Trip Reports ______________________________________________________



Mull, Tiree, Barra and The Uists 2017

(1 of 2)

...with Mark Finn

May 14th - 21st


May 17th: Uig to Lochmaddy Ferry, Berneray, Grenitote, Griminis, Balranald, Benbecula

Weather: Sunny with a brisk west wind 15 C.

An early departure from the Black Isle as we travelled westwards towards the Isle of Skye and the ferry terminal at Uig the departure point for Lochmaddy in North Uist. Arrived ahead of time and boarded the ferry at 0940. A late breakfast was taken before embarking on a short sea-watch which produced sightings of Manx Shearwater, Northern Gannet, Northern Fulmar, Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Atlantic Puffin, Arctic Tern, Great Skua and rafts of Black-legged Kittiwakes. On arrival we set off towards the island of Berneray and stopped on the outskirts of the village. A scan of the sea revealed a Great Northern Diver, whilst the shoreline and jetty attracted Common Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Rock and Meadow Pipits and a single Eurasian Wren. We went back to North Uist and the hamlet of Grenitote where the small car park looks over an extensive area of mud and fields. This proved to be a good spot as the group located a pair of Little Terns, Ringed and Grey Plovers, Dunlin and Ruddy Turnstone most of which were in resplendent summer dress. Lunch was taken at Griminis to get out of the wind. A look across the water towards an old ruined house revealed Greylag Geese with well-grown goslings, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Eider, Barn Swallow and Sand Martin. The best bird by far was a pale phase Arctic Skua which flew over our heads and out to sea. We proceeded along the coast road towards Balranald where the machir attracted migrant Whimbrels in good numbers. At Balranald a special treat was in store as a male Corncrake performed in the open opposite the visitor centre - amazing views!! A drive up to the coast produced four Corn Buntings and flocks of Ringed Plover and Dunlin. I ended the day on Benbecula at Stinky Bay where Sanderling and Dunlin were watched at close range as they fed on the insect rich seaweed. The pools further south had a male Red-necked Phalarope a fitting end to the days birding. After dinner a White-tailed Eagle was seen from the restaurant slowly flapping along and being mobbed by dozens of gulls.

May 15th: Benbecula, Ford Terrace, Loch Bee, The Range, Ardvule, Loch Eynort, Loch Druidibeg, Griminis, Stinky Bay.

Weather: Rain with occasional cloudy spells on a SE wind. 12 C.

Today was to be a challenging one due to rain showers and strong winds throughout the day. We started with a slow drive along Ford Terrace a food-rich area between Benbecula and South Uist. Birding from the van allowed a close approach to feeding waders - Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Grey Plover. A bonus came in the form of Red Knots before they flew off in a northerly direction. A further check of beaches along this section of coast revealed thousands of waders feeding in large tracts of rotting seaweed and along the tide line, a most memorable experience. Further south we checked Loch Bee where Mute Swan numbers were high and a few Ruddy Turnstone were feeding on the grassy areas. Nearby at The Range the group encountered European Golden Plovers in breeding dress, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel and several Common Ravens. Ardvule is a noted seawatching site and today it was an inhospitable place with strong winds and driving rain. Despite the weather a Corncrake was calling from cover, Tufted Duck and Arctic Terns on the lochan. A sheltered bay held large numbers of gulls including a second year Iceland Gull which showed well. We tried Loch Eynort as it can provide shelter against the strong winds. After parking up the sea held Black Guillemots and Arctic Terns. The small woodland here can be productive and we added Willow Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Dunnock (Hebridean race), Song Thrush, Chaffinch and European Goldfinch to the trip list. Loch Druidibeg was affected by the weather although a pair of Red-throated Divers proved to be elusive after we first sighted them in choppy waters. Also in the area was a lone Eurasian Wigeon and Common Stonechat on a fence wire. We ended the day at Griminis and Stinky Bay with similar birds to yesterday plus the addition of a third year Iceland Gull.

May 16th: Benbecula, Balemor, Balranald, Loch Sandaray, Berneray, Committee Road.

Weather: Early rain giving way to a bright and sunny afternoon. SE winds 8 C/12 C.

