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History of the Island of Mull
Chapter VI - Fauna


The isle of Mull is so Tar separated from the mainland of Scotland as to isolate it from land animals migrating from one to the other. What were the pre-historic mammals we know very little. It is more than probable that many animals have been exterminated by man, and before his advent conditions were constantly changing, and during the various epochs, only the fittest survived. The domestic animals, now maintained, were imported. This consists of the horse, blackfaced cattle, sheep, hog, dog and cat. At one time Mull was noted for its ponies, supposed to have sprung from one that was landed from the Florida, a vessel belonging to the Spanish Armada. The prevailing type of the sheep is the cheviot. The dogs belong principally to the collie type. Great pride is taken in keeping high grades of domestic animals.

From the account of domestic animals, prepared by Pennant, and prefixed to Lightfoot’s “Flora Scotica”, it is stated that the predominant color of the horse was grey or white; small in the Highlands or Isles; smaller in Tyree and the Shet-lands; that the breed was improved by James I., by introducing horses from Hungary. The ox is quite numerous; a great article of trade; often hornless, and in winter is fed on sea-wrack. Sheep is found in all districts; fleeces are generally coarse. The goat is used for its milk, given medically, and also made into cheese. The hides are *used in commerce; and the flesh is salted for winter use. The Highland gray-hound is rare; is large, strong, deep-chested; covered with long hair; was very popular in olden times, and then used in great numbers by chieftains, in hunting. The cat is quite universal.

Wild Animals:    That class of wild animals belonging lo mammals, in variety, is quite limited. The best known and most popular is the red deer, indigenous to the Highlands. It is kept all over Mull, except in the Ross of Mull. The corries of Ben More, Glen Forsa and Loch Buy are particularly suited to the deer. It often grows to a great size. It is now kept within bounds by high wire fences. Pennant speaks of the roe deer being found in Mull; that its skin and horns were articles of commerce; that it was fond of the minis saxatilis, or roe-buck-berry; that the fawns, when taken, are with great difficulty reared. In 1845 it was common in the parishes of Kilfinichen, Kilviceuen and Kilninian. The fallow deer was probably introduced into Scotland from Denmark, in 1589, by James VI. In 1868 it was introduced into Glen Forsa, where it thrived well in the woods, and does not roam much into other parts of the isle.

Graham, in his “Birds of Iona and Mull”, thus speaks of the deer in Glen More:

“I passed under the foot of giant Ben More, and entered the gloomy black gorge of Glenmore, the great glen of Mull. It now became intensely dark, so I sat down to wait for the moon to rise. Not a sound was to be heard in this desolate region, except the tinkling of the mountain rills, and the soft sighing of the night wind as it stole round the slopes of the hill and across the moor, though so gentle as scarcely to shake the heather-bells or to make the white cotton moss bend its head. Presently the full moon rose up into the clear blue frosty sky, high above the mountain peaks, which were silvered in her beams. The winding river and chain of lakelets far down at the bottom of the glen glistened with her rays, and even the road itself looked like a river of light along the mountainside. I walked for several hours under this radiant moon till I came, at about eleven o’clock, to a place called Ardjura, a wooded glen, through the bottom of which runs a broad river. Here I was suddenly startled by hearing an extraordinary noise, like that of a person in the agonies of death, which seemed to proceed from the copse by the roadside. I stopped and listened, when suddenly there burst from every side a roaring like that of a number of bulls, only a much harsher, more quavering noise, more like a howl. Now it sounded from the dark cover close at hand, awakening all the echoes of the valley, and then was answered from the shoulder of the mountain in a long bray, which rang upon the clear, still night air, and died away in a lugubrious groan. I quaked, expecting every moment to see a rabble route of fire-fanged, brazen-lunged demons rush across our road, which here, overreached'by boughs partially obstructing the moonlight, seemed tessellated with ivory and ebony. The noise continued without intermission, and the trampling, crackling of twigs, and occasioned coughings of some creatures close at hand among the brake, seemed to be coming closer. Just as I was about to invoke St. Columba’s aid, and to vow a vast number of tapers to be burnt at his shrine, I recollected that this part of Mull was very much frequented by wild red deer, and that this was the time of year that the stags begin belling or braying, when the antlered chief of the herd,

‘Through all his lusty veins,
The bull, deep-scorch’d, the raging passion feels,
He seeks the fight; and, idly butting, feigns
His rival gored in every knotty trunk.
Him should he meet, the bellowing war begins.’

The very deep roar from the shoulder of the hill proclaimed ‘a noble beast of grace’ descending the brae side to dispute the chieftainship of the corrie with the stags of less degree.”

