Trip Reports ______________________________________________________

 

 

Mull, Tiree and The Uists 2013


...with Mark Finn

May 12th - 19th

This unique tour taking in Mull, Tiree, Barra and The Uists proved to be very successful for the special birds the area has to offer along with a few surprise sightings along the way. Highlights included a drake Green-winged Teal on South Uist, a large passage of Great Northern Divers, up to five White-tailed Eagles on several islands, some very showy Corncrakes on Tiree (although many birds had not arrived from their wintering grounds in Africa), thousands of waders on northbound migration, Red-necked Phalaropes, eight species of gulls including Little, Iceland and Glaucous, Great, Pomarine and Arctic Skuas, Wood Warbler, the declining Corn Bunting on North Uist and several family parties of Twite.

Our next tour to this unique area is in May 2014.

May 12th: Inverness, Fort William, Ardnamurchan, Oban.

Weather: Rain showers with a few sunny intervals on a cool west wind 9 C.

After picking everyone up we headed in a westerly direction along Loch Ness towards Fort William which nestles under Ben Nevis the highest mountain in Britain. The weather was rather poor along the route with rain showers and low cloud. Despite this we located a few birds including the locally uncommon Eurasian Jay. Beyond Fort William we caught the ferry across Loch Linnie and onto the beautiful Ardnamurchan Peninsula. The fast flowing waters here attracted Black Guillemots and Herring Gulls. The first stop was at an inlet with a border of seaweed and pools attracting Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Whimbrel and low over the water feeding Barn Swallow, House and Sand Martins. Kate found a Whinchat perched on a low bush. As we travelled along the narrow roads several stops were made to watch Great Northern Diver, Northern Gannets, Great Cormorant, European Shag and a Common Cuckoo being pursued by Meadow Pipits. A short stop at the natural history centre allowed us to watch Great and Blue Tits and Eurasian Siskins on the feeders. Down by the shore a small group of Canada Geese. Later in the afternoon we went back to the ferry with a stop for Goosanders feeding in a sheltered bay. Back at the ferry terminal a Rock Pipit perched on a wall whilst a male Common Eider flew up the loch towards Fort William. Joined the main road towards Oban where we are based for two nights.

May 13th: Mull including Lochdon, Grasspoint, Glen More, Scenic road to Salen.

Weather: Rain showers with sunny spells on a cool west wind 10 C.

After breakfast we headed towards the ferry terminal for the short crossing to Mull. In the harbour several Black Guillemots were present near their nests in the harbour walls. The ferry provided us with sightings of Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Arctic Tern, Black-legged Kittiwake and a male Common Eider. On arrival at Craignure I headed towards the sea loch of Lochdon. The various grassy islands held Greylag Geese, Common, Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, Herring and Black-headed Gulls and a single Mute Swan. In the water channels a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers. On returning to the main road various feeders had Eurasian Siskins, Great and Blue Tits, Chaffinch and Dunnock. I turned towards Grasspoint with a strong west wind and gusts of rain showers. Common Stonechat and Willow Warbler were observed by the road. Our luck changed on the return when a pair of Hen Harriers showed well with the male in display flight mode. As we approached Glen More a short stop added Goosander, Canada Goose and the Hebridean race of Song Thrush. After lunch our journey took us towards a large sea loch with Eurasian Kestrel, Eurasian Curlew and Mistle Thrush en route. I then picked up a distant raptor which turned out to be an adult White-tailed Eagle. It gave us superb views over farmland and forest as it was being mobbed by corvids. Richard mentioned a Wood Warbler site nearby and the bird duly obliged singing from a birch tree. A few waders were recorded; Northern Lapwing, Common Redshank and Ringed Plover as we made the diversion along the scenic road to Salen. Another White-tailed Eagle was noted in flight. The seashore added the commoner birds and Great Northern Divers in summer plumage. A return to Lochdon produced nothing of note before we headed back to Oban for our second night.

May 14th: Oban, Loch Nell, Glen Lonan, Airds Bay, Oban to Tiree ferry via Coll.

Weather: Sunny spells and showers on a stiff southwest wind 11 C.

