Trip Reports ______________________________________________________
This was our annual tour to the islands straddling the west coast of Scotland. The weather played a significant role in our sightings with most days being dominated by low pressure systems running in off the Atlantic accompanied by rain or longer spells of showers. Despite this we managed to get several good sightings of Corncrakes, White-tailed and Golden Eagles, Red-necked Phalaropes and a huge wader passage including Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Dunlin. The various boat journeys allowed us views of Great, Arctic and Pomarine Skuas, Manx Shearwaters and groups of European Storm Petrels south of Barra. Interesting passerines included Wood Warblers on Mull, and the increasingly scarce Corn Bunting on North Uist.
Our next tour to the islands is in May 2016.
May 17th: Black Isle, Inverness, Fort William, Ardnamurchan, Oban.
Weather: Frequent rain showers on a westerly wind 8 C.
From the Black Isle we went towards Inverness and joined the winding road towards Fort William which follows the shores of Loch Ness and affords views of stunning mountain scenery. Just south of Fort William the ferry to the Ardnamurchan peninsula joins the most westerly point of mainland Britain. Our first stop at the head of a loch produced Greenshank, Goosander and Common Sandpipers in display mode. In the nearby woodlands singing Willow Warblers, Wren and Dunnock. The route took us through extensive oak woods although bird activity was low due to poor weather conditions. Song Thrush, Eurasian Blackbird, Blackcap, Common Cuckoo, Blue and Great Tits were all recorded plus the unusual sighting of two male Yellowhammers. Lunch was taken at the ferry port of Kilchoan where several Twite were seen perching on wires and feeding amongst the dandelions flowers. On reaching Ardnamurchan Point a short seawatch resulted in sightings of Manx Shearwaters, Northern Fulmar, Northern Gannet, Common Guillemot and Razorbill. On the return journey a stop at the nature centre produced an adult Golden Eagle, Eurasian Siskins on the feeders plus the commoner woodland birds. The weather worsened on the journey towards Oban with cool temperatures and driving rain.
May 18th: Oban, Mull including Loch Don, Grasspoint, Glenmore, Pennyghael, Loch Scridain, Salen.
Weather: Sunshine with heavy rain showers on a southwest wind 8 C.
An earlier start today with the Mull ferry departing at 0700 hours. Oban harbour held a few Black Guillemots, Herring and Common Gulls and European Shags. The short crossing to Mull added a few birds including Arctic Terns and Black-legged Kittiwakes. On arrival in Mull we made the short journey to an inlet of Loch Don. Feeders in gardens attracted Blue and Great Tits, Chaffinch and Eurasian Siskins. An elevated position looking into the loch gave us views of Great Northern Diver, Red-breasted Merganser, Greylag and Canada Geese, Common Sandpiper, Eurasian Curlew and nesting Mute Swans. Next on the agenda was the road to Grasspoint which is bordered by a mixture of moorland and hanging oak woodland. The latter attracted Common Whitethroat, Tree Pipit, Blackcap, Willow Warbler and hunting Common Buzzards. Near the end of the road we were treated to close views of a hunting male Hen Harrier. Also in the area were Whinchat, Common Stonechat and Reed Bunting. On the return journey a pair of Spotted Flycatchers were seen by Kate. The weather was poor as we travelled down Glenmore to the hamlet of Pennyghael. A stand of beech trees had calling Eurasian Bullfinches and best of all a Wood Warbler building a nest. In Loch Scridain up to five Great Northern Divers and on adjacent grasses European Golden and Ringed Plovers and a calling Whimbrel. On a distant ridge an immature White-tailed Eagle was observed. After lunch we slowly drove along the scenic route to Salen with an adult Golden Eagle giving excellent views. Common Snipe, Grey Wagtail and Rock Pipit were added to the list before returning to the ferry terminal and the sailing to Oban.
May 19th: Oban, Easdale, Glen Lonan, Airds Bay, Oban to Tiree Ferry.
Weather: Sunny with occasional showers on a brisk westerly wind 12 C.
