Trip Reports ______________________________________________________



Scotland (Mull & Tiree) 2009

...with Mark Finn

January 18th - 23rd

This Black Isle Birding tour to the islands of Mull and Tiree and adjacent areas around Oban and the beautiful Ardnamurchan Peninsula proved to be a great success. Fortunately, we were blessed by fine weather throughout the tour with little or no rain and a complete lack of winds until later in the week. All the specialities of the region were recorded and seen well including White-tailed and Golden Eagles, Hen Harrier, Corncrake, Grasshopper Warblers and the oak wood species of Common Redstart and Wood Warblers. In addition to these fantastic birds we witnessed an impressive north bound migration of shorebirds and terns.

May 10th: Black Isle, Fort William, Ardnamurchan Peninsula, Oban.

Weather: Sunny with cool southwest winds 13 C.

We left the Black Isle and travelled west via Inverness to Fort William where I purchased supplies for the next few days. The remainder of the day was spent visiting various sites along the scenically beautiful Ardnamurchan Peninsula a very remote and lowly populated region of Scotland. The first stop was along a loch bordered on both sides by low hills and stands of conifer plantations. On the loch, Red-throated Diver, Goosander, Greenshank and Common Sandpipers. On the loch edge several Grey Herons. Trees and bushes attracted Common Cuckoo, Greater Whitethroat, Common Redpoll and Eurasian Siskins. Our journey took us through an area of old deciduous forest and onto the moorland near Ardnamurchan Point the most westerly area in mainland Britain. Low birch scrub attracted a reeling Grasshopper Warbler and a displaying Tree Pipit. The highlight however was a pair of Golden Eagles close to the road. On reaching the point we headed to the lighthouse area and watched over the sea below. Manx Shearwaters, Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Guillemot and feeding Northern Gannets were all recorded. Around the lighthouse walls a Rock Pipit on territory. Time was getting on as we retraced our journey back to the Corran Ferry with singing Blackcap and Wood Warblers en route. At the ferry several Black Guillemots and European Shags. The journey down to Oban went quickly and we checked in for the night.

May 11th: Oban, Tiree including Gott Bay, Salum, Balephetrish Bay, Loch a’Phuill, The Reef.

Weather: Sunny with light southwest winds 13 C.

Checked in at Oban ferry terminus for the crossing to Tiree via Coll. From the harbour we heard Wren, Willow Warbler and Blackbird. In the harbour good numbers of Black Guillemots and the commoner gull species. Birds in the Sound of Mull included Common Eider, Common, Arctic and Sandwich Tern and Black-headed Gulls. On entering the more open waters we located Manx Shearwaters, Northern Gannets, Black-legged Kittiwakes and small numbers of Common Guillemot, Razorbill and Atlantic Puffins. Near the Coll coast several Great Northern and Red-throated Divers were noted along with Common Shelducks. After a short stop in Coll we arrived in Tiree and checked in at the hotel for two nights. The beaches at Scarinish and Gott Bay were full of migrating waders notably Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Sanderling. Lunch was taken at the settlement of Salum where a female Hen Harrier flew past and into the interior of the island. Offshore we noted several divers, auks and seaducks and Little Terns. Balephetrish Bay held similar birds so the short journey to Loch a’Phuill was made, the largest loch on Tiree. On arrival Greylag Geese, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser and Common Snipe, little else of note. We headed back east to Scarinish and our base making a few stops to listen to Corncrakes and meet up with John Bowler the local warden on Tiree. Sedge Warblers appeared to be everywhere in the reeds. The final stop at The Reef was enjoyable for close views of Whooper Swan, Arctic Tern, Whimbrel and Dunlin.

May 12th: Tiree including Ruaig, The Reef, Kenoway, Clachan Mor, Sraid Rudh, Loch a’Phuill, West Hynish, Balephuil, Balinoe to Moss Road.

Weather: Sunny with south winds 14 C.