The day started with cloud and rain over Oban. After checking out we made the short journey towards Loch Nell and a loch alongside the main Oban to Glasgow road. The loch attracted the usual gulls and a female Common Eider. By the road a Common Whitethroat delivered his song from a dead branch, in the distance I could hear the distinctive reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler. On Loch Nell itself a pair of Little Grebes and Common Sandpipers on territory and a pair of Reed Buntings sitting on a fence line. Glen Lonan was reached a beautiful valley with a wide range of habitats. A slow drive through the area produced Northern Wheatear, Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits on the sheep fields and overhead the first Common Swift of the tour. In the rough grassland and stone walls views of; Whinchat and Mistle Thrush whilst a tall pine attracted a singing Tree Pipit. We entered a wooded area where Eurasian Jay and Eurasian Treecreeper were added to the day list. A short diversion to Airds Bay provided us with excellent views of Garden Warbler and a calling Lesser Redpoll. Lunch by the marine institute before heading to Oban harbour for the ferry journey to Tiree via Coll. Seabirds were few in the Sound of Mull until we reached the open ocean where we located Pomarine Skua, Whimbrel, Common Guillemot and Razorbill. Once out of the sheltered loch Northern Gannet, Black-legged Kittiwake and Atlantic Puffins were seen. A brief stop at Coll produced nothing new until we went to Tiree with large numbers of Manx Shearwater, Arctic Tern and Northern Fulmars. Arrived on time at Tiree where we made the short journey to the Scaranish Hotel our base for two nights.

May 15th: Tiree including: Gott Bay, Milton, Vaul, Balephetrish Bay, Loch a’Phuill, Hynish, Loch an Eilean, Loch Bhasapol.

Weather: Rather mixed with sunny spells and showers on a brisk northwest wind 11 C.

After breakfast we set off on our birding day around Tiree. The first stop was the extensive sandy beach and adjacent sea at Gott Bay. The shore held hundreds of waders including Dunlin, Sanderling and Ringed Plovers. Offshore we watched a flock of Great Northern Divers and Arctic Terns. I travelled along the road to the hamlet of Milton. On the entrance road Common Snipe, Northern Wheatears including a few of the larger Greenland races, White and Pied Wagtails, Whimbrel and the localised Grey Heron and Common Buzzard. At Milton we watched the first Little Terns of the trip whilst Common Eider and Common Eiders were observed in the sheltered waters of the harbour. A short diversion to Vaul added a pair of European Greenfinches in a garden with Eurasian Linnets feeding on roadside flowers. Next on the agenda was Balephetrish Bay which had similar birds to Gott Bay but in larger numbers. It was time for lunch at Loch a’Phuill a large, shallow lochan bordered by vegetation. Whooper and Mute Swans were noted with Barn Swallows and Sand Martins. I decided to visit the area around Hynish which provided us with excellent views of Corn Crakes in the iris beds. Sedge Warblers were also present giving their distinctive songs. Loch an Eilean held nesting Mute Swans and a few Tufted Ducks so I moved onto Loch Bhasapol. This large loch attracted a Great Skua being mobbed by Black-headed Gulls. Just before we left three Eurasian Teal flew into cover.

May 16th: Tiree, Tiree to Barra Ferry, Barra.

Weather: Sunny with light north-westerly winds 12 C.

Checked out of the hotel and made the short journey down to Loch an Eilean. Our visit paid off as four Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits were feeding on the loch edge. Afterwards we made brief visits to several areas of Tiree before I bumped into John Bowler the conservation officer for Tiree. John put us onto a small party of Twite which duly obliged by perching on fence lines and calling. To our surprise a second year Iceland Gull had ‘dropped in’ to a nearby grass field. Time was ticking away as we had to be at the ferry terminus for the journey up to Barra. The harbour held several Great Northern Divers and migrant Sanderling, Dunlin and Ruddy Turnstones. Seawatching en route to Barra produced the usual species with high numbers of Northern Gannet, Northern Fulmar and Razorbills. Up to two Great Skuas were also noted near active trawlers. Before arriving on Barra an adult White-tailed Eagle was seen soaring over the high point above Castlebay. On arrival in Barra we checked into the hotel and then embarked on the circular route around this beautiful island bathed in spring sunshine. Our first stop had a calling Corncrake whilst the gardens attracted European Goldfinch and European Greenfinch two localised birds of the Western Isles. A Common Cuckoo was noted on a wire and two Red-throated Divers gave great views on an inland loch. We ended the day looking into the North Atlantic Ocean observing a party of Common Eiders and a single male Long-tailed Duck.