Today dawned with rain showers and brisk winds making birding difficult in the morning. A check of the regular birding spots on Benbecula produced the common birds of the machir and wetlands. We visited another area of machir near Balemor where a third year Iceland Gull was present on a recently ploughed field with Golden Plovers and Whimbrels. Balranald was next on the list where Corn Buntings showed well on fence wires and a Corncrake was observed in flight showing its rufous wings. At the point, the wind and sea conditions were harsh with plenty of Arctic Terns and Northern Gannets passing offshore. Loch Sandaray is not faraway and we located a Whooper Swan and several pairs of Mute Swans, Tufted Duck and Little Grebe. Lunch was taken along the north coast where a first year Great Northern Diver was hunting for crabs near the shore. A return visit to Berneray was disrupted as a Short-eared Owl appeared by the road and settled down on a tussock to give us great views. The machir at Berneray was full of waders with Ruddy Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Dunlin being the most numerous. I ended the day along the Committee Road which was slightly disappointing as Common Buzzard was the only raptor recorded. Back to base in Benbecula for our final night on the island.

May 17th: South Uist, Barra Ferry, Barra, Barra to Tiree Ferry.

Weather: Sunny with brisk SW winds 16 C.

After checking out at Benbecula we headed down towards the ferry terminal on Eriksay for the ferry to Barra, the most southerly of the islands. Nothing new bird-wise to report on as the ferry crossed to Barra. A few seabirds were noted including Red-throated Diver and a Great Skua harassing gulls near the shore. On arrival I checked an area of woodland close to the ferry terminal which had a singing Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Chaffinch and Hooded Crow. A stop at the plantation near North Bay usually produces a few birds in the mature trees. On this occasion the group recorded Common Chiffchaff and heard Common Whitethroat and Common Cuckoo. Lunch was taken at an overlook into the wild waters of the North Atlantic Ocean with a raft of Common Eiders offshore. On the crofts a family party of Common Stonechats, Northern Wheatear and Linnets. It was time to travel to Castlebay and the ferry journey to Tiree in the Inner Hebrides. To my surprise the ferry was almost totally empty with just three vehicles and around twenty people. Seawatching from the ferry came in patches with sightings of Northern Gannet, Northern Fulmar, Great Skua, Common and Black Guillemots, Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill and Black-legged Kittiwakes. The best birds were close to Coll and Tiree with large rafts of Manx Shearwater, Arctic Terns and a lone European Storm Petrel. Arrived in Tiree and checked into our accommodation for the next two nights.

May 18th: Tiree.

Weather: Sunny with light W winds 17 C.

A leisurely day around Tiree was in order with clear skies and little wind of note. We began with a visit to Gott Bay where offshore waters held Great Northern Divers and Arctic Terns. Along the beach scattered groups of Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Dunlin. Vaul Bay had a pair of Rock Pipits on the machir and a few Common Eiders loafing on nearby rocks. Balephetish Bay was strangely quiet so a visit to the hide overlooking Loch Bhasapoll was made. In the reedbeds singing Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings. On the loch itself Mute Swan, Tufted Duck and Arctic Terns. It was time for lunch as we approached Loch a'Phuil the largest body of water on Tiree. Sand Martins were nesting along the burn and Northern Lapwings and Oystercatchers were common on the machir. A scan of the loch added a Whooper Swan for the day list. Next it was off to Balemartin with stops near the cemetery where we could hear calling Corncrakes. It was warm so a visit to a cafe was made for drinks followed by a slow drive to Helypol and onto the north coast. Familiar birds were seen along the route. Back to Balemartine where we had good views of at least two Corncrakes a fitting end to our stay on Tiree.

May 19th: Tiree to Oban Ferry, Lochnell, Glen Lonan.

Weather: Sunny with cloudy spells on a SW wind 15 C

Checked out of the hotel on Tiree and headed towards the ferry terminal for the crossing to Oban, the major town in this part of Argyll and Bute. Birds were the same as our previous ferry journeys with no sign of skua passage due to unfavourable winds. On arrival in Oban we headed towards Lochnell, a large freshwater loch situated south of Oban. The loch held the commoner species and the crags and mature trees attracted a party of Common Ravens. Further along the road a large area of grassland dotted with bushes attracted a pair of Whinchats, Tree Pipit, Mistle Thrush and Lesser Redpolls. The road passes through well-grazed fields and areas of mature woodland and the next stop was a stand of riverine trees. This was particularly good for woodland species including a singing Garden Warbler. Long-tailed and Blue Tits, Eurasian Siskin and European Robin were also present. In a distant field Canada Geese were added to the group list. Further along the valley the river had Grey Wagtail and Common Sandpiper. The best was to come when Frank located an adult Golden Eagle drifting along the hillside. Our adventure in Glen Lonan was a memorable experience and we headed to Oban base for the next two nights.

