Trip Reports ______________________________________________________

 

 

Mull, Tiree, Barra and The Uists 2016


...with Mark Finn

May 15th - 22nd

This was our annual tour to the Hebrides and Western Isles which duly produced exceptional birds in some of the most spectacular scenery in Scotland. Highlights during the week included a spectacular north bound passage of shorebirds in breeding plumage on the Western Isles. Golden and Whitetailed Eagles showed well along with several Short-eared Owls on Benbecula and North Uist. Tiree had a very showy Corncrake which posed in the open for long periods of time (not often you scope them at length). Further north a pair of Red-necked Phalaropes showed on Benbecula. Iceland and Glaucous Gulls were both seen plus a passage of Arctic Terns and a few Little Terns on sandy
beaches and offshore. Passerines of note included Wood Warblers on Mull, one of the last Corn Buntings in North Uist and Whinchats close to Oban.

Our next tour to the islands is in May 2017.

May 15th: Inverness, Fort William, Ardnamurchan Peninsula, Oban.

Weather: Overcast with a northeast wind 11 C.

I picked everybody up from Inverness and started the drive west towards Fort William. The route is very scenic with Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal adjacent to the road. As we entered Fort William the peak of Ben Nevis could clearly be seen. Near Fort Augustus three Common Swifts were noted plus a roadside Mistle Thrush. After making a brief stop in Fort William we joined the Corran Ferry for the short crossing over to the Ardnamurchan Peninsula an area of high mountains, lochs and forests. From the ferry a Black Guillemot was noted. Our first stop produced Common Eider, Red-breasted Merganser and a summer plumaged Great Northern Diver. Further along the road
Greylag Geese, Goosander, Common Sandpiper and Eurasian Curlew feeding on a grassy area. In the forest views of Tree Pipit plus singing Willow Warbler and Common Whitethroat. Next on the agenda was the hide at Salen which added Common and Arctic Terns, Eurasian Oystercatcher and Grey Heron. Near the car park a Eurasian Wren showed briefly along with European Robins. Lunch was taken at a scenic overlook with Barn Swallows and Sand Martins searching for insects on the grass slopes. Lunch was interrupted when an adult White-tailed Eagle flew overhead with two Common Ravens for company. The ferry area at Kilchoan attracted a pair of Rock Pipits, Meadow Pipit, Northern Wheatear and singing Common Sandpipers. Eventually we reached the most westerly point at Ardnamurchan where we added Common Stonechat, Whinchat, Pied and White Wagtails and the commoner gulls. From here I retraced our journey back to the ferry and onto the coastal town of Oban our base for the next two nights.

May 16th: Oban, Mull including Lochdon, Grasspoint, Glenmore, Pennyghael, Scenic road to Salen.

Weather: Cloudy with occasional showers on a northwest wind 11 C.

An early start today as we left our hotel for the ferry terminus at Oban. I picked up the tickets and joined the ferry for the short journey to Craignure in Mull. The crossing was rather quiet for birdlife although Northern Gannet and Black-legged Kittiwake were added to the trip list. On arrival in Mull I headed to Lochdon an enclosed sea loch which attracts a good selection of species. On the mud feeding Mute Swan, Common Shelduck and Common Sandpipers. A walk down the road towards a oak woodland provided the group with views of Common Cuckoo, Sedge and Willow Warblers, a party of Long-tailed Tits, Song Thrush, Great and Coal Tits and a Tree Pipit. It was time to visit Grasspoint with the road running through woods and moors. The first stop allowed us views of Common Whitethroat and Lesser Redpolls. At the end of the road a family group of Common Stonechats and at least two male Whinchats singing from the tops of bushes. Along the coastline a party of migrant Whimbrel headed northwards. It was time to visit the glen of Glenmore where I stopped at a favourable place along the road. A little patience produced a Golden Eagle which was joined by an immature White-tailed Eagle resulting in a duel above the hillside. A male Hen Harrier was an added bonus before disappearing over the ridge. At Pennyghael I visited an old beech woodland where we were entertained by Wood Warblers and a pair of Eurasian Bullfinches. Lunch was taken by the loch with Great Northern Divers for company. After lunch we headed back towards the ferry terminal via the scenic road to Salen. A few birds along the route with a pair of Golden Eagles, lots of Great Northern Divers in various phases of plumages, Eurasian Skylarks, Eurasian Linnets and a lone Grey Wagtail. The return ferry journey had similar birds. Dinner was taken in a nearby fish restaurant, at the end of the meal a Glaucous Gull flew past to cap the days birdlist.