The weather over Oban had cleared enough for Common Swifts to hunt insects over the rooftops. We checked out of our accommodation and travelled south to Easdale on Seil Island. The common birds were observed on the way plus a drake Common Eider at Easdale itself. On the seashore House Martins and Barn Swallows were collecting mud, Rock Pipits were displaying and several Eurasian Linnets perched on wires. Glen Lonan was next on the agenda a long glen littered with several different habitats. Grassy fields near Loch Nell had Rook and Eurasian Jackdaw two localised species of north Argyll. By the loch a singing Common Sandpiper with the nearby gorse and other bushes attracting Common Whitethroat, Whinchat, Common Cuckoo and displaying Northern Lapwings. A sector of birch woods added the songs of Wood Warblers. A diversion to Airds Bay produced the localised Garden Warbler and a pair of Eurasian Bullfinch feeding along the road edge. Soon it was time to return to Oban and catch the ferry to Tiree and Coll. The ferry left on time and passed through the Sound of Mull to the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The best birding was in this sector with sightings of Manx Shearwater, Northern Fulmar, Northern Gannet, Pomarine Skua, Arctic Tern, Common Guillemot and Razorbill. On the approach to Coll a female Hen Harrier was found by Bryan. The short boat trip to Tiree went smoothly where we made the short transfer to our base for the next two nights.
May 20th: Tiree.
Weather: Sunny with increasing cloud in the afternoon. Westerly wind 15 C.
Our day on Tiree started with groups of Dunlin and Sanderling feeding in the bay outside the hotel. Offshore a steady stream of Northern Gannets and a few Northern Fulmars. We headed in an easterly direction stopping at Gott Bay for passage waders including a few Ruddy Turnstones. In the sound separating Tiree and Coll we noted Great Northern Divers, Great Skua, Arctic and Little Terns and good numbers of Common and Black-headed Gulls. A small lochan held Little Grebe and Mallard. Along the north coast more waders and terns plus an Otter running along the beach before entering the sea (we later relocated it eating a fish on some rocks). A slow drive along the coast road (northern) added singing Sedge Warblers in gardens and calling Corncrakes in iris beds. A short diversion to a hide overlooking a large loch and reedbed was productive for Greylag Geese, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Reed Buntings. After lunch a visit to a large loch had Twite and Eurasian Linnets feeding in roadside grasses whilst on the loch we found Mute and Whooper Swan, Common Moorhen and a drake Gadwall. We headed towards the southern coast and an area of iris beds. Luck was with us as two Corncrakes showed well in the open for several minutes before chasing each other into cover. It was then time to drive slowly back to base via a few pools where Gadwall and Northern Shoveler were noted. In fields with cattle we noted above average numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls but no sign of the wintering Glaucous Gull.
May 21st: Tiree, Barra.
Weather: Rain and cloud on a brisk southwest wind 12 C.
checking out we headed towards the western end of Tiree looking for
gulls and ducks. The familiar birds of the island were observed as
the group neared Sandaig, a hamlet bordered by iris beds and flower
meadows. A nice find was a female Northern Pintail which appeared
from cover. A slow drive along the islands roads added nothing new
for the trip so we headed towards the ferry terminus and our journey
northwest to Barra the southernmost island of the Western Isles. In
Tiree harbour a flock of Great Northern Divers, Red-breasted Mergansers
and fishing Arctic Terns. The ferry passes through the channel which
separates Tiree from Coll and our first Atlantic Puffin of the tour.
As we entered the open seas of the North Atlantic Ocean the swell
started to increase and with it the numbers of birds. Northern Fulmar,
Northern Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Common Guillemot, Razorbill and
Kittiwake were numerous along with smaller numbers of European Storm
Petrels and single Great and Pomarine Skuas. As we entered the sheltered
waters of Barra large numbers of Black Guillemots were seen. On arrival
in Barra we embarked on a circular
22nd: Barra, Eriksay, South Uist including South Glendale, Scarmlate,
Rubha Aird a'Mhuile, Loch
Weather: Sunny spells and cloud with northwest winds 14 C
On leaving the guesthouse on Barra we headed towards the ferry terminal for the short crossing to Eriksay. The crossing was good for seabirds with several groups of Great Northern Divers, auks, Arctic Terns, Common Eider and an a sub adult White-tailed Eagle soaring over a hill. On Eriksay we made a stop for supplies and then onto the hamlet of South Glendale which is worth checking for migrants. On this occasion we only found the distinctive race of Eurasian Wren and a male Common Stonechat. A diversion to Scarmlate offered us the commoner waders before heading north to the headland of Rubha Aird a'Mhuile. On arrival we watched a hunting male Hen Harrier, Common Buzzard and in the pool edges Eurasian Wigeon and a single Bar-tailed Godwit. Best of all was a Pomarine Skua which passed along the beach putting many shorebirds to flight. Next on the agenda was Loch Aineort a natural valley dotted with trees adjacent to a sea loch. The trees held singing Willow Warbler and localised species in European Robin and Chaffinch. In the loch a pair of Red-throated Divers, Red-breasted Mergansers and Common Eider. On a distant hillside an adult Golden Eagle was noted and closer to us Common Cuckoo and Raven. Loch Druidibeg produced a pair of Black-throated Divers before visiting Loch Bi and The Range. At Loch Bi the first Eurasian Teal of the tour and large numbers of non-breeding Mute Swans. The Range held nothing of note so I pressed onto Aird A'Mhachair another headland jutting into the ocean. Twite were noted in the graveyard and thousands of waders in roadside pools namely Dunlin, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone and Ringed Plovers. The short journey to Benbecula our base for two nights was made after a highly enjoyable day in these remote islands.
