Trip Reports ______________________________________________________



Mull, Tiree, Barra and The Uists 2014

...with Mark Finn

May 18th - 25th

Our annual visit to the islands off the west coast of Scotland again proved to be successful for birds and the stunning
scenery which comes with it. Highlights included several sightings of White-tailed and Golden Eagles, northbound Great Northern Divers, hordes of shorebirds in breeding plumage Red-necked Phalaropes back at their breeding grounds and for many a male Snowy Owl in flight across Ford Terrace on Benbecula. In addition to this we witnessed thousands of Manx Shearwaters off the Ardnamurchan peninsula, Little Stint on Skye, two approachable Corncrakes outside the hotel on Benbecula, White-winged Terns at Balranald along with the rare Corn Bunting and finally a Hawfinch on Mull.

May 18th: Black Isle, Inverness, Fort William, Ardnamurchan, Oban.

Weather: Rain showers 11 C.

We left the Black Isle, made several pickups in Inverness and then headed westwards towards Fort William and Ben Nevis the latter being shrouded in low cloud. The waterfront at Fort William had a few Common Eiders and Oystercatchers. Further south we crossed by ferry onto the Ardnamurchan peninsula a remote and beautiful part of western Scotland. Our first stop at an inlet produced several species including Red-breasted and Common Mergansers, Common Sandpiper, Greenshank, Grey Wagtail and Common Stonechat. The roadside trees had Willow Warblers in abundance, Tree Pipit and displaying Meadow Pipits in the heather stands. The weather worsened as we made our way towards the lighthouse stopping for lunch at an elevated viewpoint. Along the road the first of many Great Northern Divers and Twite perched on fence wires. On arrival at the lighthouse thousands of Manx Shearwaters were resting offshore on the sea an extraordinary site. Time was getting on a bit as we headed back to the ferry and onto Oban our base for the next two nights.

May 19th: Oban, Mull including Lochdon, Grasspoint, Pennyghael, scenic road to Salen.

Weather: Sunny spells on a northwest wind 16 C.

I had arranged to catch the 0700 crossing to Mull with breakfast on board. On arrival at the harbour Black Guillemots
were in abundance along with Herring and Common Gulls. Once on Mull we headed to Lochdon an enclosed sea loch. Around the muddy edges we located Canada and Greylag Geese, Mute Swan, Common Sandpiper and Shelduck. A reeling Grasshopper Warbler afforded good views as it sang from a clump of gorse. The scrubby patches and telegraph wires attracted Common Whitethroat, Tree Pipit, Common Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and Lesser Redpolls. A short visit to Grasspoint added little of note so we headed towards the long valley and loch which almost dissects Mull in half. Along the road we stopped to watch a juvenile Golden Eagle perched by the road on a cliff ledge. A diversion to Pennyghael and a small stand of oak and beech produced an unexpected Hawfinch, Eurasian Bullfinch and the commoner woodland birds. Lunch was taken by the loch with a party of Common Scoters offshore. Across the water on a hillside we watched at least five White-tailed Eagles which were presumably interested in a dead mammal. The rest of the day was spent slowly driving along the scenic road to Salen with a displaying male Hen Harrier en route.

May 20th: Oban, Loch Neil, Glen Lonan, Aird’s Bay, Oban to Tiree ferry.

Weather: Sunny with brisk northwest winds 21 C.

Today we started with a visit to Loch Neil and Glen Lonan which are both close to Oban. On the outskirts of Oban the only Rooks of the tour were seen. Loch Neil appeared to be devoid of birdlife so I pressed onto the varied habitats of Glen Lonan. Whinchats were seen singing on fence posts and the thicker scrub had Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Common Chiffchaff. In the glen Pied and Grey Wagtails, Common Sandpiper, Mistle Thrush and a Eurasian Sparrowhawk carrying food. At the end of the glen mature woodland held Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blue and Coal Tits. Back to Oban via Aird’s Bay for the ferry journey to Tiree. The crossing had Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls, Arctic Terns, Common Guillemot, Razorbill and Black-legged Kittiwakes. The ferry made a short stop at Coll and then Tiree where the offshore waters had Manx Shearwater, Northern Gannet, Northern Fulmer and in the harbour Common Shelduck and Eurasian Oystercatchers. Transferred to our hotel based at Scarinish base for the next two days.

May 21st: Tiree.

Weather: Overcast with rain showers. Northeast wind 10 C.

