numbers of Fulmar, Razorbill, Black Guillemot and Great Skua breeding on Mull, the main seabird colonies - including Puffins - are found on the Treshnish Isles, Staffa and other small islands and best viewed from the various boat trips. However, Guillemots, Manx Shearwaters and Kittiwakes can be seen offshore, particularly in late summer and autumn.

Freshwater on the island ranges from small lochs to smaller lochans and medium-sized rivers to tiny, tumbling burns. Little Grebe and Tufted Duck breed in small numbers. Water Rail are scarce breeders in the little reed habitat available and Dippers can be found on rocky, fast-flowing burns. Reed Bunting is a scarce breeder in the various wetland habitats.

On moor and mountain, Raven, Wheatear and Whinchat are common. Great Spotted Woodpecker is the only breeding woodpecker, Bullfinch can be found in small numbers, and Redstart, Wood Warbler and Garden Warbler are local or scarce summer visitors to deciduous woodland. Crossbills breed in the forestry plantations.

Dipper [photo by Mark Medcalf, used under Creative Commons]

 

Some common mainland species are scarce or missing from Mull - similar to other Scottish islands - and so are definitely noteworthy: Moorhen is recorded almost annually, but Great-crested Grebe and Coot are very rare; Magpie is seen most years and there is only one record of both Long-tailed Tit and Nuthatch.

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Terrestrial

Whilst the eagles tend to get the glory, Mull has much more in the animal kingdom to offer.

The Red Deer is the UK's largest native mammal and a widespread resident of Mull's hills and forests. In summer, the deer are usually to be found on higher ground as grass and heather are abundant, and their rich red-brown coat camouflages them well against the hillls; they sometimes move down to the lower slopes at night. With food more scarce, the winter is spent on lower-lying fields; their coats turn a darker grey-brown at this time of year.

There is also a small Fallow Deer population on Mull. This species, introduced to hunting forests from Norman times onwards, is still loyal to the wooded area around the Gruline estate, near Salen, where they were originally released on the island.

Red Deer [photo by Stuart Bassil, used under Creative Commons]

 

There are no Weasels on the island but Stoats are present; Polecat x Ferret hybrids may also be seen.

Mull's island isolation also means there are no Foxes, Badgers or Red (nor Grey) Squirrels. Hedgehogs and Moles, missing from some Scottish islands, are here though. Mull is also home to: House Mouse and Wood Mouse; Common, Water and Pygmy Shrews; Short-tailed Vole and a distinctive, larger race of the Bank Vole.

Pine Martens, though unlikely to have ever been native to Mull, were discovered on the island a few years ago and probably arrived accidentally via timber boats from the mainland c.2004. They appear to have spread out from Craignure and now cover a wide area, certainly as far as Salen to the north; they prefer native woodland but can also live in conifer plantations and on rocky hillsides. With a lack of competing carnivore species and plenty of small mammals and birds for prey, the population is being monitored to assess the risk to species vulnerable to the marten's impact.

Rabbits are a common sight around Mull. Hares can also be seen - not the familiar Brown Hare but the Mountain Hare, which is often seen around Fidden.

There are two species of bat recorded on the island, although not widely - no doubt more populations and possibly species are yet to be discovered. Common Pipistrelle is the most abundant and found in the north, east and on the Ross. Brown Long-eared Bats have been recorded around Tobermory and Fionnphort.

Slow Worms, Adders and Common Lizards can all be readily found on the island in their usual habitats, but there are no Grass Snakes.

Adder [photo by Alistair Rae, used under Creative Commons]

Feral goats can be found on the Ross, particularly around Carsaig. These shaggy, white-haired goats live mostly on higher ground but come down to the coast to feed on seaweed; folklore has that they are descended from animals from a wrecked Spanish Armada galleon, a story also attached to goats on Colonsay and Jura.

The typical domestic stock found on Mull are the Black-faced and Cheviot sheep plus the docile, beautiful Highland cattle.

 

Aquatic

Mull may well be the best place in the UK to see the Otter. Whilst properly a freshwater species, Otters can also live along the coast - which is where you can find them on Mull. Normally nocturnal, on the west coast the state of the tide is a bigger factor than time of day.

Whilst shy, patient or lucky observers can be rewarded with close up views, often on low, rocky shores on an incoming tide. Watch for them swimming at the edge of the seaweed zone or popping up on rocks close to the water's edge, often with a fish or crab for dinner; the picture at the top of the page is typical and was taken by the Wild Future team in Craignure Bay on Mull in 2011. Butterfish are a favourite prey fish around Mull.

