Tiree 28th June – 5th July

Group plant list ( excel spreadsheet ) Plant List Tiree July 2014 final


Saturday 28th June

Overnight in Oban and then an early start for the 7am ferry to Coll and Tiree. Black guillemots in Oban harbour, a few auks, fulmars, gannets, kittiwake and a single Manx shearwater, but a pretty quiet crossing.

Our base for the week is the Hebridean Trust Centre at Hynish, the old shore station for the Skerryvore Lighthouse. It is very much like a small FSC centre and we were all impressed by its location.

The weather is outstanding at the moment, and we are certainly seeing the Hebrides at their best – turquoise sea, blue sky, fields a riot of buttercups. Stunning.

A walk up to the high point on the island, the radar dome on Ben Hynish, gave a good view out over the island we will spend the week exploring, and, from this vantage point we could see Coll, Eigg, Rum, the Cuillins of Skye, The Outer Hebrides from Harris down to Barra Head, Islay, the Paps of Jura and back round to the Treshnish Isles and Mull.

There were plenty of plants for the botanists to identify – (bog pimpernel, bog asphodel, sundew, butterwort, heath and common spotted orchids, various sedges), butterflies (common blue, red admiral, meadow brown, green-veined white) and a few birds (the best being a noisy stonechat family)

There was just time for a stroll along Balephuil beach (with gannets plunge-diving just offshore, sea gooseberries along tide line) and our first look at the absolute profusion of flowers on the machair – plus several hares – before it was back to base for evening meal.

Later we listened to at least 3 corncrakes calling in the fields around the centre, and it did eventually start to go dark – but not till gone 11!

Paddling, Traigh Bhi, Balephuil small

Paddling Traigh Bhi,Balephuil

Team photo, Ben Hynish small

Team photo Ben Hynish

Traigh Bhi, Balephuil 2 small

Traigh Bhi,Balephuil

Traigh Bhi, Balephuil small

Traigh Bhi,Balephuil

walking up Ben Hynish small

Walking up Ben Hynish

Ben Hynish small

Ben Hynish


Sunday 29th June

Another brilliant Hebridean day today, and our walk along the north coast started with a look at Dun Mor at Vaul. Brochs date to a period of climate change over 2000 years ago when the whole structure of society also seemed to change. Were they really effective defensive structures, or status symbols for a local chieftain? Whatever, they are certainly impressive, and this one proved to be especially interesting for our botanists, having become a massive rock garden smothered in flowers and ferns.

A couple of hours later, after much botanising, bird watching and cowrie shell hunting, we arrived at the ‘Ringing Stone’, a large erratic boulder (from Rum) which seems to have attracted attention from the earliest times. It is pock marked with ‘cups’, fist sized depressions in the rock surface chipped out 5000 years ago by stone age people. No one knows why they did it, though there are some pretty wild ideas – to which we added several of our own. The stone does have a metallic ring when hit with another small stone, and it is obvious from the marks on the rock and all the broken stones around it that people have been doing just that for generation after generation. Local legend has it that if the Ringing Stone ever breaks, Tiree will disappear beneath the waves. We were very careful.

The final part of our walk took us through an extensive wetland area, with several lochans. Plants which have disappeared from much of the UK still thrive here – march cinquefoil, marsh St John’s wort, water lobelia and bog bean. We identified common blue and blue-tailed damselflies, common darter and 4 spotted chaser dragonflies and photographed mating 6 spot burnet moths.

The Met Office tell us we had 15½ hours of sunshine today, making Tiree the sunniest place in the UK – no wonder my nose is sunburnt!

My theory is, The Ringing Stone small

“My theory is…”  The Ringing Stone


The Ringing Stone small

The Ringing Stone

The Ringing Stone, Rum in the distance small

The Ringing Stone with Rum in the distance

Dun Mor broch, Vaul 2 small

Dun Mor Broch, Vaul

Dun Mor broch, Vaul small

Dun Mor Broch, Vaul

Elevenes, Vaul small

Elevenses , Vaul

Leaving the Ringing Stone - still intact! small

Leaving the ringing Stone .. Intact !!