The sandy bay outside the hotel held migrant Dunlin and Sanderling and offshore Northern Gannet, Northern Fulmar and Arctic Terns. We started the exploration of Tiree by visiting Gott Bay where the iris beds resounded to the distinctive calls of Corncrakes. On the fence posts Common Snipe perched before ascending into a display flight. The shore at Gott Bay held Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Redshank, Ruddy Turnstone and Common Shelduck with Great Northern Diver and Red-breasted Mergansers fishing in the more settled waters. The channel between Tiree and Coll has a few rocky islands where we found nesting Little Terns. A drive towards the north coast added Razorbill, Common Guillemot, European Shag, Collared Dove and Common Raven. I had arranged to meet up with John Bowler the conservation officer for the island at his house. John’s garden had migrant Sedge and Willow Warblers and Spotted Flycatcher. Lunch was taken by the large loch where we located Whooper Swan and Gadwall plus a fly-by of European Golden Plovers. We ended the day by visiting another lochan where a drake Northern Shoveler was noted, Tufted Ducks on the open water and Reed Buntings singing from the tallest reeds.

May 22nd: Tiree, Barra.

Weather: Rather mixed with northeast winds 11 C.

In the morning we revisited areas of Tiree recording similar species to yesterday. At 1130 we travelled to the dock and joined the northbound ferry to Barra the most southerly of the Western Isles. Once on board we found a suitable spot out of the wind to look for seabirds. North of Coll a few Red-throated Divers were seen and about halfway to Barra small groups of Atlantic Puffins which were to be the only sightings of the tour. On arrival in Barra we checked into the Castlebay Hotel for the night. The gardens here had European Goldfinch, Eurasian Wren of the race hebridensis several Song Thrushes. At 1600 hours we set off on the circular route on Barra with a stop at some bramble bushes which offered us views of Common Redpoll, Common Whitethroat and Northern Wheatears. A walk around the new nature reserve produced Goldcrests and Willow Warblers and further up the road an adult Golden Eagle. A leisurely drive with stops at the golf club and scenic overlooks made for a pleasant days birding.

May 23rd: Barra, South Glendale, Scarmlate, Rubha Aird a’Mhuile, Loch Aynort, Ford Terrace.

Weather: Rather mixed with a northeast wind 11 C

Checked out after breakfast and travelled the short distance to the ferry terminus and the crossing to Eriksay. The crossing was good for seabirds with Northern Gannet, Northern Fulmar, Arctic Tern, Common and Black Guillemots, Razorbill and a single Great Skua. First birding stop on South Uist was at Scarmlate where we tracked down a male Garganey which was associating with a Eurasian Teal. Vernon then located a Peregrine Falcon hunting waders on the beach. A few waders were present including Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone and Ringed Plover. A diversion to the hamlet of South Glendale provided nothing of note so I headed north to the seawatching point of Rubha Aird a’Mhuile. The winds were not favourable on this occasion but the beach was jam packed with hundreds of migrant waders. I decided to head to Loch Aynort where we could take shelter from the nagging winds. The stands of trees held Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Common Redpoll, Dunnock and Eurasian Wren. A walk along the path to a viewing point gave us excellent views of Great Northern and Red-throated Divers and on a distant peak an adult White-tailed Eagle. At least two Golden Eagles were also present patrolling the hillside in search of prey. Next on the agenda was a visit to Loch Bi and The Grange with the latter having an Arctic Skua and a late European Golden Plover. On the return journey a male Eurasian Wigeon. On crossing the causeway we caught up with a male Snowy Owl flying north towards Benbecula an amazing end to the day.

May 24th: South Uist, Benbecula, Coot Loch, North Uist including Balranald and Commissioners Road.

Weather: Sunny spells with a north wind 12 C.

First stop today was to revisit a beach on South Uist where we located a Iceland Gull a good start to the day. Wader numbers appeared to have dipped a little from yesterday so we headed up to Coot Loch on Benbecula. A few localised species found including Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Northern Shoveler, Mallard and Common Coot. Further north we visited the reserve of Balranald with a stop at a loch. The best birds were two summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwits feeding quietly on the loch side. The entrance road to Balranald held three White-winged Terns in summer plumage, a major rarity in Scotland. I drove towards the shore and stopped for more views of waders, White Wagtail and a singing Corn Bunting. Corncrakes were calling everywhere but keeping low due to the wind conditions. Other species included; Whooper Swan, Little Tern and Common Sandpiper. I returned to the coastal road and turned up to Commissioner’s Road and the raptor viewing point. A dark phase Arctic Skua was noted along with a male Hen Harrier doing a food pass to his mate. Several Golden Eagles were also seen over the forest. We ended the day by watching Red-necked Phalaropes at close quarters before they disappeared into the reeds. Later that day after dinner we walked across the road to watch two showy Corncrakes which pleased everybody.

May 25th: Benbecula, Lochmaddy, Uig, Skye, Inverness, Black Isle.

Final species total: 131.

Weather: Sunny with light winds 14 C.

Before going to Lochmaddy I made another diversion back to Balranald where Vernon found a first year Glaucous Gull on the beach. The ferry crossing to Uig was uneventful and rather quiet for birds on this occasion. Skye was sunny a rare occurrence as we went through the middle of the island with stops at Waterloo and adjacent bays. The best bird was a male Little Stint with other waders. The remainder of the journey went through spectacular mountain scenery and along Loch Ness and into Inverness where the tour concluded.

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