As we approach the end of another season here at RSPB Mull of Galloway I thought I would leave you with a blog from one of our fantastic residential volunteers this year. Take it away Lucy! 

As I headed up the single-track road to the RSPB Visitor Centre, I was both excited and nervous in anticipation of what the next two weeks would have in store for me on the Mull of Galloway. However, when I turned the corner and was rewarded with stunning views across the sea and caught my first glimpse of the lighthouse standing proud on the headland, I soon forgot about my apprehensions.

RSPB Mull of Galloway is a small reserve but it is home to an abundance of wildlife and a delightful little place. The Visitor Centre itself is an old bothy dating from 1838 when it was constructed to accommodate the builders of the lighthouse. This sturdy building was made to withstand the stormy winds that can batter the headland. The bothy now houses the RSPB Visitors Centre and is a colourful array of information, displays, videos and live cameras all about wildlife on the Mull. The Centre is welcoming and friendly and many visitors who pop in just to get out of the ‘breeze’ end up staying for a chat and to find out more about the seabirds and wildlife in general.

My role as a volunteer was to help at the Centre and the RSPB staff Rob and David made me feel very welcome and at ease there. I learnt a wealth of information from them both, and I was soon able to pass this knowledge onto visitors. I also gained the confidence to ask visitors about RSPB membership and felt comfortable promoting the work of the RSPB.

For the remainder of this blog, rather than describing things on a day to day basis I am going to tell the story of my last day on the Mull which was a culmination of my brilliant time there…

I set off early from the comfortable RSPB accommodation in Drummore to make the most of the sunny morning. The weather had been a bit wild over the last two weeks with plenty of strong winds and quite a few heavy showers, however this morning it was almost perfect with blue skies and a “gentle” breeze. As I was driving up the road to the Mull of Galloway, I saw a grey blob on the road and stopped. Just as I did, the blob launched itself into the air- it was a Sparrowhawk – a great start to the day. I continued on my journey dodging cows and sheep until I arrived at the car park. As I set off towards the lighthouse, I saw the hare that I had been trying to photograph for the last two weeks but as ever he was just too quick for me!

I walked across the heath hoping that the stoat that had peeped out of the heather at me a few days ago might make a reappearance but he was nowhere to be seen. I did however, see five roe deer this morning. I had seen them most mornings and on one of the mornings Rob and I spent about 5 minutes photographing a doe lying in a hollow until she got up and gently walked away. The deer I saw this morning were a little startled and bounded away flashing their white rumps as they went.

Roe dee - Photo credit: Lucy Dunn

As I got closer to the willows I looked out for the gorgeous little goldcrest and wren that I had seen there the past few days and true to form they were there flitting about in the bushes. I continued down to Lagvag point to see what I could see off the headland and looked out over the sea to watch the tidal race charging past – a sight I never tired of – it is truly mesmerising. Onwards to the Foghorn, where I amused myself by trying to count all the vole holes – they are everywhere on the reserve. It was a warm morning and as I was following one of the mammal runs, I caught something out of the corner of my eye, the voles were darting about in the grass. I stopped and listened to them squeaking to each other, another lovely start to the day!

Goldcrest - Photo credit: Lucy Dunn

Voles - Photo credit: Lucy Dunn

Near to the foghorn is the walled garden that forms part of the lighthouse land. It was here that I often saw the stonechat, which had also been avoiding my camera but this morning posed brilliantly for me on the white stone wall set against the bright blue sky. Across on the heath I was also able to photograph a wheatear and numerous linnets as they picked seeds out of the flowers. It was mid- September but there was still plenty of butterflies around, particularly red admiral and tortoiseshell. I also saw a couple of fox moth caterpillars, which are stunning big hairy beasts. I eventually made my way back to the Visitors Centre to help David, RSPB staff member and Dennis, my fellow volunteer set up for the day.

Stonechat - Photo credit: Lucy Dunn

Wheatear - Photo credit: Lucy Dunn

Linnet - Photo credit: Lucy Dunn

As I arrived at the Centre the kestrels were already out hunting on the heath. This was another daily delight for us all and something we never tired of. There are 4 resident kestrels on the Mull, which isn’t surprising given the number of voles running around. A few days previously on the guided walk that Rob leads, we saw 2 kestrels hunting in the same area and dive bombing each other. Just watching their skill and concentration when hunting was addictive.  

Kestrel - Photo credit: Lucy Dunn

In the Visitors’ Centre this morning, we had a delivery of goodies to top up our tombola and membership packs. Dennis and I set about checking off the order and adding prizes to the tombola. And then as the visitors gradually started to arrive we talked to them about the wonders of the Mull of Galloway. It was an interesting time of year as most of the seabirds had finished nesting for the season, left the cliffs and headed back out to sea. However, there was still some shags and gannets around and we had also been seeing quite a few grey seals. This combined with all the activity on the heath meant that there was still plenty to talk about and enthuse the visitors.

During my time on the Mull I had also been conducting a mammal survey on the site and my walk this morning formed part of this. The survey involved walking a transect on the reserve to look for mammals, but also to look for signs of mammals such as tracks and droppings. I had also placed my wildlife camera out on four nights previously, but it had not been a great success. The weather had been quite wild and one set of footage was of the camera strap blowing in front of the lens, another was of vertical rain, another was just a white screen as the camera was placed too close to the ground. I did however have one successful evening and got some footage of a brown hare and a roe deer. It was not quite the badger footage I was hoping for but I was still pleased to get some successful images after subsequent nights of trying. As part of my survey, Rob had agreed that I could use his small mammal traps to see what small mammals I could find. I put these out today and on checking found a lovely little field vole happily munching away on some apple that I had put in the traps. After a couple of photos to confirm the identification, I released the vole back to his home in the wild.

Back in the Visitors Centre, David had spotted a male and female grey seal on the live camera. They were merrily swimming around in the cave below the foghorn. As it was my last day and we didn’t have too many visitors around I asked David if it was okay to go down and to try and photograph them. It was probably the sunniest day I had spent on the Mull and so it was great to be out in the fresh air. When I arrived at the foghorn I could hear the seals calling to each other but couldn’t actually see them – they were just tucked too far back in the cave.

I spent a few moments enjoying my last view of the sun sparkling off the sea. I was just about to head back up to the Visitors Centre when I couldn’t believe my luck – heading around the headland I saw the dorsal fins of 3 or 4 dolphins. I was absolutely stunned and tried to stay calm as I quickly snapped some photos and took a short video before the dolphins headed off back out to sea. Back at the Centre David and I got out some identification guides and with the help of the slow and creaking internet, identified the dolphins as Risso’s dolphins. This was not only a first for the reserve this year but also a first ever sighting for me…what a way to end my time volunteering on the Mull of Galloway!

Risso's dolphin - Photo credit: Lucy Dunn

As the day came to an end I spent a few moments outside reminiscing over my time on the Mull. I had made new friends and met lots of lovely visitors from very close to my home and as far away as Devon and Orkney. I had enjoyed wonderful walks on the cliffs and had time every day to spend a few quiet moments bird or mammal watching. I had not just worked indoors in the Centre, I had spent time in the walled garden with Dennis, dismantling scarecrows and moving weeds. I also had some fun and went around the lighthouse exhibition and up the tower. It really was a fantastic two weeks and anyone who was hesitating about volunteering for the RSPB, I would recommend to just go for it and try it. The memories of my time there will stay with me forever.

Lucy Dunn - Residential volunteer


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