Looking at Burnet Moth chrysalis case small

Looking at Burnet Moth Chrysalis

Six spot Burnet Moth small

Six spot Burnet Moth

Six spot Burnet Moths small

Six spot Burnet Moths

Monday 30th June

We explored the east end of the island today, walking the coast and spending time ‘scoping the sea from vantage points. There were large rafts of shag (well over 200) in the Sound of Gunna, and the constant ‘moaning’ of grey and common seals on the skerries. A great northern diver seemed to struggle dealing with a relatively small flatfish. We were surprised to see 2 bar-tailed godwit feeding on one beach, obviously non-breeders still in winter plumage.

Plant highlights included the sand dune variety of early march orchid, and arable weeds associated with cropped areas – scarlet pimpernel and corn spurry.

Our archaeological site today was the ancient monastic settlement at Kirkipol. The oldest surviving ruin of a C13th chapel is built on a site of pagan worship, and there are standing stones nearby. Early Christians regularly ‘took over’ such pagan sites (and festivals) to establish the new religion and stamp out the old. There is also a C14th chapel on the site, and within a few hundred yards two later chapels – it was obviously an important religious location.

Returning to Hynish, we stopped to listen to a corncrake calling close to the road. Two people in the back of the minibus happened to be looking in the right direction as it scurried across a track. After our evening meal we were out listening to our local corncrakes, but didn’t manage to see one – the vegetation was far too long. Still, it is great to hear them so close.

There had already been two otter sightings today, but, despite staying out looking until 10.45, we had no luck tonight. There were plenty of things to watch though, noisy oystercatchers and redshanks, curlew, common sandpiper, a constant stream of Manx shearwater returning to feed young on Rum, terns, gannets, a herring gull dismembering a crab, and bottling grey seals.


Gunna Sound small

Gunna Sound

Lunch spot, Salum small

Lunch at Salum


Lunch, Salum small

Lunch Spot , Salum

Watching Great Northern Diver, Gunna Sound small

Watching Great Northern Diver, Gunna Sound

Tuesday 1st July

Phew, what a scorcher! Another cracking day.

The north west of the island today. The machair at Sandaig was incredibly rich, full of yellow rattle, and we found our first frog orchids. A herd of Highland cattle seemed surprised to see us, but nevertheless posed very nicely for photographs, and then we set off on a coastal walk that took us from bay to bay, each white sand beach more beautiful than the last. A group of 20 sanderling, although in summer plumage, had not travelled north to Arctic Canada to breed, and at one point we were able to compare the sanderling with a black-bellied dunlin in the same field of view down our telescope. Goose feathers everywhere suggested that the 500+ greylag geese (adults and young) have started their ‘catastrophic’ moult and would soon be flightless for several weeks.

Arctic terns, common, herring and lesser black-backed gulls nesting on the headland of Rubha Chraiginis noisily let us know we weren’t welcome, but we did have time to notice turnstones, a few nesting fulmar and crèches of eider duck chicks.

Two of our party took an alternative route up and over Ben Hough, and one of the summit party had a good otter sighting on Traigh Hough just before rejoining the main group. A search of the machair behind the dunes successfully found several adders tongue ferns.

This evening’s activities were varied. A few enjoyed the local community ceilidh, some of us went to Balephetrish Bay where we watched young little terns being fed, a great northern diver, and several grey seals watched us! The rest stayed at Hynish to enjoy the beautiful evening and hunt for corncrakes and otters.

A knock on our window at 11pm alerted us that Margaret had located the otter in ‘our’ bay, so it was down with the whisky glasses and back out with the binoculars and telescope to watch him fishing just offshore.

A good end to a splendid day.