May 20th: Oban, Mull including Lochdon, Grasspoint, Loch Scridain, Pennyghael, Scenic Road to Salem.

Weather: Early rain showers giving way to sunny spells on a W wind 13 C.

An early departure for the ferry crossing over to Mull which takes around forty-five minutes. On arrival we went straight to Lochdon an important estuary with adjacent rough grassland and woodland. We eventually caught up with views of several Common Cuckoo which were being chased by Meadow Pipit (one of its major host species). A few waders on the mud including Bar-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover and Dunlin. In the mature trees Great Tit, Song Thrush and the commoner species. Grasspoint is nearby another important area for birds on Mull. A pair of male Goosanders were on the first pools with Grey Heron and Common Sandpiper. Parked up at the end and watched singing Whinchat and a hunting Short-eared Owl. The oak woods held Blackcap, Tree Pipit and Common Whitethroat. Over a distant ridge the group picked up a female Hen Harrier and several Common Buzzards. On the way to Loch Scridain a House Martin was noted collecting mud and a Reed Bunting sang from a stunted bush. The mud at the loch head attracted Greenshank, Common Redshank and Northern Lapwings. Close to Pennyghael a Wood Warbler was located on territory giving its unique song. I went to the other side of the loch and found the scenic road to Salem was closed about four miles from the village. A stop for lunch added a summer plumaged Great Northern Diver, Common Eider and Eurasian Siskins feeding in birches. On the north coast a stop at a cliff produced a Peregrine Falcon and a Golden Eagle being mobbed by Common Buzzards. It was time to head back towards Craignure for the late afternoon ferry back to Oban. An adult White-tailed Eagle was seen as we left port.

May 21st: Oban, Ardnamurchan, Fort William, Inverness.

Final species total: 108.

Weather: Sunny with a strong southwest breeze 14 C.

We departed from Oban with rain showers falling and travelled towards Fort William to catch the ferry to Ardnamurchan. Weather conditions were to play a part today and it made birding difficult at times. The ferry crossing although short produced views of Black Guillemot, Arctic Tern and European Shag. Once on the peninsula several stops were made along the long and twisty roads that eventually lead to the lighthouse which sits on mainland Britain's most westerly point. A stop at the nature centre added a few of the commoner species being I retraced our journey back to the ferry. Once we passed Fort William the road to Inverness was busy with holiday traffic and tourists visiting Loch Ness. The end to an excellent few days on the islands had come to an end.

Western Isles 2017

(2 of 2)

...with Mark Finn

September 24th - 30th

Our autumn tours are often affected by windy weather, but we still saw some memorable birds. The ferry crossings provided us with views of European Storm Petrels, Manx Shearwater and Great Skuas. On the islands good numbers of Golden and White-tailed Eagles. A reasonable passage of wildfowl (included American Wigeon) and waders but passerines were thin on the ground due to the wrong wind directions.

September 24th: Black Isle, Uig, Tarbet, Isle of Harris Ferry, South Uist.

Weather: Sunny with light SE winds 17C.

After leaving the Black Isle we headed towards Uig on the Isle of Skye for the ferry crossing to Tarbet in Harris. Close to Uig a large cliff attracted a soaring Golden Eagle and several Ravens on fenceposts. The ferry crossing to Tarbet went smoothly with sightings of Manx Shearwater, European Storm Petrel, Black-legged Kittiwake, Northern Gannet and rafts of Common Guillemot and Razorbill. Near to Tarbet groups of Eurasian Oystercatchers, Common, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls were noted. Leverburgh on a Sunday is a truly dead place with little or no evidence of people or activities. The ferry left a few minutes late for Berneray around an hour duration in time. The crossing added winter plumaged Black Guillemots, Common Eiders and an adult White-tailed Eagle sitting quietly on a grassy island. Near Berneray the group observed a few Red-throated Divers and a Ruddy Turnstone. it was getting late as we headed down the spine of the lower islands with a Short-eared Owl being seen near the road. A long travel day ended as we pulled up at our hotel in South Uist.