May 17th: Oban, Loch Nell, Glen Lonan, Oban to Tiree Ferry.

Weather: Morning cloud turning to light rain and drizzle in the afternoon. Wind westerly 13 C.

Breakfast was taken at a later time followed by a circular birding tour towards Connell and back to the ferry port. Our first birding stop was at Loch Nell which was oddly bird free so I pressed onto an area of grassland dotted with bushes. This was particularly productive for Sedge Warbler, Common Whitethroat and several Whinchats establishing territories. Further along the road a stop at an area of riverside woodland produced a party of Common Swifts, Blackcap, Garden Warbler and fly-by Lesser Redpolls. Next on the agenda was a large open valley surrounded by cliffs and forest. A pair of Grey Herons flew past and then overhead a Golden Eagle which was having a duel with a Common Buzzard. A diversion to Airds Bay produced little of note so I headed back to the waterfront at Oban for lunch. Offshore we noted European Shags and Black Guillemots. The ferry to Tiree left on time amidst poor weather of low cloud and rain. The best birding was beyond the Sound of Mull in the open waters which attracted Manx Shearwater, Northern Gannet, Common Guillemot, Razorbill and a few Black-legged Kittiwakes. On entering the dock at Coll three Red-throated Divers were seen along with a Great Northern Diver. A single Great Skua sitting on the sea was also notable. Docked at Coll and then the short distance to Tiree where groups of auks and shearwaters were seen plus Northern Fulmar. On arrival in Tiree we made the short journey to the hotel with Rock Doves feeding in the fields en route.

May 18th: Tiree including Gott Bay, Milton, Vaul Bay, Balephetrish Bay, Loch Bhasapol, Loch
a'Phuil, Helypol.

Weather: Sunny with a westerly wind 13 C.

Today was spent exploring the varied habitats of Tiree. Our first birding stop of the day was at Gott Bay with its wide sand beaches and sheltered waters. Along the beach the group located shorebirds in breeding plumage including Sanderling, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone and Ringed Plovers. Offshore a few Great Northern Divers and two Red-throated Divers near the ferry terminal. At Milton the fields held Rock Pigeons, Eurasian Skylarks, and on the rocky outcrops nesting Great and Lesser Blackbacked, Herring and Common Gulls. In the fields we observed high numbers of Northern Lapwings and Common Redshanks of which many were sitting and calling on fenceposts. A visit to Vaul Bay allowed us to study the commoner waders with the addition of a Bar-tailed Godwit. I turned north to Balephetrish Bay when a group of Black-tailed Godwits dropped onto the beach and later fed in a nearby field. On the fences up to three Twite showed and a White Wagtail was noted feeding on seaweed. The hide at Loch Bhasapol overlooks the loch where Mute San and Tufted Duck were present. The extensive reedbeds held Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings in good numbers. The highlight was a Corncrake in flight showing its rufous wings and another one calling from the fence line and showing briefly. Lunch was taken at Loch a'Phuil with Sand Martins nesting in the river bank. After lunch a slow drive back towards the coast with sightings of Common Stonechat on the fence lines. Near a cemetery great and prolonged views of a male Corncrake (almost two hours). This was an extraordinary sighting and one which will live with all the participants for many years. The bird was calling, posing and preening in full view at times - fantastic. We ended the day finding at least four Whooper Swans, a female Eurasian Teal and a second winter Iceland Gull at Helypol. A visit to the far east of the island provided us with nothing new so I called it a day and returned to base.

May 19th: Tiree, Oban, Fort William, Portree.

Weather: Heavy rain on a southeast wind 13 C.

Before breakfast we had a final exploration of Tiree. Birds of note included a female Hen Harrier, Common Buzzard and a drake Gadwall at Loch a'Phuil. The rain started at 0800 hours and basically stayed with us throughout the day. The crossing back to Oban had similar birds to two days ago with the addition of a few Atlantic Puffins. Our journey to Portree on Skye was completed just after 1900 hours.

May 20th: Portree, Uig, Lochmaddy, Loch Sandaray, Balranald, Committee Road, Benbecula, Coot
Loch, The Range.

