Scotland (Islay)__________________________________



Scotland (Islay) 2010

...with Mark Finn

November 2nd - 6th

Our annual tour to the Inner Hebridean Island of Islay produced several interesting birds and the spectacle of almost 40000 Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese. Rarities included Cackling Goose (this is a recent split within the complex Lesser Canada Goose family). In addition to this we observed a wide range of raptors from Golden Eagles to Merlins and good numbers of wildfowl. The weather did affect us at times with strong west winds and associated low weather fronts but this did not deter us from the delights Islay has to offer in the autumn.

I am grateful for Lorna and the staff at the Bridgend Hotel which offered us a comfortable central base with well decorated rooms, excellent food and company which made the holiday a joy to be a part of.

The next scheduled tour to Islay is in late November 2011.

November 2nd: Black Isle, Inverness, Fort William, Oban, Kennacraig, Port Ellen, Loch Gruinart.

Weather: Rain with occasional dry periods, southwest winds 10 C.

We left Cygnus House for the journey to Argyll and Bute in Western Scotland, with thousands of Pink-footed Geese in the firth and Whooper Swans flying overhead . The journey went smoothly with a stop at Fort William and then onto Oban in sometimes atrocious driving conditions. The ferry departed from Kennacraig on time at 1300 hours for the crossing to Port Ellen on the southern shores of Islay. Choppy sea conditions made birding tricky at times but good views of Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Common and Black Guillemots, Razorbill, Black-legged Kittiwake and the commoner gull species were seen on the crossing. Arrived in Port Ellen and drove to Bowmore the largest settlement on Islay. The poor weather meant I had to divert to Loch Gruinart where we witnessed thousands of geese including Barnacle, Greenland White-fronted and Greylags. From the viewing platform we observed good numbers of ducks and swans. A lone Eurasian Woodcock was seen by Jeff as we left the reserve to our base at Bridgend.

November 3rd: Bridgend, Bowmore, Loch Indaal, Bruichladdich, Portnahaven, Machir Bay, Loch Gruinart, Ardnave.

Weather: Cloudy with frequent rain showers, west wind 11 C.

At 0700 hours dawn broke to reveal a rather damp and overcast day which was to stay with us throughout. After breakfast our first stop was overlooking the extensive mud at the head of Loch Indaal. Careful scanning of the shore line produced Barnacle and Greylag Geese, Common Shelduck, Eurasian Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and Ringed Plover. A heavy shower forced us back to the van so I decided to head towards Bowmore stopping at a lay-by with views towards Port Charlotte and Bruichladdich. Interesting birds here included Whooper Swan, Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Common Eider, Eurasian Wigeon and the Hebridean races of Song Thrush and Dunnock. We passed through Bowmore and onto the road by the rubbish dump. Needless to say Hooded Crows and Common Ravens were numerous around the dump. In the fields literally hundreds of Barnacle Geese which were spooked by a hunting Common Buzzard. On the tide line a flock of European Golden Plovers and in the loch Great Northern and Black-throated Divers and several Red-breasted Mergansers. Retraced our journey back to Bridgend and turned west on the road to Portnahaven with a stop at Bruichladdich. This was a productive spot with the rocky beach attracting Common Redshank, Ringed Plover, Purple Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone. A fast-flowing burn attracted Pied and Grey Wagtails, Meadow and Rock Pipits. Out in the firth an Otter was seen swimming towards the pier. Towards Bowmore a party of Common Scoters offered great views. After passing through Port Charlotte we started to see flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing and on a telegraph pole a male Merlin which allowed good but brief views. A small lochan attracted Greylag and a single Pink-footed Goose. Adjacent to the lochan a grassy mound attracted a pair of Red-billed Choughs. At Portnahaven we stopped to admire the raging sea which separates Islay from County Antrim in Northern Ireland. A single Northern Gannet was noted plus several North Atlantic Grey Seals in the harbour. Back to the coastal village of Port Charlotte via the rugged west coast road and on to Kilchoman and Machir Bay. Before reaching the later we stopped for hundreds of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese feeding among flocks of sheep and grazing Brown Hares. Lunch at Machir Bay with wheeling flocks of corvids including several Red-billed Choughs. The weather turned for the worse again as we headed to the reserve at Loch Gruinart. Walked down to the hide and proceeded to work through the hundreds of birds present. Slowly the flooded lagoons revealed Mute and Whooper Swans, Mallard, Common Teal, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Black-tailed Godwit and the ever-present flocks of geese. Back to the van and towards Ardnave a remote area of Islay. Stopped by the wood and scanned another Barnacle Goose flock where I picked out two Cackling Geese a rare but regular winter visitor to Islay, excellent views obtained of this sought after bird. The light was starting to fade as we approached Ardnave where Little Grebe and a female Common Goldeneye were added to the list. Returned to base with a few Roe Deers feeding in the open at Loch Gruinart. A highly enjoyable and productive day.

