Wildlife of Mull Head

Mull_head-sign600Mull Head in Orkney is a clifftop haven for seabirds and a great vantage point to watch seals and porpoise.

Only plants tolerant of sea spray can live on the cliff edge.  They often bear thick fleshy leaves and form a ground hugging habit which helps them cope with the salty conditions. Early summer sees the clifftops carpeted in the blue and pink of Spring Squill and Thrift (Armeria Maritima).

Heath & grassland
Much of Mull head has never been ploughed and heathland plants such as ling and Bell Heather dominate.  Sedges and herbs appear as the ground becomes wetter and cotton grass and sphagnum moss are to be found in the most waterlogged areas.

Heathland is bathed in pink and purple heathers

Heathland is bathed in pink and purple heathers

The grassland areas of the reserve are the result of 19th century agricultural improvements, but they have not been subjected to modern day agricultural practices.  This has allowed a variety of wild flowers to flourish, including Grass of Parnassus.

Orkney Voles are common on Mull head. Their runs can be seen crisscrossing the coastal grassland.  They are an important food source for short eared owls which are often seen hunting over the reserve.

Heathland Birds
The heathland is home to a variety of colonies, some fish feeding birds, but also pirates and scavengers.

Arctic Terns, common gulls and Lesser Black-Backed Gulls are all dependent on the sea for food but prefer to nest away from the cliff edge where the long heather provides ground cover for concealing eggs and chicks.

Great Black-Backed Gulls and Herring Gulls are scavengers, taking refuse from the sea and stealing eggs and chicks.

Great Arctic Skuas are the pirates of the skies preferring to rob other birds that fish for themselves.

silhouetted in the evening sun

silhouetted in the evening sun

Cliff nesting birds
The sandstone cliffs of Mull Head teem with bird life in the summer months (May-July).  Fish feeding birds of the open ocean return to the cliffs each summer to breed and raise their chicks.  This Seabird City has it’s own distinct communities.  Fulmars build their nests near the top of the cliff, while Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills nest in the middle, perching on sharp, narrow ledges.  Shags occupy the lower levels and can be seen in large groups on the rocks, sitting with their wings spread to the evening setting sun.

Dolphins, Porpoises and even whales can be spotted offshore with the Harbour Porpoise one of the most common species to be seen.

Common Seal

Common Seal

Grey and Common Seals are frequently seen along the coast of the reserve, Their inquisitive nature often leading them to follow visitors progress along the cliff.
Greys have the horselike head whilst the Common Seals have little dog-like faces.

Seals are locally known as Selkies and legends which originated in the Orkney Isles will tell of seals which can transform themselves to humans.

May also be of interest

Wildlife Scotland – The official guide to Scotland’s wildlife
Walking Scotland – Details of the Mull Head Circular route.