May 17th: Barra, Vatersay, Loch Scarmlate, Loch Aynort, Rubha Aird a’Mhuile, Loch Mor, Coot Loch, Ford Terrace.

Weather: Sunny with a brisk north-easterly wind 9 C

We left the hotel in Castlebay and made the short journey down towards the local Co-op and football pitch. The latter has stands of birch trees and scrub which attracts many birds. The group soon located Common Redpolls and a singing Blackcap. I then ventured onto the island of Vatersay which is reached by a small causeway. The highlight was watching a party of Twite feeding in a field of primroses. It was time to travel to the ferry which connects Barra to Eriksay. The crossing held the commoner birds including healthy numbers of Great Northern Divers. On arrival we made Loch Scarmlate our first port of call which had a male Green-winged Teal which duly showed for us all. On the nearby beach we located Great Cormorant, European Shag, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling and Dunlin. Rubha Aird a’Mhuile had the commoner migrants whilst a brief visit to Lake Aynort was aborted due to high numbers of birders. This proved to be a blessing in disguise as a Golden Eagle was found by Roger. This magnificent bird gave us great flight views before landing near a fence and to our surprise walking on the ground. Loch Mor was next on the agenda where we had poor views of Red-necked Phalarope plus Northern Shoveler. Nearby, Coot Loch produced Common Coot, Common Moorhen and Little Grebe. Our last stop was in and around Ford Terrace with a diversion to a west facing bay. The usual waders were present in high numbers plus the first Bar-tailed Godwits of the tour.

May 18th: Loch Mor, The Range, Baileshare, Loch Sanderaigh, Balranald, Grenitote, Solas Road, Stinky Bay.

Weather: Cloudy with a strong north-easterly wind 9 C.

After breakfast a visit to Loch Mor. Similar birds to our previous visit with distant views of a phalarope. I decided to visit The Range which is a military area with public access. A stop at a recently ploughed field added a first year Little Gull feeding with Herring, Common and Black-headed Gulls. We crossed the causeway into South Uist when I noticed an adult White-tailed Eagle flying low over the moorland it gave us good and prolonged views before disappearing out of sight. A male Hen Harrier was also in the area. On entering The Range it appeared to be rather bird-less until Roger located a pair of Dotterel feeding quietly on the grass. We retraced our journey northwards and made a diversion to the grasslands and pools of Baileshare which is always worth a visit. Careful scanning of the habitat produced high numbers of Ringed Plovers and Dunlin. Loch Sanderaigh is nearby and this produced a first year Glaucous Gull on a grassy island. A short visit to Balranald due to weather conditions added the declining and uncommon race of Corn Bunting. Further along the coast at Grenitote birding from the car park provided us with Great and Arctic Skuas, Common Knot and the commoner wading birds. It was time to make our way back home along the Commissioners Road. To our delight a Short-eared Owl was located hunting over the peat beds whilst further down the road a pair of Hen Harriers showed well. A brief stop at Stinky Bay produced nothing of note so a final visit to Loch Mor was planned. This was particularly good as Kate found a female Red-necked Phalarope close to the road which allowed excellent scope views. Also present were Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall and Northern Shoveler.

May 19th: Solas Road, Lochmaddy, Isle of Skye, Inverness.

Weather: Sunny with a light southeast wind 18 C.

Ironically the weather today was the best of the tour. After checking out of the hotel we made the journey towards the Solas Road where two Short-eared Owls were hunting for food over the moors. A short stop at Grenitote added similar birds too yesterday so I proceeded to the ferry terminus at Lochmaddy. The crossing produced the commoner seabirds plus several Manx Shearwaters and good numbers of Atlantic Puffins. On the approach to Uig a first year Black-throated Diver was seen close to the harbour wall. Landed on Skye and proceeded to Inverness in bright sunshine and warmth admiring the stunning scenery along the route.

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 enquiries@birdwatchingbreaks.com.


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