Trip Reports ______________________________________________________



Scotland (Western Isles) 2012

...with Mark Finn

May 6th - 13th

May 6th: Black Isle, Skye, Grenitote, Valley Strand, Benbecula.

Weather: Sunny with a cold north wind 9 C.

We left the Black isle at 0910 hours for the journey to Skye and onto the Western Isles. Our first birding stop was at Waterloo on Skye an inlet of the sea with grassy islands. On arrival a scan of the area revealed Greylag Goose, Red-throated Diver, Eurasian Curlew and Ringed Plover. In bushes by the sea we heard the distinctive songs of Willow and Sedge Warblers. Our journey continued to the ferry terminus at Uig, the departure point for the Western Isles. The harbour at Uig held Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Black Guillemot, Common Sandpiper and a Northern Gannet. The ferry left on time with the crossing adding Great Northern Diver, Atlantic Puffin, Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Northern Fulmar, Great Skua and various species of gulls. On landing at Lochmaddy we headed straight to Grenitote an area of extensive beaches, sand dunes and agricultural farmland. The muddy areas attracted a range of waders including Eurasian Oystercatcher, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Redshank, Grey Plover, Northern Lapwing and Bar-tailed Godwits. A bonus here was a Little Tern which showed well next to the parking area. A distant Golden Eagle was seen as we headed towards the main road. Along the road two Short-eared Owls put on a superb hunting display. A diversion to Valley Strand produced an Arctic Skua, Common Eider and around fifteen Snow Buntings. Travelled to Benbecula with a party of Whimbrel feeding in the fields near our hotel.

May 7th: Benbecula including Coot Loch and Stinky Bay, Balranald, Valley Strand, Solas, The Range, Ford Terrace.

Weather: Overcast with a cool northwest wind 10 C.

The commoner birds of Benbecula were present in and around the hotel car park. After breakfast I headed to the local Co-op to pick up supplies for the day. Behind the store Arctic Terns had recently arrived for the summer season. The first stop was Coot Loch where we recorded Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Common Moorhen, Common Coot and a pair of Little Grebes. A short diversion to another water body added Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal and singing Skylarks. Back towards the main road with a stop at Stinky Bay which was covered in water hence no ‘smell’ today. The shoreline was jumping with waders which were mainly Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Sanderling and Bar-tailed Godwits. Also present were White and Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits foraging among the seaweed. We then travelled to Balranald on North Uist and the RSPB reserve of the same name. En route a stop was made for the northern forms of European Golden Plovers and a pair of Barn Swallows the latter being a scarce summer visitor to the islands. At Balranald I headed towards the shore and embarked on a walk adjacent to the beach overlooking the Monarch Islands. In the bay we recorded Great Northern Diver, Great Cormorant, European Shag, Northern Gannet and Common Eiders plus a sizeable flock of Arctic Terns. Returned to the van when a Corn Bunting gave his song from a low perch. Further down the track we were delighted to see a second summer Iceland Gull feeding with Common Gulls. Lunch taken by an iris bed with calling Corncrakes of which, one bird showed briefly in flight. The lagoons held a lone Whooper Swan, Gadwall and displaying Common Snipe. After lunch I headed back towards Valley Strand and Solas before turning onto Commissioners Road and the raptor viewpoint. Short-eared Owl was still present from yesterday afternoon. From the parking area we noted a pair of Hen Harriers and Ravens. We ended the day with a visit to The Range where the highlight was a female Merlin on the machir. Ford Terrace attracted hundreds of Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Grey Plovers the latter in breeding plumage.

May 8th: Loch Druidibeag, Smeircleit, Rubha Aird A’Mhuile, Loch Aineort, Tuath Bay, Benbecula.

Weather: Overcast with sunny spells and rain showers. Northerly wind 10 C.

Today we concentrated on South Uist with our first visit being to Loch Druidibeag. En route we encountered Short-eared Owl, Arctic Tern and the familiar waterbirds of the islands. On the road next to Loch Druidibeag good numbers of Common Sandpiper, Northern Wheatear and Greylag Geese. Careful scanning of the loch provided us with Common Eider, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Common Shelduck and Red-breasted Merganser. A male Hen Harrier showed well before dropping a food parcel down to its mate. The gorse along the road attracted Common Stonechat and the Hebrides race of Eurasian Wren. Next was a stop at Smeircleit at the southern end of South Uist. Offshore a build up of Great Northern Divers, and on the beach Whimbrel, Ringed Plover and Dunlin. A return to the cafe allowed us very close views of another Short-eared Owl perched on a post outside the cafe window. Rubha Aird a’Mhuile is a noted sea-watching and migration point jutting out into the North Atlantic Ocean. On the entrance track an Iceland Gull was associating with Common, Black-headed and Herring Gulls. At the car park a search of the seaweed and adjacent beach attracted hordes of Dunlin, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone and migrant White Wagtails. A bonus was a party of Canadian bound Pale-bellied Brent Geese which proceeded to graze on the machir. Loch Aineort is close by another important area for birds including a patch of mixed woodland. The latter held Willow Warbler, European Robin and a singing Song Thrush. At the high point of the trail we stopped to scan the mountain side and loch. On the loch Red-throated Diver, Black Guillemot and Arctic Terns. John then located a young White-tailed Eagle which showed well (it was later joined by an adult bird). Tuath Bay was a wonderful place to study wading birds including Purple Sandpiper and all the regular migrants present. In road side lochs Eurasian Wigeon and Eurasian Teal. The weather was starting to worsen as we journeyed over the causeway and onto Benbecula. Our last birds were a party of Black-tailed Godwits feeding in a meadow.

May 9th: Loch Sandaraig, Sound of Harris, Northton, Luskentire, Miabhag, Stornoway.