Otters can swim a long way out, so keep an eye out for a head with tail extended out behind.

Otter on the shore of The Shielings, Craignure Bay (October 2011) [Photo © Steve Marshall / Wild Future]

The introduced Mink is unfortunately also common around Mull. Vicious predators, they have a devastating effect on ground-nesting birds on the around the coast and on offshore islands. They can be confused with otters, but Mink are more short, slim and sleek in body, more scurrying on land and more direct swimmers in the water.

Mull's lochs and rivers are home to Brown Trout with runs of Sea Trout and Salmon. Introduced Rainbow Trout are also found here. There are few coarse fish, however, except Eels and occasional Perch.

The Mingarry Burn, in northern Mull, contains one of Scotland's most undisturbed populations of the endangered Freshwater Pearl Mussel.

 

Marine

The waters around Mull are full of sea life and offer good year-round wildlife watching to the visitor, ranging from the curious seals to porpoises and whales.

Both Grey Seals and Common Seals are frequent around Mull. Apart from October to December, when Grey Seals come ashore to breed, you are more likely to see Common Seals close inshore or hauled out on the rocks around the coast of the main island.

The Greys spend the rest of the year further offshore, hunting and feeding, and are more likely to be seen ashore on the Treshnish Isles and other smaller islets around Mull.

Grey Seal [Photo by Johan J. Ingles-Le Nobel, used under Creative Commons]

 

 

Quicklinks • Latest whale and dolphin sightings: Hebridean Whale & Dolphin TrustSeawatch (select SW Scotland and Inner Hebrides region)

Cetaceans - whales, dolphins and porpoises - can be elusive but Mull's waters provide good potential opportunities. There are a number of operators offering boat trips and some headlands on the island provide a good vantage point, such as Tobermory lighthouse. There are always the birds and scenery to look at whilst you are waiting patiently!

The Harbour Porpoise and Bottlenose Dolphin are present all year round. Porpoises here tend to be seen singly or small family groups up to five individuals and is probably the most common cetacean seen; Bottlenoses are normally in groups up to ten, part of a resident population that moves between Kintyre and Skye. Killer Whales are seen only on rare occasions each year but are also possible at any time of year.

Other species are mainly summer visitors to this part of the world. Minke Whales are around from April until September and 65 different individuals, identifiable by marks on their dorsal fins, have been recorded; if you are fortunate enough to get pictures, please send them to the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust. Groups of Common Dolphins and Risso's Dolphins are mostly recorded between May and September, with the former seen more frequently.

Harbour Porpoise [photo by Hilary Chambers, used under Creative Commons]

The harmless Basking Shark, the second largest fish in the world and feeding only on invertebrates filtered from the sea, can be seen from Mull's higher shoreline, most often off the western and northern shores between May and October.

Mull's waters are rich in fish: Common Skate, Sea Bass, Haddock, different species of Wrasse and Gurnard, Pollock, Turbot, Butterfish and Plaice, to name but a few. Common Lobster, Edible Brown Crab and Velvet Swimming Crab are also found here. The Sound of Mull is particularly rich in marine life.

 

Flora & fungi

Mulls' flora is not particularly distinctive from the adjacent mainland, but, with over 5000 recorded plants, there are some fantastic species to see and in spectacular surroundings. A 2013 report on the area's rare plants has been released by the vice county recorder.

Primroses, Thyme, Harebells and Bluebells throng the road verges and wooded banks; Thrift carpets the shoreline. The woodland floor abounds with Wood Sorrell and Lesser Celendine. The margins of ponds, ditches, bogs and lochs are coloured with Bogbean, Flag Iris, Sundews and Common Butterwort.

On higher ground, the flora of the mountain pasture, scree and ledge are some of our rarer plants, surviving in conditions where others cannot compete. The Burg, designated as an Important Plant Area by Plantlife, in particular is of interest and the wet, mobile scree slopes here are one of only two UK locations for Iceland Purslane.

Thrift [photo by jillyspoon, used under Creative Commons]

Nineteen species of orchid have been recorded, from the rare Coralroot Orchid (not recorded since the 1980s) and uncommon Lesser Butterfly Orchid to the more frequent Common and Heath Spotted Orchids. Others are Bog Orchid, Early Purple Orchid, Early Marsh Orchid, Northern Marsh Orchid, Narrow-leaved Marsh Orchid, Fragrant Orchid, Greater Butterfly Orchid, Narrow-leaved HelleborineIrish Lady's Tresses, Lesser Twayblade, Bird's-nest Orchid, Common Twayblade, Small-white Orchid, Frog Orchid and Broad-leaved Helleborine (not recorded since the 1990s).