Outside the hotel in Gott Bay flocks of Dunlin and Sanderling were feeding along the shoreline. Also present were Bar-tailed Godwit and a Common Otter. After breakfast a visit to Ruaig produced a long-staying Glaucous Gull. I decided to backtrack towards Gott Bay and onto The Reef where bird numbers had decreased since yesterday afternoon. We turned into the airport road and checked various habitats including the iris beds. Luck was with us as a newly arrived Corncrake showed well in the open before crouching and running away into cover. At Clachan Mor a check of the machir produced good numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls but no sign of the wintering Iceland Gull. I returned to the main road and turned off towards Sriad Rudh and its well grazed sheep fields. Northern Wheatears were numerous whilst offshore waters held Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Razorbill and fishing Northern Gannets. En route to Loch a’Phuill a Whitethroat perched in a roadside fence and the huge influx of Sedge Warblers continued with several birds on territory. Before reaching Loch a’Phuill a late Merlin was located dashing across the reedbeds. Two drake Eurasian Teals were also found in a narrow drainage channel. Lunch taken at West Hynish followed by a visit to Balephuil. The latter held several calling Corncrakes, a very obliging Grasshopper Warbler and a pair of Twite. The days birding ended with a slow drive along the road between Balinoe and Moss passing through iris beds and pools of water. A little bit of searching added Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Wigeon and Reed Buntings. Returned to base after a great birding day on Tiree.

May 13th: Tiree, Oban, Loch Nell, Glen Loran.

Weather: Sunny with easterly winds 17 C.

After checking out at the Lodge Hotel a short visit to The Reef was made where an increase in Arctic Terns was noted plus a single Bar-tailed Godwit. The ferry crossing to Oban was fairly uneventful for birds apart from a feeding flock of Manx Shearwaters and Atlantic Puffins near the Sound of Mull. On arrival in Oban we travelled south to Loch Nell an enclosed freshwater loch surrounded by woodland. On the loch Little Grebes and Mute Swans, but no sign of the long staying Green-winged Teal. The woodlands were alive with the songs of Willow and Wood Warblers, Whitethroat and Blackcap. Our journey took us into the picturesque Glen Loran where we found the declining Whinchat, and Grey Wagtails along the river. After passing through Connell with recently arrived Common Swifts, the short journey to Oban was made our base for two nights.

May 14th: Mull including Loch Don, Loch Spelve, Glenmore, Loch Scridain, Loch na Keal, Dervaig, Caliach Point.

Weather: Mixed with showers and sunny intervals, east winds 17C.

Today we spent on the island of Mull. We caught the first ferry over to Craignure and immediately onto Loch Don. The tide was high thus concentrating any waders present. On a shingle spit roosting Bar-tailed Godwits and the commoner waders. By the road displaying Whitethroats, Tree Pipits, Willow Warbler and Common Stonechat. The bonus however was an adult White-tailed Eagle sitting on a high point directly opposite us. Next on the agenda was the road leading to Grass Point. In the scrubby areas a Grasshopper Warbler was found ‘reeling’ from a low bush. Dunnock and Coal Tit were added to the tour list singing and calling from the oak woods. At the end of the track a scan of the area produced little of note apart from several soaring Common Buzzards. Returned to the main road and took a short extension to another area of oak woods. This small, mature area of trees was alive with birds including Great Spotted Woodpecker, Common Redstart, Wood Warbler and ever-present Willow Warblers. We passed through Glenmore where many access points have been blocked off and onto the head of Loch Scridain. Fields and mud adjacent to the loch held Northern Lapwing, Common Snipe and a single Common Greenshank. In the waters of the loch, Great Northern Divers, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Guillemot and Razorbill. Lunch taken on the scenic route to Salen, where another White-tailed Eagle, Eurasian Kestrel and a party of European Goldfinches were present. Our journey passed Loch na Keal where three European Golden Plovers were located on a shingle beach. Near Salen a pair of Golden Eagles soared overhead giving excellent flight views. Time was getting on as we travelled along the river towards Dervaig with White-throated Dippers feeding young in the stony section. At Dervaig the muddy shore attracted Dunlin, Common Sandpiper, Common Redshank and Greylag Geese. Our last stop was Caliach Point and its scenic overlook towards the outer islands. Returned to Craignure and the ferry back to Oban.

May 15th: Oban, Bonawe, Fort William, Black Isle.

Weather: Cloudy with rain showers with a strong east wind, 12 C.

Basically a travel day back to the Black Isle from Oban. A short diversion to Bonawe was made for woodland birds. The strong wind made it difficult to hear and see the birds but we managed to hear Blackcap, Garden Warbler (rather uncommon in Northern Scotland), Whitethroat and Willow Warbler. After passing through Fort William our journey was slow due to holiday traffic. The tour concluded at lunch time where we said our goodbyes after an excellent tour to the west coast islands.

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