Mull, Tiree and the Uists, 2022
Due to the pandemic this was our first visit for almost three years to these remote islands off the Scottish Mainland. A low pressure system dominated the weather for almost the whole week which affected the birds seen and migration as a whole. Despite this we had exceptional views of Great Northern Divers, various waders, Corncrake, White-tailed and Golden Eagles, three Skua species, Short-eared Owl in high numbers, Spotted Flycatcher, Twite and Corn Bunting.
May 16th: Inverness, Uig, The Minch, Berneray, Grenitote, Stinky Bay, Griminis, South Uist
Daily 58 New 58 Running 58
Weather: Rather mixed with showers on a cold E wind 10c
After making pick-ups in Inverness I headed to Uig on Skye for the crossing to Lochmaddy in North Uist. Typical species of the western Highlands were seen including Common Stonechat, Hooded Crow, Northern Raven and Common Gull. The ferry crossing to Lochmaddy produced a few birds namely Great Northern Diver, Northern Gannet, Northern Fulmar, Common Guillemot, Razorbill and Atlantic Puffin. On reaching the islands the first visit was to the machair habitat of Berneray. Careful searching revealed Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Northern Lapwing, Rock Dove, Skylark and Meadow Pipit. Grenitote is a good place to observe the more unusual waders and this time around the group located Red Knot, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Common Redshank, Arctic Skua, Little Tern and in nearby iris beds a calling Corncrake. A stop at the aptly named Stinky Bay had Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstones feeding among the rotting seaweed. Last stop at Griminis produced a female Red-necked Phalarope, Tufted Duck, Eurasian Teal and displaying Common Snipe.
May 17th: South Glendale, Rubha Aird a’Mhuile, Coot Loch, Griminis, The Range, Ardavachar, Loch Eynort
Daily 73 New 23 Running 81
Weather: Rather mixed with rain showers on a strong SW wind 13c
In the hotel garden European Goldfinch, European Greenfinch and the Hebridean race of Song Thrush. Further south with views to Barra is South Glendale a noted migrant trap in the right weather conditions. A walk along the road added the Hebridean races of Dunnock and Eurasian Wren, European Robin, Willow Warbler, Common Stonechat, and European Linnet. A quick check of the causeway to Eriskay had a pair of Rock Pipits, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, Herring, Common and Black-headed Gulls. Rubha Aird a’Mhuile is reached by a rough track adjacent to the machair. Good numbers of waders on the beach notably Sanderling and Dunlin whilst the loch held Northern Shoveler and Whimbrel. On exiting the area a male Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl gave us close and long views. At Coot Loch a pair of Common Coots, Little Grebe, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Redshank and nesting Mute Swans. Griminis and The Range offered little so a visit to Ardavachar was made with a migrant Spotted Flycatcher in roadside gardens. The sea and beaches held the now familiar and common birds of the islands. The last area today was Loch Eynort and its plantation of trees and views towards the loch and surrounding mountains. Red-throated Diver, European Shag and Great Cormorant in the loch whilst the trees attracted Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Dunnock, Common Chaffinch and Common Redpoll. On leaving the area we had exceptional views of an adult White-tailed Eagle flying at low levels over the moor a fitting end to the day.
May 18th: Stinky Bay, Baleshare, Balranald, St Kilda Viewpoint, Committee Road
Daily 64 New 10 Running 91
Weather: Sunshine and showers on a S wind 16c
A slight rest-bite in the weather today as we headed to Stinky Bay, the tide was high so I went to the farmland and machair of Baleshare instead. The commoner birds were feeding on the machair with no new additions to the list. Loch Sandary was next where a breeding plumaged Ruff was located along with European Golden Plovers and a calling Corncrake. The wind was getting stronger as we entered Balranald with another Corncrake crossing the road in front of us. To the coast and beach with views towards the Monarch Islands which was abandoned in 1942. The usual waders were on the beach and a single Purple Sandpiper which was hard to pick up. At the point we had sightings of Great Skua, Arctic Tern and Northern Wheatear and in the machair singing Corn Buntings which find their last stronghold in the islands. St Kilda Viewpoint allowed us close views of a two-year old White-tailed Eagle being pursued by gulls and corvids. The last stop at Committee Road was excellent for raptors with fantastic views of Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, Common Kestrel, Common Buzzard and Short-eared Owl.