Pennant says the fox swarms in many parts of the Highlands, “but none in any part of the Hebrides, except Skie”. The old “Statistical Account," 1791-6, under the division of the parish of Kilfinichen and Kilvieeuen says, that the deer, fox and rabbit were the only wild animals in that district, and the last named a recent importation. Under that of Torosay it declares that the “mountains of Torosay contain red deer, foxes.” The “New Statistical Account,” 1845, under Torosay, says “there is not one” fox in the parish. This edition does not mention the fox under Kilfinichen and Kilvicuen, nor under Kilninian and Kilmore. In all probability the fox is not indigenous to the Western Isles, but may have been imported into Mull, and finally became extinct.

In Mull, the so-called Irish hare (L. hibernicus) occurs, and was introduced at Loch Buy.

The rabbit was introduced a short time before the old “Statistical Account” was published.

The mole was brought to Mull about the year 1808 by a vessel from Morvern that discharged an earthen ballast near Tobermory. It has become quite numerous in the Isle.

No mention is made of any variety of the bat in the old “Statistical Account” regarding Argyleshire, and as late as 1852, Graham had seen but one in Iona. At that time it was equally as scarce, or absent, in Mull; but in 1888 it was reported to be common. It is known as the long-eared bat.

Sea Mammals: While it is stated that the otter “abounds in the Hebrides”, I cannot recall any reference to its existence in Mull. Occasionally the whale has been seen off the coast. The common seal is met with along the coast.

Reptiles: The viper, or adder, in Mull, is particularly large and venomous, and quite numerous, and distributed over a large area, “although much kept down by the sheep, whose introduction, along with the clearance of brush-wood and drainage of land, has removed their favorite haunts and reduced their number.” The slow worm(Anguis fragillis) is generally distributed over the island.

Freshwater Fish: For ts size Mull is very rich in the salmon family, although Loch Frisa and Loch Uisg are seldom reached by Salmo salar. Most of the rivers are well supplied. Rainbow trout is found in Loch Uisg. American brook trour in all the lochs on the estate of Loch Buy; likewise the Char (Salmo alpimis) has been introduced. The tench (Tinea vulgaris), catfish, gudgeon and black bass have been placed in Loch Uisg, and the last named in Loch Ba.

Salt Water Fish: Great shoals of fish surround all the coast of Mull, and those enumerated, abound at all seasons, being the cod, ling, whiting, plaice, flounder, skate and lythe; and periodically are the herring, mackerel and gurnet. The shell-fish are the lobster, clam, cockle, muscle, whelk, crab-lobster, and various others.

Birds: Fortunately the birds of Mull have been faith fully studied by a lover of the feathered tribe. H. D. Graham spent six years in Iona and made a special study of the birds of that island and Mull. The following list I have constructed from different publications.

The golden eagle is less numerous than formerly. It had numerous eyries among the precipitous cliffs of the south and west coast of Mull.

The sea eagle was scarce in 1867, but had an eyrie in the cliffs of Gribun in 1871, and stated by the natives to be used regularly by this bird.

The peregrine is frequently seen along the coast hunting for ducks, rock pigeons, and sea gulls. It is possible that some of them have their nests in the island.

Of the hawk species the most abundant is the kestrel. While it is the most abundant bird of prey in Mull, yet it is comparatively harmless.

A very active bird is the Merlin. It is quite numerous.

The sparrow hawk is scarce.

Once numerous and nesting in Mull, is the common harrier. During the breeding season it retired to the inland hills.

From time to time a stray specimen of the white owl is met with on the mainland of Mull.

In the long heather on the moors, the short eared owl may be found.

The water ousel and ring ousel, or blackbird are common. The common blackbird is a favorite, and visits Mull to pick up its winter subsistence.

The fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) is found on the northwest coast at Calgary.

The redwing (Turdus iliacus) visits the island in winter during severe weather and shelters itself in the little glens and hollows of the hills.

The missel thrush and song thrush occur.

The wheatear (Saxicola oenantlie) comes as the sweet harbinger of spring.

The stonechat (Pratincola rubicola) is one of the three most abundant birds about Bunessan.

The redstart (Ruticilla plioeiiicuriis), of late years, has been found in some of the wooded parts.

The robbin is common.

The white-throat is not abundant.

The common sparrow, better known as the English sparrow (.Passer domestic us) close to human habitations, breeds abundantly.

The hedge sparrow is abundant.

The pied wagtail is always met with, and the grey wagtail is not an infrequent visitor.

The meadow pipit is common all the summer, but the rock pipit is rarer in winter than in summer.

In many parts the raven is common.

The hooded crow is abundant.

While the jackdaw is found, yet no breeding place has been discovered.

The rook visits Mull in winter. At one time there were two rookeries on the shores of Loch Scridain.

The red legged crow (Pyrrliocorax graculus) is one of the rare birds of Scotland. It is elegantly shaped, graceful in movement; its plumage, though of the blackest, shines as brilliant as burnished steel.

The starling is rarely met with.

The green grosbeak is common all the year.

A very small bird is the twite, and flies in dense numbers during the winter months. The males that remain during the summer have the red crown and pink breast.

The common bunting is found in all the stackyards and stubble fields in winter; and in summer may be seen on the the roofs of houses, and other places. The snow bunting is a winter visitor, but does not remain long. The yellow bunting is numerous at Calgary.