September 25th: South Glendale, Smerclate, Rubha Aird A'Mhuile, Loch Eynort, Loch Bee, Coot Loch, Stinky Bay.

After breakfast we headed south towards the hamlet of South Glendale. The area has a few houses and gardens which are attractive to migrants. A short walk produced Eurasian Blackbird, Song Thrush, European Robin, Common Stonechat and Dunnock plus a male Blackcap in the autumn sunshine. Smerclate is a short drive away where we encountered several Northern Wheatears of the Greenland race sitting on rocks and posts. Other visible migrants included Meadow and Rock Pipits and at least three Barn Swallows. On the wires and in gardens Eurasian Linnet, European Goldfinch and Collared Doves. It was time to travel north and visit the seawatching and migration point of Rubha Aird A'Mhuile. On the entrance track a party of Ruff totalled 12 birds. The walk towards the point added Eurasian Teal and Tufted Duck whilst offshore Northern Gannets passed by along with a Red-throated Diver. Lunch was taken at Loch Eynort although the gardens and bushes were very quiet today with sightings of Goldcrest and Common Chaffinch. A diversion to Loch Bee was notable for large numbers of Mute Swan, Eurasian Wigeon and a few Black-headed Gulls. We intended to visit The Range but this was closed for rocket firing until Thursday. Another diversion towards the Atlantic coast had Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Common Ringed Plover and in the fields Rock Pigeons. Coot Lake often has a few birds and today was no exception as the group located Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Common Coot, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Curlew and a party of Black-tailed Godwits (Icelandic race). Visits to Stinky Bay and Griminis produced nothing of note so we headed back to base.

September 26th: South Uist, Baleshare, Loch Sandaray, Balranald, Valley Parade, Grenitote, Berneray.

Weather: Cloudy with an increasing S wind 16 C.

Today we headed towards North Uist. After leaving the hotel a nearby lagoon held Eurasian Teal and a few late Barn Swallows. Our first birding stop was at Baleshare an extensive agricultural area of machir and wetlands. Before reaching Baleshare a roadside stop produced a group of migrant Common Greenshank numbering over 20 birds. On entering Baleshare a male Hen Harrier showed well by the road and European Golden Plovers and Northern Lapwings formed sizeable flocks on the fields. Everything scattered as an adult White-tailed Eagle flew over. A stop for coffee was good for another eagle (an older adult with an almost white head), Bar-tailed Godwits and a single Common Knot. Loch Sandaray held Whooper Swan, Little Grebe and a single Black-tailed Godwit. Next on the agenda was the RSPB reserve of Balranald with the entrance field having the uncommon Corn Bunting and flocks of Eurasian Linnets. Seawatching at the point added Red-throated Diver, Northern Gannet and Common Eider. Along the beach rocks attracted Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Common Redshank. On exiting the reserve a female Merlin was noted hunting the fields. Valley Parade and Grenitote were visited with the former having a pair of Hen Harriers. The extensive flats at Grenitote held the commoner waders plus Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwits and Dunlin. The road to Berneray held a surprise in the form of a Little Egret and a hunting Eurasian Kestrel. The extensive fields at Berneray had little of interest so I returned south to our base on South Uist.

September 27th: South Glendale, Eriksay, The Range, Loch Bee, Ford Terrace, Baleshare, Commissioners Road, Valley Parade, Alieodair.

Weather: Cloudy with frequent rain showers on a strong SE wind 14 C.