23rd: Benbecula and North Uist including Coot Loch, Stinky Bay, Loch
Sanndaraigh, Aird an Runair,
Weather: Persistent rain on a southerly wind 14 C.
Today proved to be a challenging one as the weather was truly awful with heavy rain on a brisk south wind. Up the road from the hotel a small lochan produced Little Grebe, Northern Shoveler and a single Common Coot. Nearby we checked a seasonal lochan where we had brief views of Red-necked Phalaropes before they went into the cover of reeds and rushes. A bonus here was a pair of Common Terns nesting on a grassy mound. In the distance we watched a hunting Short-eared Owl. Stinky Bay had the common waders and a raft of Common Eiders so I proceeded to Loch Sanndaraigh which always produces something different. Today it was a drake Greater Scaup among the Tufted Ducks. The wind and rain worsened as we approached Aird an Runair. Luck was with us as a lone Corn Bunting sang from a ground position, this subspecies is on the brink of extinction on the islands. Offshore a steady stream of Northern Gannets and Arctic Terns plus a single Arctic Skua. We had good views of two Corncrakes before heading for lunch in a cafe. Afterwards a return to Aird an Runair produced a single Pale-bellied Brent Goose feeding on kelp. A drive to Vallay and Greinetobht with nothing of note being observed so we headed back to the hotel for the last night on the islands.
May 24th: South and North Uist, Lochmaddy to Skye Ferry, Cuil, Broadford Bay.
Final species total: 122.
Weather: Sunny with a strong southwest breeze 14 C.
Our last morning on the islands was spent checking two sites on South Uist. The usual species were present plus an immature White-tailed Eagle sitting in the middle of a grass field. It flew off towards the mountains giving us great views of this magnificent species. A stop along Committee Road produced the only Eurasian Kestrel of the trip. At Greinetobht we added Red Knot among the commoner waders and at least two Little Terns. It was soon time to catch the ferry from Lochmaddy to Uig on Skye with seawatching en route. Atlantic Puffins and Manx Shearwaters were noted along with a single Great Skua and groups of auks. On arrival in Uig a lunch stop at Cuil surprised us with sightings of a Corncrake in the open and calling. The journey across Skye was uneventful with Broadford Bay and Waterloo being almost devoid of birds. Back eastwards to Dingwall and the Black Isle where the tour ended.
This was the first visit to the Western Isles for a couple of years which was dominated by the weather systems around the islands. Generally speaking the winds and on occasion sunny conditions were counter-productive for migrants. Despite this the group managed to observe all the local specialties including high numbers of Golden Eagles. Early migrants included Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Whooper Swan, Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe, hundreds of migrating Northern Gannets, the Icelandic race of Merlin, Ruff, Pied Flycatcher, Northern Wheatears of the Greenland race, and hundreds of Snow Buntings on Lewis.
September 20th: Inverness, Broadford Bay, Uig to Tarbet ferry, Leverburgh to Berneray ferry, Benbecula.
Weather: Rather unsettled with rain showers and a southerly wind, 13 C.
After picking everybody up in Inverness I headed along the shores of Loch Ness and turned westwards towards Kyle of Lochalsh. The route passes through some of the most dramatic and stunning scenery anywhere in the British Isles. Our first birding stop was at Broadford Bay which is sheltered from the elements of the Atlantic Ocean and dotted with small grassy islands and rock outcrops. Waders were to the fore with sightings of Eurasian Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Redshank and Dunlin. In the deeper water channels a party of Red-breasted Mergansers and the abundance of European Shags. In a nearby burn Julia located two Grey Wagtails and a European Robin singing from cover in a garden. Our route passed Portree and then onto Uig the departure point for the Western Isles. The ferry journey to Tarbet produced plenty of Northern Gannets, Black-legged Kittiwakes both adults and juveniles, Common Guillemot, Atlantic Puffin and on an island near Harris an adult White-tailed Eagle. The weather was poor on Harris as I drove south with a few birds feeding on the sandy habitat including Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Common Greenshank and Bar-tailed Godwit. A group of European Goldfinches were seen on telegraph wires at Leverburgh the departure point for North Uist. The ferry crossing was productive for birdlife with substantial numbers of Common Eiders plus sightings of Red-throated Diver and Black Guillemot. Travelled to our base on Benbecula our home for the next few days.