The yellow hammer is a resident but not abundant.

On the cultivated fields, the lower pastures and the whole coast, the skylark is very abundant, and always welcome.

Plenty of the common wrens frequent the gardens and the neighborhood of houses and byres.

Large flocks of males of the chaffinch have been observed in the stubble fields in the east of Mull.

The cuckoo may be seen throughout the isle.

In the stunted underwood among the rocks of west Mull the goatsuckers thrive.

Plenty of swallows in the isle.

The swift is not common.

The rock dove abounds.

On the wild tracks of land on the southwestern part of the island, the blackcock flourishes.    -

The red grouse is not abundant.

The common ptarmigan is believed to be indigenous, where it still nests in small numbers. It may be seen on Ben Buy, Craig Bann, and on Ben More. In winter its plumage is pure white.

The heron still nests in ivy on an inland cliff near the head of Loch Scridain, and on the southwest slope of Ben More. It is common on the rocky coasts.

In 1867 the woodcock was known to breed-near the extremity of the Ross of Mull; but it has so increased since then that its nestings may be said to occupy every suitable place. Common snipe is abundant. The jack snipe is a common visitor.

The bar-tailed godwit occasionally appears on the shores.

The common redshank is very abundant along the shores, except in the height of the breeding season. Usually it is alone, but occasionally in small flocks.

The greenshank is rare.

The common sandpiper is a summer visitant. The curlew sandpiper is occasionally seen among other sandpipers and small frequenters of the ebb. The rock sandpiper is a much heavier bird than the other varieties. It is met with late in the summer, and is not uncommon in the winter.

The dunlin at all seasons.

The turnstone is common in winter, but scarce in summer.

The curlew is exceedingly abundant.

The whimbrel only makes its visits during the month of May.

The lapwing is common at all times of the year, and abundant on the estuaries of rivers and fen lands.

The golden plover remains at all times. The ring plover is common in autumn, but only a few pairs breed in the island.

The ring dotterel is common on the gravel by seashores in winter.

The sanderling is a very rare visitor.    ,

The oyster-catcher is exceedingly abundant.

Water-rail only occasionally seen in severe weather, when it is frozen out of its place of concealment.

Corncrake arrives about the middle of May.

Water hen not abundant.

Wild swan, at one time, was quite abundant, but is decreasing owing to the sportsman.

Bean goose is a winter visitor. Pink-footed goose visits in winter. White-fronted goose rare. Bernacle goose the most abundant of that family. Brent goose is only a straggler.    .

Shieldrake is a handsome bird. Quite common. Mallard, or “big Scotch duck” is plentiful and its nests are found near fresh water lakes.

Widgeon, or “Norwegian duck” is plentiful.

Teal is not abundant.

Scaup is a regular winter visitor, but not abundant.

Golden eye is common along the seashore and on fresh water.

Long tailed duck arrives about the beginning of November on the northern coast.

Eider duck is common the year round.

Goosander is plentiful along the shores all the year.

Red-breasted mergauser is generally abundant.

Great northern diver is uncommon in winter, and disappears in June. Red-throated and black-throated divers are common.    '

Little greve is found in the water that divides Ulva from Mull.

Common guillemont is found along the stupendous basaltic cliffs of south and west Mull and there breeds myriads of its kind. Black guillemont is the commonest bird in Mull, next to the gulls.

Little auk rarely makes its appearance. Razorbill auk comes at the same season, breeds on the same cliffs and covers the same seas as the .common guillemont.

Puffin is abundant and visits the shores by the thousands.

Green-crested cormorant is by far the most plentiful of all water fowl, taken the whole year round. It breeds abundantly in all the great sea caves, and also along the headlands of Burg and Gribun.

Solan goose appears from time to time. Though the noblest of visiting water-fowl, yet the people refuse to eat its flesh, owing to the rank, strong smell peculiar to itself.

Manx shearwater is not numerous; breeds in rock holes; produces a single white egg, blunt at both ends.

Stormy petrel is found in vast numbers and comes to Mull for the purpose of incubation.

Fulmar is occasionally found dead along the sea shore.

Common and arctic tern are abundant, and their arrival —punctual to the day, May 12—is the sure harbinger of spring to the inhabitants of the coast.

Sabine’s gull is exceedingly rare in Europe. One specimen was shot on Loch Spelve in September 1883. Blackheaded gull has been included in some lists as occuring in Mull. Black-backed gull—the giant of the species—is frequently seen, both singly and in pairs. Lesser black-backed gull is a very fine large bird, with a powerful voice and great sweep of wing. Its plumage is pure white, with black mantle and wings. Herring gull, large and powerful, is quite abundant. Its eggs are eagerly sought. Common gull exists in vast numbers about the shores. Kittiwake arrives in great numbers during the summer. Glancus gull has been identified as a rare visitor to the shores of Mull.

Arctic skua is an uncommon bird.


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