Trip Reports _______________________________________________________



Scotland (Islay) 2006

...with Mark Finn

January 18th - 23rd

We have been visiting Islay since 1989 and once again this Inner Hebridean Island came up with some exceptional birds and sightings. The highlights were of course the thousands of Barnacle and Greenland (White-fronted) Geese plus large concentrations of wildfowl. The new reserve at Oa is set in spectacular coastal scenery and allowed us the privilege of watching a perched adult Golden Eagle being mobbed by a Herring Gull. Rare birds were in short supply this year although we managed to find Cackling (Lesser Canada) Goose and a Green-winged Teal. We also visited Jura for half a day an interesting island and quite different from Islay.

January 18th: Renfrew - West Loch Tarbet - Ballygrant - Loch Indaal - Bridgend.

Weather: Overcast with frequent showers, 13 C.

We met up at Glasgow Airport and made the short journey down to Renfrew a rather run down area of the city. Our main objective was to locate of flock of Bohemian Waxwings which were reported a few days earlier. We looked without success but managed some of the commoner finches. Our journey north and west took us past Loch Lomond and Loch Fyne and eventually to the small towns of Inverary, Lochghilpead and Tarbert. The weather was particularly bad with rain showers and low cloud. At Kennacraig we joined the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to Port Askaig on Islay. The crossing produced Great Northern and Red-throated Divers, Common Eider, Common Guillemot and Razorbill and around fishing boats Black-legged Kittiwakes and Herring Gulls. Arrived in Port Askaig ahead of schedule and travelled to Ballygrant and turned onto the 'high road'. We came across our first group of Greenland (White-fronted) Geese feeding in a flooded field. A stop in Bowmore added Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Greater Scaup, Eurasian Wigeon and Common Redshank. The weather turned for the worst making an early check-in at Bridgend a popular option.

January 19th: Bridgend - Bruichladdich - Port Charlotte - Portnahaven - Octofad - Kilchoman - Machir Bay - Ardnave Loch - Loch Gruinart.

Weather: Early rain clearing then overcast and mild, SW winds, 13 C.

Travelled west this morning stopping at Bruichladdich where we observed Ruddy Turnstone, Rock Pipit and a variety of gulls. Onto Port Charlotte and a brief visit to the pier with a winter-plumaged Great Northern Diver a few metres away. A small loch en route to Portnahaven was productive for Tufted Duck, Eurasian Wigeon, and Common Teal and, nearby Whooper Swan and a fly-by Eurasian Sparrowhawk. In fields good numbers of Rock Dove and Common Raven. At Portnahaven we checked the harbour but it held little of note. However our luck changed north of the village on a loch where I located a drake Green-winged Teal amongst the numerous Common Teals. A detour to the abandoned village of Octofad produced a male Hen Harrier. Returned to the paved road and headed along the coast recording Northern Fulmar, Common Buzzard and sizeable flocks of Barnacle Geese and a few Greylag and Greenland Geese mixed in with them. On the road towards Port Charlotte pairs of Common Stonechats perched on roadside fences. Along the shore of Loch Indaal and inland towards Machir Bay was next on the agenda. Fields held good numbers of geese plus roving flocks of Starlings and a few Redwings and Fieldfares. The highlight was a female Merlin perched next to the road on a telegraph pole. Lunch taken at Machir Bay with 30 Red-billed Choughs for company and several pairs of Common Ravens. After lunch we meandered along minor roads landing up at Ardnave Loch where we added Common Pochard and Common Goldeneye. Our last stop at Loch Gruinart was a wildfowl spectacular with thousands of geese and ducks including Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler. A Grey Wagtail flew overhead plus the last bird of the day a Peregrine Falcon flying towards the north. An excellent day on Islay finished just after 1700 hours.

January 20th: Bridgend - Jura - River Sorne - Loch Skerrols - Loch Indaal - Big Sand - Loch Gruinart.

Weather: Unsettled with hail, sunny periods and showers, NW winds, 9 C.

