For its size, Colonsay and Oransay provides an enormous variety of natural habitats. They include both ancient and cultivated woodland, moorland and peat bogs, cultivated farmland, meadows and rough pastures, the machair or raised beaches and tidal flats. The shoreline is also very varied with many sandy beaches as well as rocky shoreline and high cliffs. There are also numerous offshore reefs and islands.
The natural consequence of this variety is an enormous range of bird and plant life which has brought Colonsay to the attention of naturalists and environmentalists. The corncrake, one of Britain's rarest birds, is probably Colonsay's most famous avian resident, and is part of the reason for the RSPB's permanent presence on Colonsay and Oransay, but the list of resident and visiting birds includes many more rarities.
The dramatic cliffs of the western coast of Colonsay are home to enormous colonies of seabirds, notably fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, shags and all types of gull. The beaches and rocky inlets support colonies of ringed plover, terns, oyster catchers and eiders amongst others. The wide range of natural habitats to be found on Colonsay is one of the chief reasons for the great variety of bird life that can be seen in this relatively small area. These include species, both common and rare, that favour moorland, woodland and farmland habitats, as well as the seabirds.
The Argyll Bird Club maintains a list of sightings and habitats - visit their site here.
There are also a number of seal colonies on offshore islands off Oransay and the south west coast of Colonsay. The seals are plentiful and curious about humans, so they are easily seen.
Whales, dolphins and porpoises are regularly spotted and you can keep up to date with sightings on the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin website.
The otters are more shy, and although you may find their distinctive tracks in many places, you will probably have to persevere to see them.
More unusual inhabitants of the eastern coastline of Colonsay are the wild goats, reputedly the descendants of Spanish goats carried on an Armada vessel shipwrecked on Colonsay.
The list of indigenous plants also includes many rarities and these, as well as the famous woodland gardens surrounding Colonsay House, make Colonsay a botanist's paradise.
The hills, moorlands and shore also contribute their share of botanical interest and beauty at various times of the year. Rarities include the Sea Samphire and Marsh Helleborine and the very rare Orchid, Spiranthes Romanzoffiana which was first found at Uragaig on Colonsay in 1930. For the uninitiated there are the sights and smells of bluebells and primroses in spring; heath orchids, wild roses, honeysuckle and fucshia in the summer; and yellow irises and heather in the late summer.
If you wish to know more about the bird and plant life of Colonsay and Oransay, attached are lists of all the known birds and plants. If you visit Colonsay and spot any bird or plant that is not on the list then please let us know and we will pass your information on to the curator of the list.