The weather had a direct effect on plans today as strong winds meant we had to cancel our day trip to Barra. Before going to the ferry terminal a diversion to South Glendale produced nothing new. At the terminal we were surprised to find around fifty Black-throated Divers offshore sheltering from the worst of the weather with three Red-throated Divers. On learning of the ferry cancellation we headed north towards The Range which had been closed for military purposes over the last two days. The commoner waders were on the grass fields and a bonus came in the form of a drake American Wigeon on Loch Bee. Another visit to Ford Terrace resulted in a large increase of waders including Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin and Grey Plover. It was time to visit Baleshare again without too much success apart from newly arrived Common Snipe and an adult White-tailed Eagle with a juvenile in tow. Along the Commissioners Road another juvenile White-tailed Eagle was noted perched in a pine tree out of the strong winds. At the bottom of the road a male Hen Harrier was being attacked by a male Merlin. Further east the immature Little Egret was still present. A little bit of luck brought us to Alieodair where several hundred Eurasian Wigeon were joined by two drake American Wigeon, Little Grebe and Whooper Swans. The smaller birds were disturbed by a Golden Eagle which flew overhead and duly perched high on a ridge - great views. The weather started to close in with heavy rain showers as we travelled south to our base for the final night in South Uist.

September 28th: South Uist, The Range, Berneray, Harris Ferry, Northdon, Luskentyre.

Weather: Cloudy with sunny spells on a SW wind 16 C.

Checked out of the hotel in South Uist and headed towards The Range via Ford Terrace. The birds were similar to the past few days as we pulled into the lay-by looking over Loch Bee. A juvenile White-tailed Eagle was sitting quietly on an island. A flooded area of The Range produced a Glaucous Gull, Black-tailed Godwit and Common Snipe. I headed up to Berneray for lunch where Eurasian Skylarks were very common on the recently harvested fields. The ferry crossing to Harris had similar birds to a few days ago with dozens of European Shags roosting on rock outcrops. On arrival ion Harris the first birding stop was at Northdon a small village with houses and gardens with vegetation. Careful searching of the bushes revealed no migrants so we pressed onto Luskentyre. This tiny settlement is located among spectacular vistas and is overlooked by the island of Taransay and the island of the same name. A walk down towards the beach gave us an elevated position looking into the Sound of Taransay. Searching the water produced Slavonian Grebe, Red-throated Diver, Northern Gannet, Common Scoter and Razorbill. Time was running by as I headed up to Stornoway and the last two nights of our tour to the islands.

September 29th: Stornoway, North Tolsta, Butt of Lewis, Loch Stiapabhat, Bragar, Stornoway Castle.

Weather: Cloudy with a strong S wind 16 C.

This morning the weather had taken a turn for the worse with strong southerly winds and overcast conditions affecting the islands. We started with a visit to Mealabost a suburb of Stornoway which has a freshwater loch adjacent to the sea. The loch held Tufted Duck and Mallard whilst the beach area attracted Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and Ringed Plover. Picked up supplies and headed towards North Tolsta a picturesque area of Lewis with stunning beaches and sea cliffs. On the first beach the group watched a party of Twite feeding on dock seeds at close range. On the second beach an array of gulls which included a juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake. Next on the agenda was The Butt of Lewis the most north-westerly point in mainland Europe. Seawatching from the lighthouse produced hundreds of Northern Gannets, Black-legged Kittiwakes and European Shags but no shearwaters or skuas on this occasion. Loch Stiapabhat has a hide which offered us shelter from the strong winds. En route to the hide fields had European Golden Plover and Northern Lapwing and ever-present Common Ravens. From the hide Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal and plenty of Great Black-backed, Herring and Common Gulls. A visit to Bragar offered nothing of note so I went back to Stornoway to visit the castle grounds. A walk through the woodland added Common Chiffchaff, European Robin and calling Goldcrest. This was another day dominated by weather systems which clearly affected our birding. On enterin

September 30th: Butt of Lewis, Stornoway to Ullapool Ferry, Inverness.

Final species total: 92.

Weather: Sunny with SW winds 13 C.

The usual birds were in and around Stornoway so we headed towards the west coast and the villages of Bragar, Barvas and Mealabost. The only new species was a hunting Eurasian Sparrowhawk. Next on the agenda was Loch Stiapabhat where the wind conditions had died down from our previous visit. Whooper Swan and Pal-bellied Brent Goose, Black-tailed Godwit and European Golden Plovers were present. A short seawatch at the Butt of Lewis produced passing Northern Gannets and Razorbills but nothing else of note. Back to Stornoway and the crossing back to Ullapool with Great Skuas about halfway across The Minch. Landed on time and travelled back to Inverness where the tour concluded.

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