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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Scotland 4: Puffins, Razorbills, Eider, Shags & Fulmars. Staffa & the Treshnish Isles, 11.05.23

Updated: May 21, 2023



I got to Tobermory from Oban by public transport. I took the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Oban to Craignure, from where I got a West Coast Motors bus from Craignure to Tobermory. I went to Tobermory because I had booked a bird boat tour with Staffa Tours – Boat Tours To Iona, Tobermory & Mull


Shaped like a battleship, protecting the western approaches to Mull, the is the largest island in the Treshnish archipelago. Like Staffa, Lunga is of volcanic origin and was once described as 'a green jewel in a peacock sea'. Populated until the 19th century the island still bears the remains of black houses. To the northeast of the isle of Lungasland lie the remains of the ruined village, which was abandoned in 1857.


Lunga is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of its abundant plant life. Many rare and endangered plants are native to the island. The flora includes Primroses, Birdsfoot Trefoil, orchids, Sea Campion, Thrift and Tormentil. Atlantic Grey seals inhabit the waters surrounding the island, while birdlife includes Storm Petrels, Kittiwakes and Manx Shearwaters. Guillemot, Puffin, Corncrake and Razorbills breed on Lunga and on the Harp Rock, a sea stack separated by a narrow gut. Barnacle geese appear each winter. Treshnish Isles | The Isle of Mull (isle-of-mull.net)


Staffa: This little island (½ mile long and ¼ mile wide) off the west coast of Scotland looks like it may be from a different planet. Its hexagonal columns were formed millions of years ago by volcanic eruptions and a vast blanket of lava that spread into the Atlantic Ocean. Years of waves crashing against these columns created the magnificent Fingal’s Cave.

Staffa was hardly known until 1772, when the botanist Joseph Banks highlighted the wild, natural beauty of the island. It soon became a must-see location. Famous visitors have included Queen Victoria, Lord Tennyson, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson and John Keats; all fell under the island’s spell. Staffa | National Trust for Scotland (nts.org.uk)


We journeyed to Lunga and Staffa on two boats.


Common Dolphins, Delphinus delphis, came alongside the boat playing - jumping through the waves. Dolphins follow boats out of curiosity, entertainment, and to catch a free ride with the current pressure. Dolphins burn less energy while achieving a higher speed when they swim in the wake a boat leaves behind. Why Do Dolphins Follow Boats? - AZ Animals (a-z-animals.com)



Tobermory Lighthouse


Approaching Lunga


Shags, Gulosus aristotelis


In the breeding season adults develop a dark glossy green plumage and prominent recurved crest on the front of their head. In the UK they breed on coastal sites, mainly in the north and west, and more than half of their population is found at fewer than 10 sites, making them an Red List species. Shags usually stay within 100-200km of their breeding grounds. UK conservation status: Red Shag Bird Facts | Gulosus aristotelis - The RSPB


Razorbills, Alca torda


Great Black Backed Gull, Larus marinus


Eider, Somateria mollissima


The eider is the UK's heaviest duck and its fastest flying. It is a true seaduck, rarely found away from coasts where its dependence on coastal molluscs for food has brought it into conflict with mussel farmers. Eiders are highly gregarious and usually stay close inshore, riding the swell in a sandy bay or strung out in long lines out beyond the breaking waves. It is an Amber List species because of its winter concentrations. Eider Duck Facts | Somateria Mollissima - The RSPB


Shags


Approaching Lunga (Treshnish Isles)


Grey Seals, Halichoerus grypus


Canada Goose, Branta canadensis, and eIDER


Eider


Lunga


Disembarking on Lunga


Razorbills and Fulmars, Fulmarus glacialis


Lichens on the rocks of Lunga


Ramalina fainacea


Probably Xanthoria calciola



Possibly Lecanora campestris


Puffins, Fratercula arctica


Puffins tolerate close encounters with humans


Puffin numbers are decreasing rapidly. Conservationists are concerned about the overfishing of sand eels and whitebait by humans which is thought to be resulting in the starvation and death of many seabirds, including the puffin. Climate change is also having an impact, causing more frequent and intense shifts in sea temperatures, thermal mixing and extreme weather, all of which affect their prey species of sand eels, sprats and other small fish. As a result in October 2015 the IUCN has reclassified puffins as Endangered. Puffin - Puffins and Humans | Young People's Trust For the Environment (ypte.org.uk)


Living on the open ocean [except for the four months when they nest] makes the puffin highly susceptible to pollution such as oil spills. After the Torrey Canyon oil spill in 1967, the number of puffins breeding in France the following year decreased by a massive 85%. The threats behind the plight of the puffin (phys.org)


Dilated Scalewort Frullania dilatata


Puffins


Fulmars


Razorbills

The razorbill is a medium-sized seabird. It is black above and white below. It has a thick black beak which is deep and blunt, unlike the thinner bill of the similar guillemot. It breeds around the coast of the UK, with the largest colonies in northern Scotland. There are none breeding between the Humber and the Isle of Wight. Birds only come to shore to breed and winter in the northern Atlantic. The future of this species is linked to the health of the marine environment. Fishing nets, pollution and declining fish stocks all threaten the razorbill. Razorbill Bird Facts | Alca Torda - The RSPB



Fulmars


Shags


Razorbills


Shag


Wren


Razorbills


Puffin on wildflowers.


Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta; Lesser Celandine, Ficaria verna and Sea Thrift, Armeria maritima


Flowering Plants and lichens on the path back to the beach


A Stonecrop


Bucks-horn Plantain, Plantago coronopus


Probably Caloplaca sp.


Leconora sp., possibly L. carpinea


Silene latifolia, White Campion


Lesser Celandine, Ficaria verna



Returning to the boat


Staffa and Fingal's Cave


Back to Tobermory: Victorian hotel and Art Deco ferry terminal


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