November 4th: Loch Ballygrant, Port Askaig, Bunnahabhain, Ballygrant to Bowmore road, Loch Indaal, Sanaigmore, Loch Gruinart.

Weather: Cloudy with showers and a west wind 15 C.

The weather forecast was again completely wrong as dawn broke to reveal overcast skies and showers. After breakfast we made the short journey to Loch Ballygrant which is well hidden from the road in old beech woods. The loch held significant numbers of Whooper and Mute Swans, Mallard, Eurasian Wigeon and our first Tufted Ducks of the tour. In the woodland habitat we located Great, Blue, Coal and Long-tailed Tits the latter being a rather scarce bird on Scottish islands. Next stop was at the port of Port Askaig where the ferry terminal was temporarily closed due to a collision with the mainland ferry. From the quay we located Wrens and in the distance a Golden Eagle circling over the lighthouse on Jura. Retraced our steps and visited the small community of Bunnahaibhain with the distillery of the same name. On the entrance road a flock of finches was encountered comprising of Chaffinch, Brambling, Twite and Linnet the latter being of the form autochthona, an endemic sub-species to Scotland. Near the distillery we could see the island of Colonsay to the north. The Sound of Jura had a few birds notably Great Northern and Red-throated Divers. The weather started to worsen again as I took the back roads to Sanaigmore a remote farm on the north coast. We passed large flocks of geese and large numbers of Rock Pigeons which are of the pure forms on Islay. Lunch at Sanaigmore with panoramic views over the adjacent marsh and moors. Ray then located a male Hen Harrier which allowed long and excellent views as it quartered over the ground looking for prey. After lunch we visited the opposite side of Loch Gruinart and Loch Gruinart. The rising tide produced a lone Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew and a hunting Peregrine Falcon which eventually landed on a fence post. Due to the weather I decided we should spend the rest of the day in the hide. Similar birds to yesterday with a significant rise in the numbers of Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler and a bonus in the form of a pair of Gadwall a scarce duck in Scotland. As dusk started to fall we were privileged to witness thousands of Barnacle Geese coming into roost with smaller numbers of the rare and declining Greenland White-fronted Goose. Back to the Bridgend Hotel for our last dinner of the trip with much banter and humour around the table. We said our goodbyes to Ray and Carol who were taking the early morning ferry and onto Arran.

November 5th: Port Ellen. Kennacraig, Inverary, Glencoe, Fort William, Inverness, Black Isle.

Weather: Cloudy with a west wind 12 C.

Checked out at 0830 making the short trip down to Port Ellen for the sailing back to Kennacraig on the mainland. The sea looked calmer than a few days before. The crossing went smoothly as we observed Great Northern, Red-throated and Black-throated Divers, Northern Gannet, Black-legged Kittiwake and Razorbill. Arrived at Kennacraig on time and took the longer (more scenic and better roads) through Inverary and into Glencoe. We stopped at the latter where the feeders attracted the commoner woodland birds and Eurasian Siskins. Just before this stop another Golden Eagle was observed high over the mountains. The journey back to Inverness was slow due to road conditions.

November 6th: Black Isle, Inverness.

This was a leaving day for Jeff and Suzanne as they headed south to England by rail and air. Before their departure times we had enough time to track down a flock of Bohemian Waxwings which have arrived in their thousands since mid October into the Highlands. These fantastic birds were seen in the grounds of Milton primary School feeding on berries and catching flies in flight. A stunning species to end the trip on.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at

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