An explorer's guide to the islands of Britain

Wildlife on Tiree is a big draw for many visitors, here’s a taste of what you might see:

Birds

Tiree is a great place for bird-watching with its rich machair, grasslands, freshwater lochs and beaches and is home to a wide variety of birds throughout the year. The island is now home to over a quarter of all the Corncrakes in Britain, has a nationally important population of breeding waders, flocks of lapwing and oystercatcher, redshank, snipe and ringed plover with plenty of seabirds including the, auks, shearwaters, divers, Eiders and terns. As well as hosting a wide range of breeding birds, the island is ideally placed to observe bird migration in spring and autumn, as waders, ducks, geese and swans, as well as smaller birds such as thrushes and warblers, pass through on their journeys to and from their more northerly breeding grounds. There is a bird hide above the west shore of Loch Bhasapol, and there is a resident RSPB warden on the island who updates Tiree’s daily birds sightings diary.

Some of the best sites to watch birds on Tiree are:

  • Ceann a’ Mhara: fulmar. shag, guillimot, razorbill and kittiwake, with starlings nesting in the sea caves.
  • The Reef (near the airport): Greenland white-fronted geese (October – April)
  • Loch a’ Phuill; whooper and mute swans (autumn and winter), Greenland white fronted geese, Greylag geese, wigeon, teal, pintail, shoveller, pochar, goldeneye, red-breasted merganser (winter), tufted duck
  • Loch Bhasapol: Tufted duck, pochard
  • Balephetrish Bay: Great northern diver, eider duck, long-tailed duck; sanderling, purple sandpiper, turnstone, ringed plover and dunlin
  • Salum and Vaul: waders
  • Loch an Eilean: Mute swan, Whooper swan, Greylag goose, pintail, tufted Duck, red-breasted merganser, northern lapwing, ruff, black-tailed godwit, common redshank, greenshank, rock dove, sand martin.

Although Tiree is best known for its incredible range and abundance of birds, its rich habitats are also home to a wide range of other wildlife from rare bumblebees to huge Basking Sharks. In order to observe the full range of these fascinating animals, it is useful to become familiar with the dates and places that they are most often seen.

Bumblebees

A total of nine species of bumblebee thrive on the machair of Tiree, with the highest numbers in July and August that are now scarce across much of the mainland. Of the most often spotted there’s the Moss Carder Bee (bright orange upper body and yellow lower body), the Common Carder Bee and Barbut’s Cuckoo Bumblebee. Two species of red-tailed bumblebee occur, the Red Tailed Bumblebee and the Red-shanked Carder Bee (both with black bodies and red rear ends). Then there is three species of white-tailed bumblebees, the White Tailed Bumblebee, Garden Bumblebee and Heath Bumblebe. If you are really lucky you may see the scarce Great Yellow Bumblebee, (pale yellow body with a broad black band across it upper body)

Hares

The Brown Hare is seen frequently on the island whilst Tiree remains the largest rabbit-free island in Britain. There are no stoats, weasels or foxes here.

Whales, dolphins and basking sharks

The shallow seas and the warming Gulf Stream around the islands provide rich feeding grounds in summer for a variety of marine mammals. Basking Sharks may be seen in the summer around Hynish Bay, Crossapol and Gunna Sound or from the CalMac ferry between Coll and Tiree. The ferry from Oban to Tiree is also the best way of catching sight of Harbour Porpoises, Common Dolphins, Bottle-nosed Dolphin, Minke Whales, Orca and Risso’s, White-beaked and White-sided Dolphins.

Other water-based mammals

Grey Seals are numerous around the coast and readily seen on skerries from the road-end at West Hynish. Common Seals may be found in the calmer waters of the bays at Vaul and Salum and Gunna Sound. Otter are high in numbers in the island’s lochs and ditches, and their tracks can frequently be spotted on sandy beaches and dunes. The most likely pace to spot them is from the bird hide at Loch Bhasapol.

Wildlife Tours

Tiree Sea Tours – offers WISE accredited wildlife trips to see basking sharks, cetaceans and seabirds; along with trips to Fingal’s Cave, Coll, Treshnish Islands, Skerryvore lighthouse and Iona.

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