May 19th: South Uist, Sound of Harris, Stornoway, Ullapool, Inverness, Fort William, Oban
Daily 54 New 9 Running 100
Weather: Mixed with a SW wind 15c
This was an unscheduled day due to the poor and disruptive ferry service provided by Caledonian MacBrayne. The first ferry was crucial as it made the link to Stornoway and onwards to the mainland. Birding in the Sound of Harris was good for Great Northern and Red-throated Divers, Black and Common Guillemots and loose flocks of Common Eiders. On Harris we drive through the mountains and down to Lewis for the ferry connection. Crossing The Minch added Manx Shearwater, European Storm Petrel, Atlantic Puffin and Razorbill and near Loch Broom an adult Pomarine Skua complete with ‘spoons’. Earlier a Common Tern was seen in Stornoway Harbour. Back on the mainland a long drive to Oban with a stop at Inverness for fuel and in Fort William for fish and chips.
May 20th: Mull including Lochdon, Grasspoint, Pennyghael, Scenic road to Salen
Daily 61 New 8 Running 108
Weather: Rain showers on a S wind 15c
A day trip to Mull with a visit to Lochdon a sea loch surrounded by grassland and woodland. A scan of the bay revealed Common Shelduck, Bar-tailed Godwit and Greylag Geese with goslings. The highlight was an adult White-tailed Eagle which was located by Brian (the female and two well grown eaglets were nearby). Also present were Willow Warbler, Meadow Pipit, Common Stonechat, Song Thrush and Reed Bunting. Grasspoint is always a productive place for woodland birds. I parked up and could hear the distinctive songs of Wood Warblers but they soon stopped singing. Also present were Tree Pipit, Common Cuckoo, Great and European Blue Tits, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Eurasian Wren and Common Redpoll. At the end of the road another stop produced Barn Swallow and House Martin. Pennyghael is a small settlement overlooking a loch and forest habitats. In the loch Great Northern Diver and Red-breasted Merganser whilst the rougher ground attracted a pair of Short-eared Owls, Common Buzzard, Grey Heron and Arctic Terns. The scenic road to Salen had a male Common Otter plus the commoner birds of Mull. Later in the afternoon a return to Oban followed by an excellent fish meal by the harbour-side. Before we reached the harbour Common Swifts hunting for insects the only sightings of the tour.
May 21st: Oban, Tiree, Gott Bay, Balephetrish, Hynish, West Hynish, Loch a’Phuill
Daily 55 New 2 Running 110
Weather: A mix of showers and cloud on a SE wind 14c
An early departure to Tiree from Oban aboard The Clansman. The best Seawatching is at the end of the Sound of Mull and it proved to be the case today. The usual seabirds were recorded until a party of Black-legged Kittiwakes attracted Great and Arctic Skuas. Off Coll a few Manx Shearwaters were seen. On arrival in Tiree I checked the time we could enter the hotel and based the rest of the day on this. First stop was the Northern Fulmar colony on an inland cliff there are several on this low-lying island. The beaches held reasonable numbers of Sanderling, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Ruddy Turnstone. On the road towards the school we heard several Corncrakes but none on show among the iris beds. A stop at the bird hide allowed us to watch displaying Sedge Warblers, Reed Bunting, Skylark, Meadow Pipit and European Linnet. Loch a’Phuill held a few birds including several Mute Swans, Tufted Duck, Common Tern and Black-headed Gulls. The group were weary and tired so I returned to the hotel early.
May 22nd: Tiree including Vaul, Ruaig, Balemartine, Hynish, West Hynish, Loch a’Phuill, Balephetrish, Gott Bay
Daily 53 New 1 Running 111
Weather: Mixed with rain showers and sunny spells on a S wind 11c
I decided to head towards Vaul on the eastern side of Tiree. On the beaches and farmland the now familiar and widespread birds of the islands. Best bird at Vaul was a Corncrake seen in flight with bright rufous wings and settling down to give his crex-crex calls. Ruaig had a very muddy field which was attracting high numbers of waders but we could only find the common ones and nothing rarer. A visit to the coastal road near Hynish eventually gave us Twite which appear to be declining on Tiree. Lunch was taken at West Hynish overlooking the sea with a light passage of seabirds offshore. The rest of the day was spent revisiting several sites on the island and getting more views of Corncrakes. Unusually there were no rare birds present on the time of our visit.
May 23rd: Tiree to Oban, Inverness
Daily 63 New 2 Final 113
Weather: Sunny with light NW winds 14c
The last day of the tour and I had enough time to make a short foray of the island. The only new bird was a Whooper Swan present with Mute Swans near the church at Heylipol. The ferry crossing back to Oban had similar birds of two days ago but with an increase in Manx Shearwater numbers. The journey back to Inverness went smoothly where the tour concluded.