September 21st: Ford Terrace, Aird A'Mhair, The Range, Loch Bi, Rubha Aird A'Mhuile, Loch Aeynort, South Glendale.
Weather: Cloudy followed by sunny spells and a southwest wind 14 C.
Thankfully the rain of yesterday had cleared as we headed south to Ford Terrace on the border between Benbecula and South Uist. By the supermarket a deep water channel attracted Red-breasted Mergansers and Common Eiders. Picked up supplies and took the side road towards the ocean. The extensive mud of Ford Terrace attracted good numbers of Grey and Ringed Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlin and Ruddy Turnstones. Next on the agenda was the seaweed littered beach at Aird A'Mhair which attracted many shorebirds including Sanderling whilst offshore waters had Red-throated Diver, Black Guillemot and the commoner gulls. By the cemetery hundreds of gulls feeding on rotting seaweed. Back to the main road and onto The Range an extensive area of grassland which is a part of the Ministry of Defence land. A slow drive around produced a sizeable flock of European Golden Plovers, Rock Pigeons and a female Merlin sitting on a post which promptly flew away from us. On the return Loch Bi had Mute Swans and Eurasian Teal. Our journey south continued with a visit to Rubha Aird A'Mhuile a noted sea-watching site in autumn although on this visit the winds were not productive for seabirds. Despite this we managed to locate several Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits, Ruff, Common Stonechat and before the main track a male Hen Harrier and hunting Eurasian Kestrels. Lunch was taken at Loch Aeynort with the car park offering us views of Eurasian Wren, Dunnock and European Robin the first two species being endemic sub-species of the islands. A walk through the plantation added a Goldcrest and an unidentified warbler and a Eurasian Sparrowhawk flying low across the water. Down to South Glendale which was quiet today apart from Northern Wheatears and Common Stonechats and hordes of migrant Meadow Pipits. We watched the sea across to Barra and then continued north to base with a male Hen Harrier en route. A diversion to an area of machir was good for Merlin and a female Hen Harrier hunting over the area. Picked up supplies at the supermarket and returned to base.
September 22nd: Coot Loch, Stinky Bay, Baleshare, Loch Sandary, Balranald, Grenitote, Committee Road, The Range.
Weather: Early showers giving way to sunny spells on a west wind 14 C.
In the hotel grounds the group watched the local race of Song Thrush before heading up the road to Coot Loch. This small body of water is always good for wetland species with sightings of Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Common Coot, Common Moorhen and Little Grebes. Stinky Bay is close by with the extensive amounts of seaweed attracting insects and consequently birds. The commoner species were observed along with a juvenile Pale-bellied Brent Goose. Our journey to North Uist took us over several causeways which link the various islands. I turned off to visit the extensive grasslands at Baleshare which attracts Northern Lapwing and European Golden Plovers in good numbers each year. A careful scan of the area produced both species along with Common Raven and the Greenland race of Northern Wheatear. At Loch Sandary similar birds were noted plus a pair of Whooper Swans, Tufted Duck and the Icelandic race of Black-tailed Godwits. Our visit to Balranald was rather quiet for birds on this visit with the highlights being a close flock of Twite and a single Corn Bunting the latter being in steep decline within the Outer Hebrides. Grenitote had little of note so we went to the viewpoint along the Committee Road where we watched a wide range of raptors - Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Eurasian Kestrel. A final visit to The Range did not produce anything new so we headed back to base on Benbecula for our final night on the southern islands.
September 23rd: Benbecula, North Uist, Leverburgh Ferry, Northton, Luskentyre, Tarbet, Stornoway.
Weather: Rain showers and sunny spells with a westerly wind 14 C.