Weather: Sunny with northwest winds 12 C.

Today we headed towards North Uist and the ferry across The Sound of Harris to Harris. Birding from the ferry was an enjoyable experience as we witnessed large numbers of Great Northern Divers in loose flocks. In the harbour a pair of Arctic Skuas was observed. About halfway across the sound Red-throated Diver, Northern Gannet and Black Guillemot were all present whilst the rocky islands attracted European Shag and Common Eider. A bonus here was a Long-tailed Skua which gave exceptional views as it flew north. Arrived at Leverburgh on time and joined the road north towards Stornoway. Our first stop was at Northton a small village with lines of trees, salt marsh and tidal sand beaches. The trees had singing Willow Warblers, European Greenfinch and a Common Cuckoo being pursued by Meadow Pipits. Next on the agenda was the area around Luskentire a truly beautiful region of sandy beaches, mountains and indented waters. Along the entrance road Red-breasted Merganser, Greenshank and Common Sandpipers were seen either resting of feeding. At the end of the road we walked to the Sound of Taransay, few birds around apart from Common Eider and Arctic Tern. At the car park Twite and Northern Wheatears perched on tombstones in the cemetery. European Golden Plovers were observed feeding on a grassy slope. Our journey took us to Tarbet the main town on Harris and onto Miabhag. At the latter we walked along a well-marked trail recording a pair of Golden Eagles and Common Buzzard. The last birding stop was at Stornoway Harbour where a group of Common Terns were perched on a small boat a fitting end to the day.

May 10th: Mealabost, Loch Stiapabhat, Butt of Lewis, Sgiogarstaigh, Loch Bharabhais, Bragar, Eisgein.

Weather: Overcast and cool with a northeast wind 9 C.

We started the day by visiting the lagoon at Mealabost an important staging post for wildfowl and gulls. To my surprise up to 220 Long-tailed Ducks in various plumages were present with Red-breasted Mergansers. Back to Stornoway and onto the Butt of Lewis the northwesternmost point in Britain. En route we stopped at an elevated position to look into Loch Stiapabhat. Careful scanning gave us views of Whooper Swan, Barnacle and Greylag Geese, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Eurasian Teal, Tufted Duck and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The Butt of Lewis was very windy and cold in the northerly winds. A short seawatch produced Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake, European Shag, Northern Gannet, auks and the commoner gull species. Along the coast the old fishing village of Sgiogarstaigh was visited where the choppy seas made viewing difficult. Despite this we found Great Northern and Red-throated Divers and similar birds to those at the ‘Butt’. Loch Bharabhais held hundreds of Dunlin, Ringed Plover and two Sanderlings. A sandy patch on the loch attracted gulls including an Iceland. Bragar was visited but nothing of note was seen so I headed to Eisgein a spectacular glen with moors and lochs. At the turning a Golden Eagle was being mobbed by a Common Buzzard but nothing could compete with the next sighting. A satellite tagged White-tailed Eagle was observed hunting at low levels and approaching the van, a truly memorable experience. Eisgein also allowed us views of Common Sandpiper, European Golden Plover, Willow Warbler and the endemic subspecies of Dunnock.

May 11th: Traigh Uuide, Mangurstagh, Mealasta, Loch a’Bhaile, Bragar, Mealabost.

Weather: Mainly sunny with occasional showers and a northwest wind 12 C.

This morning the group set off into the remote and sparsely populated area of West Lewis. An area of ragged mountains, sea lochs, sandy beaches and machir adjacent to the North Atlantic Ocean. Just outside Stornoway two European Goldfinches flew across the road. The first stop was at Traigh Uuide an area of sandy beaches and machir. The latter held good numbers of European Golden Plovers, Dunlin and Black-headed Gulls. Across the bay five Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Greylag Geese and Grey Herons were observed. Mangurstagh was next on the agenda a remote settlement with views towards the uninhabited Flannan Islands. At the radar station a pair of Common Sandpipers was on territory. Offshore a steady stream of Northern Fulmar, Northern Gannet and auks and a Great Skua. Drove to the end of the road for lunch by the old jetty. On the return journey a pair of Common Redstarts was found taking insects from a dry stonewall. A late Redwing was also recorded sitting on a fencepost. A change of plan saw us revisit Bragar and its cemetery by the sea. The latter attracted Northern Wheatears in high numbers and Twite on the boundary wall. A short walk around Bragar yielded Common Redpoll and Whinchat in the shrubby gardens. Back to Stornoway and a visit to Mealabost always a good place for birds and today was no exception. The lagoon had Long-tailed Duck, Barn Swallow and House Martin the latter a scarce summer visitor to the islands. Offshore we noted Great Northern and Red-throated Divers, Common and Velvet Scoters, gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes. On the beach several White Wagtails on their northward migration.

May 12th: Stornoway, Eye Peninsula, Stornoway to Ullapool ferry, Inverness.

Weather: Sunny with a brisk west wind 13 C.

A later start today as we headed towards the Eye Peninsula which is separated by a thin strip of land and a causeway. The usual birds were at Mealabost so I headed towards one of the coastal villages. The rocky shore held a Rock Pipit and a juvenile Peregrine Falcon flying by with a recently caught bird. In the crafting fields three Pink-footed Geese. Returned to Stornoway and headed for the castle grounds. A walk around the path system added Blackcap, Common Chiffchaff and Blue Tit to the bird list. At 1430 hours we set off across The Minch on the final birding leg of the tour. Highlights included Great and Arctic Skuas, Manx Shearwater, Atlantic Puffin and the more frequent seabirds. Once in Ullapool we headed to Inverness where the tour concluded.

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