Back at the bus small

Back at bus after another walk

Blackhouse and byres, Sandaig small

Blackhouse and Byres , Sandaig

Blackhouse roof detail small

Blackhouse roof detail

Blackhouse small


Blackhouse window small

Blackhouse Window

Common Spotted Orchid, Kilkenneth machair small

Common Spotted Orchid, Kilkenneth machair

Cornaigmore Mill small

Cornaigmore Mill

Enjoying the sun, Traigh Ghrianal small

Traigh Ghrianal

Examining Frog Orchid, Kilkenneth machair small

Examining Frog Orchid, Kilkenneth machair

Frog Orchid, Kilkenneth Machair small

Frog Orchid, Kilkenneth Machair

Highland Coo No18  small

Highland cow number 18

Highlanders on the beach  small

Highland Cattle

Hough bay  small


I see no ships. Lunch.  small

I see no ships !

Old Blackhouse, Sandaig  small


Photographing Adder's Tongue Fern  small

Photographing Adder’s Tongue Fern

Adder's Tongue Fern small

Adder’s Tongue Fern

Scanning the skerries, Traigh Ghrianal  small

Scanning the skerries, Traigh Ghrianal

Sea Bindweed  small

See Bindweed

Taking a nap  small

Taking a well earned nap

Traigh Ghrianal  small

Traigh Ghrianal

Traigh Thodhrasdail  small

Traigh Thodhrasdail

Walking Hough Bay  small

Walking Hough Bay

Evening light, Hynish Centre small

Evening light at the Hynish Centre

Evening light, the Hynish Centre small

Evening light at the Hynish Centre

Our base, The Hynish Centre small

Our Base ‘The Hynish Centre’

The Hynish Centre small

Our Base ‘The Hynish Centre’

Wednesday 2nd July

The weather was predicted to break today, so more layers and waterproofs at the ready. It was certainly overcast and windy as we started a ‘seawatch’ above the beach at Balevullin. Manx shearwaters, gannets, fulmars, kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills were all commuting offshore, but our main interest was watching a mini drama unfold in the bay below. A crèche of mix aged eider chicks were feeding together, but then separated, two females taking a couple of older chicks off round a headland. Shortly after, one of the chicks reappeared in an agitated state, obviously lost. It swam around calling, but to no avail. We were convinced one of the passing great black-backs would make a meal of it, but it eventually disappeared round the headland again. It all had a happy ending when the reunited ‘family’ came back into view a while later.

We had noticed the steadily increasing wind and approaching clouds, so decided to have a walk along the beach before the weather closed in. We were watching the surf school attempting to get to grip with their boards when the rain finally hit with a vengeance, so it was back to the minibus as quickly as possible. Despite the rain, our hardy botanists managed to find sea holly and sea bindweed in the dunes.

Lunch was taken in the shelter of the bird hide at Loch Bhasapoll, where we watched a lovely male stonechat and sedge warblers, before spending the afternoon in An Iodhlann (pronounced ‘an-ee-u-lan), Tiree’s local history centre. Amongst many things we learnt was that there are about 2 million people worldwide who can claim a Tiree ancestry, mainly in Canada and Australia.

As quickly as the bad weather came, it was gone, so we spent the evening trying to see corncrakes and otters, with mixed success. Despite being within a few feet of a calling corncrake, frustratingly only a few of us managed to even glimpse it, and we drew a blank on the otter tonight – though it was seen before breakfast this morning. What we didn’t know was that Mick and Linda, from inside the ‘house’, saw the otter on the other side of the pier! We did have good views of a family of twite, surprisingly beautiful small brown birds sometimes called the northern linnet.


Otter watch at Hynish small

Otter Watch at Hynish

Seawatch at Balevullin 1  small

Seawatch at Balevullin

Seawatch at Balevullin 2  small

Seawatch at Balevullin


Thursday 3rd July

A walk up and over the headland of Ceann a’ Mhara (Kenavara in English).

We started with a beachcombe along Traigh Bhi, finding all sorts of things washed up – bladder and egg wrack, sugar kelp, bootlace sea weed, sea-mat (a Bryozoan), sea gooseberry, jelly fish and a dead otter. At the far end, as we left the beach, a startled hedgehog ‘froze’ mid stride, but scuttled off when we moved away.

Next stop was St Patrick’s Temple, the remains of a medieval chapel hidden away amongst the rocks. There was probably an earlier Celtic chapel on the site, but we thought Patrick must have been a very busy chap to get around all his chapels and wells! Bloody cranesbill added a dash of colour on the cliff above.

