We arrived on Coll late morning on October 1st, after a lazy ferry journey in which we had a great view of a short-beaked common dolphin surfing the bow waves. We had a quick nosey around the village and then popped into T.E.S.Co (The Ethical Sales Company…terrific wordplay), Coll’s impressively stocked eco shop. Inside, we chatted with Julian, who filled us in on local concerns regarding plans to machine dredge kelp across The Hebrides, something of which we were upsettingly ignorant. The practice is currently banned in Scotland and kelp must be cut by hand, but this may soon be overturned, with unknown and potentially severe ecological consequences for the island. At the reserve, we were met by David and Ben (as well as Ben’s lovely dog Ash) and then given a tour of the fantastic volunteer accommodation, which has amazing views over the reserve. When they say it’s a fully equipped kitchen, they mean it! In the afternoon, we headed out for a tour of the island and were given training in driving the Polaris utility vehicle, very fun!    

2 months of waking up to this view! (weather dependent…)

For the first couple of weeks, much of our time was spent out in the Polaris. Our first job was to carry out livestock counts, helping us to get a bearing on the reserve. Our sense of direction should perhaps be thrown into question given we managed to get lost on one of only a couple of roads on the island! At least we had a good view of a cruising Merlin and had a bit of a laugh rounding up some rogue cows. We also collected data from dipwells at a number of dune sites, measuring ground water levels for an ongoing PhD project. The weather was pretty wild for a few days with ferries cancelled but when conditions were right, we headed up the hill to carry out Shorewatch cetacean surveys for the WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation). We’ve seen plenty of feeding gannets and the hazy spout of a distant whale so we’re cautiously optimistic about the coming weeks.

Perfect afternoon for a Shorewatch.

A priority over the initial two weeks has also been repairing a heavily potholed track as well as painting the barn interior, a job now on temporary hiatus due to the lack of paint for sale on the island! We were also given the chance to start drawing a display board to go out on the reserve and there was plenty of invasive Japanese knotweed to be dealt with, an awkward task in the drizzle. We finished the 2nd week with a clear, chilly Sunday spent exploring the nearby pebbled beach and marvelling that there were actually people surfing in the late October sea.

Week 3 started with a WeBS survey and we headed out with David to check a number of wetland sites. We spotted curlew, lots of teal, ringed plovers, the odd golden plover, tufted ducks, wigeon, red-breasted merganser and great northern divers, some of which were still showing off their impressive summer plumage. Unfortunately, we also noticed a lot of plastic waste had washed up following the turbulent weather, a clean-up operation for the coming weeks! A good chunk of time was spent photographing an unfazed snow-bunting that had likely blown in with blustery weather.

A chance encounter with a snow bunting.

We were joined mid-week by young volunteers from Project Trust, who enthusiastically lent a hand with removing some old fencing. The project brings teenagers to Coll to test their mettle before offering some the chance to live and volunteer abroad for a year. Our fence repair skills are definitely improving and I think our fitness might be too. That week, whilst continuing with the fencing, we were treated to incredible views of a cruising male hen harrier. If only we hadn’t left the camera in the car! Later, we did at least snap this pair of common lizards cached away under some rotten wood before quickly covering them back up.


 Disturbing his sleep!

At the end of week 3, our species list is nearly 60 with a fair few lifers between us. Not a bad start given the slightly erratic weather. Now if only a white-tailed eagle would show itself. Watch this space…

Sophie and Lloyd

Residential Volunteers – 2 months