The warm Atlantic currents create good conditions for fungi on Mull. Approximately 1900 species have been recorded on the island.

The unimproved coastal grasslands are often dotted with the bright colours of different Waxcaps (Blackening Waxcap shown left), an indicator of a long history of grazing and habitat quality. The woodlands and estate parklands are good for larger fungi. A list of all fungi recorded can be found at the Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI) by selecting the Mid Ebudes vice county (which comprises Mull, Coll and Tiree).

Blackening Waxcap (September 2010) [Photo © Steve Marshall / Wild Future]

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Invertebrates

Whilst the midges get most attention, there are lots of other invertebrates to be seen on Mull!

20 of the UK's 59 resident butterfly species, plus three migrants, can be found here between May and September, including rarities such as Pearl-bordered Fritillary (limited to small area on the Ross, near Scoor), Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Marsh Fritillary and Grayling. Other priority species here include Large Heath and Small Heath. Commoner butterflies such as Green-veined White, Common Blue, Meadow Brown and Scotch Argus are constant companions in their respective grassland habitats.

The area is also of interest for moths, with a handful of sites on Mull (Burg) and Ulva the only known global location for the Slender Scotch Burnet scotica subspecies. This red and black day-flying moth is on the wing between mid June and early July. It inhabits grassy cliffs and banks on south-facing coasts where the foodplant - Bird's-foot Trefoil - grows in low, open grassland swards. Information on its conservation from Scottish Natural Heritage.

Marsh Fritillaries [photo by Frank Vassen, used under Creative Commons]

More detailed information on the region's butterflies can be obtained from the Glasgow and SW Scotland branch of Butterfly Conservation.

There are seven dragonfly species and five damselfly species on the Isle of Mull. Look for Golden-ringed Dragonflies on burns in areas of wet heath, the Northern Emerald at its south-west UK limit at bog and cottongrass pools in eastern Mull and the Beautiful Demoiselle in shallow gravelly streams.

 

Wildlife Sites

Some of the key sites for wildlife on the island include:

Northern Mull

Loch Frisa • Breeding White-tailed Eagle on long freshwater loch surrounded by forest

Salen Bay • Common Seals & Otter are regular here, all three divers possible offshore

Aros Park • Wooded park with reedbed-ringed lochan; good for common birds and fungi

Loch Cuin • Largest reedbed on Mull, & feedng waders & duck in autumn & winter

Calgary Bay • Divers & ducks offshore, winter waders on the beach, ravens & eagles overhead

 

Western Mull

Loch na Keal • Fantastic sea loch for birds (feeding / nesting eagles, divers, waders) and Otters

Loch Ba • Summer for Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Redstart, Wood Warbler & Red-throated Diver

Loch Beg • Waders all year, especially winter; good for raptors, with Osprey on passage

Isle of Ulva • 123 birds recorded, Otter, orchids, Marsh Fritillary & Slender Scotch Burnet moth

Glen Seilisdeir • White-tailed Eagles and Forestry Commission woodland

Burg • Rich flora including Iceland Purslane; Slender Scotch Burnet & good seawatching point

 

Eastern Mull

Craignure Bay • A walk on the southern shore is excellent for otter & worthwhile for birds

Loch Don • Tidal sea loch excellent for waders, waterfowl, raptors & passerines

Grass Point • Views of Red Deer from road; point can be good for seabirds, divers & waders

Loch Spelve • Large sea loch, best in winter for seabirds and waterfowl including divers

Ardura woods • Old sessile oak woods with rare bryophytes & good woodland birds

 

Ross of Mull

Loch Scridain • Large sea loch, good for seabirds & waterfowl, & especially all three divers

Ardnalanish Bay • Beautiful beach, interesting for waders & farmland birds, also for flora

Fidden • Visit all year for Mountain Hare & shorebirds, in spring for Corncrake & winter for geese

Isle of Iona • Famous for its Corncrakes; look out for Tree Sparrows near the Abbey

 

 

Wildlife & Wild Places, Northern Mull

Wildlife & Wild Places, Western Mull

Wildlife & Wild Places, Eastern Mull

Wildlife & Wild Places, Ross of Mull

 

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