Our lunch stop was on a promontory looking back at the main cliffs of Kenavara, so we were able to ‘scope the small breeding colony of guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars, shags, and a few black guillemots. The gulls and 3 bonxies (great skuas) hanging around the edges of the cliffs obviously prey on the eggs and young of the other seabirds. Lunch was cut short with the onset of a shower, and we headed uphill for impressive panoramic views across Tiree.

Coming down through the dune system, where important Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age, 8500 years ago) remains have recently been found, we spent some time looking at the birds on Loch a Phuill. This area normally has one of the highest populations of breeding waders in the UK, but we saw very few, and wondered if it was a poor year. There were certainly plenty of greylag geese with young, and from being threatened back in the 70’s/80’s, this native population of greylags (as opposed to the feral population in the south) has recovered remarkably well, to the extent that they are now seen as a pest and are being ‘controlled’ in parts of the Hebrides. Earlier we had found a greylag skull complete with the horny sheath inside the beak, similar to teeth in some ways; no wonder they are such effective ‘lawn mowers’!

There were at least 7 male corncrakes calling in the Hynish area this evening, though I only managed a brief sighting of one as it flew into a tall stand of cow parsley.


Balephuil Bay small

Balephuil Bay


Crossing the headland, Kenavara small

Crossing the headland, Kenavara


Kenavara small


Kenavara. Lunch, but looks like a shower is on the way small

Kenavara. Lunch, but looks like a shower is on the way


The shower has arrived!  small

The Shower has arrived !

Watching seabirds, Kenavara  small

Watching seabirds, Kenavara


Friday 4th July

A wet morning, so a chance to look around the two excellent exhibitions at the Hynish Centre, one about the Treshnish Isles, the other the Skerryvore Lighthouse.

A fine sunny afternoon saw us out on the Reef machair enjoying the absolute profusion of wild flowers – common spotted, frog, early marsh (var coccinea) orchids, yellow rattle, eyebright, lady’s bedstraw, red and white clovers, meadow rue, ox-eye daisy, self heal, tufted vetch, kidney vetch, wild carrot, hogweed. Terns nest on the Reef, and there was a constant procession of arctic and little terns carrying sand eels inland to feed hungry chicks; a few times we ventured too near and were warned off! A group of 32 little terns, a mixture of adults and young, conveniently sat on the beach to be admired down our telescopes.

At one point a buzzard flew over, and was immediately mobbed by a mixed group of 20 or so birds – terns, oystercatcher, lapwing and redshank. It took the hint and headed off.

Quite a few people decided to walk back to Hynish along the beaches, while the minibus party crossed the island to Balephetrish Bay. Sally checked an old map she had annotated on a previous trip, and led us to the only site on the island for oyster plant – a thriving colony.

A fitting finale this evening. Firstly a female and well grown cub otter quite a way offshore, and then the dog otter just off the pier at Hynish. Wonderful, despite a few midgies.

Crossapol Bay small

Crossapol Bay

Early Marsh Orchid (var coccinea) small

Early March Orchid ( var coccinea )

Minibus at Crossapol Bay 1 small

At Crossapol Bay

Oyster Plant 2 small Oyster Plant small

Oyster Plant

Plant ID, the Reef small

Plant ID , The Reef

The Reef small

The Reef

Treshnish Isles exhibition small

Treshnish Isles Exhibition , Hynish

Treshnish Isles exhibition, Hynish small

Treshnish Isles Exhibition , Hynish

Wild flowers, The Reef small

Wild Flowers , The Reef


Saturday 5th July

Ferry to Oban via Coll.

Red throated diver in Gott Bay as we left Tiree, but again a relatively quiet crossing. We did have distant sightings of both golden and white-tailed eagle over Mull, and two otters near the tern islands in the Sound of Mull.

All too soon it was farewells in Oban, and the Tiree 14 headed off in various directions – promising to meet again for another island adventure.






One thought on “Tiree 28th June – 5th July”

  1. The write-up and super pictures brought the fantastic holiday back to life again. Can’t wait until next year! Sallie

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