Checked out of the hotel in very dreary weather and headed towards the ferry departure point on Berneray. A short diversion along the way produced a fly-by Peregrine Falcon heading in a southerly direction. The ferry over to Leverburgh on Harris was particularly good for seabirds with sightings of Great Northern and Red-throated Divers, Northern Gannets, Black Guillemots and rafts of Common Eider and European Shags. Once on Harris I headed towards the small village of Northton which always holds a few birds in the bay and in the well vegetated gardens. From the viewing point the bay held Greylag Geese, Black-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew and Common Redshanks. On a nearby cliff the group had views of Golden Eagle and an immature White-tailed Eagle both of which were being harassed by Common Ravens. Our route took us up towards the picturesque hamlet of Luskentyre. A walk towards the beach allows views into the Sound of Taransay (the island itself is large and uninhabited). Careful scanning of the sea produced Red-throated Divers, Common Scoter, Black Guillemot and up to six Slavonian Grebes. Returned to the bus and headed towards Tarbet where a diversion towards Scalpay did not produce anything of note. I decided to press on towards Stornoway the main town of the Western Isles our base for the next three nights.
September 24th: Lewis including Butt of Lewis, Loch Stiapabhat, Skigersta, Bragar, Eishken.
Weather: Mixed with heavy rain showers and sunny intervals on a southwest wind 13 C.
Today was dominated by the weather systems affecting the Western Isles. A check of Stornoway Harbour revealed the commoner gulls species so I set off to the Butt of Lewis the most north-westerly point of Europe. On the approach road we quickly located migrant flocks of Snow Buntings. From the butt itself seabirds passed offshore with Northern Gannets being the most numerous species whilst the grassy cliff tops attracted Rock Pipits. I met up with Tony Marr on the cliff top an old friend of long standing who advised us on recent sightings in the area. Loch Stiapabhat was next on the agenda where the open waters attracted Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal and a migrant Lesser Black-backed Gull. Skigersta added nothing of note so I headed to the sheltered bay at Bragar for lunch. The only bird of note was a Black-tailed Godwit flying in off the sea. The weather was starting to worsen as we travelled to the valley of Eishken which is a reliable spot for raptors. Luck was with us as Julia located an adult Golden Eagle cruising above the estate houses. An early return to base as the weather situation continued to worsen.
September 25th: Stornoway, Butt of Lewis, Bragar, Mangersta Road.
Weather: Mainly sunny with occasional showers on a west wind 13 C
Our first birding stop today was a freshwater loch and shoreline to the east of the town. On arrival the loch held Mallard and Tufted Duck whilst the offshore waters held a juvenile Black-throated Diver. My intention was to visit the Butt of Lewis again as it often produces some good birds in the autumn months. On arrival a flock of Snow Buntings was noted which were later joined by another thirty birds arriving off the sea. A short seawatch followed with hundreds of Northern Gannets passing close-by plus smaller numbers of Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Guillemot and Razorbill. A surprise was a Sooty Shearwater which showed only too briefly before heading in a southerly direction. Ainslie then located a pair of recently arrived Redwings which probably originated from Iceland. It was time to head into a different part of Lewis with a stop at Bragar for lunch. The sandy shore held the common waders, two juvenile Pale-bellied Brent Geese, European Golden Plover and off the sea a family party of Whooper Swans. An overgrown garden in the village centre attracted European Pied Flycatcher, Reed Bunting and European Greenfinch. In the afternoon we spent time along the Mangersta Road a remote and stunning part of Lewis which is sparsely populated and little-visited by birders. Along the route and at Mangersta itself we noted at least eight different Golden Eagles, Common Buzzard, Common Raven and flocks of Rock Pigeons. An excellent days birding in a remote region of the British Isles.
September 26th: Stornoway, Butt of Lewis, Bragar, Stornoway Castle, Stornoway to Ullapool Ferry.
Weather: Cloudy with some rain showers on a southwest wind 14 C.
Our last day on the islands started with another visit to the Butt of Lewis. The wind had dropped so we did not expect a passage of seabirds. The commoner species were offshore with a migrant Great Northern Diver flying towards Wester Ross. To our surprise migrants started to land on the rocky outcrops of the butt with a single Eurasian Curlew, Meadow Pipit and a fantastic flock of around hundred Snow Buntings. Time was running our as we revisited the overgrown gardens at Bragar with a different Pied Flycatcher and two Common Redpolls. Stornoway Castle was the last place on the islands for birds where we picked up Woodpigeon (very localised in the islands), European Blue and Coal Tits and a calling Dunnock. At 1430 hours we set off on the new and impressive Loch Seaforth ferry to Ullapool. Birdlife was rather quiet apart from Northern Gannets and Black-legged Kittiwakes. Near the coast of Wester Ross we added single Great, Pomarine and Arctic Skuas most of which were on a southerly route. Landed at Ullapool and travelled to Inverness where the tour concluded.
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 email@example.com.
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