Having checked the weather forecast the night before I was prepared for a tough cycle ride to the RSPB Reserve, the six miles from Arinagour didn’t disappoint! With all my kit and a weeks worth of food packed into four panniers on my bicycle I battled the tough headwind and hail showers, taking refuge at one point in a gully by the side of the road, flushing a snipe in the process. I was welcomed at the reserve by Ben and David and over a welcome brew was taken through a detailed induction and a familiarisation of the accommodation. The volunteer accommodation is superb with everything you could want for a sustained trip to Coll, plenty of storage , lovely and warm and a very well appointed kitchen, oh and the view of the reserve isn’t bad either!
My first task in the afternoon was to assist Ben with some gate repairs and to assist collecting one of the reserve vehicles from a local farm where it was being serviced, meeting Brian one of the local farmers in the process.
The next day was a trip out around the island to scope out some suitable locations for future raptor surveys. On route I was given the opportunity to stock up on a few items at the local shop, the shop is small but will get you anything you need if you ask, the supply is limited so if you are coming to Coll think about pre-ordering before you head over! This is a truly wild and scenic location with fantastic views across to the mainland and other islands. On return to the reserve I completed the gate repairs with Ben and was given instruction in driving work vehicles.
The following day with David busy in the tractor spreading fertiliser I was tasked to assist Ben with fencing work. With superb visibility the views over to Jura and Mull were superb, accompanied by the constant background sound of Lapwing and Barnacle Geese., not a bad working environment.
Thursday my fourth day on the reserve was the first of the raptor surveys, Ben and I headed out and whilst in radio contact with each other scoured the sky for anything of interest. We were rewarded with two White Tailed Eagle sightings (probably juveniles), along with fantastic views of Hen Harriers.
Friday was spent working putting the finishing touches to the Bug Hotel in front of the visitor information room and constructing a new work bench for the barn. In the evening I cycled down to the village, chatted to a few of the locals in the hotel bar, then went to see Star Wars Rogue 1 at the Screen Machine Islands mobile cinema, it’s the best cinema I’ve ever been to!
With the weather now glorious my first week was spent exploring beaches, visiting the village cake sale and doing some birding by bike. With the species count for my trip so far over fifty, Coll has plenty to offer.
Week one has flown by and I’m really looking forward to the next three. If anyone reading this is thinking of coming to Coll as a residential volunteer don’t delay just apply (there's still spaces available from mid April)! Great location, unique island life, friendly locals, fantastic wildlife, superb accommodation and you really feel part of the small team at the RSPB with the opportunity to learn hands on what it’s like to work day in day out on a wild and remote reserve.
Ric Holmes, RSPB Residential Volunteer