From the hotel we travelled to Port Askaig and the ferry crossing over to Jura. Shortly afterwards we encountered a first year Golden Eagle hunting along a low cliff. At Craighouse, opposite the distillery we found good numbers of thrushes and pipits. A Grey Wagtail flew overhead and further on along the beach Reed Buntings and parties of Common Redshank and Ruddy Turnstone. A general exploration of Jura followed although birds were thin on the ground. We returned to the ferry and crossed back to Islay and onto the woollen mill. The mill appears to be in a period of decline but the feeders here held Great, Blue and Coal Tits. Lunch was taken at Loch Skerrols with Red-throated Divers, Tufted Duck, Mallard and Little Grebe on the loch. Overhead the first Woodpigeons recorded of the tour. Short stops around Loch Indaal produced Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Greater Scaup, Eurasian Wigeon and Red-breasted Mergansers. Beyond Bowmore we went down to Big Sand observing Hen Harrier, Common Buzzard and Eurasian Sparrowhawk. I decided to go back to Loch Gruinart to visit the hide overlooking large areas of water and rough grassland. Barnacle, Greenland White-fronted Geese and Common Teal were in abundance and often spooked by a female Hen Harrier. We waited until dusk with the spectacle of geese coming into roost. Another enjoyable day in the Inner Hebrides had come to an end.

January 21st: Bridgend Flats - Loch Indaal - Bowmore - Oa - Port Charlotte - Loch Ballygrant - Bruichladdich - Sanaigmore - Gruinart.

Weather: Sunny with light cloud, literally no wind, and 9 C.

The morning dawned with clear skies and no wind compared to the last two days. Our first stop just beyond the hotel gave us wide views of Bridgend Flats. Thousands of Barnacle Geese were walking on the mud flats and after a careful exploration of the flock I located a Cackling Goose (recent split from Canada Goose). Along the shoreline Eurasian Oystercatcher, Eurasian Curlew, Common Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit and Dunlin plus the usual hordes of Common Shelducks. Our route took us towards Bowmore with stops at a small lay-by and the power station. Excellent viewing conditions allowed us to locate Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Slavonian Grebe, Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck and flocks of Eurasian Wigeon. In Bowmore harbour up to 200 Dunlin roosting on rocks with a single Purple Sandpiper. Nearby Whooper and Mute Swans, Common Goldeneye and Rock Pipit. We travelled down to Port Ellen checking the harbour and beach areas with two winter-plumaged Black Guillemots at the former. At 1130 we reached the entry point into the recently acquired RSPB Oa Reserve a spectacular area of steep cliffs, moors and fields. We joined the circular walk towards the farm recording a mixed flock of Chaffinch, Eurasian Linnet, Twite and Reed Bunting whilst the farm buildings held several Common Stonechats. Beyond the house a well-marked trail winds itself by the cliffs and eventually back down into boggy moor and fields. I noticed a Herring Gull bombing something; it happened to be a magnificent adult Golden Eagle perched on a rock top. The rest of the walk provided little in the way of birdlife but this was offset by the beautiful scenery and vistas. Back in the 4x4 and headed to Loch Ballygrant where an injured Mute Swan took a dislike to us as it walked along the path. On the loch Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe and Common Moorhen the latter a scarce species on Islay. We rechecked Bruichladdich with no luck and ventured out towards Loch Gorm and Sanaigmore. Loch Gorm had high numbers of Greylag Geese, Common Teal and Northern Lapwings. Sanaigmore had a single Great Northern Diver and a passing female Hen Harrier. We ended the day at Gruinart and the spectacle of roosting geese. A wonderful day on Islay made better by sunshine and no wind.

January 22nd: Bridgend Woods – Port Charlotte – Loch Gruinart – Ardnave Loch – Bunnahaibhan – Port Askaig – Kennacraig – Glasgow.

Weather: Overcast and mild with light NW winds, 9 C.

A later start today as we checked out of the hotel and made the short journey to Bridgend Woods an area of old trees, streams and rhododendron trees. Mixed flocks of birds included Great, Blue and Coal Tits, Goldcrest and smaller numbers of thrushes. An added bonus was a Dipper feeding in a tiny stream a rare species on Islay. We headed down Loch Indaal to Port Charlotte where we checked the sea although choppy conditions made observations difficult. Near the quay two feeding Great Northern Divers. Time was getting on as we explored the minor road east of Loch Gruinart. High tide was approaching as we stopped to look at an island jam-packed with shorebirds. Eurasian Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwits were common plus a group of Grey Plovers flying past. At Ardnave Loch we had lunch with little change in birdlife on the loch itself. After lunch we headed to Bunnahaibhan but had little success in finding the resident Otters and seabirds. Checked in at Port Askaig for the ferry crossing back to Kennacraig at 1530. The crossing was poor for birds with Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Guillemot and Razorbill being recorded. Landed at Kennacraig on time and took the long and twisting road back to Glasgow. The end to an enjoyable time on Islay a wonderful spectacle of birds in mid-winter.

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