Weather: Rather mixed with a brisk southwest wind 14 C

The square at Portree held a few Eurasian Jackdaws and the car park where I had parked up the night before held Willow Warbler, Blackbird and Song Thrush. At 0800 hours we were on a way to Uig the departure point for Lochmaddy in North Uist. The harbour at Uig has the commoner gulls and a few Common Eiders loafing offshore. The ferry crossing provided us with good numbers of Black-legged Kittiwakes, Atlantic Puffins and the more widespread birds of the sea. On arrival at Lochmaddy I headed towards Loch Sandaray which produced Mute Swan, Red-breasted Merganser, Tufted Duck and calling Corncrakes from the iris beds. Next on the agenda was Balranald with a pair of Whooper Swans on the first loch. The recently sowed fields attracted Northern Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Rock Pigeon and Northern Wheatears. I proceeded to the coast where the shoreline was buzzing with migrant waders. Arctic Terns were passing offshore in numbers. We were lucky to find a perched Corn Bunting in full song a rare sighting in the islands. In the last loch a pair of Little Grebes, Common Sandpiper and a migrant Whimbrel. On the entrance to Committee Road a male European Greenfinch an uncommon bird of North Uist. A stop at the raptor viewpoint added Common Buzzard, Golden Eagle and Hen Harrier to the day list. It was time to visit Benbecula with a Great Cormorant and Common Eiders at Stinky Bay. A short diversion was productive for a pair of Red-necked Phalaropes and a displaying Black-tailed Godwit. At Coot Loch up to four Gadwall, Eurasian Teal, Common Coot and several Mute Swans. The group ended the day at The Range a military area used for testing rockets. The grasslands here are excellent for birds with the highlight today being a group of European Golden Plovers in stunning summer plumage.

May 21st: Ardivacher, Loch Druidibeg, Rubha Aird a'Mhuile, Loch Eynort, Committee Road.

Weather: Rain in the morning and then sunny and clear on a northwest wind 14 C.

Our last full day in the Western Isles started with low cloud and mist and light winds. Thankfully this was to clear during the day giving way to a wonderfully bright Hebridean afternoon. The first stop at Ford Terrace on the road to Ardivacher proved to be very productive for shorebirds as the tide was starting to ebb. A careful scan of the area produced Bar-tailed Godwits, Ringed Plover and a party of Common Knot some of which were entering into their 'brick red' summer plumage. A bonus came when a pair of Eurasian Wigeon were observed cuttling into cover suggesting a nest was nearby. The seaweed strewn beaches held the familiar waders and hordes of gulls. A diversion down towards Loch Druidibeg had Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Mergansers and Eurasian Wrens (hebridensis race) singing from the tops of exposed rocks. A Common Buzzard was also in the area whilst the scattered bushes and trees attracted Willow Warblers and Song Thrushes. The rocky coast and sheltered bay at Rubha Aird a'Mhuile is mainly an autumn site but worth a visit in May. The beach held waders and gulls whilst offshore Great Northern Diver and an Arctic Skua were of note. The extensive rocks held Great Cormorant and European Shags plus Ruddy Turnstones in breeding plumage. A trip down to the south of the island produced nothing of note apart from views over to Barra. I retraced our steps north and went to Loch Eynort which has a small wooded garden at the end of the road. Uncommon species to the Uists were located including European Robin, European Goldfinch and Common Chaffinch. A walk to the viewpoint allowed us to watch Red-throated Divers, Black Guillemot and Arctic Terns plus a Common Cuckoo which posed in the top of a conifer tree. In the afternoon we went back to Committee Road in North Uist in search of raptors and owls. On this occasion it was strangely quiet with sightings of Common Stonechats and Meadow Pipits. I decided to go north again towards the coast road when a Short-eared Owl decided to start hunting the grassland. The owl gave us all a great show and often came close to us allowing awesome views. Back to base with the highlight being an immature male Hen Harrier flying across the road in front of us (earlier we had seen a female along Committee Road which appeared to be feeding young).

May 22nd: Benbecula, The Range, Lochmaddy, Uig, Inverness.

Final species total: 116.

Weather: Rather mixed with light northwest winds.

Our last morning on the islands started with a visit to The Range. It was clear on our arrival that a mass clearout of birds had occurred overnight. With this in mind I set off towards Grenitote in North Uist. On the way we found several Short-eared Owls hunting close to the road. At Grenitote the foreshore held Sanderling, Common Knot, Dunlin and a few Little Terns. The ferry back to Uig was late morning with very little seen on the crossing. A few Atlantic Puffins were noted near Skye. The rest of the journey back to Inverness and the Black Isle passed smoothly among some fantastic
scenery of the west Highlands.

 

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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